It’s hard to be humble while extolling the virtues of PDX. From unbeatable eats and an in-airport Hollywood Theatre to fabled carpet squares, there’s a reason why we’ve topped Travel + Leisure’s Best Airport list four years running. But airports both near and far are racing to overturn our top status, and while we truly believe they’ll never have us beat, here are some features giving PDX a run for its money.
1. Therapy pigs!
Since 2013, San Francisco International has partnered with the SPCA to unleash the Wag Brigade, a coalition of 300 therapy-trained dogs, cats, and rabbits in “Pet Me!” vests eager to offer a trick and a wet kiss. The program recently upped its game with LiLou, an adorable pig who notoriously trots through the terminals with romance-red nails and a rotating wardrobe of mini-tutus.
2. Indoor jungles!
Though Frankfurt, Germany’s central airport hub, began the year with a terminal redesign featuring 450-foot fern-clad vertical garden walls, they’ve already been outdone by the planned showpieces of Jewel Changi, scheduled for completion in 2019. Singapore’s five-floor travel metropolis comes complete with a jungle-cornucopia of fauna, stimulated rain, and a towering waterfall vortex incorporating regular sound and light shows.
3. Robot concierges!
At the end of last year, Mineta San José surprised us with Norma, Amelia, and Piper, a trio of robots eager to please with toddler-sized touchpads, spasmodic dance moves, and actually helpful interactive maps and translation services. Not to be outdone, Oakland International brought in robot concierge Pepper as the high-tech mascot of airport eatery Pyramid Ale Taproom, where he’s spent the past month offering drink recommendations and valiantly directing tourists to the nearest bathroom.
4. Self-driving shuttles!
In an equally frightening bid for futuristic innovation, New Zealand’s Christchurch International unveiled the first in a fleet of fully autonomous “Smart Shuttles” in January. The 15-seat passenger couriers are rebels with a cause: the pilot program hopes to get travelers (and lawmakers) comfortable in cars sans-steering wheel.
5. Aquarium displays!
Wolf eels and sea anemones abound in Vancouver International, where a 30,000-gallon tank is home to more than 8,000 of British Columbia’s most interesting aquatic animals. Buried in the international terminal is a small but dramatic jellyfish exhibit, home to 12 Pacific sea nettle jellies bred by Vancouver Aquarium’s resident Jelly Expert.
6. Napping suites!
Self-described travel innovators Snooze Cube started a trend after setting up shop in Dubai International. On offer: a few hours of nap time in a hostel-inspired private suite, where Internet access and cable TV come complimentary alongside shellacked vistas of Grecian cliffs and thundering waterfalls. Now available worldwide, this precious privacy will cost you a little over $20 an hour.
7. Playgrounds and relaxation zones!
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol reads like a happy shopping mall with the plastic woodlands of Airport Park, featuring plenty of trees, a few free exercise bikes, and sporadic pre-recorded birdsong. Relaxation corners complete with faux fireplaces and iPad-dressed lounge chairs keep adults content, while kids go crazy on jungle gyms aplenty and a sprawling cartoonish airplane replica.
8. Full-service gyms!
Eugene-based ROAM Fitness is fighting to make in-airport gyms the national standard, and they’ve got their hearts set on future expansion into PDX. But until then, they just opened their first full-service facility in Baltimore Washington International, boasting a 1,000-square-foot workout space complete with stretching mats, cardio equipment, and a full range of free weights. Complimentary rentals of Lululemon athletic apparel are overshadowed by the real star: free showers.
9. Three-part documentary series!
PBS and BBC have teamed up to bring Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International to the small screen, offering fans a three-episode look into the rise of the aviation industry in communion with the chaos of ATL’s holiday travel season. “City in the Sky” will be aired in February on screens in Asia, Europe, and the Americas—bringing one kind of international attention still out of PDX’s reach. (Check out two clips below.)