Most of us will, at some point, experience at least one long layover we just can’t avoid.
However, a long layover, or stopover, can typically mean a reduction in fares, and for those who enjoy breaking up the flight, an airport layover can mean – if you’re lucky – spending some time in one of the best airports in the world, where free 24-hour movie theaters, saunas and rooftop swimming pools are all available for you to use. But even if you’re not so lucky, there are tips and tricks that suit all kinds of budgets to make your airport layover fly by.
Get out of the airport
If the layover can’t be avoided, see just how long you can make it stretch. Can three hours in Keflavík International Airport be turned into six? That’s long enough to get out and enjoy Reykjavik, or even venture further afield into Iceland’s incredible wilderness.
In fact, Iceland is such a prime place for an extended layover, they built a whole campaign around it. They even have a Stopover Buddy Service, which hooks you up with a local. Check out what you can do in Iceland from a one day stopover, to five days.
But it’s not just Iceland; airports and airlines all over the world offer free tours for passengers caught in a long layover. Qatar Airways, for example, offer their passengers four free tours of Doha for you to choose between. In Taipei for eight or more hours? Choose between two tours, one short (visiting a temple and Taipei’s pottery center), and one long, visiting five sites in Taipei, including Taipei 101, the eighth tallest building in the world, temples, and the Presidential Office Building.
Six hours to kill in Istanbul and flying Turkish Airlines? Check out Touristanbul, a service dedicated to showing transit passengers the main sights of the city that straddles east and west. Depending on what time your tour is (there are five different tours during the day), you’ll see different sights, all of which are guaranteed to be better than an airport wall.
Narita Airport in Japan also offers tours, both guided (by locals) and self-guided. Guided tours include Narita City, Shibayama Town and Tako Town, while the self-guided tours focus on shopping, visiting either Shisui Premium Outlets or AEON Mall Narita. Seoul’s Incheon International Airport offers a number of tours varying in length from one to five hours. Tours include the Incheon City Tour, Seoul City Tour, Temple Tour and more (all include English speaking guides).
Don’t forget that if you do decide to venture out of the airport on your layover, check if you need a visa, even if you plan on leaving for just a few hours, and make sure there are luggage storing facilities if you have to recheck your bags. Last but not least, don’t forget to ask at security about expected waiting times at security checks on your return.
But if you can’t stretch it, don’t want to stretch it, or will be in an airport that’s in the middle of nowhere as they so often are, then what to do? Just how can you spend hours and hours in the same building without going stir crazy?
It might seem a little far-fetched for a short trip, and yes, it does cost a bit extra, but if you’ve got hours to kill in a relatively dull airport, it might very well be worth buying a lounge pass. There are a few different passes, but all do essentially the same thing: give you access to private lounges in the airport. Enjoy free drinks, newspapers, internet access, snacks, and of course, (relative) peace and quiet.
Try Lounge Pass, which provides access to 300 airport lounges worldwide, and LoungeBuddy (also available on iOS and Android), which provides instant access to 160 lounges worldwide. If you think you’ll be in for a lot of layovers, consider Priority Pass, which has over 950 lounges worldwide, and is based on an annual membership fee, starting at around $100 (it’s also worth checking to see if your credit card offers any lounge access).
Read more: want some shopping in the airport? Find out if duty free is really worth it
Sure, it might not be on your top five favorite things to do, but if you’ve got time to kill, why not kill some calories – or at least get your zen on? San Francisco’s international airport has a self-led yoga room, where weary travelers can lay their mats down and savasana the layover away.
Dubai International Airport and Singapore Changi Airport (to name a few), offer access to swimming pools for reasonable prices, Munich Airport offers an 18-round mini-golf course, and Seoul’s airport even has a free ice-skating rink (although skate hire will cost you a few bucks). It’s worth investigating before you fly to see if you can access a gym or fitness center at the airport, or at a hotel in/close to the airport. Occasionally they’re pricey, but some are pretty good – especially if it means getting a shower during your six-hour layover!
If you baulk at the idea of a work out, how does wandering through an art gallery sound? London Heathrow; Miami International Airport; Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok; Haneda Airport, Tokyo; Helsinki Vantaa Airport and Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport all have a dedicated space for art and/or sculpture, and San Francisco International Airport even boasts its own museum!
Get some rest
If you land in the middle of the night and desperately need to catch 40 winks, every airport in the world has its good spots for huddling down. Some airports have dedicated quiet areas with almost-flat-loungers, sleeping pods or even mini-hotels.
Japan’s Narita Airport has nine hours (prices start at about $10 for a one-hour stay with use of shower, and upwards); Dubai International Airport has SnoozeCube ($20 per hour, with minimum of two hours required) and GoSleep (which is also available in Abu Dhabi Airport, with prices starting at $14). Berlin-Tegel Airport and Munich Airport have napcabs (minimum charge of $34); and London Heathrow, London Gatwick, Paris Charles de Gaulle and Amsterdam Schiphol all have mini-hotel chain, YOTEL (prices vary a great deal depending on airport and time).
If there are no specific sleeping areas, just take a good walk around, and you’re guaranteed to find a spot under stairs, tucked away out of site and perfect for nestling up with your bags and having a doze.
A good tip is to find a gate that’s not being used, and hunker down (until it’s needed, of course!). If you know you’re not really meant to be tired but have just fallen victim to jet lag, try to shake it off: take a walk, exercise, get some food and get hydrated!
Read more: do you best to beat jet lag with these seven tips
Explore the airport
Not enough cash to lounge about and not enough time to work out or sleep? Then go forth and explore! Airports are cool places – not only can you people watch, but you can plane watch. Find a great spot by the glass, and watch the planes coming in and out.
You might be able to spot a couple of interesting planes and, if you’re a nervous flyer, it’ll help you see just how safe and calm taking off and landing is.
Read more: if you aren’t too keen on flying, Patricia Furness-Smith, a psychologist specializing in phobias, has some pro tips to help you on your way
If you’re traveling with children, you’ll likely be grateful of a layover – or even two. Sure, it might sound like a good idea to tackle that 17-hour flight in one non-stop stretch when you’re booking, but once the kids have had their naps, had their share of games and TV and walked up and down the aisle 15 times, you might think otherwise.
Why not try to make the journey part of the holiday and see if you can stretch a layover into a long enough break to see something outside of the airport? If it can’t be done, then do some research on your layover airport and find out where the kids play area is – most larger airports have at least one, and if you’re lucky, they’ll have slides, interactive features, LEGO, cartoons, cribs and even bathtubs!
Read more: how to survive traveling with kids
The final tip – and really part of the planning process – is to pack well. If you know you’ve got a long layover ahead, plan for it. Earplugs, sleeping mask, books, TV programs/films on your tablet/phone/computer, a blanket (or extra layers – airports can get cold at night!), refillable water bottle, snacks, charger, and a change of underwear (or full set of clothes), so you can at least feel fresh.
It’s also a good idea to check what kind of plug the country your airport layover is in – it might use a different type than your origin and destination country. Pack that adaptor if you haven’t already!
Read more: check out the ultimate packing checklist before you go
Finally, you’ve got to have WiFi, no matter how long your layover will be. Download WiFox, a continually updated map of airport and lounge WiFi passwords from around the world, available for both iOS and Android, and you’ll be online in no time.
So what are you waiting for? Get searching for your next flight and remember: there’s no need to fear flights with layovers!