26-November-2007: Your Own Private Place In The Airport, It’s Not As Hard As You Think!

Web: www.fishfotoworldwide.com — E-Mail: fish@flyingwithfish.com

26-November-2007: Your Own Private Place In The Airport, It’s Not As Hard As You Think!

Let’s face it a long layover or a missed flight can lead to some unwanted time in the airport. If you are like most people you detest your time in the airport, you find it loud, busy and an annoyance to your day.

I do agree, the airport can be an impersonal, uncomfortable and irritating place. When you are looking for an oasis to relax in after a busy day or a long flight Gate D48 is not the place you want to kick back and relax.

When confronted with an extended stay in the airport there are ways to relax, unwind and find your own place to be productive, take a nap or steal away from personal time.

Some airports are better than others for finding your personal space and some airports are like hell, but worse. I wish all airports were created equal, but they are not.

One of the easiest ways to create your “own space” in an airport is to find a corner that allows you to lean against two walls use some noise canceling headsets and just watch a movie, or edit or listen to music. If you corner has a power outlet it’s even better!

When traveling I make myself notes on airports I have been through on where to find some peace, as well as what concourses or gates are the quietest at certain times of the day. I plan much of my travel with heavy layovers, often leaving a job late at night and camping out in the airport until an early morning flight, or a very late red-eye home. I do this because I am cheap (see my earlier posting about taking bumps from flights for free flight vouchers). I’d prefer a hotel bed, TV and shower, but many airports have showers somewhere (and many don’t) and many have benches or WiFi or some quiet place. Are there some airports I will never overnight in and try and avoid any layover in? Yes, but we’ll get to that later.

With frequent trips through San Francisco International Airport (SFO) I try and find my peace in Terminal 3, on Concourse F, the United Airlines (UA) departure gates. There is a shuttle from the US Airways (US) gates to the UA gates , I hop on and can spend a few hours of relative peace and quiet to watch a movie, surf the web. I have edited more projects in the past two years on Concourse F than probably anywhere else.

For a year I saw the bright lights of Las Vegas’ McCarran Int’l Airport (LAS) 2 or 3 nights a week on my way home from the west coast back to the east coast (great commute, eh?). For these flights I’d always leave from Gate 40D, always on the same Delta (DL) flight to Cincinnati (CVG) on 738, almost always in seat 3A. I had my routine down depending on layover time. Very often I’d seek out the kids play area between concourses. I am sure this sounds loud and like a chaotic area, but in fact there are almost never any kids in there, the floor has nice carpet, the sun would not be blinding me due to the location of the windows, there are plenty of power outlets and LAS has free WiFi. Sounds like paradise right? Well when you consider my turn around time from New England to California was around 28hrs round trip, this areas was paradise to me. I could stretch out, nap, get my work done and just unwind.

Some airports have better features than others. Some airports that quickly come to mind are SFO with their museum gallery displays and library; Pittsburgh (PIT) with a huge shopping mall to window shop in; Charlotte (CLT) with the comfy rocking chairs; Incheon (ICN) with it’s indoor golf course; Nagoya (NGO) and it’s Japanese bath house; Honolulu (HNL) and it’s outdoor Japanese Garden; Hong Kong (HKG) and it’s 4D Movie theater; Frankfurt Main (FRA) and it’s movie theater; Tokyo Narita (NRT) and it’s roof top observation desk, etc etc. I can go on, but you get the point.

With long layovers I’d suggest looking up each airport’s web page. This will let you find out what is and is not an available service in the airport. Some airports have showers and public lounges, when you arrive you find out that these facilities are only past security. This can leave you with many hours of standing around with nothing to do. When you have nothing to do, I find watching movies best.

The flip side to all of this is also knowing which airports you need to avoid. There are some airports that are not only lacking comfort but they are also lacking security. Two airports I will never overnight in, and avoid long layovers in, are Newark, NJ (EWR) and Paris’ Charles de Gaulle (CDG). Why are these two airports I have travelled through often at the top of my list? Both airports have a significant homeless population at night and the terminals are not well patrolled. I have had a 6hr layover in EWR from 2:00am to 8:00am once and I thought I was going to be robbed three times. While taking a nap at CDG, during the day time , while the airport was bustling, I woke up to find someone urinating on the wall near my head (I actually found other people who have posted a similar occurrence at CDG!)

If you decide to overnight in Mumbai (BOM) you may end up needing to bribe security ; you plan on sleeping outside security at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo (SVO) you have a high risk of being robbed, Don’t Ever Think Of Having A Layover In Lagos, Nigeria (LOS), passengers have been mugged on the tarmac walking from the terminal to the plane! This should be a completely secure area, but it is not.

Yes, BOM, SVO and LOS are the worst case scenario, but I just wanted to point out that there are cases where airport’s aren’t just uncomfortable , such as Philadelphia (PHL), London Gatwick (LGW) or Los Angeles Int’l (LAX) , some are downright dangerous.

When planning for a long layover you should keep this in mind when packing. You should pack only what you can comfortably carry. You do not want to carry heavy things with you. If you plan on napping you should seriously consider having small TSA locks on each of your zippers and securing your bags with a zip-wire (http://cablelock.notlong.com ) or a PacSafe wire bag protector (http://www.pacsafe.com). These items will allow you to secure your bags and protect your gear while you sleep. I often lock the cable to a bench and also to my pant belt loop. If the bag is attached to my belt look I’ll know if someone is trying to get into my gear.

For your comfort I suggest bringing a comfortable hooded sweatshirt. A hooded sweatshirt is ideal for a few reason. The first is that the extra layer of clothing is comfortable when dealing with the air conditioning in the airport for a long period of time; a heavier sweatshirt gives you a little more padding when laying down; the hood gives your head protection from the ground or wall when laying down; the hood allows your to create a barrier around your head (similar to horse blinders on a race horse) to block out the world around you; you can roll the hood up and give your head a small pillow.

Noise canceling headsets are a great way to block out the world, even if you just turn them on and do not play any music through them. There are any different kinds of noise canceling headsets depending on your personal preferences. I like the Sennheiser PXC250 headsets (http://pxc250.notlong.com), the are light, compact and fold up to save space. Place the headsets under your hood and you’ve created your own little private space in a public area.

If you have work to do, bring a very small multi-outlet adapter, I like the 3 outlet adapters that are US$2.50 at Home Depot (http://3outlet.notlong.com) to plug in your laptop, mobile phone, etc. If you are traveling internationally you’ll also want a compact and light weight international plug adapter to plug your gear in (make sure your power supplies are Dual Voltage first!)

A nice compact and comfortable option, if you want to add one more item, is the Tempur-Pedic 3-in-1 Travel Pillow (http://TempurTravelPillow.notlong.com ) mine gets stuffed into a Pelican Case or ThinkTank Airport Addicted when space allows, and it has flown a few hundred thousand miles. It comes with a compact case, it can be crushed easily, and it is very comfortable. I use mine in airports, on airplane and even in hotels because it is often more comfy than hotel pillows.

Did I mention movies pass the time? I am sure I did, so pack them in a flat sleeve that takes up no space , swing by the magazine shop for a soda and some M&Ms and relax with them.

Below are my Top 5 Airports I Can Unwind In and my Top 5 Airports I’d Rather Kill Myself Than Have A Layover In

Top 5 Airports I Can Unwind In
#5) Tie – Nagoya (NGO)
#5) Tie – Tokyo Narita (NRT)
#4) London Heathrow (LHR)
#3) Incheon (ICN)
#2) Hong Kong (HKG)
#1) San Francisco International (SFO)

Top 5 Airports I’d Rather Kill Myself Than Have A Layover In
#5) Chicago O’Hare (ORD)
#4) London Gatwick (LGW)
#3) Los Angeles (LAX)
#2) Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG)
#1) Tie – Philadelphia (PHL)
#1) Tie – Newark, NJ (EWR)

If you’d like further info on why I enjoy or hate a specific airport please feel free to ask by dropping me an e-mail at fish@flyingwithfish.com

Interested in a hands on learning experience that will teach you how to travel quickly, efficiently , effectively and work through your jet lag? Please visit www.comeflywithfish.com

Below is a photo of me relaxing and editing my work during a really long stint between work and my flight home.

Happy Flying!

–Click On Image To Enlarge It–


  1. I’m surprised that Narita makes your list of the best top 5. I personally avoid it when I can, preferring to travel through the Kansai airport instead. What do you know that I don’t about Narita?

  2. Peter

    I am glad my Flying With Fish has been helpful for you.

    If you find any great spots to relax or some airports that you’d never want to be caught dead in during your travels let me know!

    Happy Flying!


  3. Brian

    KIX is a fantastic airport. I would love to spend a day or three shooting the architecture of KIX. I have actually pitched editorial clients on shooting a project on how KIX operates given that the island is sinking and that the island and terminal are sinking at two different speeds!

    I know it sounds strange, but KIX could be a destination all by it’s self for me.

    ………..so why is NRT on my list ahead of KIX? Because I transit through NRT a few times a year, while I rarely use KIX (although I’d love it if there were options to transit through KIX to my onward destinations). NRT to me can be a mess when it comes to dealing with immigrations. The lines are long, slow and chaotic. That is the downside. Once past immigrations and customs I find that I can relax on the observation deck between flights or while waiting for my outbound flight. Not ideal in the winter, but overall it is a fantastic place to kick back. I could put NRT in the top 5 for this reason alone.

    Traveling to NRT from Tokyo is easy on the N’EX. The trains run on time, the train even has assigned seats! I don’t know any other train with assigned seats!. London’s Healthrow Express and Gatwick Express (while quicker due to proximity from the city) can’t compare, BART in San Francisco isn’t convenient, Manhattan to JFK or EWR with the LIRR and NJ Transit to Air Train is a pain, Boston’s Silver Line isn’t bad!, Paris’ RER isn’t the best, even the train from HKG to the IFC can be late and over crowded. With N’EX having assigned seats and a near perfect on time schedule you have the best link to an airport from a city center anywhere.

    Compared to many international airports in Asia I find check in at NRT to be easy. I find the counter agents polite and I find the security screeners to be quick, efficient and quite careful. Once past security I find the airline lounges (Star Alliance and JAL lounge) to be very comfortable. The atmosphere is relaxed, agents are very polite and they aren’t nearly as crowded as many of the lounges in Europe.

    This is why NRT is in my Top 5 list.

    Happy Flying!


  4. WOW! Great Blog and so much info. I’m off to Trinidad (POS) soon and just don’t know how to bring my Bronica SQ-Ai and Canon 5D gear with me. I might need to get a Domke bag.

    I’m stopping off at BGI (Bridgetown) for nearly 17hours. Any tips or advice on where i can go and what i can do?

    Many thanks in-advance.


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