We’d be the first to admit that we’re usually happy to sacrifice a few hours of our valuable time if there’s the chance of getting our hands on some cheap flights. Yet when we’re actually in the middle of a lengthy stopover, boredom sets in and we can’t quite remember why this cash-saving strategy seemed so canny at the time.
There are only so many hours you can spend reading or times you can trudge to the vending machine and back. Once upon a time this was pretty much all there was to do at the airport, but how things have changed. Nowadays endless leisure activities are on your doorstep, and for once you have all the time in the world to indulge. Read on for ways to make those hours fly by – pun intended.
© Khakimullin Aleksandr
No, we’re not joking. A workout is a great way to wake up those sluggish limbs after hours of being folded into a cramped seat. Rather than going for a run through the terminal which will earn you at the very least a stern talking to from airport security, try blowing away the cobwebs in a more conventional way. Most major airports worldwide now boast gym facilities – there are over 200 in the US and Canada alone – and some, like Dubai and Munich, offer extras like yoga classes, saunas and steam rooms. Assuming like most normal people you don’t carry your trainers in your hand luggage, don’t worry; many airport gyms will rent you some kit for a small fee.
Slide! @ T3, Singapore Changi Airport © Jerry Wong
As we’re sure most parents would concur, small children can make travelling somewhat….let’s say challenging at the best of times. Frazzled mums and dads will therefore be thrilled to hear that certain airports are more than equipped to entertain their unruly offspring. Singapore Changi is hard to beat, with a four-storey slide, free video game areas and an arts and crafts workshop among its many amenities. Treats for children at Amsterdam Schiphol include a wooden treehouse, climbing frames and slides, and at Calgary International, budding astronauts will love Spaceport, the crowning glory of which must be the space capsule simulator ride.
See a film
We’re not grumbling about a lack of entertainment on long-haul flights – the amount of choice nowadays is amazing. Yet given the option of watching the latest blockbuster on a teeny screen a foot from your face or enjoying a big-screen cinema experience, popcorn and all, we know what we’d plump for. Hong Kong and Singapore were the trailblazers of the airport cinema, closely followed by Seoul, and all three show a range of films all day, every day. Hong Kong even features the largest IMAX screen in the country with 350 seats. Closer to home, Prague Airport has recently launched its own cinema, showcasing all kinds of genres from rom-coms to art-house films.
Have a spa treatment
No matter how much water you chug or Eight Hour Cream you plaster onto your face, a flight can unfortunately make you look and feel pretty worn out. Enter the airport spa, offering various treatments from hot stone massages to rejuvenating facials. Dubai’s three Timeless Spas offer full body wraps and reflexology, while in Calgary you can inhale pure oxygen at the OraOxygen spa. Some can be pricey, true, but others are surprisingly good value – some lounges offer free treatments once you’ve paid to enter, often as little as £20. And anyway, if it makes you feel you can face the remaining leg of your journey, it’s worth handing over some spending money, we say.
Get some culture
Chicago O’Hare Airport © Nicola
Travel broadens the mind, we’re always told, so why not consider your journey Step One of becoming a terribly erudite, sophisticated individual? Plenty of airports the world over feature interesting exhibits and artefacts designed to enlighten and amuse. Philadelphia, Denver and San José, CA, are just a handful of the US airports showcasing ever-changing public art installations, while at Chicago O’Hare you’ll share Terminal 1 with a 72-foot dinosaur skeleton. And you can explore Ancient Greece without setting foot in the Acropolis; Athens Airport’s impressive archaeological collection houses many ancient objects uncovered during construction work at the site.
Have a snooze
Sleep pod at Munich Airport © tomislav medak
It’s probably not a favourite among claustrophobics, but a sleep pod will be right up your street if you, like me, just cannot get to sleep on planes. We wouldn’t say no to an upgrade to a swanky flat-bed seat, but sadly no one ever seems to ask. Never fear; airports such as Munich, Singapore and Abu Dhabi offer these cosy little hideaways for catching some much-needed shut-eye. Most cost under £10 per hour, some including wi-fi and power sockets. And filling the gap between sleep pods and airport hotels are Yotel rooms at Heathrow, Gatwick and Amsterdam. They can be booked for four hours minimum and include a shower and a TV as well as the all-important bed.
Relax in the garden
Garden at Singapore Changi Airport © Walter Lim
To counteract the stresses of air travel, a peaceful stroll through a pretty garden can work wonders. Several south-east Asian airports led the way in providing a verdant environment to soothe the soul of many a harried traveller. A number of gardens are dotted around Singapore Changi, with focal points ranging from waterfalls to koi ponds, while Kuala Lumpur Airport boasts its own little patch of Malaysian rainforest. Perhaps influenced by this trend, Honolulu Airport has its own fusion of Japanese, Chinese and Hawaiian gardens. And over in North America, don’t miss the Green Wall at Vancouver International with a whopping 27,000 plants covering its surface.
Go for a meal
Bubbles Seafood & Wine Bar at Amsterdam Schiphol © FaceMePLS
We’re not talking about certain well-known burger joints here; when the airport is your home for a good few hours, there’s no need for fast food. Instead, indulge in a proper meal with tablecloths and cutlery. Later on, you might not fancy whatever’s lurking inside the foil tray on your next flight, but more to the point, there are some excellent airport restaurants out there. Bubbles Seafood & Wine Bar at Schiphol has some of the best oysters around, as well as a casino in the restaurant! One Flew South at Atlanta International is a one-stop shop for delicious Deep South cuisine, and The Encounter at LAX offers a scrummy range of outer space-themed dishes and cocktails.
Read a book
Schiphol Airport Library © Esther Westerveld
Bookworms, take note; if you have a choice of stopover airports for your next long-haul flight, Amsterdam is where you want to be. Schiphol Airport pioneered the frankly brilliant idea of providing a library for travellers, and we’re amazed more airports haven’t followed suit. As well as being able to borrow books in 30 different languages, passengers can listen to music and download films free of charge. Slowly but surely, more airports are cottoning on to the concept of the airport library; Philadelphia now offers free e-books to passengers and Seattle-Tacoma has set up Quick Read stations full of free books and magazines.
Pyramids of Giza © sculpies
If you have hours upon hours to kill and a spa treatment or even a nap won’t make much of a dent in the abyss of time ahead of you, consider venturing forth from the airport and seeing the sights. You might never happen to be at that destination again, so make the most of it. If you’re enduring a stopover of five hours or more, Cairo Airport will arrange a half-day tour of the Pyramids of Giza, while in Singapore and Los Angeles, kindly airport staff will pop you on a free city tour. Many other airports including Paris, Sydney and Hong Kong have regular and speedy train services to the city centre, handy for a bit of unanticipated sightseeing.
And finally…no, of course we didn’t forget about the most obvious airport boredom-busting activity – shopping! Have a look at our best airport shopping blog post to discover where to splash the cash or pick up a bargain.