Singapore’s Changi Airport named best in the world—for the
Excerpted from Afar.com by Matt Vallano
Perhaps it’s time to consider Singapore's Changi Airport the “New York Yankees of air travel.” How else could
one spin the news that Lion City’s largest airport has been named best in the world for the
fifth consecutive year?
The designation came down earlier this month from Skytrax World Airport Awards, an independent annual evaluation
that bases the final rankings on the results of millions of international
passenger surveys. This year was the sixth annual Skytrax awards; Changi has
five first-place victories and one second-place win (back in 2012).
It’s not hard to see why fliers could consider the
three-terminal airport to be the air travel equivalent of the winningest sports
franchise of all time. In addition to being one of the busiest hubs in Asia,
Changi boasts two 24-hour movie theaters that show current releases for free, a
rooftop swimming pool (complete with locker rooms for changing), and a
butterfly garden teeming with butterflies.
The airport is also putting the finishing touches on a
fourth terminal, which, according to the Straits Times, a Singaporean
newspaper, is slated to open later this year.
There were other highly lauded airports in the running, too:
Tokyo Haneda International Airport, Incheon International Airport in Seoul, Munich International Airport and Hong Kong International Airport rounded out the Top Five.
(Haneda also won an award for the world’s cleanest airport, and Hong Kong was
hailed has having the best and most varied dining options.)
Sadly—embarrassingly, really—not a single North American
airport cracked the Top 10. In fact, the highest-ranked airport on our
continent is Vancouver International Airport in Canada, at No. 13.
The United States isn’t represented on the Skytrax list
until No. 26, an honor that goes to the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky
International Airport. (The dark horse win seems like a great piece of trivia
to whip out at your next soirée.) Denver International Airport was tabbed as No. 28.
It’s hard not to read the Skytrax list of winners and dream
about what U.S. airports could be. The takeaways: We need more free movie
theaters. Or at least a few butterfly gardens.
From its rolling green hills to
flower-box accessorized homes to a landscape dotted with water everywhere,
Saguenay – Lac-Saint-Jean had me at ‘bonjour.’
A region – not a town – the vibe of
this area almost four times the size of Belgium is so surprisingly cozy that
locals call it “a small village at the end of the road.” Comprised of
Lac-Saint-Jean and the Fjord-du-Saguenay, the destination is large, diverse and
comfortably isolated (a one-and-a-half-hour flight from Montreal; a two-hour
drive from Quebec City); but its overflow of down-to-earth experiences and
out-of-the-norm adventures makes whatever effort necessary to reach it – worth
Adventure is in this region’s DNA.
Winter season entertains ice skaters, ice fishermen, downhill and cross-country
skiers and dogsledders, while warmer weather appeals to hikers, fishermen,
beluga whale watchers, boaters, kite surfers and with 700 km of road biking
lanes and 200 km of mountain bike trails, it’s a cyclist’s dream.
The 257-km Véloroute des Bleuets
(Blueberry Trail) – which wends around Lac-Saint-Jean, crisscrosses 15
municipalities and enters countless villages, with interspersed treks through
farmland and forests – attracts more than 200,000 annual cycling enthusiasts.
With five microbreweries on La Route des Bières (The Beer Route), be
forewarned that the only thing missing from this fun-filled trail may be a
Beyond these active temptations,
some of the area’s most popular ventures include the word “bear.” Okwari
Aventures is where black bears can be observed from a watchtower in their
natural habitat (of the region’s 3,500 black bears, 30 are here). With
assistance from a guide, visitors can hike the area, learn about the world of
beavers and salmon and ride along the water in a Rabaska canoe. To maximize a
bear watching visit, it’s good to know that between the end of June and
mid-July cubs are prevalent and September’s blueberry season is a delicious
attraction for the mammals.
Then there’s the 26-hour, bear-filled VIP tour and overnight stay called “Adventure in the Land of the Caribou.” Located within Zoo Sauvage de Saint-Félicien (named one of the world’s most beautiful zoos and home to more than 1,000 animals from 75 native or exotic species), the experience is unique in an opposite sort of way – the animals roam free while its VIP guests are “enclosed.” During the venture, a ride in an elevated, open-air, protected trolley train through its 324-hectre Nature Trail Park section can be stop and go. As it’s in an area where bears (alongside such large North American mammals as elk, bison and deer) roam freely and continually wander along the road, cross it and sometimes block it, the most valuable visitor advice is cue the cameras.
The wrap-up of this VIP adventure
includes an old-fashioned meal cooked over an open fire, a finale of s’mores
and an overnight within a prospector tent tucked into a sleeping bag atop a bed
of balsam needles. There are no showers and no flush toilets, simply an
exceptionally clean outhouse (no, that is not a typo), the opportunity to
bottle fed a baby moose and the possibility of an unannounced up-close-and-personal
caribou greeting anytime, anywhere within the campsite. The rules are simple:
Always walk in a group, never wander off and rely on good old-fashioned common
“Creative adventure” best describes
the assortment of accommodations found in Saguenay – Lac-Saint-Jean. In
addition to the within-the-zoo stay is Parc Aventures Cap Jaseux’s variety of
high-energy adventures and assortment of overnight possibilities – from
accommodation in a tree house eight meters above ground to a stay in a huge
fiberglass bubble dome (windows cover a third of its surface) to sleeping in a
suspended sphere – all perched in pine trees and all featuring panoramic views
of the Saguenay Fjord. Awaking within the woods (actually overlooking it) is
like no other ‘good morning.’ There are no hotel-like amenities; but the
outhouse is again impressive.
Activities can be negotiating the
tree-to-tree ropes course, propelling along the park’s nine zip lines, tackling
the via ferrata (imagine climbing a sheer cliff above the fjord) or, my
selection, early-morning sea kayaking in the fjord. Jerome, our kayak guide,
describes this on-the-water choice “always different, never the same,” citing
the ever-changing variables of tide, wind and group number. “But it is always
special,” he concludes.
A more subdued but no less
distinctive immersion into the region’s past is an overnight in a ghost town,
the historic village of Val-Jalbert. A booming, thriving pulp mill company town
from the 1920s (at its 1926 peak there were 950 residents), one couldn’t even
visit during its decades-long closure. However, these days its recreation of
the back-in-the-day town and the natural site on which it sits lure thousands
of annual visitors.
Among Val-Jalbert’s irresistible
enticements are 40 original buildings seemingly frozen in time, 24 rooms
situated in its turn-of-the-century houses now converted to 21st
-century luxury accommodations, the general store, convent school, post office
and walk-about “residents” in character – perhaps Mother Superior in route to
school or the mayor’s daughter riding her bicycle along its main street. Additionally
appealing is Val-Jalbert’s unparalleled natural beauty. The draw of its paper
pulp past, 55-meter high Ouiatchouan Falls, surpasses Niagara Falls.
My departure arrives all too soon.
As I bid farewell to this area of which I knew little but to which I instantly
bonded, I reflect upon my Quebecois adventure. Aboard the small airplane, I
turn to my seatmate, a local named Andre – until now a stranger. “In few words,
can you describe this area – your home?” I quiz. He replies in three: “I love
Just The Facts
~ French is widely spoken and English is spoken
sporadically; but should there be a language barrier, no problem. In typical
Saguenay-fashion, it’s in a local’s nature to find someone to help.
~ It is important to note that many of Saguenay – Lac-Saint-Jean’s
attractions and accommodations are seasonal and fill quickly, so book well in
advance to avoid disappointment.
Many airlines are
reintroducing free inflight meals for all fare classes.
Ramsey Qubein for AFAR.com
Since the dawn of modern
air travel, wisecracks about airplane food have been the fodder of
comedians worldwide. But those jokes are losing some of their punch as airlines
begin to reinvest in the onboard dining experience for everyone. Sure, there are
buy-onboard inflight menus with top-notch restaurant and celebrity chef partnerships. But when it comes to meals included in the cost
of your ticket (either in front or behind the curtain), fliers will find that
some airlines are stepping up their game to bring a more delicious element to
transcontinental routes lead the way
In the past few months,
we have seen many airlines make notable investments in the inflight product.
Delta made a big splash when it announced free economy- class meals coming to
select transcontinental flights earlier this year. The free meals are being
offered not only on premium routes between JFK and Los Angeles or San
Francisco, but also on several other long domestic flights. Passengers in
economy class will have three options to choose from, including a vegetarian
selection or deli sandwiches with chips.
Routes with this new
amenity include those between Boston and Los Angeles, Seattle/Tacoma, and San
Francisco; between JFK and Portland, Oregon, San Diego, and Seattle/Tacoma; and
between Seattle/Tacoma and Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, and Raleigh/Durham among
others. This signals a return of inflight meals for everyone as in the
1990s—which, while only a small step, is certainly an appreciated one.
American quickly followed
suit announcing it would bring back free meals on its premium flights between
JFK and Los Angeles and San Francisco, but the carrier stops short from
expanding it to other flights. Still, a free meal for a busy traveler is always
a nice perk.
It’s not just long
flights getting a free dining boost. JetBlue has introduced free coffee and
Turkish simit (similar to a bagel) with spread plus free beer and
wine on its short shuttle runs between Boston and New York LaGuardia.
all about the presentation
While the free economy
meals are likely to come in a bag or box on these domestic runs, premium cabin
meals get more attention. Effective April 1, Delta will be updating the service
ware used on its domestic and international flights, featuring new plates,
glasses, and silverware from designer Alessi. The Italian company is known for
its fashionable designs using bone china, crystal glassware, and stainless
steel. The Alessi pieces will look great with the airline’s artsy new Delta One
meal offerings designed by chef Dan Jackson, who also oversees the menu at New
York’s Museum of Modern Art.
Not to be outdone, United is launching its first official international Polaris flight next week from
San Francisco to Hong Kong, which is part of the airline’s refreshed push for
premium cabin business. The airline has partnered with Saks Fifth Avenue for
new inflight bedding, including mattress pads and cooling gel pillows.
But before guests hit the
sack, they can partake in a new dine-on-demand menu (the most robust offering
of its kind for a North American airline) with dishes like lobster macaroni and
cheese and tomato soup with grilled cheese. The Asian fusion chicken noodle
soup with coconut milk is already getting rave reviews on its domestic trial
runs. On the beverage front, morning flights feature a bespoke Bloody Mary
cart, the option to enjoy wine flights on multi-tiered stands to taste as many
varietals as are on the menu, and a new coffee menu from famed Italian espresso
In fact, Illy coffee is also
available on United’s domestic flights for all passengers, and it comes with a
sweet Dutch stroopwafel perfect for dunking. Delta serves Starbucks
brews on both domestic and international flights to all passengers.
and airlines learn from each other
While airlines and
hotels have used brands such as Illy and Starbucks products before, it is nice
to see your favorite brands both in the sky and on the ground when you reach
your destination. Starwood’s Le Meridien doesn’t want its travelers to wake up on
the other side of the world without the right coffee. Le Meridien hired both a
“global latte artist” and a “global master barista” who travel the globe
training its hotel baristas and staff on how to make the perfect cup of coffee.
Many Le Meridien baristas are even sent to Illy’s “coffee university” at its
Trieste, Italy, headquarters.
According to global
master barista Franz Xaver Zauner, there more than 100 ways that a cup of
coffee can be spoiled in its preparation, and his role is to prevent each
of those mistakes from happening. If you are wondering how United plans to
combat those mistakes in the air, its flight attendants underwent similar
training procedures to deliver the perfect Illy cup. The same type of training
is important at Cathay Pacific, which serves Illy espresso and cappuccino in
the air; it is also launching the first airport lounge Chinese teahouse concept
at its Hong Kong hub.
Lufthansa is taking a
page out of many hotel playbooks and has set up Nespresso stations at its gates
in Frankfurt and Munich so that passengers can purchase premium coffee while
And if you think
you’ve seen it all . . .
chefs roam the aisles of Austrian and Turkish Airlines among others, but
airlines are still discovering ways to impress their customers. KLM serves
draft beer from a specially designed cart with the proper pressure pumps to get
the carbonation just right. The Dutch Heineken recipe uses the same ingredients
as what you might find in a bar or grocery store and is said to taste just as
refreshing above the clouds. It is available in business class on select
South of the equator,
Brazilian carrier Azul is partnering with a Sao Paulo–based food truck provider
for its new onboard menu. The airline serves meals from the popular Buzina Food
Truck to all passengers on its flights to the United States and Portugal, with
dishes including artisan cheeseburgers and grilled macaroni and cheese.
On American Airlines,
passengers in first and business class need not stress that their preferred
choice won’t be available—its website allows travelers to preorder meals
similar to what Finnair, Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways, and others have long
offered. Delta Air Lines is finalizing plans to launch a similar system so that
a customer’s first choice is ready and waiting once he or she is inflight.
And forget leaving the
lounge to head into the terminal for your favorite specialty coffee drink.
Emirates is launching small Costa Coffee outlets in some of its lounges to
bring the coffee chain’s barista service and full menu directly to its premium
Do you enjoy longish layovers? While I doubt your answer is "yes," my recent Nashville plane change while in route to San Diego from Orlando resulted in two memorable hours -- complete with hot chicken (a local specialty) and live music (another local specialty) -- courtesy of lunch in the terminal's Gibson restaurant and the talent of local musicians, Alyssa Jacey and Adam Rausche.