Between Flights? Time for a Facial
Live bamboo trees and the sound of mini stone waterfalls greeted Sandra Camacho when she stepped through the doors of XpresSpa. She slipped into a beige massage chair and dipped her feet into a tub of water, while a therapist covered her with a warm blanket. "You close your eyes and think you're in heaven," says the Albany, N.Y., resident. She wasn't. Instead, this oasis of calm exists amid the turbulence of flight delays and invasive security measures. It is one of a growing number of airport spas, where therapists help frazzled travelers escape their woes with everything from facials to foot massages.
Like the recent profusion of high-end restaurants and name-brand boutiques at airports, the spas serve a nearly captive audience-passengers enduring terminal waits after rushing through security. With air travel growing increasingly stressful, airport spa services are quickly taking off, even among salon newbies. About 14 percent of XpresSpa visitors have never been to a spa before, and more than half are men. "What better way to start to try and relax after you get through security," says Pauline Armbrust, publisher of Airport Revenue News. "Pretty soon every airport will have a spa."
Refreshed. Camacho decided to hit the spa after a three-hour flight from Puerto Rico that landed at 5 a.m. at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport. She discovered the Terminal 4 XpresSpa while killing time before a noontime appointment in Manhattan. It was the perfect place to refresh. "I always feel frumpy and crumpled" after a flight, says Camacho, who travels about twice a month for her job at a translation agency. "I feel like a new person, like I got a full night's sleep," she says moments after her $80 hour-and-a-half spa visit for a manicure, pedicure, and foot rub. Now she plans to alter her travel schedule to fly out of JFK so she can hit the airport spa. Its wide menu of services attracts Camacho enough that, she says, "I would come in even when I don't need a massage."
Today's airport spas have evolved beyond quickie shoulder rubs. OraOxygen spas at the Detroit and Calgary airports offer oxygen treatments. XpresSpa has added a dentist who whitens teeth. "The only thing I used to find at airports was booze," says Moreton Binn, who cofounded XpresSpa with his wife, Marisol, after moving back to the United States from China. The 9/11 terrorist attacks created a tension-filled atmosphere, and what travelers needed was "anything to make them relax and get rid of their anxieties," Binn says.
They opened their first spa in 2003 at JFK's Terminal 1, transforming a lounge that had closed after the city's smoking ban. The 1,100-square-foot space now takes in $1.5 million a year and has more than 3,000 visitors a month, making it the airport's most profitable concession outside of duty-free shopping. Binn said he will add 18 more spas to his nine in the United States, Mexico, and Europe by year-end.
At Gina Stern's spa in Newark Liberty International Airport, which she opened in 2000, revenue is up 40 percent so far this year over the same period in 2006. She has two spas in Newark and one in Orlando and plans to add five more. Stern says she had to lobby for months to win space for her quirkily named d_parture spa at Newark. Now, though, airports have embraced the mall format. "This is a concept that doesn't have to be put in the corner or an alley," she says.
Nailing down the details of an airport spa differs vastly from running one on the outside. Airport restrictions mean a spa can take months to build, and it must be open from early in the morning to late at night to handle flight schedules. Customers don't have appointments, so airport spas have to be prepared for anything. Stern's spas have services to accommodate passengers with 10 minutes to spare and those who have hours to fill. Stern hires staff with multiple beauty licenses.
The airport business has been a learning experience for the former fashion designer. "There's a rhythm to the airport," she says, which she has come to appreciate. After all, she got her idea for an airport spa during a flight delay.
This story appears in the May 28, 2007 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.