Get in, fly out. As total time spent from check-in to take-off decreases (average globally was 133 minutes in 2016 versus 150 in 2013), airports around the world are looking to find novel ways to attract consumers by opening up spaces for high-brow, cultural programming and events. Airports are becoming luxury and cultural destinations in and of themselves as people look for new elevated experiences.

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Louis Vuitton Cruise 2020. Image courtesy of Louis Vuitton.

Last month, Louis Vuitton staged their Resort 2020 fashion show in New York’s JFK airport. The catwalk was in the previously abandoned Trans World Airlines terminal which has now been transformed into part of the new luxury hotel complex for TWA Hotel. Tapping into an appropriately air travel aesthetic, the collection was a celebration of New York City featuring the city’s skyline and the Chrysler building across pieces. Focusing on the location and its history, a star-studded audience witnessed the rebirth of JFK as a destination for luxury travel once again.

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Andreas Gursky exhibition at Tarmak 22

Having opened officially in February this year with an exhibition by German artist Andreas Gursky, the Tarmak 22 gallery is located at the Saanen airport in Gstaad Switzerland. Created as a space for visitors and locals of the luxury ski resort town to view contemporary art shows and other cultural conferences and performances, the gallery is a permanent addition to the airport. Open to the public rather than just travellers, they are “aiming to get people to just stop by,” according to Tatiana de Pahlen, who cofounded Tarmak 22 with Antonia Crespi. This contrasts with luxury airport lounges like the Qatar Airways Al Safwa First Lounge at the Doha International Airport which acts as an outpost for Doha’s Museum of Islamic Art. The lounge features a rotating collection from the museum available to view for first class passengers only.

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Tank Shanghai

It is not just functioning airports that are becoming cultural hubs. The Tempelhof airport in Berlin, famous for its part in the Berlin Airlift of 1948-49, is receiving a $112M investment from the city to turn it into a cultural and creative hub. In Shanghai, five aviation fuel tanks at the former Longhua airport have been turned into Tank Shanghai, an art and cultural park. Opened to the public in March 2019, two of the five tanks are currently art galleries while the other three have multifunctional purposes for exhibitions and leisure activities.

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Tank Shanghai

Air travel has its roots in luxury and heightened experience, with the 1960s golden age showcasing formal attire, top level service, relaxed boarding and of course plenty of legroom. Yet, today’s airports are commonly thought of with dread – long lines, intense security, and crowded, frenetic terminals – all before boarding the plane. By elevating airports into cultural spaces where both travellers and the public can go to be inspired, people will begin to look forward to the journey and treat it as a destination itself.

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