Waiting at the airport


How to survive an unscheduled airport layover

Published May 29th, 2015

Maybe your flight has been delayed or even (gulp!) cancelled. Or perhaps your plane gets grounded for 48 hours, as mine was recently. Even the most diligent planner can get caught out by unexpected changes to your travel plans that are beyond your control, but hey, that’s what your travel consultant and travel insurance is for, right?

Meanwhile, if this is your situation, you’ll find yourself getting well acquainted with the airport facilities. We’ve written about the best airports to sleep in, but if you’re not lucky enough to be transiting through one of the world’s top airports like Singapore Changi, London Heathrow or Amsterdam Schipol where there’s heaps of diversions on offer, here’s my top tips on how to deal with an unscheduled layover.


My travelling partner - grounded.

1. Plug in

While the wi-fi access varies from airport to airport, even the most basic aviation space will have power outlets. Position yourself next to one and charge all your electronic appliances while you wait. Ignore the stink-eye from other grounded passengers; they're just wishing they’d got there first.


A good scout is always prepared.

2. Pack sustenance

Budget carriers are notorious for being situated at the furthest gate away from the shops and food court. If you have to stay close to your gate for flight updates, don’t rely on the expensive and unhealthy vending machine fare – bring your own snacks to keep you occupied while you wait. I recommend muesli bars or trail mix and plenty of water. If you’re camping out overnight, do some recon to find out what food vendors are open 24 hours. May as well hydrate while there’s easy access to bathrooms!


Must-haves for travelling, including wipes.

3. Get comfy

If you’re not already dressed for comfort, break out your travelling trackies now if you're settling in for the long haul. Hopefully you’ve already checked out our packing tips and have a change of clothes and toiletries on hand in your cabin luggage too, so you won’t look or smell as if you’ve been sleeping in an airport. Top tip: Facial wipes don’t count in your carry-on liquids quota for international flights, so stock up and stay fresh!


4. Stretch out

If there’s enough chairs, stake your claim on a row of gate seats to lie down on while you wait. Lounges or those massage chairs available? Even better! Put your travel pillow to good use or use your backpack to support your head or back if you’re on the ground. If your plane is grounded or the flight is cancelled by the airline, your carrier will probably offer to put passengers up for the night in a hotel. Be aware that it can take time to organise buses to get people to their hotel rooms, so consider purchasing a single-entry pass to an airport lounge if the turnaround is tight.


Helsinki-Vantaa Airport
Photo: Finavia

5. Make a mate

Eventually, you’ll need to move, whether that’s to stretch your legs, use the toilet or sate your hunger/thirst. If you’re travelling in a group or a couple, you can take it in turns to maintain your prime position. If you’re a solo traveller, see if you can buddy up with a fellow flyer to take turns watching luggage and for bathroom breaks. Make sure you keep your passport, cash and electronics close, though.


Your sanity saver.

6. The waiting game

Now that you’re fed, watered and comfy, now the real training kicks in. You’ve got a long stretch of waiting ahead of you, comrade (I had 24 hours of airport time over two days during my recent flight cancellation), so you’ll need some strategies to deal with the butt- and mind-numbing monotony of extended airport confinement. Take some tips from frequent travellers and load heaps of reading material onto your e-reader or tablet, download your fave TV shows to binge watch, and make sure you’ve got lots of music playlists to keep your spirits high and your mind off the time, and to help you walk off that stir-crazy energy on some laps around the terminal. Good luck!


Cassandra Laffey

Consumed with unrequited wanderlust, I get my fix in 24/7 cities and hippie retreats. I'm still looking for the ultimate combo of secluded beach and major metropolis, and my happy place is a 5-star hotel room all to myself - sigh.