10 Fun, Free Ways to Entertain Yourself During a Flight Delay
My waiting periods at the airport, any airport, are always longer than average. Apparently, I look like I'm from one of those bomb-making countries. As a result, I always have to get to the airport extra early so I have ample time for all my belongings to be swabbed for explosive residue, get sniffed by the drug dog, and receive a sexy, stand-up massage from gate security. I have spent, conservatively, four months of my life waiting in airports. (See also: How to Speed Out of the Airport)
Thankfully, airports now provide a host of activities to help passengers enjoy their wait. For example, at the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai, passengers can get a Yellow Fever vaccination. Traveling science buffs can watch a planetarium show at Tokyo's Haneda Airport. Incheon Airport outside Seoul boasts, amongst other things, teeth whitening services, a synthetic ice skating rink, and a movie theater.
Airports can be super fun if you are super rich. Alas, I am not. Fortunately, with a little courage and creativity, airports can also be super fun if you are super poor. There are a number of totally free activities that can be done in any airport.
1. Have a Conversation
People are always amazed by how many friends I have overseas. Most of these friendships started as a conversation between strangers in a public space…like at the airport. My secret strategy for engaging conversation has been this: find the most attractive man in the room. Go sit next to him.
Pro Tip: If you are nervous about sitting down next to a freak, prescreen potential chat buddies by Google Stalking people on Twitter or Instagram. Search via hashtag for someone interesting who is also stuck at your airport. Invite them to meet you for a cup of coffee in a neutral terminal. (See also: Practically Free Ways to Make New Friends)
2. Make Origami
I love making little toys out of travel brochures, magazine inserts, and candy wrappers. I am usually every adult's favorite person in the waiting area. Children are fascinated into silence by this activity. (See also: 20+ Ways to Reuse Paper)
3. Play Evil Twin
My sister and I have played this game at airports since childhood. It's an extreme, competitive version of people watching. The object of the game is to find a celebrity resemblance for every person who walks by. For example: "Look! It's the Ecuadorian Alan Greenspan!" "Oh my gosh! It's the Nigerian Tawny Kitaen!" "That guy is the Canadian Leonard Nimoy! Oh, that IS Leonard Nimoy." The person with the most creative/accurate comparisons wins.
I used to sleep in airports to save money and time while traveling. But with tighter security measures, many airports will kick you out after midnight. Before late night traveling I always check out the site sleepinginairports.net. In addition to posting information about which airports are open 24/7, and which airports are safe, it gives tips on which terminals have the best benches for sleeping, how to pack for an overnight stay at the airport, and, how to protect your bags.
While sleeping in airports during airline delays is something I still do (to avoid jet lag), napping can be risky. I know people who have slept through final boarding calls. To avoid oversleeping, I not only set an alarm clock, but I also write "PLEASE WAKE ME UP AT (INSERT TIME)" Post-It Notes that I stick on myself. A Good Samaritan has never failed to wake me up in time to catch a flight. (See also: How to Handle Flight Delays)
The nice thing about yoga is that I can pretty much do it anywhere. Even if the floor is super gross, I can still do stretches while sitting in a chair. For everyone who is embarrassed just imagining me doing the downward dog at the gate, there are less obvious workouts that can be done while waiting for the next plane. Many larger airports have a ton of stairs to run up and down. The round floor plan of Terminal 1 at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris is perfect for laps, but walking up and down the terminal at any airport is a great way to burn calories. An empty moving walkway provides a decent, low-impact treadmill workout. (See also: 10+ Ways to Exercise in Under 5 Minutes)
6. Look at Art
Heathrow's Terminal 5 has its own art gallery, but many airports now curate "shows" on their concourses featuring local artists. Before traveling, I look online and see what sights each airport offers. I've admired the dinosaur at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, checked out the Liberty Bell made entirely from Legos at PHL, and marveled at Sky's The Limit at Chicago's O'Hare.
7. Organize a Scavenger Hunt
I've yet to organize a scavenger hunt at an airport, but I think this is a must do activity at the next family reunion.
8. Learn Foreign Vocabulary Words by Playing Dictionary
Play Dictionary with your foreign language dictionary.
9. Read a Book
Yes, there's always the sneaky method of reading magazines and books at the airport snack shop that I have no intention of buying, but I have a very low tolerance for the dirty looks I get from cashiers. I prefer to bring my own book(s) to the airport.
Airports never have enough electrical outlets for charging personal electronics. Instead of downloading all my reading onto an electronic device — that inevitably runs out of juice two hours before my plane arrives — I always pack what my grade school librarian referred to as a "Hijack Book," which is a really fat paperback I can read and then release into the wild without guilt when I'm done with it. In fact, I generally pack a lot of sacrificial reading when I travel, because it ensures that I will have space in my luggage to bring home my travel purchases.
And, if you are ever lucky enough to have a layover in Amsterdam, the Schiphol Airport has its own library that offers Dutch fiction in thirty languages.
10. Do a Crossword Puzzle
Trash pick a leftover newspaper and work on the crossword puzzle by yourself or with everyone in your waiting area.
What is your favorite way to pass the time at the airport? Which airport do you think offers the best free experiences?