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The World's Fanciest Airport Lounges (PHOTOS)

07/11/2012 07:09 am ET | Updated Sep 10, 2012

Ironically, the greatest trials of air travel often occur in the few hours before takeoff. The process should be simple, really: Show up at the airport; flash a passport; drop bags and board the plane. But this sort of efficiency was abandoned sometime in the halcyon days of the 1960s amid concerns for safety, heightened security and the democratization of travel.

Travel is meant to be a rich experience, a means of engaging with culture, cuisine and pleasure. In the last decade cities around the world have helped this along by building exceptionally designed, clean, well-functioning airports--consider the brightly painted struts and wood ceilings of Madrid-Barajas or the soaring, glass-roofed spaces of Incheon International in South Korea. Along with them have come equally stunning airport lounges, and the super-luxe first-class areas in international hubs around the world are a testament to this new age of luxury.

Instead of making travelers feel like they are on the wrong side of a quarantine -- and serving decidedly lack-luster food -- these lounges offer first-rate amenities, privacy and calm. It's all so good, in fact, you might even want to get to the airport early.

Consider how much improved an airport experience would be if you had an entire terminal to yourself, as at the Premium Terminal at Doha International, which is operated by Qatar Airways. A nearly 100-foot-tall vertical garden (not to mention a Payot Paris day spa) greets passengers at Qantas's First Lounge at Sydney Airport, and thoughtful elements (noise-dampening felt walls, Marimekko tableware, elegant Finnish and Nordic furniture designs) mark the Finnair Lounge at Helsinki Airport. Freshly made Japanese noodles or a true fine-dining experience at restaurant Haven can be had at The Pier at Hong Kong International Airport.

Airports are gateways to the world, and these ten airport lounges cater to global travelers who want the journey to be as memorable as the destination.

--Maud Doyle

World's Top Airport Lounges