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1. Adj.: Describing a person born between 1 Jan. 1946 and 31 Dec. 1964
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15 Things to Do During an Airport Layover

by Suzanne Fluhr on June 24, 2017 · 45 comments

Airport waiting area

Airport waiting area

Not a scene you want to see when you arrive for your airport layover.

There was a time in my life when I had more time than money. If the cheapest airplane ticket required three airport layovers, so be it. Fortunately, having reached the ripe old age I am, the time-money ratio has swung more in the opposite direction, so now I’m all about finding non-stop flights  — and avoiding O’Hare International Airport.

Of course, airport layovers are sometimes unavoidable. Since air travel often seems like a diabolical roll of the dice these days, I’m not inclined to schedule the “legal minimum time” between connecting flights. “Legal minimum time” is the least time an airline is allowed to include in an itinerary between connecting flights.

With current overbooking rules and the pressure on airlines to fly full, I’d rather have too long an airport layover than too short of one. Rebooking missed flights can be mightily unpleasant. This means I spend a good deal of time cooling my heels during airport layovers.

Our record time for airport layovers occurred when I decided it would be a good idea to fly from Philadelphia on the east coast of the United States to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand all in one go. Looking back, we now fondly refer to that trip as “The Longest Day“. I admit to a “what was I thinking?” moment as we waited to board our 5th flight of that “day”.

If you know you will be facing airport layovers, do some pre-travel research about the airports in which you’ll be hanging out. You don’t want to find out you could have been eating your favorite frozen yogurt after you consume that MacDonald’s sundae. You’ll want to know if you’re going to have to go through security again to get to your next departure terminal (I’m looking at you LAX ) or that it’s a 25 minute walk and train ride to get to your new terminal. (Hola, Madrid-Barajas Airport).

Given that most air travelers will sooner or later face an airport layover, here are some suggestions of things to do before you board your next flight:

*1) Go to the bathroom. Surely you prefer performing bodily functions on terra firma rather than in a windowless box of suspect cleanliness at 35,000 feet in which heaven knows what those other people were doing.

If you’re traveling with a small dog, travel blogger, Montecristo Dumas, has great reviews of airport facilities, so your fur child furry friend can also take care of business (as it were) during an airport layover.

MOntecristo Travels

Montecristo and his stuffed whale, Moby, in his carrier that fits “under the seat in front of you”. (Photo credit & copyright: Montecristo Travels)

*2) Get some exercise by going for a walk. Chances are you’ll be getting some exercise anyway, depending on the distance between the gates (or terminals) for your arriving and departing flights. At some of the bigger airports, you can literally walk for miles. If you really want some exercise, skip the moving walkways.

*3) Even if you’re flying in coach, buy time in a business/first class airport lounge. They are not all created equal, but most have “free” food, “free” beverages (often including some adult beverages), “free” wifi, and charging stations. Some even have showers and horizontal sleeping possibilities. You can book these ahead sometimes through your airline. There are also high end credit cards that include access to many airport lounges even if you’re flying on an economy ticket e.g.: Chase Sapphire Reserve.

namaste-Ronald-Macdona

Ronald MacDonald is a Buddhist at this Bangkok Airport food court.

*4) Eat: Since there is no longer “free food” (air quotes) on economy domestic flights, an airport layover is a good time to refuel yourself.

Most airports have some food selling venues, including food courts. If you have a long layover and aren’t springing for an airport lounge fee, consider picking an airport restaurant where you don’t clear your own table. We had a nice meal at the Legal Seafood in Logan Airport (Boston) on a recent trip.

You can research the restaurant possibilities on-line before you fly or once you’re at the airport. Google: Restaurants and the code for your airport. You don’t want to choke down the last bite of your food court choice to later learn that your favorite restaurant has a branch in the next terminal.

 

Cheese head hat MKE

Sometimes you have to try the merchandise before deciding—nah, not my color. I didn’t bring one of these home from the Milwaukee Airport.

*5) Shop: If you will be flying internationally, an airport layover is a good time to browse the duty free and other shops, especially if you forgot to buy a gift for your saintly sister who has been handling 92 year old mother duties  alone while you were away.

There are usually stores beyond the “My Grandma Visited Philly and All I Got was This Crummy Tee Shirt” variety—although you never know when a miniature Liberty Bell or Cheesehead hat might come in handy.

I love finding book stores in airports and you can catch up on your magazine reading in many of the sundry/newstand airport stores when you stop in to replenish your gummy bear supply.

Caveat: There was this little speaker I bought at an electronics airport store in Vietnam. It never worked. It’s 8,921 miles from Philadelphia to Ho Chi Minh City. I guess I won’t be returning it.

*6) Recharge your devices: Many airports have charging stations. If you have a long enough layover and hover impatiently politely wait your turn, you’ll probably get access to one sooner or later.

*7) Work: Speaking of devices, some airports even have tables where you can charge your lap top while you work. Even if you don’t want to work work (i.e. actually use your brain), you could cull the photos on your smart phone or start deleting some of those 27,549 emails if you’ve scored usable wifi. (BTW, Mr. Excitement always wants to do work work in airports).

*8) Call someone. Make sure you’re clear on what time zone you’re in and they’re in or “someone” could be very annoyed. If you do this, puhleeez move away from your fellow passengers who really really don’t want to have to listen to you breaking up with your boy/girlfriend which is better to do in person anyway.

*9) People watch—discretely, of course. It’s definitely not a good idea to stare at anyone wearing a uniform and flak jacket, holding an AK 47, with a large dog. But you knew that. Right?

*10) Leave the airport to sightsee: There are currently 7 airports that I know of offering free sightseeing tours during layovers: Incheon AirportSeoul, South Korea: Taiwan Taoyuan International AirportTaipei, Taiwan: Doha Airport, Qatar: Ataturk AirportIstanbul, Turkey: Changi AirportSingaporeSalt Lake City Airport, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA:  Narita AirportTokyo, Japan. Even if your layover airport doesn’t offer a free tour, if you have a long enough layover, research whether you can pre-schedule your own tour or can get into town for an informal look-see. Remember to leave enough time to go through security screening again. Duh.

*11) Sightsee at the airport. Many airports have rotating and permanent art installations or other exhibitions. If you’re an aviation nerd you can plane spot. Right Kerwin?

Speaking of looong layovers, we flew Iceland Air to London because they allow up to a seven day layover in Iceland on the outbound or return trip. We spent 7 days sightseeing in Iceland.

*12) Get a haircut and/or massage: Many airports have day spas or hair salons where you can catch up on our personal grooming. Of course, if you decide you hate your haircut while hurtling above the earth in a pressurized tube during your next flight, that’s probably just too bad. Maybe just go for the massage.

*13) Sleep: You always have the option of curling yourself up in a seat purposely designed to keep you from getting too comfortable. If you’re exhausted, it may suffice. However, if you’re traveling alone and your somnolence exceeds the discomfort of your seat, make sure you have your personal belongings arranged in such a way that no one can walk off with them while you’re in Dreamlandistan.

If you’re willing to spend some money to get horizontal, there are other snoozing options at many airports. You may be able to get a day rate room at a nearby airport hotel. If you’re not too claustrophobic, you may find coffin like sleeping pods available. Some airports have little rooms to rent by the hour that are set up for work and/or a nap.

*14) Hobbies: If you have a portable hobby (i.e. not archery), bring it along. Some Boomereseque readers already know I’m a Zentangle® (a meditative art form) nerd addict.

True Zentangle

This is a true Zentangle that follows the “rules”. It’s 3.5 x 3.5 inches. Easy to carry.

I wasn’t thinking of tangling while traveling, but it turns out it’s wonderful during airport layovers. In fact, it even bizarrely makes me wish I had a longer layover sometimes. However, always remember to check the seat pocket in front of you for your Zentangle supplies before deplaning, she said ruefully. At the same time, remember to check around your seat for your 4th black cardigan. (Inside joke).

Zentangle Mandala Zendala

This mandala would be considered Zentangle Inspired Art.

*15) Go to the bathroom again. You know your mother would want you to do this, just in case, even if you don’t think you have to go. (If you do this in Japan, give yourself plenty of time before your next flight because Japanese toilets have a learning curve.)

Japanese toilet control panel

Control panel for a toilet in Narita Airport, Japan.

Where have you had your best and/or worst airport layovers? Can you recommend other layover activities?

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{ 45 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Lis Sowerbutts June 24, 2017 at 5:18 am

My favourite is Changi – going for a swim in the outdoor pool is the favourite- but I’ve also heard a classical pianist play, and enjoyed the butterfly garden. Our next layover is KLIA2 – we get there at 4:30am so I’m paying for a transt hotel with a bed and a shower -then we may enter Malaysia and do a quick wander around the local mall

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avatar Kerwin June 24, 2017 at 5:32 am

Umm… I just go to the Lounge :).
The bathroom twice is pretty funny 🙂

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr June 24, 2017 at 2:10 pm

You don’t plane spot after using the bathroom twice in the lounge? 😉

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avatar Leslie in Oregon June 24, 2017 at 7:49 pm

My best airport layover was at Copenhagen airport, because there were free red scooters available to use to get around the airport (or just to play on). I hope that, but am not sure whether, they are still there. Another airport outside of the U.S. (I don’t recall exactly where) had, and probably still has, rocking chairs for weary travelers.

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avatar Scott J June 24, 2017 at 8:14 pm

Pro-tip: The airport is actually a really great place to watch Netflix, too. If you have the netflix app, they’ve recently released a feature where you can download movies to your device to watch later. What a lifesaver! The down-side of watching on the plane though, is trying to hear over the noise in the plane, and draining your battery. Neither is a problem at the airport waiting for your connecting flight!

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr June 25, 2017 at 9:36 am

I think we must be the only people in the world without a Netflix subscription, but if you have one this would be a great way to pass some time during a long layover.

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avatar roz warren June 26, 2017 at 9:46 am

Noise cancelling headphones are great for this.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr June 24, 2017 at 11:40 pm

My home airport has quite a few white rocking chairs for travelers. I was at the airport in Copenhagen in a few years ago. Didn’t see any scooters which doesn’t mean they weren’t there.

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avatar Michael Kerr June 25, 2017 at 2:14 am

This tip is so precious that I shouldn’t share it with anyone but…

When stuck at JFK in New York overnight you’ll see that all the restaurant booths are quickly taken as beds and every other flat and potentially comfy space. Solution that we use, take all the chairs that nobody is using, line them up facing each other in a row of six or eight with two facing in on each end to create a padded comfy double bed with privacy wall.( the backs of the chairs create the privacy wall ) If you’re a hiker you might have a handy sil-tarp to lay over the top and you have a private mini hotel room for the night and the hatred of everyone who took a booth early to sleep in. Many airports have these types of restaurants that you can access all night. Best of luck and here’s hoping you have more money than time and can avoid the experience entirely.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr June 25, 2017 at 9:39 am

So far, I’ve managed to never have to spend the night in an airport—-on an airplane, yes, airport no. I think the longest layover I’ve had (other than the 7 day on purpose one in Iceland) was 7 hours. We spent some of that in the Philippines Airlines “lounge”, only marginally better than the concourse. Come to think of it, the concourse would have been more entertaining and had better food.

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avatar Alyson June 25, 2017 at 9:39 am

Florida. Is it Fort Lauderdale? We were there ALL day. There was no decent food, a filthy carpet to sit on, no entertainment, bad shops…airport purgatory. But compare that to Hong Kong, Singapore, most of the big Middle East hubs….they are a joy. I positively encourage 6 hour waits!

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr June 25, 2017 at 9:43 am

You’re right, Fort Lauderdale is a bit of a pit. There was a lot of construction going on in our terminal when we were last there, so it really was not a pleasant place to hang out.

The Dubai Airport was super interesting. The business class lounge was jam packed with Indian construction supervisor types while the concourse floors had a lot of African construction workers sleeping on them. Then there was the Irish pub across from the men’s and women’s mosque.

I actually wish we had had a layover in Singapore. We used the airport to fly into and out of Singapore for a 3 day visit, but we didn’t get to hang out at Changi Airport.

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avatar Nan Loyd June 25, 2017 at 5:13 pm

This is great advice for if I ever fly again. It’s been SO long, it was pre 9-11. I think I’d rather own my own plane!! Alpha Hubby has flown more recently for work but I didn’t get to go to PA but he did bring me back the coolest sitting snowmen. I had been reading about Chiang Mai and thinking it is a place I’d like to visit – now I’m thinking twice (hoho).

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr June 25, 2017 at 11:12 pm

As I’m sure your husband told you, flying before 9/11, and after 9/11, are basically two different animals. I think for your first flight after such a long hiatus, you might want to pick somewhere closer than Chiang Mai. From the U.S., that’s what we call a looooong haul flight. Baby steps. 🙂

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avatar Phoenicia June 25, 2017 at 5:21 pm

I would have considered connecting flights as a teenager/early 20’s. Now as a mother with young children the thought would not come into my mind. I often dream of travelling without the hassle of going through customs, putting luggage through and collecting luggage. I find it all so tedious.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr June 25, 2017 at 11:14 pm

It’s both tedious and exhausting. Add some little children to the mix and drugs might be the answer. Drugs for you, not the children. 😉

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avatar Catarina June 26, 2017 at 4:26 am

Good suggestions. Having been a frequent flier for most of my life the best, in my opinion, is to be in business or first class and during a layover spend time in the lounges.

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avatar roz warren June 26, 2017 at 9:50 am

Airport massages are the best. Whenever I have time to kill in an airport, I buy as long a massage as I have time for. Pricey, but worth every penny.

Once during a long wait at Heathrow, my son and I killed some time by turning one of the moving walkways into a treadmill by walking i the wrong direction. There were very few people using it and when we saw them coming toward us we’d step off long enough to let them pass.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr June 26, 2017 at 12:55 pm

The other people on the Heathrow moving walk way must have thought, “I say, there go some Americans driving on the “wrong side”. “

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avatar Anne Woodyard (@MusicandMarkets) June 26, 2017 at 3:19 pm

We often plan long layovers at Amsterdam or Brussels – such easy and quick access to the city from either! Loved seeing the bi-annual Flower Carpet in Brussels on a layover one summer – next August (2018) it will appear again!

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr June 27, 2017 at 4:53 pm

Oddly enough, Amsterdam is still on my bucket list. I’ve been to New Zealand and Laos, but not the Netherlands? Wassup with that?

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avatar Rachel Heller June 29, 2017 at 1:50 pm

Let me know when you come to the Netherlands! And the airport here has some nice ways to entertain. There’s a flight simulator (I’ve never tried it, but if you’re not afraid of flying like me it might be fun.), and until the recent renovations there was a small, free “gallery” of the Rijksmuseum. It’s closed now but apparently some other museum will open one after the renovations are done. And Schiphol, unlike most airports, has a roof observation deck where you can watch planes take off and land without glass between you.

My favorite layover so far was Singapore. I was there for four hours with two kids, but I’d looked it up ahead and found out about the hotel with a pool that’s inside the airport. You can pay a day fee to go to the pool. So I packed us bathing suits and plastic bags to put wet suits in and we passed the time there. Because it’s in the airport you don’t have to pass through customs or immigration. It does smell a lot like airplane fuel, but was still worth it. And on the way back, I got to compete in a sudoko contest and watch one of the world’s worst Elvis impersonators. Great fun!

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avatar Erica June 26, 2017 at 4:33 pm

My husband’s family lives in Philly. And it is amazing how few non-stop flights there are from LAX to Philly. And everything else goes through O’Hare. It’s crazy. Like that doesn’t even seem at all on the way. But it get that it’s another major airport so…

My husband actually works at LAX. He is the liaison between for many companies (including foreign airlines), helping them get all their employees badged for security purposes. So he spends a lot of time at the airport!

Lots of great tips for getting through a layover. Hopefully I don’t have to use those anytime soon because, as a nervous flyer, I much prefer non-stop.

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avatar Janice Chung June 26, 2017 at 4:46 pm

Great advice. I did a similar (crazy) trip home from Bhutan. As I kept boarding flights (Bhutan-Bangkok-Brussels-Toronto) I kept wondering, “What was I thinking?”. Thank goodness for the business class lounge. One addition thing a traveller can do: go to the fitness club at the airport. The only one I know of is at Toronto’s Pearson Airport. It is BEFORE you go through security, however, and day passes are only $15?!?! (free for members). And you can rent clothing and shoes!

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr June 28, 2017 at 6:24 pm

I can’t get myself to the gym in the building where I live, so, realistically, I won’t be adding it to my repertoire of things to do in airports. 😉

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avatar Donna Janke June 26, 2017 at 6:01 pm

I’ve spent a lot of time in airports and have done most of these. I like to people watch. I don’t Zentangle, but I read or do crosswords. I’ve never had a massage, but it would be a good idea. The other things I haven’t done, but would consider is getting a manicure.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr June 28, 2017 at 6:25 pm

I used to do crosswords in airports before becoming addicted to Zentangle. I guess you just have to make sure you know where you are if you buy a crossword book in any airport (USA vs. Canadian/Commonwealth spelling).

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avatar Carole Terwilliger Meyers June 26, 2017 at 10:14 pm

Great suggestions! I just layovered at the Milwaukee Airport and also managed to resist the cheese hats. In fact, I didn’t even try one on. About a week ago at the Charleston, S. C. airport, I discovered some wonderful oversize rocking chairs facing a window on to the runway. I kept mine for about 3 hours. When I finally decided to move on for boarding, someone was waiting for it and smiling happily.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr June 26, 2017 at 10:21 pm

We have those white rocking chairs sprinkled around Philadelphia International Airport too. It’s hard to be tense and aggravated when you are sitting in a rocking chair. I don’t know if it’s enough for an anxious flyer to forego their xanax, but it’s worth a try.

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avatar Emily June 27, 2017 at 1:38 am

I hate flying so I like to get to my destination as soon as possible. However, layovers are sometimes inevitable so I usually just stretch my legs and go for a walk, especially after sitting on a cramped plane and knowing I have another one to catch as well. I use this time to catch up with friends and family and let them know that I arrived safely, as well as write in my journal.

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avatar Marquita Herald June 27, 2017 at 5:27 am

Oh man, I have many memories of layovers at O’Hare! For years I worked in the travel industry and that meant traveling weeks at a time so I’ve had plenty of layover experience and your tips on what to do are spot on. I must say though that between TSA and the problems with the airlines these days I’m happy to be out of that business and doing my travel in the form of road trips.

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avatar Karen Warren June 27, 2017 at 8:33 am

I must confess I avoid layovers as much as possible by breaking my trip and spending two or three nights in the layover destination. But if I did have to spend a lot of time in an airport I think I’d go for the premium lounge option (working on the laptop, drinking and using the toilet without having to wait in line…)

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr June 28, 2017 at 6:27 pm

I think an airport lounge is a great idea for anything over three hours, especially if you’re hungry.

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avatar jane June 27, 2017 at 11:16 am

I’m all about the showering between flights and the airport lounges! Nothing helps you feel human again like a good, hot shower!

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr June 28, 2017 at 6:30 pm

When my husband was a medical intern/resident, he used to say that a shower was worth 3-4 hours of sleep. I’m not sure I’m ready to get naked in an airport, but perhaps I need to rethink that.

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avatar Irene S. Levine June 28, 2017 at 8:44 am

With layovers being longer and more frequent, there sure is a need to find things to do….but I do think you are trying to recruit more Zentanglers! 🙂

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr June 28, 2017 at 6:30 pm

Indeed! Why should I have all the fun?

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avatar Kristin Henning June 28, 2017 at 11:56 am

I didnt know Istanbul and others offer city tours from the airport. Good tip, although I think my long stay there was nighttime and I was happy in the lounge. It’s one of my favorite airports. On the home front, MSP has been working on art exhibits and local shopping. Much improved, though still boasting some of the longest walks sans people movers.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr June 28, 2017 at 6:31 pm

I must say, many cities seem to be upping their airport game as the airlines seem to be doing the exact opposite. Philly (PHL) used to be a nightmare. Now, it’s not a terrible place to hang out—-within reason.

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avatar Steve June 28, 2017 at 12:52 pm

I have been lucky enough to never have an airplane layover. However, when I lived in Denver and took the train home to Troy NY for holidays, we got stuck in Chicago for a good 8-10 hours. I say they were good, but they really weren’t! And as luck would have it, I had too much luggage with me to venture anywhere to pass the time. So glad that time has passed!

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avatar Sue Reddel June 29, 2017 at 7:04 pm

I love your sense of humor about the long layover. I’m a fan of walking & eating – but you’re right if you’re in Japan leave plenty of time to figure out those wacky techy toilets.

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avatar William Rusho June 30, 2017 at 9:54 am

I like to sightsee, sometimes in an airport. Some airports will even have art in there. I like the ones with large windows, you can see some things, without even leaving.
Thanks for sharing.

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avatar Patti July 2, 2017 at 5:50 pm

I try really hard not to have flights with lay overs, cuz lay over suck big time. But, I know there are those inevitable flights that demand a lay over. In those cases, I normally just pace and drive Abi bonkers with my nervous chatter. 🙂 I think your list is better, and McDonald’s french fries are ALWAYS a good idea!

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avatar Donna Meyer July 2, 2017 at 10:22 pm

My nightmare trip was from my home in central Mexico to South Australia. BJX to Houston (7 hours layover there), to LAX (4 hours), to Wellington (1 hour), to Melbourne (quick connection) and finally to Adelaide. I arrived as a zombie. Now I try to avoid those long layovers whenever possible, though it isn’t always. I think it is time to look into some of those airport lounge passes.

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avatar michele h peterson July 3, 2017 at 3:34 pm

Some great suggestions here! The best thing I ever did during an airport layover was in Frankurt when I visited the spa in Wiesbaden – it’s easily accessible by high speed train.

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