How to Handle Long Layovers at an Airport

Whoever said that the journey is more important than the destination obviously never had to endure a long airport layover!

For most travelers, a layover is a painfully boring delay in an already arduous travel experience, and cutbacks in the number of nonstop flights often mean layovers are unavoidable.

Plan your layover right, though, and it can become a productive part of your business trip or an extension of your vacation. While you may never get excited about layovers, you can at least make them a little more bearable.


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    Think of a layover as an extra travel bonus that allows you to get out and explore, even if you only see the inside of the airport. Look at it as a positive experience, one that allows you to meet new people and see new things.
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    Select your flight with the shortest layover that fits your budget. However, if your travel plans are flexible, think about scheduling a layover long enough to give you time to visit and shop in the city itself, perhaps a few hours.
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    Research the layover airport. Find out if there are restaurants, shops, or other activities. Some have theatres, museums, gyms, or play areas for the kids; these usually are found in large cities. Check out the airport website for information. If there's a map, print it and mark what you want to see when you get there.
    • While you're on the airport website, see if there is any service that allows you to deposit your baggage for the duration of your layover. Many airports offer such a service, and it is helpful not to have to haul around the rest of the baggage for your trip, especially if you are leaving the airport.
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    Find tourist attractions close enough to the airport.If this is the case, you will be able to take in some sightseeing if time permits. Before leaving, find out how long it will take to see specific attractions. Many airports are connected by direct trains or buses, so you can avoid expensive cab fares.
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    Join the VIP club. Most airlines have VIP clubs at major airports where you can enjoy a relaxing, luxurious environment complete with food and drink. VIP clubs also offer services needed for an "office away from the office." Membership can run as much as several hundred dollars a year, so unless you travel a great deal, this probably will not be worth it. If you are a frequent flyer member, inquire about getting a day pass, usually for a nominal fee.
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    Carry on what you will need during the layover. If you plan on getting some work done, bring your computer and other necessary supplies. If, however, you plan on working out, bring gym shorts and a t-shirt. Be prepared for whatever activities that interest you. Minimize your carry-on luggage as it will only weigh you down. Aside from that, you might have a problem with security, exiting the airport as well as returning.
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    Find out the exact time your next flight leaves, and from which gate, by asking an airline agent or checking the departure board as soon as you arrive. You do not want to miss your flight. Physically locate your next flight’s gate. This way you will be familiar with getting around the airport and will know if you have a long distance to cover. See if a light rail or shuttle is available, as most large airports these days make it very easy to get from one flight's gate to the other.
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    Check with one of your airline’s ticket agents at the layover airport to see if you can switch your flight. You might be able to get an earlier or later flight if there are seats available, at no extra cost.
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    Keep the kids entertained if you are going to remain in the airport for the layover. Kids get restless and can make the delay almost unbearable. Bring along a coloring book, or video game that will keep them occupied.
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    Bring something to read. This will ensure that you will not have to pay an overpriced amount for a book or magazine at the airport book store. It also means you're not limited to the selection at the airport.
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    Freshen up. Just washing your hands and face can wake you up and make you feel a lot better.
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    Take a walk. If you are between one long flight and another, walk around the airport and restore circulation to your legs. Many airports include public exhibits. Otherwise, you can window-shop, read regional billboards, watch airplanes, or simply look around. Get some fresh air if you can. Exercise will help you relax and provide you with an energy boost so you can get through the rest of your trip.
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    Get a meal, drink or snack. Most airports have restaurants and snack bars, even inside security. A meal will give you energy, and it will taste better and likely cost less on the ground than it would in the air. It's wise to keep hydrated when you're flying somewhere, too.
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    People watch. Airports have lots of people to watch. Have a seat in a public area and see what other travelers are doing.
    • Talk to people, but only if they seem open to it. A good chat will make time fly, and you might even make lasting connections.
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    Surf the web while waiting for the next plane or get some work done. Bring your laptop with you as some airports offer free wireless Internet throughout. This is the time to put the finishing touches on the presentation you have to make when you arrive at your destination.
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    Check on the status of your flight from time to time, and return to your gate at least 45 minutes before the flight is scheduled to leave. This way if there are gate or time changes, you will still be able to make your flight.
    • Allow additional time upon your return if you must re-enter through airport security.
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    Use a journal. Pick up a blank journal from one of the many bookstores and document your journey, jot down some business concepts, design a building, write down your regrets, write a book, explain your philosophy of life. Keeping a journal is very therapeutic and time consuming!


  • Consider scheduling extra-long layovers when planning your trip. Layovers of 2 to 4 hours are common. If you can’t get a short layover (just long enough for you to catch your connecting flight), and you’re not pressed for time, try to pick a connecting flight that departs several hours, or even a day, after your first flight arrives. That way you’ll have time to visit the surrounding area instead of being stuck in the airport.
  • Consider using a VPN if you'll be connecting to unsecured WiFi. On an open WiFi connection, malicious users on the network may be able to read some of the traffic your computer sends.
  • If you are going to explore the airport make sure you get to your departing gate on time.
  • Keep your gadget with you so you can play games on it.
  • When you are on a long international flight, an overnight layover can help reduce the effects of jet lag and help you reach your destination with plenty of energy.
  • If you have friends or family in the layover city, ask them to pick you up or meet you at the airport if you have time. You can go out to dine together, and they may take you to see some local sights. However, even if they just meet you at the airport, a layover is a good opportunity to catch up with someone you haven’t seen in a while.
  • Don't be afraid to leave the airport if you have a 5 hour+ layover. But for international travel, make sure you double check visa requirements before traveling. Depending on your citizenship, there are many countries that will allow you to acquire a visa at the airport or allow access even though you don't have a visa, but before planning a nice 7-hour layover, be aware that some countries may not grant you a visa at the airport.
  • If you leave the airport you will have to go back through security, so make sure you factor this into planning. Don't leave the city (even if it's right outside the airport) with 15 minutes till your flight.


  • Sometimes airlines have to change gates, even at the last minute, so it is a good idea to check on your flight often.
  • Be careful when scheduling layovers. Know how much time you will need to make it from one flight to another. Remember, your first flight could be delayed, you may have to wait at security, or any number of problems that could take up precious time. When booking, make sure you have at least an hour between flights. Don't cut it too close!
  • If you're transiting in the EU (European Union) and are going to another country that's not in the EU, it is recommended that you check the visa requirements and if you have the nationality of a country that is a certain color that means you need to have a visa for access into the country including transit. Always check the latest visa requirements for a country especially if you are transiting there as laws can change at anytime without notice. Double checking is recommended also. Look at the map wisely and read the keys to what you need prior to entry besides a passport. If you have the nationality of a country that is a certain color that means you need to have a visa for either full access or transit with full access. This goes for other countries too.
  • Go easy on the alcohol. Airport bars are good places to kill time, but take it easy. Not only are drinks usually expensive, but too much alcohol intake can make you tired, irritable, or sick for the rest of your trip and some airlines may not let you board if you have had too much to drink.
  • Keep in mind that some countries that require visas before arrival limit where you can go if you're transiting from your origin country to that country to your destination if it is in another country but for limited time only. For example, in China (excludes Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan) you can remain in China if you are transiting there to go to another country but you only can be there for 24 hours and you can't leave the airport unless you have a visa. If Shanghai is your transit point you have 48 hours but the restrictions might still be the same.
  • Be aware that if you purchase a transit visa you won't be allowed to leave the airport. It is always important to check what type of visas let you leave the airport because if you purchase the wrong type and leave the airport you risk getting in trouble with immigration authorities or the police.

Sources and Citations

  • USA Today Reviews of eight airports in the U.S. and Europe
  • Slideshow of some of the best airports around the world

Article Info

Categories: Surviving Airports