In short, an airport can be a way for a city to be viewed in a superior way, simply by viewing an airport as more than a slightly high-end bus stop. The most monied people coming to and through your city will experience your airport. Making the experience a great one gives you an edge as a city destination.
As two examples of airports which I have frequented that are quite good, Munich and Tampa sort of stand out. They are not so enormous that they require orienteering skills to navigate, and they are spacious, comfortable, have free wi-fi, helpful staff etc. Tampa is one of my "home" airports, and I give it extra credit since I have spent enough time there for things to go badly, but aside from an occasional TSA debacle, they've done a great job.
Since I am giving out compliments I may as well throw a spear. First prize for an airport that makes me insane is Frankfurt. It doesn't even seem German to me (not efficient or organized in any logical way). The complexity of the place, along with the complete disdain I have encountered from staff there is what has prompted me to carefully book connections to/from Wroclaw through Munich. The Frankfurt airport is not visually pleasing, it does not have (at last visit) free wifi, it isn't comfortable, there is not an abundance of restaurant selections. In short, I really dislike the airport, in a visceral sort of way.
Without further ado, here is my mental bombardment regarding the state of today's airports:
For some airports this is not an issue at all as all carriers board and disembark at the gate. However, numerous airports around the world use buses as an alternative means of getting people to and from the aircraft. The stated reason is that it is a question of expense for the airline. They make a determination of which method to employ based upon the cost they incur using one method versus another.
However, there is another question buried within this one. How can it be that the expense of using the gate (which was put there for the express purpose of getting to and from an aircraft) ends up being MORE costly to use than a bus which is operated by an outside vendor? The consensus I have from discussing this with fellow travelers is that the gate fee is set artificially high, creating an opportunity for an entrepreneur (see friend of someone within the hierarchy of the airport) to run a bus service to shuttle passengers back and forth to a plane.
Frankly, whatever the bus transfer should go the way of the dodo. It is one more step in an already tedious process of getting from point A to point B. You wait for your gate to open, then board a jammed bus, then are dropped at a plane (often within 100 meters of where your journey began), only to begin a que yet again. It would be least expensive, if somewhat problematic in certain weather, to just let passengers walk to the plane. In Europe and Asia many budget carriers handle things that way, and though you occasionally get wet or cold, it eliminates a pointless additional process.
In anticipation of the issues around trying to provide unlimited wifi to an increasingly video watching, bandwidth consuming audience, you can always pay for it through sponsorship. Offer a business the chance to be the "sponsor" of wifi for your airport. There are innumerable potential sponsors that would have an interest in people's online behavior while in an airport, as well as perhaps simply having the interest of developing a bit of goodwill with the "captive" audience that is waiting for their next "literal" move.
Before the purchasing manager buys seats for an airport, they should be forced to sit in them for over a hour. This would eliminate the sadomasochistic choices which seem to prevail in many airports. People transiting an airport actually need to occupy these seats. They often have, especially in larger airports, long layovers that make an extra bit of comfort quite welcome. Does this actually have to be brought to an airport designers attention.
Ditto for seat quantity. If the size of an aircraft which can "dock" at a given gate has a maximum of 200 passengers, I'm guessing having at least 200 comfortable seats in the waiting area would be a good idea. The number of times I have had to mind a gate from afar is mind-boggling. Has someone broken the calculators of airport personnel?