On the go and stressed? Treat yourself to an airport massage

Special to The Times

OVER the Thanksgiving holiday, 2 million passengers a day are expected on U.S. airlines, according to the Air Transport Assn., a trade group.

Crowds are a certainty. So are longer lines. Even the most easygoing airline passenger might get cranky.

Even so, de-stressing while you are traveling through airports is easier now than before. Airports with massage services are growing. Airport-based gyms are still few and far between, but a health club often can be found within a 10-minute cab or shuttle ride, and there’s a website to help you locate them. And if your route doesn’t include massage services or workout facilities, you can relax yourself with easy exercises done while waiting in line or in the terminal -- if you can ignore weird looks from fellow passengers.

Two companies, XpresSpa (, based in New York, and Massage Bar (, based in Seattle, are among companies offering in-airport massage services.


XpresSpa operates in four U.S. airports -- JFK, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Philadelphia -- and is planning to open four more this year and four in 2007, says Moreton Binn, the company’s chief executive.

XpresSpa offers deep-tissue, sports or traditional body massages in a treatment room or a clothed massage on targeted areas, such as the shoulders and back, that typically tense up under stress. The staff massage therapists are state licensed and trained by XpresSpa, Binn says.

XpressSpa accepts reservations and walk-ins. Its fees vary by service. A 30-minute massage costs $60 and an hourlong massage, $110. A 10-minute reflexology and foot massage treatment is $24.

MassageBar, launched in Seattle 13 years ago by Cary Cruea, has eight airport locations at five domestic airports -- Seattle-Tacoma, Nashville, Newark Liberty in New Jersey, Washington-Dulles in Virginia and Port Columbus in Ohio.

It offers a variety of drop-in massage services by licensed practitioners while passengers remain clothed. Travelers “like a quick service and they don’t want to feel all oiled up,” Cruea says.

MassageBar’s services include a 15-minute massage of neck, shoulders and back for $21 or 30 minutes for $35. (Prices may be higher at some locations.) A 10-minute foot massage, which costs $21, is done with shoes off and a medical bootie placed over the socks for cleanliness, Cruea says.

Rarely is a massage available once you board the plane, but Virgin Atlantic offers its Upper Class passengers 20-minute neck-and-shoulders or hands-and-arms massages on routes between London and the U.S., says Lauren Verrusio, a spokeswoman for the airline. They’re free, and no gratuities are accepted, she says.

Exercise too can ease stress, but finding a place to work out while awaiting a plane is difficult, as Kevin Gillotti, a San Diego graphic designer and veteran triathlete who travels often, knows. It inspired him to launch the website in 2002.


The site lists more than 100 U.S. and Canadian health clubs in airports and hotels and some that are a brief shuttle or cab ride away. He relies on travelers to alert him to new ones in or near airports and to correct the listings when details, such as hours or services, need updating.

Only 10 airports in the U.S. and Canada have health clubs within their terminals, Gillotti says, but many are nearby within hotels or stand-alone gyms.

If none of the above options are available, you can massage those tense spots yourself, says Maureen Moon, a massage therapist in Colorado and a past president of the American Massage Therapy Assn.

One technique she recommends: Take your thumbs and place them at the base of your skull, starting right behind the ears. “Do gentle, circular motions until your thumbs meet in the middle,” she says.


Facial massage can reduce stress too, Moon says. “The face has so many muscles, and we carry a lot of stress in our face,” she says. “Use your fingertips to do circular motions” on the face. Scalp massage helps too, Moon says. Pretend you’re giving yourself a salon-style shampoo.

If you have time, fit in some walking or stretching exercises, advises Fabio Comana, an exercise physiologist and a spokesman for the American Council on Exercise in San Diego.

For the stretching exercises, he says, you might want to find a discreet place in the terminal so you won’t be stared at.

The exercises aim to relax the areas of the body most likely to tense up under stress.


To ease tension in the shoulders, chest and the muscles between the shoulder blades, sit on the floor with your back against the wall and your legs straight out with toes pointed to the ceiling.

“If you can’t straighten your legs comfortably, you can softly bend the knees,” Comana says.

Then extend your elbows out to each side, with your fists touching your temples. “Squeeze the shoulder blades so that the elbows touch the wall, and feel the stretch in the chest,” Comana says. Then move the elbows forward and touch them in front of your face. Hold each exercise for about two seconds; do 10 or 15 repetitions.

To ease back tension: Sit on the floor with your back touching the wall and legs outstretched straight or knees softly bent, toes to ceiling. Stretch out your arms and touch the wall, palms facing the ceiling. “Move your arms up the wall like a snow angel,” Comana says. When they are fully outstretched pointing toward the ceiling, hold that pose for two seconds, then release. Repeat 10 or 15 times.