Getting stuck at the airport is the closest example we humans have for the concept of purgatory. Having to wait an hour or two between flights is bad enough — when you have to be there for over four hours, or overnight, things can get hairy. I’ve been there. My record longest airport wait time was around 24 hours in Syracuse, New York. I missed a flight and ended up having to spend the night.
Though Syracuse was the longest, that ordeal wasn’t the only time I’ve had to spend hours at the airport. Air travel brings with it a great deal of waiting, and that waiting can be torture if you’re not mentally prepared. In my hours of waiting at the airport, I’ve thought of a few things to do until it’s time to board the flight. Here are 12 ideas.
If it’s a long wait, see the sights
The one perk of a longer delay at the airport is actually having time to go somewhere outside of the airport. Sure, you’ll have to go through security all over again, but isn’t it worth it for the taste of fresh air and freedom? If your layover is in a city you’ve never been to, take the opportunity to see a few sights. If you’ve been there before, revisit some of your favorite spots, or find a new one. Call a friend if you have one nearby.
Maybe you have time for an entire museum adventure. Maybe you only have time for a pint at the local tavern. Maybe you only have time to walk in a circle around the airport. Either way, it’s better than spending all that time inside. Get some fresh air. You’ll be glad you did when you’re trapped on a stuffy airplane for X number of hours.
Take a long, leisurely walk
If you can go outside, walk outside. You’ll stretch your legs, which are probably aching if you just got off an airplane, and you’ll be getting some awesome exercise. Do some brisk walking if you can.
If you’re trapped inside the airport, you can still take a walk. The fresh air factor may be right out, but you’ll still get your exercise. Walk around the entire airport. Get to know it like the back of your hand. Help frantic strangers find their gates (just don’t offer to carry any baggage). Count your steps if you wish.
Create backstories for people on ads
You don’t have to walk through the airport for long (even though you most certainly will) to find large advertisements plastered all over the walls, along escalators and moving walkways, and at gates. You’ll see a lot of faces on these ads: some actual size, some much larger. One way to pass the time may be to think up some adventures for these people.
It is times like this that it’s handy to have a notebook — I never go anywhere without a way to write things down. Invent some backstories for the ad models. Maybe create each one a superhero alter-ego. If you’re the artsy type, you could sketch a few superhero costumes. Get creative.
Write a novella
Speaking of character backstories, you could write a novella (or a short story, novel, play or poem) with all of your free time. You could use the characters you derived from the airport advertisements, or you could make up a few of your own. If you’re stumped for ideas, you could use passersby for random bits of inspiration. It comes from all around.
Become a contortionist learning to sleep on gate seats
If you have to spend the night inside of the airport for whatever reason, you’re in for a real treat. The really tricky part is figuring out how to get some sleep. In Syracuse, I contorted myself into weird shapes around the armrests of gate seats… it’s not easy, but it can be done. I used my backpack as a pillow and my coat as a blanket. I didn’t sleep much, but a little is better than nothing.
You could also sleep sitting up, but I find that hurts my back worse than trying to lay down in weird, contorted positions on gate seats. To each their own.
Become an expert on your favorite book
I usually bring just one book with me when I travel, because I don’t like to get weighed down with too much stuff. You could buy more books at the giftshop, if it’s in your budget, or you could just re-read the one you brought. You could end up with a lesson plan to teach your favorite book to others. Something to consider.
Memorize your cell phone settings
If you don’t already know what every single function on your phone does, and where every change can be made in the settings, well, you could learn. It’s better than staring at the walls, and a decent alternative to when the people in those ads start laughing at you and your hours of torment.
Draw caricatures and sell them for coffee cash
If you like to draw, can find some poster board and it’s legal in the particular airport you’re in, sell caricatures for cash. If it’s illegal, you could just do the caricatures and buy your own coffee. There are worse ways to spend time.
Give in to the coffee
Speaking of coffee, it helps. It may be the single thing between you and utter insanity.
Call a friend. Or five
As long as you promise to stay on the phone with them if they’re ever stuck at the airport in the future.
Hone your telepathic powers
Sit in the food court and discreetly watch people in line ordering their food. Try to guess what each person is going to order. Then, if you’re right, give yourself a Telepathy Point. See how many points you can get.
Don’t lose hope
Most importantly, stay strong. Resist the urge to scream, fall onto the floor in a fetal position or rip your hair out. The plane will come. You will get through this.
— Tanya Mead