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Terminal Discomfort: Staying at an Airport Hotel

Like many business travelers, I loathe airport hotels almost as much as I need them. Is it their proximity to the numbing impersonality of air travel that makes them feel so soulless? Or do they dispense with any pretense of warmth because their location (as close to the gate as possible, please) is their customers' only concern?

For the last night of a recent European trip, I booked a room at the Frankfurt Airport. I started dreading my stay almost immediately. I knew I'd be overnighting at the epicenter of traveler's ennui, that insidious malaise chronicled in Up in the Air and on frequent-flyer chat boards. Just thinking about an airport hotel conjures up an image for me of an early morning ride on a chilly shuttle bus with a handful of other lonely wayfarers, our phones bulging in one pocket, our travel documents in a clump in another.

I suppose it has to be that way. An airport hotel, like a hospital or a retirement home, is a place almost nobody stays by choice. You'll rarely find someone there two nights in a row unless they're stuck at a conference. But maybe some non-institutional décor would help. And a restaurant that wasn't so blandly generic. And how about something more sophisticated than a sports bar for a late-night cocktail?

It turned out that this Frankfurt hotel wasn't your typical featureless box. It had five restaurants, an elaborate business center, a spa, a club room with an extensive breakfast--even a barbershop. It was like spending a night on a space station. I didn't need a rubdown or a haircut, but just knowing such options were available made me feel better.

The stay itself was hardly a success. The foam pillows I asked for at 6 p.m. hadn't materialized by midnight. The phone in my room didn't work. Then my key card didn't, and the elevator didn't, either. In a normal hotel, I'd have been fuming. But my expectations were so low that I took the breakdowns in stride.

Then came the good part. I checked out, strolled through a glass door and across a skywalk, rode an escalator and found myself standing in front of the Lufthansa counter. No cab. No rental car return. No shuttle. No uncertainty. Total elapsed time, room to boarding pass: seven minutes.

I think I would go back.


Not as Bad as you Might Think
If I have to, here are the top five in North America according to U.K. airline-research consultant Skytrax's Best Airport Hotel Awards 2011:

1. The Fairmont Vancouver Airport
A luxury hotel and spa located, literally, inside the airport. The hotel's soundproof rooms and floor-to-ceiling views are a mere two-minute walk from the luggage carousels.

2. Grand Hyatt Dallas-Fort Worth
With complimentary trains and shuttles to the DFW airport and 20 conference suites, the Grand Hyatt DFW also features a 24-hour rooftop fitness center and luxury spa.

3. The Westin Detroit Metropolitan Airport
Located right in the Detroit Metropolitan Airport's McNamara Terminal, the Westin offers complimentary shuttle service, a heated indoor pool and the 10-layer "Heavenly Bed" (you can even get one for your dog).

4. Hyatt Regency San Francisco Airport
The largest airport convention hotel in Northern California offers nearly 800 rooms and is only a seven-minute ride from the San Francisco International Airport via 24-hour complimentary shuttle service.

5. Tampa Airport Marriott
Connected to the Tampa Airport, the hotel lobby is directly accessible from the third-floor terminal. The hotel is just minutes away from Tampa's Westshore business district.

Bruce Schoenfeld is the wine and spirits editor of Travel + Leisure as well as an award-winning author and television writer. His wine-, food- and travel-writing has appeared in publications such as Gourmet and Food & Wine.

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This article was originally published in the September 2011 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Terminal Discomfort.

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