(USA TODAY) -- A major role of commercial airports is, of course, to provide the facilities where passengers can get on and off the airplanes that zip around the world.
But airports are also increasingly where travelers spend time (sometimes a very long time) eating, shopping, playing, socializing, getting pampered, sleeping, working out and taking care of personal and official business.
Even if you take just a few flights a year, you've surely noticed that airports large and small have been seriously upping their game, making terminals prettier and easier to maneuver and filling corridors with a wide range of welcome dining, retail and other conveniences.
The good news is that this push to upgrade continues. Airlines and airports are pouring millions of dollars into terminal improvements, and at a conference hosted by Airport Revenue News earlier this month, the talk was of strategies for making terminals even more customer-friendly. Here are some of the amenities and services spotted in the exhibition hall that may make their way to airports worldwide.
READ MORE: Airline industry pours millions into new terminals
More self-serve shops
Thanks to Zoomsystems and other vending machine-style automated retailers, it's no longer a novelty to purchase electronics or classy, travel-sized personal items from a kiosk at an airport.
In addition to Best Buy Express, Straight Talk Wireless and 3 FLOZ brands, Zoomsystems has been rolling out a fleet of Benefit Cosmetics kiosks for airports designed to look like pink, vintage buses. And an Amazon-branded kiosk now dispenses Kindles and Kindle-accessories at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, Houston (IAH), Oakland and San Francisco. A Kindle kiosk should appear at the Atlanta airport by mid-April, said Melissa Jones of Zoomsystems.
And for travelers who wear glasses, Opticwash is hoping airports will install its automated kiosks that use ultraviolet light to wash and clean eyeglasses or sunglasses in about a minute for a suggested price of one dollar.
Catering to 'gate huggers'
Because so many travelers like to get through security and make a beeline for their gates, airport hold rooms are getting makeovers.
With iPads and delivery service, OTG transformed hold rooms at airports in New York, Minneapolis, Toronto and several other cities into marketing zones. Now Paradies, which has shops in dozens of airports, has an "At Your Service" cart stocked with soft drinks, snacks, magazines, neck pillows and other newsstand bestsellers that can be easily rolled into busy hold areas before a flight.
"The cart service lets us serve the 'gate huggers' and is made possible by new technology and need," said Justin Marlett, senior marketing manager for Paradies.
John Wayne Airport in Orange County, Calif., got the first, pushcart-style, version of the Paradies "At Your Service" cart and Florida's Palm Beach International Airport is home to the first full-sized unit.
Travel can be stressful no matter how customer friendly an airport appears to be, so spas offering everything from neck and foot massages to manicures, haircuts and facials continue to expand their presence in the nation's terminals.
XpresSpa now has more than 50 locations, while Paris-based Be Relax, which currently has U.S. branches at Baltimore-Washington, Boston Logan, Detroit Metropolitan and San Diego, will be opening its full-service branch - with barbers and hair styling services - at the end of April at JetBlue's Terminal 5 at JFK International Airport.
More to eat
Dining options at most airports have definitely been expanding and improving. And while many popular new "concepts" in airports are joint ventures between established concession management companies and local or national restaurateurs, a wide range of companies -- from SONIC (known for its drive-ins) to Camille's Hand-Dipped Ice Cream Bars and Luvo, whose healthy wraps and snacks are currently offered on some Delta Air Lines' flights -- are trying to break into the club.
"Being in an airport would give us a great platform for getting our brand into markets where we currently have little or no penetration," said Greg Delks, vice president for franchise development for Firehouse Subs, which has almost 750 street-side branches but is hoping to get its first airport location.
"There's a ceiling to how much some of these brands can grow on the street side," said Ramon Lo, editorial director of Airport Revenue News, "so they're trying to get ahead of the curve, diversify and find different avenues of growth."
Another new amenity to begin looking for in domestic airports is the HappyOrNot customer feedback device already in use in at least 40 airports outside the United States.
The units have four, brightly-colored smiley face-based buttons that make it easy for passengers to give immediate feedback on the service they've received at checkpoints, gates, transfer desks and other spots. In some airports, travelers can use a similar device to rate the cleanliness and condition of the restrooms.
The first U.S. airport to install HappyOrNot machines is Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport in South Carolina, which currently has a few test units in the baggage claim area.
"We strive to improve the customer experience ... and look for ways to measure the effectiveness of all these efforts," said Rosylin Weston, GSP spokesperson. The HappyOrNot units are not only an effective overall measurement tool, said Weston, "but they can analyze data on a weekly, daily or even hourly basis."
Readers, what shop or service would you most like to see at airport terminals? Leave your suggestions in the comments section.