Over the years, I’ve spent an unusually large amount of time in airports. Whether I’m going on vacation, piloting, or commuting back and forth, there is always down-time between flights. When it is less than an hour, I’m usually too busy to notice. At two hours, I start to get a little restless. My record sit was a nine hour stretch of boredom on a snowy day in Boston.
Most airlines have private areas for crews to congregate between flights. There are usually a few comfortable chairs, a quiet area, and a few large televisions. But, what if I’m flying through an airport without a crew lounge? Killing time becomes more of a challenge.
I start with the obvious things that even the most amateur travelers have mastered. I use my laptop to catch up on email, Facebook, Twitter and other various on-line time wasters. If I can find a quiet area, I’ll talk on the cellphone. Then, there’s the trusty novel. Nothing passes time like a good book.
Every once in awhile, I’ll stroll through one of the many news shops at the airport. I’m not sure why, because nothing ever changes at these shops. Don’t believe me? Check for yourself the next time you’re in an airport news store:
- You will be greeted by candy in front of the register.
- On one wall, you will see snacks and big bags of trail-mix. A sign will advertise that you can buy two bags for only four times what you would pay for it at your local grocery store.
- On another wall, you will find medicine, toiletries, and personal grooming tools all individually wrapped and hanging on metal pegs. That packaging must be very expensive. Two individually wrapped aspirin cost about what I’d pay for a whole bottle. They should re-name it the “that will teach you to leave home without it” wall.
- You will also find t-shirts, candy, and stuffed animals available for last minute souvenir purchase. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone actually buy one.
- The rack of novels always features the top ten New York Times best sellers. I admit, it is nice to see the most popular paperbacks all on one shelf. They are sold for cover price. At one of the major brands, if you purchase a book, you can return it within a few weeks and receive back half the purchase price. Definitely a great deal for crew members. (Although being a cheap pilot, I still prefer the library over paying half price for a book. But, in a bind, it works!)
- Then, there’s the magazine rack. In the last store, there was a sign warning to “please pay for your magazine before enjoying it.” Seems to me there is a fine line between enjoying and previewing. So, I picked up a magazine and previewed an article before deciding to purchase. As I read, I was mindful that the magazine police could have ejected me from the store at any moment.
All those things only pass a little bit of time. Longer sits require more drastic measures. As I sat in the Denver airport on Christmas Day, I started recalling some of the greatest airport time killers of all time.
Walking around airports can be fun. At most airports, there is a walking alternative to the train or bus. Sometimes, I’ll wind through less traveled hallways for an hour or two just to see where I can end up. To me, it’s a little bit intriguing to walk and learn how all the different terminals connect together. Plus, I can usually find a meal in a different restaurant. After exploring, I walk back. If I’ve walked to far, I hop on the train or bus to go back to my terminal.
Sometimes, the break is just too long to sit at the airport. So, it’s time to venture off campus. If you’re delayed and feeling adventurous, here are some of the more fun excursions. However, don’t forget if you leave the terminal, you’ll have to go back through security!
- At Boston’s Logan Airport, a bus goes around the terminal loop and stops at the T (subway). Just a few stops down is the Feneuil Hall Marketplace. The New England Aquarium is also close. Heck, the entire city of Boston is within a few stops. I’ve killed a lot of time in Boston.
- The newest Smithsonian Air and Space Museum is between runways on the south end of the Dulles Airport. You may have to take a cab, but, it’s worth it.
- With a long delay in Newark or Detroit, well, just stay at the airport.
- If you’re ever stuck at LAX, there’s an In-and-Out Burger on the approach end to the north runways. There is a parking lot with shuttle service just across the street. Hop on the bus, tip the driver, and you can experience California’s burger obsession. Just make sure you learn the lingo before you order… double double, fries, and shake anyone? If you want to be really cool, ask them for a sticker to put on your car.
- With time to kill in Atlanta, remember that the original Chick-Fil-A is only a few miles from the airport. Well worth the cab fare to make the pilgrimage to the home of the chicken sandwich.
- At Chicago O’Hare, the Hilton has a very nice full service gym. You can walk over, work out, shower and return to the airport rejuvenated. This is especially helpful if you just came from LAX or Atlanta.
The Best Time Killer Ever
I’ve never participated in what I consider the best airport time killer of all time. However, to this day, thinking about it still makes me smile. So, I’ll share the story with you.
You probably remember that years ago I flew for a commuter airline out of Boston. The schedules were horrendous. On a normal day, we would have three to four hour sits in Boston. Bad weather made it exponentially worse.
Also, keep in mind, regional airline pilots were poorly paid and pilots are generally cheap.
So, there was one thrifty captain who made the most of his sits in Boston. Have you seen the “SmarteCarts” at airports? Passengers rent them to push around their luggage. Back then, I think it cost a few dollars to rent the cart. But, twenty five cents was a security deposit. If you returned the cart, the machine spit out a quarter. Most people didn’t return the carts. Do you see where this is going?
This guy, in full uniform, would roam the airport looking for orphaned carts. Every four he strung together earned him a dollar. He’d do it for hours. I can only imagine what passengers thought when they saw him scurrying to gather the carts. Sometimes, he’d even offer to return the cart for passengers unaware they were due a quarter. It was fun to watch. I always wondered if a “turf war” would ensue if another pilot wanted to break into the cart returning business.
I wrote most of this entry while killing time in the San Francisco airport. Hopefully, by the time you read this, I’ll be on my way home.
Did I miss anything? Please comment with your favorite ways to kill time between flights.