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Here's what it takes to design the world's best airport

  • An international airport with an indoor garden, butterflies, swimming pool and movie theater.
  • Singapore's Changi pulls out all the stops to stay atop rankings.

Singapore's Changi Airport recently unveiled plans to open a mixed-use complex in 2019, promising a five-story indoor garden, among other attractions.

The pressure is on to maintain the title of world's best airport — which it's held for the past five years — as ranked by Skytrax's World Airport Awards. It's also considered the best airport in which to sleep by many reviews and bloggers.

The airport's offerings and amenities are far and wide ranging, from a free movie theater, rooftop swimming pool, and butterfly garden featuring more than 1,000 insects from among 40 different species.

The airport is even marketed as its own destination within Singapore, where it's not uncommon to see families visit Changi to shop and dine on weekends. It's also known to be a hot spot for students looking for a coffee shop to study in.

CNBC went behind the scenes to explore how the world's best airport is designed.

Singapore Changi Airport
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Singapore Changi Airport

1) Real-time data

Changi receives more than 1.8 million clicks of feedback each month from passengers, ranking everything from restrooms to customer service agents, and even the gardens.

Some of the data are actually used to help inform real-time business operations. For example, passengers leaving the restroom have the choice between ranking the facilities between excellent, good, average, fair, or poor. The operational staff monitors that data and deploys cleaning staff to any location that isn't rated highly.

2) Carpeting instead of tile

It's not very common to see an airport decked out in carpet, but at Changi, it is the norm. This is done to increase the level of luxury and to absorb the myriad sounds that make airports feel noisy and chaotic.

A less-noisy airport often leads to more relaxed passengers.

3) Bringing in natural elements

Changi prides itself on its greenery, which includes plants throughout its terminals and five main gardens. All that foliage is not easy to maintain — the airport employs 10 offsite and full-time plant specialists and about 150 gardeners who work around the clock.

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