Stuck at an airport overnight? Whether it’s due to delayed flights causing you to miss a connection, the last flight of the night being canceled, or an itinerary scheduled with an overnight layover, it’s not an ideal situation to spend the night at the airport. Nonetheless, these situations do happen now and then so you’ll want to be prepared.
Over the years, I’ve found myself at an airport overnight on quite a few occasions. Most recently, I was stuck at Minneapolis/St. Paul airport due to flight delays and the last flight of the night to my final destination being postponed until the following morning. While this news is always unfortunate, there are some steps to take in order to get some rest safely and comfortably.
Decide Whether or Not to Get a Hotel
First things first, consider if it will be worthwhile to book a nearby hotel for the night. Many airport hotels offer free shuttles and there are a few airports that even have hotels with direct terminal access such as The Intercontinental Minneapolis/St. Paul (MSP), TWA Hotel at New York’s JFK Airport, or the Grand Hyatt at SFO in San Francisco. It may be an expensive night, but if you have 10 or more overnight hours before your flight, you may want to bite the bullet and book a room for the night.
If you only need to kill a few hours or the travel time between the airport terminal and hotel means you’ll only get a few hours at the hotel itself, it may not be worth it to spend the money on a hotel you’ll barely get to use. Instead, consider what options you have to pass the time in the airport terminal.
Look for a Lounge
Airport lounges have more comfortable seating and sometimes even private suites where you can get a good night’s rest before your morning flight. If you have Priority Pass, which is complimentary with many premium credit cards, you’ll have free access to 1,300+ lounges across the world. While it’s rare to find 24-hour lounges in the U.S., there are a few in major international airports such as Mexico City (MEX), Paris (CDG), and Singapore (SIN).
In the U.S., look for Minute Suites at select airports for a private room complete with a desk and flat couch designed for napping. These are open 24 hours at Atlanta (ATL), Charlotte (CLT), Dallas (DFW), Detroit (DTW), and Philadelphia (PHL) airports, and limited hours at a few others across the country. Priority Pass members get one free hour with discounted rates for subsequent hours. Even if you don’t have free lounge access, you may want to consider paying for a day pass.
Ask for a Cot
Many airports are equipped with cots or sleeping mats to accommodate travelers during mass cancellations. Find a representative for your airline or ask someone at an information booth if it’s possible to use a cot so you can sleep more comfortably. An airline agent may also be able to provide you with a pillow and blanket from the plane if you ask nicely. Make sure to wipe down any sleeping surface with a disinfectant to avoid the spread of germs. Airline and airport staff should have access to cleaning supplies or you can bring your own wipes.
Find A Good Spot to Snooze
While instinct may have you go directly to your gate to find your resting place, it may be worthwhile to scope out the airport for comfortable sleeping areas. In Minneapolis, I was able to find several couches where people were snoozing throughout the night—and they weren’t necessarily near any gates. At the very least, try to find a row of seats without armrests so you can actually lie down without needing to lie on the floor.
Sleep Near Other Travelers
If you’re traveling alone, it’s a good idea to sleep near other travelers. While an airport terminal is generally a safe place, the principle of safety in numbers still applies. Any nefarious activity is less likely to happen when others are around than if you are secluded in a corner of the airport all by yourself.
Keep Your Valuables Close
Before you nod off, make sure to secure any valuables. I usually keep my phone and wallet in my pocket, but at the very least it’s best to keep such items in the inside pocket of your luggage. Speaking of luggage, it’s a good idea to wrap a strap around your arm or hug your luggage so no one can easily snatch your belongings while you’re sleeping. Make sure any zippers are facing towards you and lock them with a luggage lock, if possible.
Pack Sleeping Gear
Be prepared by packing emergency sleep gear. A travel pillow and an eye mask can help immensely when trying to get some shut-eye in an airport. If you don’t happen to have these items, get creative by stuffing packing cubes with soft clothing for a pillow or place a t-shirt over your eyes to block the light. It’s also always a good idea to have something warm to wear in your carry-on. Change into long-sleeved clothing to keep warm and use your jacket as a blanket if you’re traveling with one.
Buy Food or Snacks Before Shops Close
Don’t expect the restaurants and shops inside the airport to be open 24/7. If you’re hungry when you land and don’t have any snacks, make sure to get a meal or stock up on snacks before the shops close. It’s always a good idea to have a refillable water bottle on hand as well. Fill up before you find a place to sleep for the night so you can stay hydrated without needing to get up.
Set an Alarm
Don’t miss your flight! Set an alarm on your watch or phone for at least one hour before your flight begins boarding. You’ll want to have adequate time to get yourself situated and find your gate. Keep in mind that you may be a bit groggy after a night of makeshift sleeping arrangements so err on the side of caution and plan to wake up with enough extra time.
Some airports have access to showers for a fee. After a night of sleeping at the airport, paying for a shower can be a great way to freshen up and get ready for your flight. If the airport itself doesn’t have any shower facilities, many airport lounges offer access to showers.
To find what facilities are available at your airport and get an in-depth look at the best areas to sleep at specific airports, look up your airport at sleepinginairports.net. The website dedicated to catching some Zs while in transit has loads of crowd-sourced information and reviews regarding what to expect when sleeping at airports around the world.
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