How to Survive Being Stuck at the Airport

Being stuck at the airport is no picnic, but there are ways to make waiting easier. JGA/Shutterstock

When people say they love to travel that typically means they enjoy discovering new places. The actual traveling isn't always a highlight of the experience.

Air travel can be a nightmare of cancellations, delays, gate changes, lackluster customer service, long and slow-moving lines — and all for the sake of sitting in a tiny seat with minimal legroom for several hours. (At least the destination is worth it!)

Certainly, there are airports where you might welcome a layover, but should you find yourself stuck at a not-so-fun terminal because of a layover or other delay, here are some ways to make the most of your extra time there.

1. Bring a survival kit in your carry-on. Being prepared is the best way to get through anything, and bringing a stash of supplies with you is the first step to getting through a layover. This kit can include:

  • Snacks
  • A refillable (but empty) water bottle
  • Baby wipes
  • Medication
  • A toothbrush and toothpaste (or mouth spray)
  • A book or two, preferably paperback for lighter carrying
  • A comfortable sweater or sweatshirt
  • A face mask for sleeping

Some of this seems pretty common sense, like having medication with you instead of in a checked bag, but others are things you may not have thought of. You shouldn't have to overpay for snacks and water when you can just bring them yourself. After all, TSA doesn't care about a large bottle as you go through security so long as it's empty. Fill it up at a water fountain or the bottle filling stations that are becoming more common these days. And remember: do that only after you go through the body scanner.

The toiletries may seem a bit much at first, but being able to tidy up can help keep you in a good frame of mind as opposed to giving into feeling like the stranded castaway in a sea of florescent lighting.

As for the books, well, yes, you may have a whole library available to you on your phone or tablet, but those devices require charging and physical books don't require that you do battle over outlets and charging stations to function. That being said, you should probably ...

A charging station in an airport, with plugged in devices and adapters
More and more airports have charging stations at the gates. smolaw/Shutterstock

2. Have charging options at the ready. You'll need to use your phone eventually, and it's easy to run down the battery when you're checking social media and playing games (or reading a book, if you forgot to pack a physical one.). You have a few options available to you, however. The first is simply to resist the temptation to use the device and turn off push notifications and app syncs to conserve battery life.

More likely than not, however, you're going to be hunting for an outlet or charging station near your gate. Plenty of airports offer outlets under the seating at the gates, and others have standing charging stations available. You may even find — gasp! — an outlet in a wall! Just remember to pack up from the charging location after you've charged your device, and don't unplug someone else's device that's fully charged to gain access to an outlet.

You could also pack a fully-charged portable power bank in your survival kit so you have on-the-go charging. Most power banks can charge your device a couple of times before they need to be charged themselves, depending on the phone. Prices vary, but they're worth the investment if you do a lot of traveling and don't want to fight over outlets.

The Terminal B Delta Sky Club at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport
Airline lounges, like this Delta Sky Club in Atlanta's Hartfield-Jackson International Airport, offer a respite from the hustle and bustle of the gates. Delta News Hub/flickr

3. Take advantage of airport lounges if you have the cash. You've probably strolled by a carrier's lounge and sighed, thinking about all the complimentary drinks and snacks, comfy chairs and lack of TVs blaring cable news at you for hours at end. Here's the thing, though: These oases in a sea of disgruntled travelers aren't just for frequent flyers or folks with Priority Pass; you can get in, too — for a price. (And, just think, you probably saved some money by bringing that survival kit to make up for this.)

Most carriers offer a day pass for their lounges. You present your boarding pass and pay a fee for access, probably somewhere between $45 and $60. While the prices vary by airline, the passes can sometimes be purchased online a day in advance at a discounted rate. Once inside, you can expect, at minimum, a quieter space, with free food and drinks, Wi-Fi, desks or tables to work at and nice seats. (It'll also probably be easier to find a way to charge your device in here.) Some lounges will also have showers if you need to remove travel grime, and the shower usage is included in your day pass.

The OSL-Lounge in Norway's Gardermoen Airport
The OSL-Lounge in Norway's Gardermoen Airport is open to all travelers. TravelingOtter/Wikimedia Commons

The other perk of the lounges is that there will be an airline employee on hand, and they'll have access to carrier's system, meaning you can make reservations, upgrades and even check on the status of a connecting flight. And since you're in the lounge, you'll be less likely to be surrounded by other angry flyers facing down harried customer service folks at the gate's desk. It'll make for a smoother experience.

If the airline you're flying with doesn't have a lounge, you may still able to get into another carrier's lounge. It never hurts to ask. If an airline's lounge doesn't appeal, however, some airports are rolling out their own lounges. Airports like SeaTac in Seattle, Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta and Baltimore/Washington International Airport each have their own for-pay lounges, and the prices for a day's worth of access tend to be a bit cheaper than the airlines' prices while still offering many of the same amenities.

People sleep on the floor of an airport in Moscow
You can probably do better than sleeping on the floor of the airport. Shanti Hesse/Shutterstock

4. Find a comfortable place to sleep. We're not talking about a quick snooze here. No, we're talking about finding a place to sleep because you're at the airport overnight and (understandably) don't want or can't go to a hotel. Airports make it difficult to stretch out, as seating is often divided by armrests and other partitions. So unless you can curl up like a hedgehog and sleep comfortably in a tight little ball, you'll need help. (That sweatshirt we suggested you pack can also double as a pillow.)

Your best bet for that assistance is Sleeping in Airports. This site provides a rundown of a huge number of airports around the world. It tells you where all the good sleeping spots are located, if there's a yoga room where you grab some shut-eye and so on. The site also provides plenty of information on the environment you'll be sleeping in, including how often the lights are kept on, if the TVs are on nonstop and how frequently there are loud announcements, regardless of the time of day. They even have suggestions on how to handle airport staff who may not necessarily be keen on you sleeping in a certain place.

If you don't want to scout out a place to sleep, there may be some other, costlier, options out there, depending on your airport.

Capsule sleeping, like izZzsleep in Mexico City (featured in the video above) or Dubai's Snooze Cubes offer the opportunity to rent a private space to sleep, but this option might not be good if you're claustrophobic. These sleep pods are a bit more restful than sleeping at the gate, and with relatively cheap rates — izZzsleep is $30 for the night — they're a good alternative. While these options aren't cropping up all over the U.S. yet, you're likely to see them in some international airports.

If you need a bit more space, Minute Suites offer places to rest on an hourly or nightly basis. They're not cheap — an hour will set you back $42, while a flat rate for 8 hours is $140 — but they offer a daybed sofa, fresh pillows, an audio program that their website claims to "deliver the equivalent of three hours of sleep in only 26 minutes" and a work station.