Competition between airports has never been hotter. Search for an international flight and you'll be offered myriad options via Europe, the Middle East and Africa, often with layovers of up to seven or eight hours. And while spending half a day in an airport isn't high on anyone's bucket list, airports working hard to improve the experience.
Take Paris-Charles de Gaulle, for example, which recently opened its "Instant Paris" hub, offering transit passengers 4,500m² of free-access relaxation area complete with a lounge, a family play area, restaurants, a library and even a cinema.
"Customer service and satisfaction are our top priority," says Augustin de Romanet, CEO of Groupe ADP (Aéroports de Paris).
"With this in mind, and to ensure the passengers' comfort before, after and between each flight, [we] decided to treat transfer passengers to a unique moment of relaxation in the middle of Europe's premier airport hub.
"With Instant Paris, customers can be whisked to the heart of the capital for the duration of their stopover, without ever having to leave the airport."
The hub is styled on a typical Hausmannian apartment, and boasts several relaxing and entertaining features that allow you to while away the hours in a city-centre environment.
As you walk down the high-ceilinged, parquet-floored central gallery, you pass a library with a fireplace and over 300 books, a dining room boasting a large family table featuring built-in board games, a family room with a Kapla play area, and a cinema that broadcasts everything from the news or events such as Paris Fashion Week to sports matches and short films.
No Parisian apartment would be complete without large windows, so a virtual window offers a view of the Eiffel Tower reflecting the actual time of day, weather and season.
All of this is free to passengers with long layovers. While there are comfortable loungers in which you could enjoy a cat nap, the hub boasts an 80-room branch of hotel-chain Yotel where you can, for reasonable rates, book a two- or four-sleeper pod for anything from four hours to the whole night. You can also rent a shower pod by the hour.
Just a few steps away is Michelin three-star chef Guy Martin's I Love Paris restaurant, which boasts India Mahdavi interiors inspired by the city's Palais Royal. If you have just a few minutes you can pop into the champagne bar or sandwich bar, but if you have time the main dining room is a must for luxe options such as steak with béarnaise sauce and fries.
Take an after-dinner stroll and you could find yourself in the airport's Espace Musées, which works with the city's top museums to display original artworks.
It is currently hosting a Picasso exhibition, Sunlit Years, which gives visitors a sense of the special relationship Picasso had with the South of France. It may not be the city centre itself, but the hub takes the edge off a long airport layover.
Paris-Charles de Gaulle serves 320 destinations in 114 countries. To book a flight visit airfrance.co.za
This article was originally published by the Sunday Times.