Stranded at the Airport? Here's How to Survive
Update: This story was originally published on December 20, 2015. Updated by Sacha Strebe.
Have you ever found yourself stranded at the airport? I think we can safely assume that we've all been there at least once. I experienced this recently at Gatwick Airport while awaiting a flight that was supposed to take me to Los Angeles on a Wednesday afternoon. Unfortunately, the aforementioned flight didn't depart until mid-afternoon the next day. Mind you, this flight was never officially canceled. Rather, it was pushed back in half-hour increments for a total of twenty-two hours. Just my luck.
Luckily I’d had a wonderful trip and used my positive energy and bag full of airport necessities to make it through a night at the airport without losing my patience. But there were a few things I really wish I had known before enduring the worst delay of my life. In light of that, I’ve put together a survival guide for extended airport layovers that should help you avoid some of the low points of my experience.
There is nothing quite as stale as an airport, especially a crowded one that you’ve been stuck in for hours. But having a toothbrush and travel-size toothpaste easily accessible is the easiest way to freshen up and give yourself that satisfying feeling of cleanliness, even if you really haven’t showered in a while.
The only thing worse than being stranded indefinitely at an international airport is being stranded without a phone, computer, or any sort of communication device. After traveling throughout Europe for two weeks with multiple adapters, none of which worked, I decided it was time to solve my charging problem. I walked myself over to the electronics shop, laptop and charger in hand, and asked for an adapter that would convert U.K. energy into my U.S. MacBook. I really wish I had sorted this situation out sooner. It would have saved me a lot of anxiety!
Side note: For those of you who didn’t know, heat does not convert through an adapter, so never try to plug your hair straightener to one. Both will end up suffering or, in my case, breaking completely.
Even though I didn’t actually experience a good night's sleep, or even leave the airport, I was so happy to have a change of clothes in my carry-on luggage. Being able to shed your sweaty layers from the day before somehow gives you a second wind to tackle day two’s obstacles.
I wear contacts, so around hour twelve at the airport, I decided to shed my lenses and opt for spectacles. But I really wish I had an eye mask to help feign a dark room while I tried to get some sleep. A pot of cooling eye cream would have been a seriously blissful ointment after hours of unrest and shabby airport lighting, too.
Seriously, I don’t care how many bottles of water you purchase, or how many times you squeeze your luggage into the restroom stall. Drinking water is paramount at the airport. I found myself dehydrated for days after this thirty-plus-hour travel experience, and I desperately wish I had downed at least triple the amount of water before finally boarding my plane.
It’s only natural to dig into concession-store goodies while you’re stranded at the airport. But try hard not to indulge your sweet tooth. A massive sugar rush ensures one thing: a massive crash. And that crash will be especially brutal after hours of delays, no sunlight or fresh air, and the general crankiness that comes with being stuck in an airport.
Yes, the airport is filled with books, but it’s best to be well into a story when you arrive at the airport so you don’t have to struggle through the “getting into the book phase” on top of everything else. I usually aim to start a novel a week before traveling so that I have something interesting to pass the time during the inevitable hours of sitting that are part of traveling.
Not only does your body need water, your skin needs lotion! Usually just a domestic flight will wreck havoc on skin, especially my lips. That’s why I always travel with a pouch of hand cream, lip balm, and a hydrating spritz. If I don’t reapply every hour or so I will be left with dry, itchy skin long after my journey is over.
If you’re traveling with a partner, I suggest keeping your boarding passes and passports together in one safe place. When I was finally boarding my flight home, the man in front of me—who may have looked even more tired than I did—realized he lost his boarding pass in the midst of all of the airport transitions. He was able to board the flight, but it was a disastrous logistics problem to deal with at the end of an interminable delay. I always travel with a Smythson travel wallet and make sure to slip my boyfriend’s tickets in there as well.