Hiskandar Zulkarnaen takes his wife and two young children to Singapore’s Changi Airport every few weeks.
Their destination is Jewel, a 1.5m square foot shopping mall connected to Terminal 1, designed by renowned Canadian architect Moshe Safdie and his team. His kids especially like his seven-story-tall rain whirlpool, the tallest indoor waterfall in the world. Disney-themed light and music shows are also popular. Families can then take a shuttle bus or train to Terminal 3, minutes away, for a kid-friendly carnival of rides and games.
Zulkarnaen likens his trip to Changi to visiting Singapore’s world-famous shopping district, Orchard Road.
Welcome to the best airport in the world, according to Skytrax, a consultancy that ranks and reviews airports.
Skytrax claims to conduct the largest annual global airport customer satisfaction survey, in which travelers rate services and amenities at over 550 airports. Changi has topped the Skytrax rankings 12 times, including 8 number one rankings in the last decade. After overtaking Doha’s Hamad International Airport and Tokyo’s Haneda Airport over the past two years, it regained the throne in March and was praised by Skytrax for its “unparalleled passenger experience.”
In 2019 before the pandemic, around 382,000 flights landed at Changi Airport, carrying more than 68 million passengers. Passenger numbers are still recovering, but Changi is more than just a travel hub. An almost iconic hangout his spot loved by Singaporeans.
Just ask Rachel Tan, who regularly goes grocery shopping to Jewel, a 15-minute drive away.
Easily accessible by metro or bus, it’s not uncommon to see people spending the day in Changi. Watch a movie, eat, shop for groceries, or find a quiet place to study for your exam. Over the years, it has also been a destination for wedding shoots and reunion dinners.
Other attractions include an air-conditioned rainforest, a hedge maze and a 12-meter slide. If you’re flying out and arriving at the airport a little too early, the transit area features a spa, theater with free movies, swimming pool, massage chairs and a butterfly garden.
Airports even have their own scent. A bespoke scent with floral notes and spices permeates Changi.
Just outside Terminal 4 is a life-size dinosaur exhibit that stretches for a mile.
In a country obsessed with rankings, whether it’s schools or local actors, Changi stands out as a special point of pride. He even tweeted, “I’m here,” and as expected, it elicited a huffy reaction.
Singapore authorities also track airport rankings “religiously,” said Shukor Yusof of aviation consultancy Endau Analytics. “Not only does it give bragging rights, it cements its reputation as a premier destination for airlines.”
Check-in counters and duty-free shops were eerily quiet during the pandemic, but the government was bullish on Changi becoming a travel hub once again and injecting more than S$1 billion into the aviation sector.
Singapore’s transport minister said at the time that the industry played a “critical role” in securing Singapore’s status as a global trade and business hub.
“Changi is one of the best airports for layovers,” says Alex Chan, a Zurich resident who connects Singapore four times a year for multiple business trips.
Although Changi is “huge,” Chang believes it is much more organized and efficient than Frankfurt or Amsterdam’s Schiphol. I have yet to lose my luggage here, and while it is very easy to miss a connecting flight at other big hub airports around the world, this never seems to happen in Changi.”
Despite recent technical glitches that disrupted immigration at land and air checkpoints for several hours, many international travelers choose to layover in Changi as it is less likely to disrupt their itinerary. says Schkoll.
“When you look at the amount of time and energy and investment that goes into a particular airport, Singapore does a lot by far,” he says.
Back in the 1990s, when Singapore’s television only saw drama series produced by the state broadcaster, Changi’s iconic control tower was often the centerpiece of the opening shots of new series. .
This always involves characters who have been away for years landing in Changi, taking a scenic taxi ride home, and shouting to their relatives how much the country has changed. It opened with only one and one runway.
And that fascination continues. In 2019, Jewel received 50 million visitors within six months of its opening. A fifth terminal is currently under construction and is expected to be operational in the mid-2030s.
Adrian Tan, a lawyer and social commentator, said: “I don’t think there is any other airport in the world where you can boast that locals are just coming to the airport for fun.” He says Singaporeans know it as well as their neighborhood kopitiam, or coffee shop.
Tan sarcastically described a “national ritual” when landing in Changi after a long journey. He says it’s far superior to other airports, rushes through immigration, smiles when he hears “welcome home,” and heads off to his next destination. Local dishes like chicken rice are “so that they can reaffirm their culinary superiority over the rest of the world”.
“That’s why Changi is great. It stands for everything Singapore is good at: efficiency and politeness and a taste of Singapore.”