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What to Do during Long Airport Layovers

Young man with backpack in airport.
Leaving Airport during Long Layover by halfpoint/DepositPhotos

Do you spend so much time in airports that you sometimes wonder if you have been dropped into a scene from The Terminal? It is increasingly difficult to find direct flights to many destinations, and dreaded flight delays are becoming regular occurrences. Consequently, more travelers are having longer layovers, sometimes for six or more hours at a time. So what do you do with all that time spent waiting?

Some airports have beefed up their amenities to include such extravagances as ice skating rinks, butterfly grottos, spa treatments, virtual libraries, and meditation rooms. Others are allowing passengers with long layovers to leave the airport, sometimes on free airport transit tours that promote local tourism. Ultimately, however, it is up to the traveler to figure out the best way to spend those precious hours on a long layover.

Take Advantage of Unique Airport Amenities

Singapore Changi Airport is one of the world’s best airports to get stuck in with a long layover. It is like visiting an amusement park with a list of amenities most travelers only dream about. You can relax in the free two-story butterfly grotto with a 27-foot waterfall for example, or go for a swim in the Balinese rooftop pool, take a shower, and get a tasty drink for a $13 admission. Get your technology and media fix with complimentary game consoles, movie theaters, Internet kiosks and charging stations, or indulge in a bevy of salon services, including a fish-nibbling-pedicure or a hot stone massage.

No matter what time of year it is, you will welcome a long layover at Munich Airport. It has both a seasonal wave pool where passengers can try surfing a stationary wave, and a seasonal ice skating rink where travelers can show off their triple salchows. If it’s German beer you crave, you don’t have to leave the airport to find a local brewery. Airbrau is the airport’s popular brewery and Bavarian-style tavern complete with an outdoor beer garden.

You can even attend a live concert right in the airport. Jet Blue passengers enjoy free popup music concerts in Terminal 5 by famous artists like Taylor Swift at JFK International Airport. In the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, more than a dozen weekly live concerts are performed for ticketed passengers on four stages in both the east and west concourses.

Travelers can get a dose of culture at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport’s famous (and free) Rijks Museum. Follow that with some Zen time in the airport’s meditation room. In the San Francisco Airport International Terminal, you can enjoy shrimp tempura udon and a specialty sushi roll at Ebisu Japanese Restaurant, then head to the airport yoga room to do Seated Heart Opener pose if you’ve eaten too much!

Airportgyms.com shows you which airports offer a cardio workout “on the fly.” They have an exhaustive list of airport gyms and fitness centers throughout the United States and Canada. Passengers on a long layover can search the database to see what kind of exercise is offered at their airport from cardio to swimming to yoga.

When it is rest that you need, airport Yotel sleeping pods offer a convenient and affordable solution. At London’s Heathrow Airport, those with a long layover can stay in one of 32 en suite pod rooms for a nap and a shower, or just some work or alone time. Located in Terminal 4, sleeping pods can be rented for four-hour minimums for as little as $10 per hour. Other locations include London’s Gatwick Airport and Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. Yotel is now serving New York City and San Francisco in the United States too.

Kick back in the cushy luxury of an airport VIP lounge on your next layover for a mere $27 no matter which class or airline you fly. Priority Pass has a program open to everyone for an annual membership of $99. You get access to upscale, quiet VIP lounges where you can enjoy complimentary magazines and newspapers, drinks and snacks, Wi-Fi, comfy seating, entertainment and work spaces, showers, beds, and more. You can upgrade your membership to 10 free lounge visits, then $27 each when you reach #11, or upgrade to the top tier and get unlimited lounge visits for a single annual fee.

Escape the Airport to Explore the Area

When you have a long layover, sometimes the best idea is to escape into the surrounding city. At Minneapolis/Saint Paul International Airport, you can take the light rail transit right from Lindbergh’s Terminal 1 or Humphrey’s Terminal 2 just a few minutes to the massive indoor Mall of America, complete with an amusement park.

You’ll need at least a six-hour layover to factor in traffic both ways, but Los Angeles LAX Airport provides the perfect layover opportunity to go to the beach. Take a taxi to the popular Santa Monica Pier for lunch, shopping, celebrity sighting, and a suntan. Security lines can be long at this busy airport, so make sure you allow plenty of time to get back to your flight.

Windsor Castle, home to the Queen of England, is a $24 cab ride from London’s Heathrow Airport. Lucky travelers with just the right layover may get to see the Castle’s thirty-minute Changing of the Guard ceremony that begins at 10:50 a.m. on High Street. Or, take the Underground right from the airport to Harrods for a haircut, and follow it up with a pint or two of your favorite ale at the Green Man Pub. If beer isn’t your thing, Harrods also serves up the quintessential English tea at The Tea Room on the second floor.

Hong Kong International Airport is the mother lode of airport amenities from their Aviation Discovery Center to their IMAX theater, but it is the Sky City Nine Eagles golf course next door that PGA fans will adore. Sky CIty is a nine-hole course near Terminal 2 and adjacent to Asia-World Expo. It features golf instruction, equipment rental, floodlights for the nighttime practice range, and a Thai restaurant.

Many airports now offer transit tours for passengers with layovers of two to six hours; some are even free as a way to promote tourism. In Seoul’s Incheon International Airport, for example, passengers with a six-hour layover can take a unique tour of the DMZ along the border to North Korea for $100. With airport transit tours as short as two hours, you can use your layover time to revive before the next leg of your trip.

Find Ways to Entertain Yourself at the Airport

Combine the usual standbys like reading, people watching, eating, surfing the Internet, and trying to nap, with modern airport amenities and transit tours, and you are probably set. However, if you are still at a loss for how to spend your layover, then maybe one of these 101 Things to Do While Bored in an Airport will give you something useful (or at least fun) to do.

Break out your guitar, violin, or other instrument and perform an impromptu concert or lead a sing-along. When passengers at Newark Liberty International Airport were confined to tight quarters during a security lockdown, Josh Wilson led everyone in a few refrains of the Beatles song, “Hey Jude.” Any extrovert with an instrument can add a little brevity to a tense situation; it is the perfect antidote to airport boredom too!

A surefire way to entertain yourself if you can’t leave the airport on a long layover is to get online and check out the ultimate guide for long layovers at Layover Guide. They have gathered a plethora of layover ideas for a growing number of airports and their host cities, and are constantly adding new destinations from around the world. Check out the airport you’re sitting in to see if you could be doing something better with your layover. If not, plot your next route to trade that airport in for a better one.

If all else fails, take a page from Richard Dunn’s playbook for the most creative way to spend a long layover ever, and make an airport music video with your iPhone.

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