15 Free Things to Do When You’re Stuck at the Airport
There you are, stuck at the airport again thanks to another flight delay or an insanely long layover. Eating is always a good way to pass the time, but everything inside the airport costs twice as much as it does outside in the real world. Instead of another $4 bottle of water or a greasy plate of overpriced mozzarella sticks, try one of the following.
“Write” poetry at the airport bookstore
Courtesy Mallory Bogle
The next time you are stuck in the airport, head to the closest bookstore or Hudson News outpost, grab a few paperbacks, and stack them in a pile, suggests Jen Cooper of the Hey, Jen Cooper podcast, who shared this clever idea years ago for PBS Parents. Then read the book titles from top to bottom to make your very own book spine poems. Take a pic and share it on your social media channels with the hashtag #BookSpinePoetry to show your friends and family how creative you are. These are the things airlines won’t tell you, but every flier should know.
Search for art (and other interesting things)
Airports are flooding their hallways and communal spaces with paintings, sculptures, and larger art installations because…attentive audiences! The Amsterdam Schiphol Airport even has an actual museum, an outpost of the Rijksmuseum, making it the first airport to have one in a terminal. Better yet, admission is free.
Stuck on a layover in Dallas-Fort Worth? Head to the far end of DFW’s C Terminal (across from the C2 gate) and check out the slew of military challenge coins. Poring over all those shiny coins is good for at least 20 minutes while you wait for your next flight. Check out the craziest things people leave behind at airports.
Watch your kids play
The greatest airport for playtime may be Changi International Airport in Singapore because it has a four-story slide in Terminal 3 (you get one free ride for every $10 spent in the airport), but almost every major airport has at least a modest free children’s play area nowadays. Watching your kid(s) climb, slide, and play on little pretend airplanes (the most common decor in these airport play areas) is the perfect free thing to do when you are stuck at the airport with your mini-me.
Squeeze in a workout
The San Francisco airport has a yoga room for self-practice and Baltimore’s BWI has a ROAM Fitness gym where you can buy a day pass. And some airports even boast their own swimming pools! But you can also rack up the step count on your Fitbit for free just by walking around the terminals. Reaching your step goal while you are stuck at the airport won’t cost you a penny. Discover the best airport hotel pools in the world.
Free screen time
More iPads are popping up in airport lounges every day, and while they are usually placed there to make it easier and more exciting to spend too much money ordering food, there are also often game apps, access to the Internet, and more free e-fun waiting for you.
People-watch like a Parisian
Pretend you are at a Parisian café by finding an outward-facing seat along a busy terminal walkway and watch your fellow travelers come and go. Try to spot celebs, if that’s your thing, but chances are you will have to resort to playing a lookalike game. Try to assemble your own cast of The Avengers by spotting people who look kinda-sorta-like Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Tom Holland, Paul Rudd, Scarlett Johansson, and so on. Find out some things you should never, ever do at the airport.
Discover and binge a new podcast
Maybe being stuck at the airport is when you will binge S-Town, Serial, or some other brand-new-to-you podcast so you can finally get all the cultural references from several years ago. We recommend 99% Invisible for architecture & design nerds, Spawned with Kristen and Liz of Cool Mom Picks for parents and moms-to-be, and, for English football (soccer) fans, the fantastic Set Piece Menu.
Charge your phone…and laptop, tablet, Kindle, Bluetooth earbuds
Because most planes frustratingly still do not have outlets or USB inputs at every seat, and because you want to hit the ground running with some semblance of battery life upon reaching your final destination, find a comfortable seat (not on the floor huddled beside a pillar) near a functioning electrical outlet while you are stuck at the airport. Park yourself there until all of your devices are fully charged. Pack a power strip in your carry-on so you don’t hog all that juice. Brush up on these 16 air travel tips before your next flight.
Edit your photos
If you are stuck in the airport on the way back home, spend your unexpected free time editing photos or turning your journey into a short movie. For photo editing, Snapseed continues to be the best free phone app for adjusting lighting, increasing clarity, and removing shadows from your photos. On the video side of things, check out InShot and turn your memories into snappy short films with a soundtrack thanks to lots of rights-free music.
Plan your next vacation
Booking your next vacation will cost you money, of course, but researching which Carnival cruise you’d like to take and finding the coolest restaurants in Nashville or Bozeman or wherever you dream of visiting is a 100 percent free thing to do when you are stuck at the airport. Planning your next vacation while still on—or trying to get home from—your current vacation might just become your family’s next quirky tradition. Check out the most bizarre reasons for flight delays.
Go down a conspiracy theory rabbit hole in Denver
Arina P Habich/Shutterstock
Whether you are a conspiracy theory junkie or find all of that stuff bonkers, you will love both the wild rumors surrounding the Denver airport and the way the airport trolls conspiracy theorists. Get the full scoop on what people think is going on at DEN, and then, the next time you are stuck laying over in the Mile High City, explore the Great Hall and find clues to New World Order secrets.
Become the airport DJ
When Jet Blue’s Live From T5 isn’t hosting a free Robyn or Gary Clark Jr. concert at New York City’s JFK Airport, you can play airport DJ with the free Rockbot app and influence the background music everyone in JFK’s Terminal 5 hears while they—and you—are stuck in the airport. Find out the things you should never buy at the airport.
Be an airplane voyeur
More and more airplanes feature cool artwork and state-specific paint jobs. While you are stuck at the airport, especially with a kid or two in tow, stroll around to each gate and peer out the windows to see all the pretty planes.
Say a prayer
Did you know that more than 50% of major U.S. airports have chapels inside? It’s true. So the next time you are looking for a free thing to do while stuck at the airport, head in to say a prayer…for a loved one in need, for your kid’s future college scholarship, or for no more flight delays.
Let positivity take flight
If you believe that the world (and, in particular, social media) could use a heaping dose of positivity, why not tweet at the airport’s official social media account all of the things you are enjoying about the airport while you are stuck there? This positive idea comes courtesy of dad blogger Niel Vuolo. Tweet kind things about the artwork, the play area, the chapel, the pretty planes, the wide concourses perfect for a lengthy stroll, and the free iPad usage. It doesn’t cost anything to be nice! Still bored? Here are even more great activities to try during your next layover.