How To Survive Long Airport Layovers

“The journey is more important than the destination”

— I bet whoever came up with that saying has not had to endure long layover in airports.

What can you do to make those dragging hours feel better?
Note: most of these suggestions only apply if you’re stuck in an international airport.

Waiting in Schiphol airport -- By Spaan's visiON, Flickr

1. First stop: Google

Find out if what facilities the airport has to offer: a movie theater maybe? A quick massage, anyone? Most modern airports have made it easier and easier for passengers to kill time (and spend money) while waiting for their next flight.

You might luck out and discover that the airport you’re stuck in has a collection of awesome facilities that would make killing hours of time a breeze. Check out some of the sweet amenities that Singapore’s Changi Airport has:

  • Hair & Beauty Services
  • Nature Trail
  • Swimming Pool
  • And my favorite: The Slide @ T3

If you are into the spa scene check out this list of airports that has spa kiosks or spa lounges in their terminals.

Finding the help desk or a directory is another thing you can do to find out what/where these facilities might be. Sometimes these places are located in a different terminal, and/or require a shuttle/train ride and you won’t be able to find them easily by walking around.

2. Prepare your carry-on properly

One you do your research, make sure you pack your carry-on for the activities you’re planning to do during your layover— computer if you’re planning to do some work (don’t forget to pack the charger), gym clothes if you’re planning to check out the gym, toiletries if you want to freshen up, etc.

There’s nothing worse than being excited about playing an 18 hole game in the Hong Kong Int’l Airport’s golf course only to find out that you forgot to bring a change of clothing.

3. Catch up on your celebrity gossip

Have you ever stood in line in the grocery store and wondered who those people on the cover of tabloid magazines are? But you don’t want anybody to know that you actually read those magazines, right?

Well, being an anonymous joe-nobody at an airport in a city that you don’t live in is a perfect opportunity to catch up with what the Kardashians are up to nowadays. After you’re done, you can leave the mags on the chair for the next tortured soul to peruse.


4. Catching Some Snooze

This is definitely my preferred way to spend the time. Sick of sitting on my butt and unable to sleep with my knees up by my ear, I always take advantage of the quietest corner I can find, use my carry-on as a pillow, and (most of the time) fall asleep almost instantly.

Even if sleep alludes you, closing your eyes in a comfortable position in a quiet place can better prepare you for your next flight out.

5. Get Out and Explore

If you have an ungodly long layover, it might be worth it to find out if you can leave the airport and go explore the city a bit. Singapore’s Changi Airport has a free guided tour if your layover is longer than 2 hours. Many airports also have a direct public transportation line to the city center.

For example, our local San Francisco International airport springs to mind with a convenient BART station underground that would take you to the heart of San Francisco in 20 mins.

Just make sure to find out when the last train/shuttle run is so you won’t have a nasty surprise trying to get back to the airport.

6. Be productive

Those hours spent waiting is hours of your life you’ll never get back. Might as well use them by doing something productive.

Exercise
Stretch those muscles out. Being stuck in one position for a long period of time will wreak havoc on your muscles and postures. You don’t need to bust out your yoga mat and assume the downward dog position in the waiting lounge, but some simple stretching exercises would do you good.

Tidy up your digital world
Since a lot of airports now have wifi (some are even free) or internet kiosk, why not use the time to do something productive? Write emails to old friends and relatives you haven’t heard in awhile. Organize your emails. Update your profile on Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social medias. Check the latest news about the place you’re arriving. Confirm hotel reservations, flight reservations… Things you know you have to do in the digital world but never got around to do them.

Pick up new skills
Practice doodling. People sitting around or sleeping in airports make for prime doodling targets since they’re not moving much. Pick up a Sudoku book or one of those brain teaser books at the magazine store. If you’re heading towards a foreign country you can assume that some of the people waiting with you are flying home; bust out that phrasebook and ask the least intimidating looking person there if you can practise some of them. You might even end up learning some things or two about the country.


There’s only so much eating and window shopping that we can do and those above are some of the other things that we do when stuck inside an airport. I personally like to do #4 after a light stretching exercises while Jack prefers to kill time with one of his many electronic gadgets. And when feeling just a little daring, I might pick up one of those magazines too…


So tell me, what’s your longest layover and what did you do to kill time?


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11 Replies to “How To Survive Long Airport Layovers”

  1. Hey jack and Jill!

    I’m in oslo, Norway airport. got here on the 18th 21:40 and my next flight to Manchester is 19th 18:35. That’s a 21 hour layover! Well, I’m gonna take one of your suggestions and go and see what the city has to offer. But being in Norway, where everything is so expensive and being a student, makes it pretty hard.. But I think I’ll go mad if I don’t go out!

    Wish me luck 😀

  2. I spent the night in the Taipei airport once with a couple of friends. We camped out on the floor and it was miserable. We should have paid for a hotel, but we were being budge travelers…never again.

  3. Longest was something like 8-10 hours in Athens Airport. I don't remember exactly, because it was overnight. Tons of people sleeping in fairly uncomfortable poses on chairs. Though there were free internet in several places, which was quite nice.

  4. If my layover is long enough, I always opt to get out of the airport and into the city. Even if it's just a quick coffee, a beer, or a stroll around the city centre, I'd much prefer to be out of the confines of the airport. Great tips, thanks for sharing.

  5. Hey Jack n Jill,

    Just found your blog…nice work…we love it! We will absolutely be following you on your travels, both online, but perhaps in real life as well! We are headed for our RTW spring/summer 2011 from Canada. We seem to be planning a somewhat similar route: Central and South America, across to Europe (though I would love to do this trip across the ocean by sea, not flying), down through Africa, Middle East, SEA, Oz etc…that sort of thing…anyways, just wanted to say 'hi!'…hopefully we will be launching our blog soon-ish (if only I wasn't mentally stunted when it comes to technology it would probably be up by now).

    Cheers!

    Skott and Shawna

    1. Hi Skott and Shawna,
      Thanks for coming by. South America – Europe by sea?! That sounds exciting… would love to hear more about that opportunity. PM me if you're willing to share what you've learned. That would be sooo coool!

      When starting out this blog, we were really frustrated by the gazillion different plugins out there and spent a lot of time testing many of them that didn't work out. So, if you have any questions about the plugins we use on this site, ping me at jill@wherespoople.com and we'll help you in anyway we can.

  6. Wow! Those chairs look awesome!

    I once had a 9 hour stopover in Nairobi airport and we played cards the whole time. It actually passed the time really well!

  7. I've had a ten hour layover in the Toronto airport! Luckily our group thought ahead and planned a bus tour of the city. Still and ungodly layover though. We passed the time playing cards and creeping on Olympic athletes flying home.

  8. You forgot to mention Singapore's airport also has an armed teenage army that wanders around asking passengers for their passports and boarding passes, possibly looking for gum chewers too.

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