Although I had to use them frequently during my days as a travel writer, airports are not very high on my list of favorite places. But I have learned to tolerate them because…well, if you’re going to fly, you’re going to wait. And, sometimes, wait and wait and wait. I guess it’s all part of some master plan to teach us patience and tolerance.

But eventually, during those extended periods of sitting and staring at the arrival and departure screens, it occurred to me that time goes faster, even slips by in a hurry, when I’m waiting in an airport that features art exhibits. Many terminals have been displaying works for a long time; others are getting on board in an effort to not only reduce boredom, but also enhance their city’s image.

Since most of my journeys originate in Phoenix, I am very familiar with the Phoenix Airport Museum, a collection of more than 600 works and gallery spaces. Most of them are located in Sky Harbor International and they range from a biplane soaring through a replica of the Grand Canyon to “dangos” (a series of large ceramic sculptures that resemble giant vases) to photographs of Arizona cowboys.

The waiting areas at Sky Harbor have featured photo exhibits dealing with ranchers, steel sculptures, ceramics, collages, oil paintings, abstracts, Chicano art, huge murals and even an exhibit on luthiery (the art of guitar-making). 

Although the exhibits are changed occasionally, they’re usually around for several months. As in most other airports, the exhibits are free to view, on display 24 hours per day and usually located in the pre-security check areas.

Denver International Airport’s art includes 30 murals and sculptures. My favorites were “Experimental Aviation” (130 small planes hanging from the ceiling), and “La Memoria de Nuestra Tierra” (Our Land has Memory), which uses sculptures to trace the history of the region.

Chicago calls O’Hare International “a canvas for public art” because of the almost endless assortment of artworks it displays. They include cityscapes, restored airplanes, a dinosaur skeleton cast in metal, wood carvings and a huge brass sculpture that I thought was a giant belt buckle until I read the plaque that said “Metamorphosis.”

Several years ago, I spotted a larger-than-life statue of Rubeus Hagrid, one of Harry Potter’s associates, in Malpensa Airport in Milan, Italy. It was built completely with Legos. It may be gone now, but hundreds of other works, including a customized private jet, still decorate the terminal.

The support pillars in the baggage claim area of Sacramento International Airport are eye-catching sculptures because they resemble suitcases stacked from floor to ceiling. Sea-Tac, Seattle’s international hub, displays more than 100 glass, photo and metal works. And one of its restaurants attracts diners with a life-size sculpture of Walter Jones, an All-Pro tackle who played football for the Seahawks.

In the Netherlands, Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport not only has an excellent variety of metal sculptures (including two seated metal sack men), it also lets those who wait use its 20,000 square-foot indoor park. Back in Ohio, children who pass through Columbus International Airport are given postcards and asked to draw pictures of the things they saw on their travels and mail them back, which are then displayed throughout the airport.

They do things big in Texas, so it’s no surprise that a mural entitled “Houston Bayou” in Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport covers 584 square feet in a walkway between parking garages. And at Dallas-Fort Worth International, more than 30 sculptures adorn the terminal interiors and others stand in an outside garden near the parking garage.

A large-than-life sculpture of a Native American chasing an eagle greets visitors at Albuquerque’s International Sunport, and a metal work that resembles a giant pretzel gone amok confuses flyers at the international airport in Dublin, Ireland.

So, even when you’re standing still during your travels, there are still plenty of things to see. 

Instead of grumbling about the airport wait, I find it much more pleasant to wander around and acquire some culture. Besides that, walking and gawking is very good exercise.