Your bags have been checked, your boarding pass issued... and now you’ve got hours to wait before getting on your plane. What can you do with an airport layover?
Plenty, as it turns out. Here are some of our suggestions:
Feeling your muscles atrophy from all those flight delays? Hit the gym! Many airport hotels have fitness centres in them with day passes available for the public; some are even open 24 hours. Don’t have a spare set of workout clothes? Get on your feet and take a brisk walk around the terminal, mall-walking-style - but avoid running if you don’t want to risk getting tackled by security.
Airport day spas and massage shops have become ubiquitous at international airports. Have a fear of flying? Melt away your jitters with a muscle-tingling back or foot massage, or treat yourself to a facial treatment and a mani-pedi. Just don’t get so relaxed that you forget your boarding time.
Once reserved for the hotshots in First Class, deluxe lounges can now be your home away from home - for a few hours, anyway - for a small fee. At minimum they usually have comfy seating, newspapers and magazines, a food buffet and free wi-fi (a real boon in those benighted airports that still charge for wi-fi access).
Some higher-end ones, such as the Plaza Premium Lounge in Kuala Lumpur International Airport, feature showers, free draught beer, movies and even a putting green. Fore!
If there’s anything airports are rarely short of, it’s people. Take an interest in your fellow travellers: play detective and see how much you can figure out about them through your powers of observation (or play fashion police and judge their bad taste in clothing instead). If you enjoyed the film Love, Actually, reenact the opening scene by watching the emotional reunions at the international arrivals gate. Bring your own tissues.
Some airports these days almost seem like glorified shopping malls that just happen to have planes landing, and prices are high since there’s nowhere else to go. But you can have plenty of free fun playing with the travel gadgets and massage chairs at Brookstone, sampling moisturiser and testing fragrances at L’Occitane, browsing books in WH Smith and goggling at the price tags in Prada. Have some extra currency to get rid of? Spend it on some locally made souvenirs or sweets to bring home.
TAKE A DAY-TRIP
If you’ve got an extra long layover between flights, consider skipping the airport experience altogether and play tourist for a half a day. Many city airports have direct train service downtown, such as Chicago, Sydney and Hong Kong - where you can even check your bags and get a boarding pass at the station. Some airports offer free two-hour tours of the local town to passengers who have a layover of at least five hours.
If you can’t bear the thought of tucking into a tray of single-serving generica on your flight, treat yourself to a good meal before you board. But forget a plastic-tray meal at the food court: most airports these days have feature nice restaurants, often with celebrity-chef pedigrees. It can also be a good way to sample a bit of regional cuisine: if you’re a meat-lover transferring through Memphis, for example, try one of their four in-terminal BBQ restaurants.
ENJOY SOME QUIET TIME
Most airports have chapels and ‘quiet rooms’ that are good for a little bit of solitary introspection, whether you want to pray, meditate or just contemplate your belly button in silence for a while. For those who feel like they need some pastoral guidance, London’s Heathrow Airport even has Anglican and Catholic chaplains and Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Sikh ‘faith representatives’ on call.
And of course if you have your mobile devices handy, so you'll be able to while away your layover reading e-books, playing games, christmas shopping or surfing the web on the airport wi-fi.