Some airports are better than others, depending on ones interests, if you are stuck with a long connection time. The experience varies from small island airports stuck in yesteryear, where you can wander out onto the tarmac and watch them fuelling the plane, to ones with an Aladdin’s trove of shopping, luxury lounges, or even hidey-holes where you can catch up on sleep. Or you could be stuck in a hot and humid hell-hole with nasty smells, overcrowding, leering eyes, grabby hands and no place to sit on the floor.
Why transiting can be lengthy
Most airlines have rules that prohibit booking connecting flights with less than a specified minimum time between them. That means time on the ground. A number of economy airline hubs in the Middle East or Africa have at most two flights a day to the destination that you’re probably headed too. That means even more time on the ground. Lastly, your flight may be delayed – an unplanned delay. Try to keep up your spirits and bear it. Naturally, since this is DIY Travel Expert, we have some handy suggestions.
All airports that are hubs will have at least one duty free shop (some airports in Africa are the exception to this rule). If there is only one shop, it is bound to be expensive due to lack of competition. Take a good look around for interesting alternatives. At one duty-free I saw a brand new Ferrari for sale! Some places like Dubai Airport have the most wonderful things on display, but mostly affordable only by passengers from the front of the plane (like $240 for a pair of gaudy sunglasses) – let’s just say it is a window shoppers paradise. One’s enthusiasm for shopping tends to decline when you have run out of budget, or worse yet, maxed out your card.
Airport lounge access
If you want to relax in comfort, opt for a good airport lounge. Most major airports have lounges where access can be bought and you don’t need to be flying business class to get in. Prices range from $15 – $30 for four hours of access in most non-exclusive lounges. This will give you a quiet place to maybe take a shower, surf the web and get a snack while waiting for your connecting flight.
At some airports there are hotels with air-side rooms that you can rent for a set number of hours, for a shower and a nap, and the cost can be roughly comparable to the cost of an annual membership of a top lounge.
If you have a multiple-entry visa for the country you are transiting through, and the city is just outside the airport, then you can always pop out through customs for a couple of hours. Some airports offer tours of the facilities, though limited by security considerations, such as a 45-minute tour of Frankfurt. And larger airports may have cinemas (though you need to check on the type of movie being shown – it may not necessarily be to your liking).
Have a look-see
Most of us enjoy a good coffee on a busy sidewalk café while watching the world go by. Well, you can do the same in airports. Grab a coffee and watch the scenery – very good for aspiring authors to get that ‘perfect’ character for the next novel. In fact, one usually gets too see the full gamut of human emotions in an airport. From loved ones embracing to a good old stand-off between check-in staff and vexed passengers being told their flight is delayed. (…or worse, they’ve been bumped.) If you enjoy a scene, that probably ranks right up there with anger-management classes!
Listen to music
You could listen to music if you have a portable music-player with you. This can also help one to relax, and is a popular way of passing the time. The catch is that you may need to take a large portion of your music collection with you – one can readily tire of listening to the same CD repeatedly.
Learn a language
If you are planning to spend some time in a destination country and you are stuck at an airport, you can spend time learning the language with books and audio.
Pretend to work on a laptop
This is also very popular, particularly if a Café offers free wireless. You sit at a table, buy a cup of coffee, unpack the laptop and tap randomly at the keyboard while looking around at the people, to see if they are paying you any attention.
Keep an eye on the flight monitor
As well as providing a walk every now and then, it will ensure that you know about any last minute gate changes. While connecting in Beijing’s Capitol Airport, the gate changed twice for my departure in a two hour period. Announcements are regularly made, in Chinese, so checking the monitor is a good idea.
Take games along
You may have more time than can be beneficially used up with drinking coffee or watching the departure board. If you are in a group you could exercise the ancient art of conversation. Of if you are with a companion you may find it helpful to while away the extra hours playing games: take a pack of cards with you, or a magnetic game. Why magnetic? So you can close it up temporarily and resume it later in the journey. One can get any number of popular games in magnetic versions: draughts, chess, even a variety of Monopoly variants. There are also a large number of electronic games. And a large number of people pretending to work on their laptops at airports are actually, when you look closely at the screen, playing solitaire on the computer.