A guy I once worked for liked to say that the human attention span is short, so when making an argument it’s best to start with your conclusion and then explain how you got there.
I take his advice here when I say, Changi: Best. Airport. Ever.*
1. Free Wifi
Through the back door. Passengers can access free wifi in all three terminals at Changi, after signing up for a registration code. I couldn’t make either of the code generation systems work. I tried to fill in the online form at a designated kiosk, but the form had required fields like National ID that, as a Canadian, I couldn’t complete. The other option – to get a code via SMS – didn’t work for me either because I wasn’t data roaming outside of Canada. In Singapore, things generally run so smoothly, right down to the fine details, so these glitches were surprising.
In the end, I walked around holding my phone in front of me, like a guy with a Geiger counter looking for loose change at the beach. I finally hacked into an unsecured network outside one of the airline lounges.
There are universal power outlets throughout the terminals and in the departure lounges for charging electronics.
2. Train Connection To Somewhere Worth Seeing On A Four-Hour Layover
Hell yeah. Singapore’s Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) is my favourite train system in the world. It’s a comfortable, air-conditioned 35 minute trip from the airport to the CBD where you can shop or eat or take pictures of the architecture of the future.
But Changi is an attraction in its own right, so I wouldn’t judge you if you spent your entire layover at the airport. If you remember to pack your bathing suit in your carry on, you can chill by the rooftop swimming pool in Terminal 1. Watch a movie at one of the free movie theatres, or do the public art tour of the terminals, making sure that you catch the kinetic rain sculpture in Terminal 1.
Changi is designed to bring nature indoors, with koi ponds, a butterfly dome, an orchid garden, and the cascading, multi-storey green wall in Terminal 3. There are outdoor areas even after you pass security – rare for an airport – so you can eat your layover lunch outside before you get back on a flying tin can.
If you just want to sleep lying flat for a while, head to any one of the sleep zones (free), or book a few hours at the attached transit hotel.
Singapore may be an autocracy, but the airport design is the most egalitarian I’ve seen. The airline allocation among terminals doesn’t have any classist undertones (e.g. the “most likely to have terrorists” terminal, or the “gateway to the third world” terminal). Most of the airport amenities are free, and they are evenly distributed among the three terminals. There are options to pay to access greater luxury if you like, but it’s not really necessary.
3. Duty Free Costs
1L Bombay Sapphire gin = S$27 (CAD$24)
Coco Mademoiselle eau de parfum 50ml = S$235 (CAD$204)
4. Security Screening
Service with a smile and a semi-automatic weapon. I waited for the skytrain between terminals beside three men in green army fatigues, berets and mirrored sunglasses. Each held a very long, large gun, like the ones they use in the Walking Dead when they need to mow down a pack of zombies. They stood, silent, fingers next to the triggers. It was unnerving. My mind started going over what I could have possibly done in three short, well-behaved days, to offend the regime. I didn’t chew any gum, honest.
So yeah, there’s a visible security presence.
Passport control was surprisingly disorganized for a country where the national brand is efficiency. It was grocery-store-style separate lines for each officer, with people shifting between lines to try to save a few minutes, and pushing to be first when a new counter opened. That said, the staff really moved people through and I was clear in about 10 minutes.
Hand luggage is screened in each departure lounge, immediately before boarding. I was the only person in the screening line but the staff person running the machine still gave me a coat check tag with a number that matched the one on the basket my stuff was in. That’s the kind of Singapore-style attention to detail I saw everywhere.
5. Ease of Orientation
Very good for a large airport. Changi is three terminals, connected by a skytrain on both sides of security. You can also walk between terminals, at least after you clear passport control. Distances are long but signage is great and directional signage usually includes walking-time-to-gate information.
6. Pre-Flight Food
Great. Changi is like a new Asian mall, full of shopping and eating options. You are spoiled for choice on both fronts.
7. Architecture/Interior Design
Good design, just like Singapore. Like many modern airports, Changi’s skeleton is a bunch of glass boxes with great light and tall ceilings. The interiors are tastefully fitted out, with designer chairs, live indoor trees, and a tropical garden feel, just like the city.
Overall Rating for SIN: 90%
*okay, I’m going out on a limb for effect because Best. Airport. So far. is anticlimactic. By way of this small print, I reserve the right to strip Changi of this honour and make this same superlative statement in a future airport review because I have lots more airports, in lots more countries to opinionate about.