Sooner or later you’re bound to experience the dreaded “long layover” – if you haven’t already. Bad weather, delayed (or worse, cancelled) flights, and missed connections are unwanted mishaps that we can’t always avoid when flying – especially across continents.
Trying to save money on costly direct flights has its drawbacks, and one of them is having to stop over at a transit airport. For those who haven’t been stuck in an airport longer than 3 hours (lucky you!), you haven’t had to endure sitting on a cold, hard airport bench for many hours, while exhausting all the movies, music and Kindle material on your smartphone. There’s only so much sensory input your brain can take, after all.
Having had your fill of snacks, or looked around and shopped to your heart’s (and pocket’s) content, you’re probably left with not much else to do other than to people-watch. But if that doesn’t interest you either, here are several other things you can do when you find yourself stuck on a long layover.
#1 Plan Ahead
Before anything else, find out exactly how many hours you’ll have to kill. Assuming you’ve already done this, you’ll want to be ready with things you can do and items you’ll need to carry to while away the time.
Try to find out as much as you can about your transit airport. Is it near or easily accessible to the city center? Can you go out for a few hours to explore? What kind of facilities are there inside?
Aside from the usual coffee shops, food court and shopping stalls, many airports now have shower facilities, salons and spas. Major hubs have yoga and fitness centers, sleeping areas, libraries, museums, theatres, an aquarium and even a swimming pool! Prepare for whatever activities interest you. If you know how much time you have, how much things will cost and how to avail of them, you’ll be ready for a little adventure before your big adventure.
#2 Pack Smart
Bring a paperback, a favourite gadget(s) and the necessary charger(s). You never know when your phone or laptop battery will run out, and most airports have outlets you can plug into in case you need to recharge. Also remember to bring toiletries, a sweater and an extra shirt in case a seatmate spills some coffee on you or the air-conditioner gets too cold for comfort.
#3 Check And Re-Check Your Schedule
Once at the airport, confirm everything you need to confirm – the exact time of your next flight, the location of your terminal and boarding gate, and how much time you’ll need to get there. Next, get acquainted, physically, with the airport’s layout. Find out what you can do, where you can go, the distance and how much time is needed to go from one place to another.
#4 Go Sight-Seeing
If your layover is long enough and the airport is within easy reach of the city center, see if you can leave the airport for a while and check out some local sights. Ask the staff at the welcome desk near baggage claim if there are mini-tours that can be done within the limited time you have.
In cities like Amsterdam, London, Washington D.C., Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Sydney, Singapore and Hong Kong, travellers can easily go around either by public transport or rented tours and see popular attractions in town for a few hours. Singapore offers free 2-hour city tours for travellers with at least a 5-hour layover at Changi Airport. Search “airport layover tour” on Google and see what the city you’re in can offer you.
#5 Freshen Up
Wash your face, brush your teeth, comb your hair, and touch up your makeup. You’ll quickly notice how revitalized you feel afterwards.
#6 Socialize, Catch Up
If you’re travelling alone and don’t feel like talking to a stranger seated next to you, catch up with friends and family online. Use the time to check your mail, reply to messages, update your status, Skype or make a phone call. There’s a hundred things you can do on social (and private) media, and this is the best time to get back to people you may have neglected in the days leading up to your trip.
#7 Organize Your Mailbox And Review Your Photos
Get cleaning! Delete old, unnecessary messages clogging up your phone and email inboxes. Some may have been there for months, even years, without you noticing and it wouldn’t hurt to lighten up your gigabyte use. Viewing your photos and getting rid of lousy ones to free up your camera, phone and laptop’s disc space is also time spent productively.
#8 Adjust Your Itinerary
Surf online to download maps and travel guides, and search tips on where to eat, what to do and where to stay in your final destination. Even if you already have everything ironed out, there’s always something new that other websites can offer you.
Have you checked out TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet? How about NotForTourists, MatadorNetwork, and FathomAway? You could also check with the local government or tourism office of the city you’re visiting. Modify your itinerary as you discover new things that interest you.
Get a blank journal from the bookstore, use your laptop or use Evernote to do some writing. Plan your next trip. Brainstorm a new business. Make a to-do list, a shopping list, a gift list, a movie list, or any kind of list. Update your blog — start one if you haven’t – or reply to readers’ comments. There are so many things you can contemplate and write about that you’re just too busy to do outside your daily routine at work and at home.
Aside from VIP Clubs, many terminals now have pay-per-use lounges that charge a minimal fee. Some of the services they offer are buffet meals, plush seats, shower rooms, massages, WiFi and workstations for those who don’t bring their laptops.
If all else fails, take a nap. Find a quiet, secluded place if you can, get as comfortable and secure as possible, and try to get a shut eye. You may not get quality sleep but even a 1-hour nap could recharge you for another couple of hours.
If you happen to be at Vancouver International, Hong Kong International or Incheon Airport in South Korea, there are padded benches and cosy lounge chairs, which allow tired travellers to stretch out. Amsterdam Schiphol, London Heathrow and London Gatwick have terrific mini-rooms that have a bed, bathroom, a fold-out desk and a TV, all compressed into 7 square meters of “capsulized” accommodations. Check out SleepinginAirports.net to see which terminals around the world offer similar services.