There’s so much more to do than hang out by the gate.
Who else has been personally victimized by the phrase: holiday travel? Maybe your dad loves to rush the fam to get to the airport so early that you find yourself with four hours to spare. Perhaps you booked a flight with a long layover. You could find yourself stuck at the airport, waiting for your flight, for hours.
Contrary to popular opinion, being stuck in an airport isn’t the nightmare it’s made out to be. This is handy, given that more than 125,000 flights were canceled in the first half of 2022 alone, and things can get even worse during peak holiday travel time. But being an airport pro takes commitment: You need to know the best spots in the airport to de-stress, entertain yourself, get some good grub, and more. Elite Daily spoke to three travel experts and industry insiders who shared their finest tips to make holiday airport travel more pleasurable, no matter how long you’re stuck there.
Research your chosen airport.
“There’s a lot of different amenities [inside airports],” says Allyah McIntyre, 27, an American Airlines flight attendant who’s been in the industry for five years. “I would look into what that specific airport has before going.”
New York’s JFK Airport, for example, has the TWA Hotel, which boasts a roller skating rink, gym, and even a rooftop pool that’s open year-round. (TWA offers Daytripper℠ bookings for four hours or more, although some of the hotel’s features don’t even require a reservation.) At Las Vegas’ Harry Reid International Airport, you’ll find slot machines everywhere — approach responsibly — while other airports go heavier on the ways to pamper yourself, whether that’s through nail and hair salons or massage services. One of the more popular ones is XpresSpa, which can be found at numerous airports throughout the United States.
Don’t arrive empty-handed.
All of the experts interviewed for this story swear by arriving at the airport with entertainment and snacks in hand. “The worst thing that can happen if you experience a delay is that if you’re hungry, it’s just going to feel worse,” says Lillian Rafson, CEO of surprise travel brand Pack Up + Go. “Never travel on an empty stomach — that way your body will be prepared for anything that comes up.”
It’s also a good idea to download your favorite shows and movies (maybe even some holiday ones to get in the mood!), make sure your music is available for offline listening, or bring along a book or journal.
“Find something that takes your mind off of how stressful the [airport] experience is,” suggests Valerie Stimac, travel blogger and creator of Valerie & Valise. “I have podcasts downloaded on my phone. If a lot is going on around me, I can just put it on and be in my own little mind space.”
Grab a bite and a drink.
Airport food has an unfortunate reputation for being both expensive and not that good, but in recent years, many airports have worked to enhance their dining options. “A lot of airports now have restaurants that are famous in that destination. If there is a place that you want to dine at in that city, you just might be able to experience it at the airport,” Rafson says.
McIntyre agrees. “Oftentimes you’ll go to an airport and they’ll have something you’ve never seen before,” she says.
She points out Nashville International Airport, which features locally renowned restaurants such as 400 Degrees, a Nashville-style deep-fried chicken staple. Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport is another notable one, with eateries like Sweet Georgia’s Juke Joint, a soul food spot known for chicken and waffles. Don’t be afraid to treat yourself to a drink, either — some airports have truly fantastic bar offerings. But if you’re nervous about spending money on the wrong drink, a good bet is always a refreshing glass of champagne or something “light and fragrant with juice,” according to Forbes.
Unwind, unwind, unwind.
Besides lounges (we’ll get to those in a minute), there are plenty of places to find calm. “If you’re traveling and are especially overwhelmed, most airports have an interfaith chapel or a quiet room. People are there in quiet contemplation or observing their religious practices so you can take that space for yourself to take a breath and reenter [the chaos] when you feel more capable,” Stimac explains.
Some airports, like Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, San Francisco International Airport, and Dallas Forth Worth International Airport, even include yoga rooms with complimentary mats.
There’s also Stimac’s favorite way to kick back at the airport, Minute Suites, which is one of several brands of short-term room rentals, almost like a mini hotel just for your layover. “It’s basically like a tiny private room with a bed, a desk, calm lighting, and more. It’s the best! They’re even better than lounges,” Stimac explains, but she notes, “Be sure to check if they need reservations first.”
If you know you’re going to be on a long flight, you may not want to just sit around. Instead, explore ways you can get your heart pumping. “Anytime that I’ve experienced a long delay, it’s really hard for me to accept that I just have to sit at my gate for hours,” Rafson says.
Many airports have cool activity offerings, such as Baltimore-Washington International Airport’s ROAM Fitness Gym, which even lets you borrow Lululemon workout clothes and Brooks running shoes. But it doesn’t have to be anything fancy, either!
”Sometimes I’ll just go on a walk around the airport,” Rafson says. “If I have an hour or two to kill, it’s a nice way to get some endorphins in before I go sit in a plane.”
Look into lounge access.
You know those fancy, members-only lounges you see in the airport? Well, you may qualify based on things like military status, credit card company, or your preferred airline. Stimac says that if you travel enough, becoming a cardholder of one of the best travel credit cards is worth it. Her American Express Platinum gets her access to Priority Pass lounges, Amex Centurion and Escape lounges, and Delta Sky Club lounges.
“Lounges are the not-so-secret secret of what makes travel more pleasurable,” Stimac says. “A lot of people think it’s a lot of money, and it is” — her card’s annual fees are nearly $700 — “but if you travel frequently, think about the value of peace of mind and relaxation!”
You can also gain access to lounges through annual airline memberships (though they’re also pricey) as well as some other crafty routes. Airlines such as American, United, and Alaska also offer a day-pass option for around $59, which includes free snacks and beverages, Wi-Fi, and some other perks.
If you’re an active duty member of the U.S. Armed Forces or a service member of the Reserve and Guard, you and your family can access any of the United Service Organization’s (USO) airport lounges for free. The lounges tend to offer gratis snacks and coffee, comfortable seating, TVs and video game consoles, and Wi-Fi.
Stay calm, have fun, and remember why you’re traveling in the first place!
Perhaps the greatest tip of all is to get your mindset right. Some hiccups during holiday travel are normal, after all!
“My biggest recommendation is to expect the unexpected,” Rafson says. “Remember that it’s a vacation and you are going to get to your destination. There might be some little bumps in the road but try to remember why you're taking the trip, who you’re traveling with, or what you’re excited to see. It’s a really good way to re-center your focus and remain positive.”