On-the-go grooming reaches new heights

China Southern put massage chairs in first-class cabins.
China Southern put massage chairs in first-class cabins. 

Spending a night in an airplane cabin is hardly the path to a luminous complexion and tidy hair. 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 travellers 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 travellers. 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.

Do not be surprised if in the future you see a curvy little cart with a built-in seat and tray being wheeled toward your gate. The "POD," as Binn calls it - for Pampering on Demand - includes enough sterilized equipment to perform as many as 10 manicures.

Instead of water, the manicurist uses polish remover, cuticle cream and disinfectant.

"We go to wherever the gate is full," Binn said.

Inside the spas, offerings include hair washing, cutting and styling. XpresSpa is offering hair styling in Minneapolis, Minnesota; Miami, Florida; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Orange County, San Francisco and Los Angeles, California, and plans to have hair services at all of its new locations.

"The only thing we don't do is color, anything that has an odor," Binn said.

Other new services include table massages for travellers who prefer not to disrobe - in deference to the sensitivities and religious beliefs of some customers. The massage tables are out in the open, although privacy panels help block out the hubbub of passers-by.

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 United States 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.

Singapore Airlines recently introduced amenity kits for first-class and suite passengers on long-haul routes that include four types of moisturizers by Sothys, the French beauty brand.

On Air France, special limited-edition kits celebrate the airline's 80th anniversary. This summer, the airline will introduce a business-class kit inspired by those once distributed onboard the Concorde. Shaped like a portfolio, the kit will be filled with Clarins products.

"We will have the new comfort kit in several colours," said Maxime Patula, a spokesman for Air France.

United Airlines has also been doling out limited-edition kits in business class. The containers, meant as souvenirs and made of a type of steel, feature different designs for each of the airline's eight North American hubs.

Last year, Cathay Pacific introduced kits for business-class passengers on long-haul flights that include products like day cream, lip balm and citrus hand cream by Jurlique, the Australian natural skin care brand. In first class, passengers receive skin care and toiletries by Aesop, another Australian brand.

Qatar Airways offers business-class travelers lip balm, hand cream and eau de toilette and perfume by Salvatore Ferragamo, while those in first class began receiving serums and creams by Dior. (For the youngest elite travellers, there are SpongeBob SquarePants activity kits.) And on Air Berlin, new amenity kits for business-class passengers on long-haul flights include products from either L'Occitane, Institut Karité or Rituals.

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 travellers 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."

NEW YORK TIMES

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