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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.

book spine poetryCourtesy Mallory Bogle

“Write” poetry at the airport bookstore

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. And, of course, pick up a book to take advantage of the little-known perk of buying books at the airport.

macro artist's palette, texture mixed oil paints in different colors and saturation studiovladimir salman/Shutterstock

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. Just don’t get so memorized that you join the ranks of these people who left crazy things behind at airports.

object on white - color balls close upUgorenkov Aleksandr/Shutterstock

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.

Woman carries your luggage at the airport terminal of Hong KongPavel Ilyukhin/Shutterstock

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! Don’t believe us? Check out these incredible photos of the best airport pools in the world. 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.

15 Free Things to Do When You're Stuck at the AirportBigTunaOnline/Shutterstock

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. No matter how bored you are, though, there are some things you should never, ever do at the airport.

White headphones and smart phone on wooden tableAlexeysun/Shutterstock

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.

37-Simple Ways to Improve Your Sex Life _MosayMay/Shutterstock

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.

Man editing photos on a

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.

Airline tickets over the keyboard of a laptop conejota/Shutterstock

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. These are the things airlines won’t tell you, but every flier should know.

15 Free Things to Do When You're Stuck at the AirportArina P Habich/Shutterstock

Go down a conspiracy theory rabbit hole in Denver

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.

speaker. Music. Volume. conceptTES_PHOTO/Shutterstock

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.

close up of an airplane enginecharnsitr/Shutterstock

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.

Rows of wodden pews in a churchHeather Shimmin/Shutterstock

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. Especially not these crazy, hilarious real reasons for flight delays.

15 Free Things to Do When You're Stuck at the Airportaradaphotography/Shutterstock

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.

Jeff Bogle
Jeff Bogle is an Iris Award-winning photographer, avid traveler, and English football fanatic who regularly covers travel, culture, cars, health, business, the environment, and more for Reader's Digest. Jeff has also written for Parents Magazine, Esquire, PBS, and Good Housekeeping, among other publications. He is the proud dad of teen daughters. You can follow his adventures on Instagram and Twitter @OWTK.

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