Anyone who’s a frequent flier knows you can’t count on taking off on time. Be it a mechanical issue, weather system or some mysterious other reason, flight delays happen, sometimes by many hours. When you hear that muffled announcement or see the status update on the departure board, fuming with rage will get you nowhere. Airports are rarely pleasant places to get stuck in, particularly with their inflated prices, oppressive security regimes and huge crowds, but you might as well make the best of it. Here are a few ideas to help you overcome those inescapable hours of concourse tedium. Consider it a gift of found time and make the best of it.
1. Work Your Phone
First, a few practical suggestions to help you get where you’re going. When you first clue in that your flight is delayed, or worse, cancelled, get in line with the rest of your frustrated flightmates, but also call the airline directly. Their telephone customer service reps are in a better position to find you alternative travel arrangements than the harried agent at the gate desk. Check out apps like TripIt or WorldMate to have flight information on other carriers at your fingertips and to help you rebook.
2. Burn Some Calories
Unbeknownst to many, a lot of larger airports actually have gyms in their departure lounges. Pack some workout gear in your carry-on, and that unexpected fallow time can become productive “me” time. You probably don’t want to work up a major sweat if you only have a short inconvenience, but if you have more than an hour or two’s delay, this is a great use of time. Some airports have particularly large gyms, featuring all of the modern equipment you’d expect at any high-end fitness center. Among the best in the US are the in-terminal gyms in Chicago, Dallas and San Francisco airports – the latter even has a free yoga studio for a quick stretch before you squish onto a plane. Here is a listing of other North American airport gyms, most in the $10-20 an hour range. Some even rent or sell clothing and footwear for those who didn’t plan ahead. And if you don’t feel like spending money on a gym pass, do a few laps around the airport. You can walk for miles in some of those concourses.
3. Visit the Spa
You might learn to welcome flight delays once you tap into the fact that some airports have indulgent spas on site. It’s a great way to ease the stress of air travel, provided you don’t mind spending a small fortune. Pop in for a 20 minute massage, pamper yourself with a facial or mani-pedi, try out an oxygen treatment or splurge on a few hours in a blissful retreat. It’s an oasis away from the maddening crowds in the concourse, where you’ll forget all about that travel tension. Some airline clubs and airport hotels operate exclusive spas and luxury lounges of their own. Here’s a list of some of the world’s best airport spa sanctuaries.
4. Might As Well Shop
Major airports are like big shopping malls full of specialty retailers these days, but even smaller ones have a few merchants at least one duty-free shop to peruse. Take some time and admire those little bottles of perfume, behold the gilded boxes of chocolates or check out some luxury brand watches. Even if you’re just window shopping, it can help pass the idle time. If you have a little leftover foreign cash, you might as well buy something as airport money exchangers typically have the worst rates around.
5. Buy a Deck of Playing Cards
On the other end of the budget spectrum, why not unplug and enjoy a good old-fashioned game of cards. You shouldn’t have trouble finding a souvenir deck in an airport shop if you forget to pack one. Card games are a classic boredom buster that can help keep you occupied for hours. A deck of cards is an essential thing to bring if you’re traveling with kids, as it can turn that annoying flight delay into some quality family bonding time. If you’re with your spouse, friend or colleague, it can be a nostalgic way to connect and pass the time. If you’re traveling alone, you might even ask others waiting for the same flight if they want to play a game. More often than not, they’ll be happy to socialize to kill some idle time.
6. Tend to Your Emails
For those of us who can’t unplug, you might as well make good use of the newfound hour(s) to weed through your inbox. Won’t it feel good to finally delete all the junk mail, Twitter updates and stale messages once and for all? Make the delay productive by catching up on work-related tasks or reaching out to friends and contacts you’ve been neglecting. Many airports have comfortable business lounges where you can be as productive as you are at the office. We all complain about our time famine. A delayed flight plus a connected device is a gift of found time and presents an ideal opportunity to accomplish those little tasks that clutter all our to-do lists.
7. Enjoy a Good Meal
Airport restaurants might not be the most affordable places to dine, but everyone knows that traveling on an empty stomach isn’t much fun either. You’ll also spend less in most cases by eating at the airport rather than during the flight, unless your airline includes a meal in the ticket price (a rarity these days). Some long-distance airlines may even offer a free meal coupon for particularly long delays. Most airports offer dining options that range from fast food and grab ‘n go sandwiches to sushi bars and fine dining establishments. Check out GateGuru’s top 25 list of airport restaurants. Of course, there’s always an airport bar to drown your delay sorrows in, but overindulging before a flight is never advisable.
8. Binge Watch That Show Everyone’s Been Taking About
Delayed flights are a perfect opportunity for some guilt-free vegging in front of your device. Poke around Netflix or the like and catch up on episodes of your favorite programs, or start binging on a new one that’s all the rage. You never know how long that delay is going to last, so you might make it through the whole season. Most airports have areas where TVs play news or sitcoms, if you’re one of the few people traveling without a tablet, laptop or smartphone.
9. Buy a Crossword Puzzle
If there’s one thing that’s not hard to find in any airport newsstand, it’s the ubiquitous crossword puzzle. Roll your eyes all you want, but brain games are a great way to keep the mind simulated while you wait out a lengthy flight delay. Of course, you can also play games on your tablet or phone, but there are times when you can’t find a plug or WiFi signal and you’ll have to make do like your grandparents did. Word searches, Sudoku games and all sorts of engaging puzzles can save your sanity when you’ve got long hours ahead of you.
10. Put Your Geography Skills to the Test
Large airports see hundreds of flights arriving and departing throughout the day, often from far-flung places the other side of the world. You might not recognize every city on the flight info monitors, but a delay presents an opportunity to test out your geography skills. See if you can recognize the numerous place names and languages that you come across in the airport. Better yet, use the board as inspiration for where you might want to travel to next.