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Originally published Wednesday, April 16, 2014 at 2:00 PM

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Passengers go for pampering

Spas at airports are increasingly popular with women — and men.

The New York Times


Spending a night in an airplane cabin is hardly the path to a luminous complexion and tidy hair. At 30,000 feet, your skin is more likely to resemble a lizard’s. But there are ways for business executives to look and feel polished when walking off a plane and into a boardroom.

A decade after spa chains began sprouting in airport concourses, on-the-go grooming is reaching new heights, be it gateside manicure stations or in-flight body lotion from Christian Dior.

Many airports, having mastered selling extravagances like luxury handbags and silk ties, are now offering travelers rest, relaxation and exercise. “Practically every major airport now has a spa,” says a 2014 trends report from SpaFinder Wellness 365, an industry group.

In the United States, spas are among the most popular airport amenities, second only to shoeshine stands, according to a 2013 study by the Global Gateway Alliance, a group that advocates for the improvement of New York area airports.

And if you think this is a female-driven phenomenon, think again.

“Men do more facials, men do more massages,” said Marisol Binn, the president and founder of XpresSpa, one of the largest international airport spa chains.

Men are even the bulk of customers for the company’s new hair services. “Seventy-eight percent of it is men doing their hair,” Binn said. “They’re mostly business travelers. That’s maybe why we get more men.”

The services are not cheap — these are captive airport audiences, after all. But they fall within the typical range for pampering.

An hourlong table massage at XpresSpa or one of its competitors, Be Relax, for instance, is $120. But Bliss, the midrange international spa chain, charges more than that for less time (49 minutes) in Manhattan.

Basic manicures at the chains are about $30-$35. That is indeed higher than at the many, many shops in New York City, where a manicure can be had for about $15-$25.

XpresSpa, which began 10 years ago with one location at John F. Kennedy International Airport, now has more than 50 locations worldwide, and a new one opens almost every week. The chain is also rolling out a variety of “wellness” amenities, including gateside manicures and massages.

Even the spas themselves are being reinvented, moving from an earthy aesthetic of bamboo and beige tones to one that is sleek with stark white walls.

Additionally, there will be a line of XpresSpa-branded travel products, including facial creams and foldable flip-flops. “We’re working on nail polish,” Binn said, “something that dries fast and applies easily.”

Be Relax — which offers massages, manicures and pedicures, facials and waxing from 10 minutes to an hour — is celebrating its 10th anniversary. The company, which has about 30 locations in six countries, has already opened new stores in Dubai and the U.S. this year and has plans for more.

Full spas are not the only airport grooming option. This year Delta began testing services like manicures and chair massages in some of its clubs. The Centurion Lounges from American Express, which opened last year, offer manicures and other treatments for body, face and hands.

At the same time, popular beauty brands are installing self-service machines. At Austin-Bergstrom International Airport in Texas, Benefit Cosmetics opened its first “Glam Up & Away” airport kiosk last year with 30 of the brand’s best-selling products.

In the air, many airlines are introducing new amenity kits. This month, Delta’s economy-class customers on international flights longer than six hours will receive sleep kits that include an eyeshade and earplugs.

Last year the airline introduced amenity kits for the intercontinental BusinessElite cabins of its international flights that include Malin & Goetz lip moisturizer and neroli-scented hand and body lotion in a case by Tumi, the luggage-maker.

Such kits may prove particularly handy for do-it-yourselfers. As anyone who has tried to book a manicure at the last minute knows, the demand for such pampering has made it more difficult to walk into an airport spa and get a treatment on the spot.

Binn said that was because more travelers were purposely waiting to take care of their grooming at the airport.

“We get a lot of reservations,” she said. “We had somebody call six months in advance because they were putting it in their travel schedule.”

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