Long Airport Layovers: A survival guide

February 4, 2020

FEBRUARY 4, 2020

Travelling is one of life’s great pleasures.

But it can be tricky—all the fiddly puzzle-pieces that need to fit together just right to make the perfect journey. Getting it right, by the way, is just one of the things that ATAS-accredited travel professionals do very well.

But sometimes, even the best-laid plans can go awry. Travelling abroad does mean that sometimes you are at the mercy of many factors, most of which are out of your control. Delays can arise from airport strikes, cancelled or delayed flights or even a natural disaster, which can turn your holiday getaway into hours stuck in an airport.

You may have endured nerve-wracking delays and nearly-misconnections in the past, and now you deliberately add some fat to the gap between your flight connections. So, what should you do when you have all that time to spare at a transit point?

In fairness, it’s less of a ‘problem’ in many modern airports that brim with wonderful passenger experiences, great retail, food and beverage options, entertainment and swoonworthy lounges. But what if the airport amenities aren’t quite up to scratch, or you’ve got lounge fatigue—yes, that’s a thing.

Image: Unfortunately, not everyone gets to chill out in Virgin Atlantic’s London Heathrow ‘Clubhouse’ lounge.

ATAS-accredited travel agents typically travel a lot. After all, travel’s as much their thing usually, as it is yours. So, who better to ask about survival tips for long airport layovers?

Here’s what a few of them had to say.

“The first thing I do is find a nice, quiet café hidden away from the chaos,” says Petrina Frankham, a Travel Specialist from ATAS-accredited MTA Australia (headquartered in Robina, QLD).

“Sometimes I’ll use the time to push deeper into my latest Netflix fix, which is why I always travel with noise cancelling headphones. But more recently, I’ve set myself a challenge: to read more books. Airport layovers can be perfect for nice long session between the pages of something fabulous,” she adds.

But what about when she’s not travelling alone? Would she put the headphones or book down?

“Oh, absolutely. A deck of playing cards can be a layover’s best friend. When I’m with my husband or friends, a lively game of UNO inevitably breaks out. Layovers can be a brilliant opportunity for old-fashioned fun with your travelling companions,” says Petrina.

There’s another practical benefit of some long layovers: walking. Modern airports can be huge, offering great stretches of terminal building ideal for a brisk walk to get the heart-rate up and the blood pumping which can help travellers avoid Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT).

 Interactive and physical pursuits at Singapore Changi Airport. Credit: Singapore Changi Airport.

“I often take the opportunity to charge my devices, and stretch and walk before my next flight,” adds Petrina.

Nicole Bryan, Director at ATAS accredited Helloworld Travel Ocean Grove in Victoria has no trouble at all passing time in airports. And like Petrina, she’s a fan of a good game of cards. But naturally curious and, frankly, always adding to her storehouse of first-hand travel knowledge, Nicole’s first instinct is to explore the airport.

Exploring the enormous spaces at Singapore Changi Airport. Credit: Singapore Changi Airport.

“Not only is it a great way to get some exercise between long flights, there are often hidden-away treasures like rooftop gardens, great local restaurants and retail shops to get to know,” says Nicole.

Experiences and Amenities

Airports can be home to some fabulous amenities designed simply to be relaxing, educational or entertaining. As Nicole notes, Singapore Changi Airport has a wonderful butterfly garden in Terminal 3—a tropical habitat of flowering plants, lush greenery, even a waterfall that’s home to some 1,000 butterflies.

Singapore Changi’s butterfly garden. Credit: Singapore Changi Airport.

Long regarded as the benchmark in passenger experience, Changi Airport’s latest development is considered by many to be a tourist attraction in its own right.

The dome-shaped Jewel Changi Airport fuses nature with human ingenuity, creating an urban oasis with an astonishing 40-metre-high Rain Vortex—the world’s largest indoor waterfall. There’s also a spectacular, 14,000-square-metre rooftop park that’s home to gardens, walking trails and play attractions.

The Jewel, Singapore Changi Airport. Credit: Singapore Changi Airport.

Elsewhere around the globe, Qatar’s Hamad International Airport features a 25-metre, temperature-controlled indoor lap pool. And if you’re there at the right time of year, you can find a Christmas and Winter Market with ice rink at Munich Airport.

Munich Airport’s Christmas market and ice skating rink. Credit: Munich Airport.

“Airport cinemas are a great way to break down a long layover. Auckland Airport has one. As does Hong Kong—the IMAX cinema screen in Terminal 2 is the largest in all of Hong Kong,” says ATAS-accredited Nicole.

The swimming pool at Doha Airport. Credit: Oryx Airport Hotel Doha.

But Nicole’s extended airport layovers aren’t always about exploration. Many airports have spaces for religious reflection. “I will sometimes pop into to the airport’s chapel for some fulfilling quiet time,” she says.

Pay-Per-Use Options

But if none of that floats your boat, Nicole points out that there are often plenty of pay-per-use pursuits at airports.

A pay-per-use lounge in Taiwan. Credit: Plaza Premium Lounges.

“If you’re not in possession of a boarding pass that grants you airline lounge access, more and more airports now offer pay-on-entry lounges with a good range of inclusions and services. Airport transit hotels within the terminal building often sell day-use rooms as well as access to swimming pools and other leisure activities,” she says.

Rooms at the airside Oryx Hotel Doha Airport can be booked for stays as short as 3-hours.

Venturing Out

There are occasions when you really do have so much time between flights that your transit might feel more like a stopover.

Emma Sullivan, Travel Advisor from Weston Cruise & Travel in Canberra (ACT), recently trialled Qatar Airways’ Canberra to Doha services, and made the most of a 9-hour layover by booking a hotel in downtown Doha on the return journey from Zagreb.

Despite there being a hotel within the airport terminal, Emma opted to stay in a hotel on the edge of the city.

“Our stay, whilst relatively brief, was relaxing—and just 20 minutes from the airport—super convenient. As we had a 4-month old bub, we needed the room and the sleep before our onward flight,” says Emma.

“Remember, also, that some airlines will let you purchase a lounge pass even if you’re not travelling in Business, First or have the requisite frequent flyer status,” she adds.

Transit City Tours

Nicole is also a fan of transit tours where they’re offered.

“Some airports like Doha and Singapore offer short city tours for passengers in transit. Check with the airline you are flying with as some offer them free of charge,” says Nicole.

Free city tours are available in Doha, Qatar, if your transit duration meets specific requirements. Ask your ATAS-accredited travel professional for details.

And if all else fails or you haven’t quite got enough time for the local city tour, Nicole says people-watching is at its best in airports.

“People from all over the world come together in transit. Find a seat in a high traffic area and just watch—it’s fascinating and a great way to make transit time fly,” she says.

Sometimes it’s just all too much. Find a snooze zone and nod off. Credit: Singapore Changi Airport.

Whether you’re planning a quick weekend away or a complex journey with multiple layovers and connections, chat to your favourite ATAS-accredited travel professional – experience you can trust.

Looking for more insights from ATAS-accredited travel agents? Try these on for size: ATAS accredited travel agents share the pros and cons of travelling solo; their top travel tips for 2020; and family holidays that won’t send you (or the kids) around the bend. 

Don’t miss our information for travellers, for tips and advice on what to do before you depart on your holiday.

ATAS travel agents recommend that Australia passport holders register for travel alerts before they travel.


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