If you are like a lot of travelers, you like to get to the airport early to make sure that you don’t miss your flight and aren’t overly stressed to make it to the boarding area in time.
But sometimes this leaves you at the airport for hours with essentially nothing to do.
In other cases you might just have a long layover and be forced to pass the time until your connecting flight arrives (hopefully without getting delayed).
If you’re wondering what are some things to do when you’re bored at the airport this article will give you some unique ideas of ways to pass time.
Table of Contents
Minimizing your airport boredom
Before getting into the tips on how to pass time at the airport, consider that you are often in control of how much time you are spending at the airport.
The common recommendations of arriving two hours before a domestic flight and three hours before an international flight don’t always apply to everyone equally.
For example, if you have no checked baggage and CLEAR/TSA Pre-Check, you can sometimes cut those recommendations in half.
If you are on a long layover, it may be possible to leave the airport and explore the nearby area thereby relieving your boredom for some time.
So if you find yourself consistently bored at the airport just consider that you might be able to make moves to reduce that boredom by a large degree.
With that said, let’s get into the tips.
Entertain yourself at the gate areas
Let’s start with the most basic form of airport entertainment before we get into some of the more interesting stuff.
When you get through security, you typically head to the gate area.
This is the area where you will board your flight and there are usually rows of seats for you to sit on and wait for time to pass.
If you are committed to staying in the gate area I would suggest to find a seat located near a power outlet or USB port so that you can power your electronics.
Sometimes this means sitting at a seat in a gate area several gates away from your gate and that is perfectly fine so long as you have the awareness to remember your flight may be boarding at a different time.
I would avoid plugging your device directly into the USB port unless you have some sort of charge-only cord or a USB protector (read more on that).
At this spot, you can watch movies, listen to music, read a book, etc.
Here are some tips to get the most out of your entertainment:
- Set a reminder 48 hours prior to your flight to download movies or playlists since the free Wi-Fi at airports often is not that great.
- Remember, lots of streaming services allow you to download shows and movies for off-line viewing
- Consider watching movies or documentaries based on the destination you’re visiting to get yourself a little bit more hype about your trip.
- Get some decent quality noise canceling headphones that fit over your ear. These are much more comfortable when traveling and can help drown out noise like crying babies.
Tip: Use the free app WalletFlo to help you travel the world for free by finding the best travel credit cards and promotions!
Take advantage of an airport lounge
My number one way to pass time at the airport is to spend time at an airport lounge. The quality of airport lounges can vary dramatically based on the type of lounge you’re visiting.
Some of these lounges may require a special membership (often available via credit card) but other times you can purchase a day pass probably ranging from $25 to $60.
Sometimes you can get one or two guests in with you for free but other times you have to pay per person.
The biggest thing I look for is a lounge that is not crowded. I’ll sometimes choose a lesser quality lounge if it has substantially less people in it because it is easier to move around and find comfortable seating.
Another benefit of airport lounges is typically the bathroom will be much cleaner than the public bathroom in the airport terminal. This is especially true if you are visiting a business class or first class lounge.
The Wi-Fi should be better in these larges and I have been able to download movies for flights without much issue at many lounges.
Take a nap in Minute Suites
Minute Suites are similar to airport lounges but they are smaller little rooms that can provide you with an area to rest and even snooze away in privacy.
You won’t get the full airport lounge experience with a broad range of dining and drinking options but you can get peace and quiet and possibly even a shower to use.
You can find them at the following airports:
- Hartsfield-Jackson Airport (ATL)
- Baltimore/Washington International Airport (BWI)
- Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT)
- Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW)
- Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW)
- LaGuardia – Minute Suites Express (LGA)
- Nashville International Airport (BNA)
- Philadelphia International (PHL)
Walk it out on an airport track
Another way to pass time and also burn off some calories is to simply walk the airport.
Walk up and down each terminal and concourse and you’ll be surprised how much time (and possibly calories) you can burn during this process.
Some airports might even have official pathways or “tracks” for you to easily follow throughout the terminals. For example, Phoenix Sky Harbor has a two-mile, post-security “Fitness Trail” in Terminal 4. MSP has a 1.4-mile walking path at Terminal 1.
Tip: To make things even better a few of these airports will have bag-storage concession so you don’t actually have to walk around with your luggage.
Brush up on a new language
When you’re sitting around waiting for your flight to an international destination, this can be a perfect time to brush up on your language skills.
If you’re using an app simply plug in your headphones and get to work on remembering some of those common phrases. According to experts, you can retain 10-20 words per study hour, so waiting for your flight can give you enough time to get a few basic words down.
Journal and make sense of your travel experiences
Traveling is the perfect time to reflect on what’s going on inside your head.
You may be put out of your comfort zone and exposed to new things that will make you re-think some of your values and beliefs, both big and small.
When waiting at the airport, this could be the perfect time to start making sense of your new experiences and integrating them back into your normal life by way of journal entries.
Sometimes taking a close look at why a certain experience made you feel a certain way can be very illuminating and help you grow as a person.
Maybe you had an inspiring encounter with nature or perhaps you faced one of your fears on your trip.
I’ve found that journaling during or directly after travels is the best time to write things down because the memories are very fresh and easy to recollect.
Debrief your trip
This relates to journaling but is done with your travel partner.
After trips, Brad and I always discuss notable moments from each destination. We talk about our favorite hotels, favorite meals, tours, and all of the craziness that we often encounter in between.
It’s a lot of fun to recall both the good and the bad moments and while you are waiting at the airport this could be a perfect time to do something like this.
Check into an airport hotel
Some airports have hotels attached to them and these can be the perfect hotels to check into for a few hours. Sometimes you can book special day rates which basically just give you several hours to relax in the hotel.
Since the structure will be connected via a skywalk or tunnel you can easily get back to the airport terminal although you will have to go back through security so keep that in mind.
Play hide and go seek
Release your inner child and indulge in a game of hide and seek to pass time on those long layovers. If you are worried that you’ll be looking for hours on end you can limit the “hide zone” to a certain terminal or concourse.
I’ve never played hide and go seek in an airport and can’t really see myself doing it but for the right type of person in the right type of mood, I could see this actually being a great way to pass time.
Explore unique attractions
Some airports are known to have interesting attractions that can help you pass some time.
For example, the airport in Phoenix has a museum in different terminals. At Vancouver International Airport, there is a 30,000-gallon aquarium.
Popular international airports take attractions to the next level and you might be able to find some seriously entertaining and cool attractions to visit.
Some of those that stand out include:
- Nine-hole golf course at Hong Kong International Airport (HKG)
- 25 meter indoor lap pool – Hamad International Airport in Qatar (DOH)
- Indoor Garden — Terminal 2 of Incheon International Airport (ICN)
If you can get a seat or afford to stand by the windows in the terminal, you can always plane watch.
Watching planes land and takeoff can actually be kind of entertaining and peaceful.
Try to take your plane watching to the next level and identify the planes by looking up the fleet of different airlines.
You can use a flight software like FlightAware to track the aircraft and see if you were correct with your identification and also check where the plane is headed.
Organize and edit your travel photos
If you have access to your laptop or some other device another great way to pass time is to simply edit photos. If you just finished up a trip this is a perfect time to do that.
You can start by organizing your photos in your phone or camera. Delete all of your duplicate photos, poorly exposed shots, photographs you just don’t care for, etc.
Try to create a system such as favoriting your good photos so that you can round them up easy. You might even want to create albums for different parts of your trip.
Sleep at the Gate areas?
If you want to sleep at the gate areas that can be something that comes with risks.
The first risk is obviously that you could miss your flight. If you have an alarm set you should be good to go but if you don’t trust yourself then maybe a nap at the airport is not the best idea.
One thing to be careful of is falling asleep when the seats are empty.
It’s possible that your gate area could become extremely crowded while you are asleep and you will look very inconsiderate taking up several seats for your nap and forcing other people, potentially elderly or disabled people to stand.
Another risk is that someone could get into your luggage and take your belongings. So try to sleep with your bags connected to you in some way so that you might be alerted if that happens.
And finally, some airport staff members don’t allow you to sleep and they may come around poking you to wake up which can be an unpleasant experience. This actually once happened to me in Chicago!
Do some people watching
I’m not really into people watching because quite frankly I think it’s a little creepy.
However, a lot of people love to sit back and just watch other people to see how they move around and interact with others and the environment.
Hit up local bars & restaurants
Bars and restaurants are a common favorite for people trying to pass time at the airport.
A lot of times, the prices are jacked up pretty high so people don’t like to order a lot of items. The plus side is that sometimes these places will have outlets so that you can also get some work done while you are enjoying your meal.
I always look out for those local restaurants in the airport so that you can actually enjoy something unique from that region.
For example, at Austin airport you have the following options:
- Salt Lick Barbecue
- Dan’s Hamburgers
- Mad Greens
There is a debate of whether or not you should post up at your spot for as long as you want whenever there are a lot of crowds at the airport so you’ll have to use your own judgment on that.
Look for unique shops
Airports typically have a lot of the same type of shops including those shops that you see you’re basically every airport.
Beyond the local souvenir shops and the shop selling you expensive chocolates and perfume, sometimes you can run across interesting shops you don’t expect to see.
For example, Milwaukee Airport has a used bookstore, the Renaissance Book Shop.
Get a shoe shining
If you think your dress shoes are in need of a good shining, consider sitting down for a good old fashioned shoe shining.
You can find these stations at a lot of airports and there typically are a couple of chairs that are elevated off the ground quite a bit like a king’s throne that obviously stand out as shoe shining stations. Other times they may be located in “shoe hospital.”
The entire process should only take a few minutes and typically these are pros working the stations. Expect to pay somewhere between $6 and $10 depending on the type of shoe or boot.
Relax in a spa
Spas can be one of the most relaxing ways to pass time at the airport. You can find them in a lot of different places and here are some of the more common types you might encounter:
If you are visiting a business class or first class lounge, there’s a chance you might be able to indulge in a spa. In fact, sometimes you can even get a free complimentary session depending on the type of ticket you have.
Socialize with another traveler
A lot of solo travelers like to socialize with other travelers since they are spending so much time alone.
An easy way to enter into a conversation is to simply find a bar seat or table at a restaurant next to someone else who appears like a solo traveler.
If they don’t appear to be busy or preoccupied with anything you can always hit them with the, “So where are you heading out to?” and they will usually be happy to carry a conversation for a little while.
Passing time at the airport does not have to be an agonizing experience. If you come prepared with entertainment and or work that needs to be taken care of and can lock down the seat, you shouldn’t have much issue passing time.
And if you can do a little bit of research, you can often find little attractions and interesting shops to check out to also help you spend a little bit of time.
But my number one recommendation would be to get on board with airport lounges by obtaining some type of lounge membership because that will almost always be the most comfortable way to pass time.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned travel expert covering destinations along with TSA, airline, and hotel policies. Since 2014, his content has been featured in publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, and CNBC. Read my bio.