Singapore Airport: the best in the world?

There’s no doubt that Singapore Changi Airport enjoys a sterling reputation. But is it the single best airport in the world?

Singapore Changi Airport. Image credit: TommL
Singapore Changi Airport. Image credit: TommL

With such a range of criteria, it can be difficult to work out the precise “best airport” formula. If one airport can offer you the most comfortable lounges in the world, but another is far more likely to see your flight taking off at the correct time, how do we decide the ranking of these two airports? And which is better when we take into account the ground staff, amenities, and respective locations?

With hundreds of airport across the world eager to stake a claim as the clear best, and hundreds of points of comparison for each airport, it can be a confusing process. It’s fortunate then, that this isn’t something we as travelers must do for ourselves.

The independent UK-based consultancy group Skytrax has it all figured out, or so they claim. And they suggest that there is a single, clear, and definitive answer for those looking for the best airport in the world – Singapore Changi Airport. The airport finished 2018 as the highest ranked airport on the planet for the sixth year straight, voted for by those who would know best – the committed travelers and tourists who spend significant amounts of their lives in these buildings. Singapore’s airport, some 20 kilometers northeast of the downtown area, is one of the largest and busiest transport hubs in Asia, with four passenger terminals and more than 400 destinations.

We’ll have a look at Singapore Changi Airport (SIN) and see if the claims are true. What can Singapore’s airport offer the experienced and discerning traveler that other great air hubs cannot? With lounges, restaurants, health spas, and even a cinema, Changi Airport has built itself on the principle of customer satisfaction and service excellence. With such an emphasis on amenities, you could be forgiven for regarding Singapore Airport as a holiday destination unto itself. If you’re waiting for a few hours between flights, or your outbound flight has been delayed, the extra hours spent in Changi Airport can be viewed more as an opportunity than an exercise in boredom and frustration.

Sampling the local cuisine in Changi Airport

A good and hearty meal is the key to traveling comfortably, as any seasoned traveler can tell you. Whether you’re looking for a final quick snack before you begin boarding, or are completely famished with a few hours to kill between flights, Changi Airport has you covered.

Nestled in Terminal 1 is Saboten, serving travelers some of the best Japanese cuisine in Singapore. Catering to both casual dining and group gatherings, the restaurant specializes in the finest examples of fried Japanese food at surprisingly reasonable rates and has been doing so since 2010. If you’re traveling alone and want a bite to eat before you spend the next few hours in the air, you’re probably looking for something tasty, nutritious, and relatively simple. A steaming bowl of Chicken Tamagotoji Udon is just the ticket, with the portion as healthy as the meal itself. Light and subtly flavored, this simple and satisfying soup will leave you wishing your outbound flight was heading to Tokyo or Osaka.

Those traveling with colleagues in a larger group will be pleased to hear that Saboten caters to groups with as much success as it does the solo traveler, although with a relatively cozy seating plan it might be best to phone in advance to guarantee a table. With a range of more complex meals on offer, you and your colleagues can afford to while away a couple of hours enjoying some of the finest food Japanese cuisine has to offer. The restaurant serves only the freshest available produce with its Tonkatsu menu, prepared by experienced and knowledgeable chefs. Authentic Japanese food is rarely done so well outside of Japan. The Tonkatsu sauce is a fiercely guarded secret family recipe using fresh cabbage to create something that is delicious and not at all greasy. There’s also a range of drinks on offer, from delicious fruit juices to an array of Japanese beers, wines from around the world and sweet liquors.

Tonkatsu is a dish which consists of a breaded, deep-fried pork cutlet. Image credit: Runin/iStock
Tonkatsu is a dish which consists of a breaded, deep-fried pork cutlet. Image credit: Runin/iStock

Singapore is a place with a distinct and tangible blend of cultures and this is something you can see from the array of cuisine on offer in the city. Whether you’re dining at the most expensive restaurant or getting some street food served from a local vendor, there is such a wealth and variety of food on offer that compares favorably to almost any city in the world. The Cantonese food on offer in this region is some of the best available, and Singapore Airport has its own answer for those craving some of this authentic goodness. Imperial Treasure Cantonese Cuisine (located in one of the Changi airport hotels) offers the full package for those looking for some traditionally prepared food from Hong Kong-trained and experienced chefs.

If you and a group of colleagues are hoping to talk some business over great food for a couple of hours, then this just might be the ideal venue. The elegant and understated ambiance is ideal if you’re looking for a place to have important and fruitful discussions away from the more stifling environment of a corporate boardroom. The Dim Sum comes highly recommended, not only from the knowledgeable staff but also from the huge amount of visitors the restaurant hosts every week. Share a plate of dumplings before turning your attention dishes on offer for your main meal. Choose from pan-fried live prawn with superior soy sauce, steamed cod fish fillet with preserved black olives or braised sliced abalone, sea cucumber, and fish maw.

Getting to your Singapore Airport hotel

There are a number of hotels located on the grounds of Changi Airport, giving you some convenient options. If you’re only in town overnight and have a flight early the next day, it probably makes more sense to look at hotels next to the airport, reducing your need for travel. Most are within walking distance, though it might be a good idea to book a reliable Singapore chauffeur service for those that are far to the other side of the enormous airport complex.

The Crowne Plaza offers travelers contemporary rooms, a sports bar, and even a health spa in a 5-star setting. Business travelers pay attention: the hotel features both business lounges, for more informal interactions and discussions, as well as a business center, ideal for boardroom-level meetings or presentations. If you’re just staying the night and hoping to relax a little before you get to bed, there’s a full gym for guest use, not to mention an outdoor landscaped pool for when the weather is treating you well. If you’re looking for a truly immersive experience, the Essence Vale Spa is on hand to offer a variety of massages, scrubs, and treatments.

Capri by Fraser is a hotel located a very short distance away from the bustle and noise of the airport, providing you with a bit of a buffer between your sleeping place and a runway of landing planes. The location is connected to a nearby shopping center, catering to all your practical needs, while Changi City Point and the Changi Museum are just minutes away. Rated four stars, the Capri by Fraser hotel offers over 300 air-conditioned rooms (ideal in the humid summers of the region), each with a kitchenette and wireless internet access. Can’t sleep? Best jet lag by making use of the fitness center, open 24 hours a day. Alternatively, hire a bicycle and explore the area. If you’re just stopping for a night in between inbound and outbound flight, the hotel’s restaurant serves until late.

Fill your time between flights in Singapore Airport

You’ve just arrived at Singapore Changi Airport (SIN) and you have a few hours to kill alongside a full stomach, which means sampling the various restaurants and eateries of Changi Airport isn’t what you’re after. Fortunately, Changi Airport has built its unparalleled reputation on the back of its commitment to customer satisfaction, and travelers can experience a range of options designed with filling your time before takeoff.

Perhaps the most famous example of Changi Airport’s offerings is its very own cinema complex. With its screens accessible from both Terminal 1 and 2, millions of passengers every year have the option to see the latest blockbusters as part of their airport experience. True to form, Singapore Airport has made the cinema free to use for all passengers. This gesture means you won’t have to spend another penny to fill your time if you’re unfortunate enough to be experiencing a delayed flight. If you’re at the airport in the wee hours and are waiting around for a while between flights, don’t worry. The cinema is open 24 hours a day, closing for a few hours once a week for maintenance. The ability to spend a couple of hours watching Hollywood’s finest on-screen for your entertainment is bound to help time pass a little faster.

Singapore Changi Airport is home to a number of lush gardens. Image credit: picturist
Singapore Changi Airport is home to a number of lush gardens. Image credit: picturist

Terminal 1 is also home to Changi’s cactus and water lily garden for those who want to truly escape the hustle and bustle of the terminal floor. The cactus garden features more than a hundred species of cactus and other arid plant species, with the samples assembled from the deserts of America, Africa, and Asia. The Amazonian water lilies, on the other hand, are one of the largest aquatic plants in the world and sitting among them listening to the gentle cascade of water might just be the relaxing antidote you need for any airport-related stress. Sitting on the roof among this beautiful flora, when the weather is just right, you could be forgiven for forgetting you were at the heart of one of the busiest international transport hubs in the world.

Business travelers particularly will appreciate the myriad of lounges on offer for use in Changi Airport. Singapore Airport is enormous, so use the airport map to see which lounges are available in your terminal. If you’ve spent the last few hours in the air, cut off from the world of work, you might need to quickly catch up on what you’ve missed, checking emails and maybe making a couple of calls. For this, you’ll need somewhere quiet and private, with secure access to WiFi. Fortunately, Singapore’s airport is home to some of the continent’s most luxurious lounges. Nap rooms, private workstations, and showers are available, making sure you arrive at your next destination fresh and comfortable – important if you’re jumping straight into the action after your flight.

A little time for retail therapy

There’s something most of us might agree with even if it is difficult to admit – shopping makes us feel better. The dopamine hit registered when we buy that sweatshirt we didn’t really need a brand new wristwatch is sometimes helpful for dealing with stress and providing some much needed distraction. If you’re resigned to spending the next few hours in Singapore Changi, then you’ll be pleased to hear about the enormous duty-free shopping opportunities available. More than 350 stores populate the floor of the airport, selling everything from basic necessities to luxurious frivolities.

If you’ve suddenly realized that you’ve forgotten to pick up a gift for a relative or friend you’re visiting (or perhaps you’re just being polite to a host), then it’s worth paying a visit to Ah Mah Homemade Cake. The cakes here are fresh, baked daily, meaning you won’t have to worry about handing over something stale by the time you land at your final destination. Taking inspiration from the egg sponge cakes of Tamsui, Taiwan, these cakes have a distinct Singaporean flavor that is appealing to international palates as well as local ones. The key is their simplicity – made simple with high-quality eggs, milk, and flour, this is a treat that won’t result in calorie guilt.

Looking for something a little more upmarket? The duty-free nature means you’ll have access to the finest suits, perfumes, and other items at a relatively discount rate. There’s Gucci, Hugo Boss, and Prada stores if you’re really looking to push the boat out for some new threads. Those on the hunt for a new watch or jewelry need look no further – Swarovski, Rolex, and Pandora are on hand to give you a little extra shine on your wrist. A couple of hours wandering around the shopping area is bound to leave you feeling a little happier, even if your wallet or purse ends up feeling a little lighter.