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10 Airport Layover Hacks You Need to Know

Experts say this is how to make the most of your downtime between flights.

As much as we all love a direct flight, layovers are sometimes inevitable. In some cases, you might barely have enough time to get out of your seat and make it to the next terminal before takeoff. But if you've got more than a few minutes to spare between your flights, you might find yourself in a traveler's limbo that can make your journey feel even longer. Fortunately, there are a few ways you can make the best of your downtime before you make it to your final destination. Read on for the airport layover hacks you need to know, according to travel experts.

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Check for WiFi availability ahead of time.

A woman using her phone while seated in an airport terminal waiting to board a flight

We're attached to our devices, so having some time to kill in an airport makes having a solid internet connection especially important. That's why it's essential to know if you'll be able to connect when you get there.

"Find out in advance if the airport has free WiFi," says Becca Siegel, co-owner of Half Half Travel blog. "While this seems like something obvious, the truth is that some airports in some parts of the world have WiFi that can only be accessed with a national phone number. I've been there, and it's been rough!"

This can be especially problematic if you're traveling abroad and run the risk of using all of your allotted international data before you even arrive at your destination. "If you know that WiFi may be iffy, bring things to pass the time like pre-downloaded movies, audiobooks, playlists, or old-fashioned books and magazines," Siegel suggests.

Pamper yourself.

Nail tech clipping a woman's toenails during a pedicure
didesign021 / Shutterstock

At best, you may expect to be bored during any kind of long airport stint. But with time to kill, it's a perfect excuse to treat yourself to a bit of self care.

"If you have a lengthy layover at a large airport like Atlanta Hartsfield or JFK, make the most of your time!" says Cheryl Nelson, travel preparedness expert and founder/owner of Prepare With Cher. "Desperately need a refresh manicure or pedicure? I recently got a pedicure in JFK Terminal 4 on my way to a warmer climate. I didn't have time to get a pedicure before leaving for my trip, so I was thankful for this opportunity."

Nelson adds that it may also be a good idea to soothe your muscles after a long first leg of your trip. "Take advantage of the massage therapists in the terminal! Although the prices may be higher than what you pay at home, it's worth it after an uncomfortable flight," she says.

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Locate an outlet right away.

charging station in the interior of the airport

Having your devices at hand becomes even more critical when you're flying. After all, besides being a source of entertainment and information, they're often your boarding pass. If you still have another leg of travel ahead of you, it's crucial you find a place to plug in.

"Whether finishing a report for work or playing games on your phone, you'll want a power outlet or charging station," says Becky Hart, content marketing strategist at Seven Corners Travel Insurance. "They tend to be in short supply at airports, so if you have a long layover, find an outlet and get a full charge sooner rather than later."

Try to get into a lounge.

redheaded woman on laptop in airport lounge
Shutterstock/Olena Yakobchuk

An airport terminal can be a hectic place to spend even a little bit of time. That's why experts say your first move should be to make your way to a lounge.

"They not only provide food but also have a selection of complimentary drinks," says Nelson. "Some lounges even have showers and more comfortable places to rest or take a nap."

And access might not be as limited as you think. "Even if you're not a member of a rewards program or rewards credit card and don't fly first-class, you can still buy a lounge day pass at most airports," says Mercedes Zach, a travel expert with ASAP Tickets. "That way, you get all the amenities that are well worth the average price of $40 to $50."

If you want to plan ahead, you can find which lounges offer day access by checking the airport's website or using an app like LoungeBuddy. Ultimately, it could make your downtime feel a lot more like "me" time.

"If you have an extra hour to kill before your plane boards or if your flight is delayed, it is certainly a good perk to consider, which will allow you to have some rest, get a nice meal, and avoid the crowds," says Zach.

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Use other quiet spaces to relax

man with luggage walking through airport
Kaspars Grinvalds / Shutterstock

There are plenty of options for escaping a crowded terminal that don't require any payment to enter or use.

"Even if you don't have lounge access, you can take a calming break from the airport commotion by searching for quiet spaces," Erica Forest, founder and CEO of Trip Scholars, tells Best Life. "Many international airports offer meditation rooms, yoga spaces, sensory rooms, and chapels that are open to both religious and non-religious travelers."

Don't stray too far from your gate.

A woman sitting in the airport with her luggage while looking at her phone
Shutterstock / Gorodenkoff

Terminals can fill up with people as boarding times near for multiple gates. Nelson says it can be relaxing to move a little bit further from the action when your area gets too busy—but not too far.

"If you're waiting at your gate and don't want to be in a sea of people, walk to another nearby quieter gate and find a seat there while you wait," she says. "As long as you can still hear announcements from your gate agent, you're good to go."

Use it for last-minute trip planning.

Young woman drinking bottled water and using phone at the airport departure area

No matter how prepared you are, the time leading up to leaving for a trip goes by quickly. That's why Forest says the downtime during your layover can be one of the best ways to learn a little more about your destinations and firm up some more of your itinerary for when you get there.

"Use your layover as a chance to learn more about your destination. Watch films, shows, or documentaries; make a playlist with a regional audiobook, podcast, or music; take an online virtual tour or free class offered by the main sites and museums; or play a language learning game like DuoLingo," she suggests. "You will arrive with a deeper understanding of your destination and have an even better trip."

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Bring some food, drinks, and basic supplies along.

A couple enjoys food while waiting for their plane to arrive.
RossHelen / Shutterstock

It's no secret that food and drink cost a lot more in an airport than on the street. That's why having a little something on hand to tide you over is a good idea.

"You can save a lot of money by bringing your own snacks for the journey," Nelson suggests. "Instead of going to the food court for meals, pack your lunch in your backpack and enjoy that while you wait."

And it might not just come down to a matter of choice. Depending on when your next flight is, there may not be easy access to meals or a place to lie down.

"I always travel with my own stash of snacks and deck of cards in case airport lounges or restaurants are closed during my layover—which can happen if you're traveling overnight," Pamela Holt, travel expert and host of Me, Myself, and the World tells Best Life. "In this case, I also recommend packing a layover sleep kit that includes a silk sleep mask, ear plugs, compression socks, a small travel blanket, a toothbrush, and an extra pair of underwear."

Get out of the airport for a bit.

woman standing at railing overlooking a beautiful view

Stuck with a really long layover? Experts say you can use the opportunity to get in a quick bonus visit before your next flight by getting out of the airport for a bit.

"Even if it's not a location that has been on your bucket list, you might be surprised by what it actually offers," says Zach. "You can leave your luggage at the airport or the nearest train station storage facilities and take the quickest public transportation to get to the city."

She adds that some larger airports will sometimes even offer an organized group tour of the city that departs directly from the airport itself.

"Research the options to save you time spent figuring out public transportation systems and directions to major sites," says Zach. "Just be sure to get back to the airport on time for your next flight."

However, it's essential that you've done the research ahead of time when traveling abroad. "If you're planning on leaving the airport grounds during a five- or more-hour layover, make sure to check with that country's visa restrictions and rules," suggests Lauren Gumport, vice president of communications at Faye Travel Insurance. "You can find out this information by talking to a representative from your airline or heading to an information desk at the airport.

Look for a cheap hotel.

A person entering a hotel room

Most airports have at least a few hotels nearby, which often serve as convenient lodging for business travelers with early flights and for stranded passengers. But they can also be very helpful if you need more relaxation than a lounge can offer.

"Check out if there are any hotels around the airport and book a room for a few hours. I like being able to shower, charge my devices, download more movies or shows onto my devices if needed, and take a nap," says Samantha Firth, founder and CEO of Travelling King. "This works well for especially long layovers."

Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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