Beyond the Bookstore: How 21 Frequent Flyers Beat Airport Boredom

published Jun 9, 2016
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They soar among us: cheery travelers for whom the airport is not a soul-crushing penitentiary. Footloose vagabonds who shun nonstop trips and relish the void between connecting flights. Clear-eyed passengers who gaze up at the departure screen, see a five-hour delay and think, This could be fun! We talked to 21 of them to learn how exactly they pass—and enjoy—the time.

By living it up in the lounge

“Some folks are surprised to hear that you don’t generally need a membership to enjoy the personalized services in an airline’s club or lounge; many offer one-day passes. American Airlines, for example, charges $50 for a one-day pass, and up to three kids are allowed in at no extra charge. Snacks and wi-fi are included!” —Meghan Khaitan, family travel expert

“In my opinion, coughing up cash for a day pass to the AA Admirals Club or the United Club is well worth it for making layovers less torturous. The best part for me? Dedicated customer-service counters. I find the reps here help out with issues in a far more useful way than regular gate agents do.” —Joe Palko, Des Plaines, IL

“Sometimes you can get lounge passes for free by redeeming loyalty miles, or by using a friend’s guest pass. Many lounges at international airports have amazing shower amenities, a nice treat when flying across the world. Following a 7-hour flight from Bali a few years ago, I connected through Tokyo and was able to get into the ANA Airlines lounge for free. I was handed a robe, slippers, warm towels and a key to a beautifully tiled private shower room stocked with toiletries. I didn’t want to leave!” —Kristi Soomer, founder, Encircled

By sightseeing

“Between flights on a business trip last summer, I had a choice of spending 4 hours or 11 hours in Seattle. I chose the longer layover and got to enjoy the day in the city, riding the train into town, eating a salmon sandwich at Pike Place Market and then seeing the Space Needle—way more fun than my usual beer at the airport.” —Mark Aselstine, San Francisco

“If your flight is unexpectedly delayed for several hours and you aren’t sure what to do, try using the AroundMe app on your iPhone, iPad, or Android phone to look up local attractions near the airport. The wait won’t be so bad if you can duck out to visit a museum, park, local restaurant or shopping center!” —Meghan Khaitan, family travel expert

“Some airlines offer guided sightseeing excursions for folks on layover. Qatar Airways, for example, provides a special tourist visa and free bus tours in Doha that bring travelers to four landmarks: the Pearl, Katara Cultural Village, Museum of Islamic Art and Souq Waqif. Just sign up when you arrive, and you’re returned to the airport when you’re done!” —Kathy Pulkrabek, creator, XX, Will Travel podcast

“I now plan my international trips to create long layovers. When I fly next month from the West Coast to southeast Asia, I’m thinking of stopping over in Guangzhou, China, and getting one of their free 72-hour visas to do some exploring.” —Kelly Hayes-Raitt, author, Living Large In Limbo

“If you’re traveling with huge luggage and don’t want to lug it out of the terminal, ask your airline about short-term storage. It’s often available for a modest fee.” —Keith Shadle, San Diego

By working up a sweat

“I often fly from the U.S. and stop over in Europe en route to destinations in Africa. I try to have a layover of at least four hours each way. Why? To go for a long run! In Frankfurt, Germany, for instance, a number of trails surround the airport, and bridges cross the main river with pedestrian walkways into the city. Running keeps me healthy and sane between long-haul flights. I just use Google maps to plan ahead.” —Wayan Vota, Washington, D.C.

“A growing number of airports are making it possible to stay in shape. Minneapolis-St. Paul and Baltimore-Washington both have indoor walking paths. Philly has a Fitness Zone with stationary bikes and equipment, and Detroit and Vancouver airports have Westin Hotels that offer access to gym services. It pays to poke around!” —Benét J. Wilson, Aviation Queen

“Even when I’m at an airport that lacks fitness amenities, I’ve been known to roll out my yoga mat and just enjoy the heck out of myself. And those long hallways are great for power walking. Finding a way to move around means feeling a lot better when I get to where I’m going.” —Marisa Wolfe, Lemitar, N.M.

By de-procrastinating

“My advice is to use the time as a personal ‘hackathon’ for a project you’d never do on a normal day. One time while waiting for a flight to San Fransisco, I started an Instagram account that was inspired by my obsession with plants—one of those projects that had been nagging at the back of my mind for ages. It took a layover for me to finally do it!” —Amy Killoran, I Love Travel

“When I’m stuck on a godawful layover and there aren’t any decent options for distraction, I buy a bunch of postcards and write mini letters to all the friends and family I’ve wanted to stay in touch with but haven’t. I get to reconnect with people I care about, and they get a nice surprise in the mail. Time flies!” —Janice Holly Booth, author, Only Pack What You Can Carry

By meeting (and making) friends

“I’ve met interesting people from all over the world just by grabbing a drink at the bar. Before you know it, you’re engrossed in the life story of the person next to you—or the bartender’s. And then just like that, your flight is being announced over the intercom.” —Ligaya Malones, The Curious Passport

“Several location apps now allow you to use your smartphone to track the whereabouts of friends. If you have Google’s Latitude app, for example, you can see if any of your contacts are stuck in the airport, too. You never know!” —Meghan Khaitan, family travel expert

By getting pampered

“My favorite airport layover activity is to find a spa in the airport and get a massage or pedicure. Most spas will let you relax in the massage chairs before and after your services. Just ask!” —Kristina Portillo, Business Travel Life

“When I was going in and out of London every six weeks, I would sometimes call ahead and book a salon appointment at the Virgin Club Lounge. I loved looking forward to a haircut, massage and manicure. As a modern man, I’m not afraid to indulge!” —Andy Abramson, Del Mar, CA

By taking in art

“More and more airports are offering art museums and galleries as a mental escape. When I book my travel, I always Google the airport I’ll be passing through to see if they have any exhibitions. So far I’ve been impressed with the artwork at MIA, SFO and ATL. And ORD and LAX are also known for their impressive permanent installations.” —Suzanne Matulay, New York City

By waiting in Singapore

“I’m a frequent traveler who can’t wait to lay over at Singapore’s Changi Airport again! In addition to a big-screen movie theater, garden installations, sleeping lounges and a multi-story indoor slide, there’s a high rail that takes you right into town.” —Elaine J. Masters, Trip Well Gal

“Changi Airport has everything, including a pool! But if you do get bored, the airport offers a free 2.5-hour guided tour of the city.” Benét J. Wilson, Aviation Queen

“Changi also has a dedicated movie space, which doubles as a terrific place to nap. If you’re looking for nature, the butterfly garden is fantastic. There are over a thousand tropical butterflies in the enclosure—a nice stop for all travelers, especially those with children.” —Abigail, Where Abigail Went

By ruffing it out

“Airports are now employing therapy dogs as a wonderful way to brighten travelers’ days. The trend started a couple of years ago with LAX’s PUP—Pets Unstressing Passengers—program, and since then it’s really taken off. A few months ago I flew to Albany, New York and got a surprise greeting from a therapy dog wagging its tail. Missing my own dog, Sunshine, I was all too happy to spend part of my layover with a sweet furry friend.” —Camille Hoheb, Wellness Travel Journal

By booking a room

“Many of our airport hotels offer day rates, which are a great option for travelers with extended layovers looking to rest and recharge for a few hours. For example, at Hilton Los Angeles Airport, day rates start at $99 and give guests full access to hotel amenities from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.” Shawn McAteer, vice president, global brand management, full service brands, Hilton Worldwide

“On a recent trip to Israel via London, I arrived early in the morning. But my flight to Tel Aviv wasn’t until six hours later. So I ended up at the airport’s Yotel, a chain that lets you book rooms by the hour. I slept comfortably for most of my stop and took a relaxing shower afterward. Far better than trying to nap in the terminal.” —Andy Abramson

By employing mental trickery

“I think boredom depends on how a person thinks about it. If you disregard the time and just enjoy the experience of traveling as a whole, you’ll forget what boredom is.” —Ulysis Cababan, Philippines