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America’s Worst Airports for Delays: How to Cope

Airport delays are the wrench in the works of the best laid travel plans. Since airlines have cut down on the number of flights this year, there may be fewer delays to contend with this holiday season. But any time you add a surge in traveler numbers to unpredictable weather, you run the risk of a long wait at the airport.

When it comes to delays, some airports are worse (and some are much, much worse) than others. And while it’s great to hope for the best scenario: the one where you breeze through security, spend 20 minutes at the gate, and then board a plane that takes off on time, it’s good to know that there are ways to keep entertained if you do find yourself with some extra, ahem, free time at the airport. Here are some ways to pass the wait at these notoriously sluggish hubs:

  • Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport: Even if you missed Atlanta’s famed aquarium, you can use a delay to visit the in-airport Georgia Aquarium store Beyond the Reef. Or head to the InMotion Entertainment stores, where you can rent movies and portable DVD players to pass the time on flights or at the airport. Atlanta also features rotating art exhibits and an airport music series.
  • Chicago O’Hare: Take a little You Time and get a massage at the Back Rub Hub, or work out your flying frustrations on the Elliptical or in the Jacuzzi at the in-airport Hilton Athletic Club ($15 for a day pass). Children’s Museum exhibitions can be found in terminals two and five, and the airport has two Field Museum stores as well. You can also indulge in some famous Chicago-style pizza at Pizzeria Uno or Reggio’s.
  • Denver International Airport: The airport itself is the biggest attraction at DEN. The dramatic tent roof of Jeppesen Terminal was built to resemble the Rocky Mountains, and covers an area the size of two football fields. Denver has one of the world’s largest airport art collections, so just wandering through the terminals offers plenty to see. And the bridge to Concourse A is the only place in the U.S. where you can walk over a taxiing plane.
  • New York JFK International Airport: If you need to waste time at JFK, JetBlue’s T5 (Terminal 5) is the place to do it. There you’ll find grandstands for people-watching, a lounge where you can see planes take off and land, and a children’s area stocked with toys. There’s also a full-size Borders bookstore, a pharmacy, and a branch of the Japanese retailer Muji.
  • New York’s Newark Liberty International Airport: Whether you’re buying or just browsing, shopping is a good way to pass the time at Newark. Pick up replica treasures at the Smithsonian Museum Store. Or, get down to some serious clothing shopping at stores like Brooks Brothers, Guess/Hugo Boss, or Lacoste.
  • Miami International Airport: Miami has an extensive art collection, with public art and rotating exhibitions in the airport. At the Miami International Airport Hotel inside the terminal, there’s a Lobby Bar, as well as a sushi bar with take-out service. Miami also has a list of things to do at and near the airport if you have a wait of three to five hours.
  • Philadelphia International Airport: Philadelphia has temporary art exhibitions featuring fine arts, crafts, design, and photography. At the airport’s Philadelphia Marketplace, you can shop and dine at establishments without suffering the airport gouge, since prices are comparable to off-airport locations. And kids will find plenty to do at the Please Touch Museum’s Children’s Play Area in concourses A-East and D.
  • San Francisco International Airport: This holiday season, you can catch live music on select days from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. between November 25 and December 31. Enjoy local flavors at outposts of San Francisco restaurants like Ebisu for sushi and Just Desserts for sweets. Get in some gift shopping at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art store, or kick back in a Massage Lounger at XpresSpa.
  • Know of other fun things to do in airports? Share them below!

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