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Airport spas relieve terminal boredom

Email|Print| Text size + By Bonnie Tsui
Globe Correspondent / December 29, 2004

Nowadays, a flight delay can be a blessing in disguise -- if you happen to be stranded near an airport spa. With these relaxation zones popping up at busy airport hubs across North America, you can turn layover lulls into moments of preflight pampering.

Most travelers tend to stop by airport spas for quick sessions, but even a 15-minute neck massage or pedicure can take the edge off a long journey and help ease the stress of travel. If you have an hours-long layover, consider coddling yourself with a full-body massage or rejuvenating herbal scrub and facial. Most treatments are surprisingly affordable.

JFK International Airport in New York recently got its first spa. A new full-service branch of the New York-based Oasis Day Spa opened at JetBlue Airways Terminal 6. Treatments are tailored to travelers, with express options for existing treatments. Ten minutes of Swedish chair massage costs $18, while a 30-minute full-body table massage is $65. The airport location also offers manicures, waxing, and facials (a 30-minute facial for those with sensitive skin is $70).

D_parture spa, a small, airy, modern space with blond wood floors, lots of glass, backlighted product displays, and streamlined blue, orange, and white decor, has two locations at Newark Liberty International Airport and one in Orlando, Fla. At the spa's first location, which opened in 2000 in Newark's Terminal C, guests are greeted with friendly, efficient service and rows of cosmetics, lotions, and masks from around the world. Businessmen and flight attendants come in for manicures and haircuts, while others make appointments for moisturizing facials meant to combat the drying effects of an airplane cabin.

Seattle-Tacoma's Massage Bar has a distinctly no-frills look modeled on that of a typical airport bar. Service here is limited to 15-minute chair massages. Seats are arranged in a circular fashion on the airport's C Concourse and at North Satellite, at the top of the escalator. Located at busy gate areas, the treatment centers attract a regular stream of clients, along with the stares of curious onlookers. The experience isn't exactly a tranquil one, but it provides a diversion for travelers with time to kill. As an added incentive, customers receive discounts during happy hours at the "bar" (the first hour each location is open, which varies by shop and day of the week).

By contrast, the extensive spa menu at Vancouver International Airport's three Absolute Spa locations has won the chain numerous accolades. There's one spa in the domestic terminal, a smaller one by the US departure gates, and the largest branch at the airport's Fairmont Hotel. Fresh citrus aroma boosts, "smooth landings" makeup touch-ups, full-body massages, and honey citrus sorbet body scrubs are just a few of the luxurious offerings.

Guests at the Fairmont location also can choose to use the pool and gym facilities at the spa, which is conveniently located upstairs from the international departures terminal. Though you can hear planes taking off and landing from the treatment rooms, the spa's excellent, ultra-professional service and soothing atmosphere transport you a world away.

O'Hare International Airport is notorious for delays and high-volume passenger traffic, but if you plan ahead, you might be able to minimize the pain of flying through Chicago with a jog on the treadmill and a stop in the steam room at Hilton Athletic Club O'Hare, between terminals 2 and 3. For a speedy upper-body chair massage, there's a BackRub Hub near the security checkpoint at Terminal 3.

Close to home, you'll find another Hilton Health Club & Spa at Logan International Airport, a sun-flooded facility that offers similar services to the O'Hare location's, including gym, sauna, and express massages. This branch is not in the terminal, however. It's a short shuttle bus ride away at the Hilton Boston Logan Airport (free buses run every 10 to 15 minutes between the airport and hotel).

At Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County International, tired travelers can get a facial at OraOxygen, in the Edward McNamara Terminal. Opened in 2001, the modern facility has another location at Calgary International Airport and bills itself as the "first airport-based oxygen wellness spa." This spa offers showers for guests, often the most sought-after refresher when traveling (normally $15, a shower is discounted to $10 with a massage). The spa also carries its own line of products, including atmosphere mist -- a calming mix of lemon, thyme, witch hazel, and tea tree oil -- and a chamomile skin cleanser.

Most of the spas welcome drop-in guests, but if you want to plan ahead, call to see if a spa takes reservations. In some cases, it's even possible to book online.

Bonnie Tsui is a freelance writer in California.

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