Outside’s Guide to Surviving a Night at the Airport
Tips and products to make your stay in the terminal a whole lot more bearable when your flight gets canceled
Outside's long reads email newsletter features our strongest writing, most ambitious reporting, and award-winning storytelling about the outdoors. Sign up today.
Flight cancellations are a traveler’s worst nightmare. And the perfect storm is brewing this holiday season with bad weather, a shortage of airline staff, and a post-lockdown surge of fliers (airline bookings for Thanksgiving were up 78 percent over 2020). Unfortunately, in the U.S., airlines are not required to compensate passengers when flights are delayed or canceled. Their only obligations are to get you on the next available flight in their fleet (not a competitor’s) or refund your ticket. While some companies might offer a hotel or meal voucher (and you should always ask), and travel insurance or a premium travel credit card might provide some protection, you’re generally on your own until your next flight.
We believe you should be prepared for any survival situation, and that includes being stranded at the airport—there’s no need to shell out for a hotel when you can just camp, right? We’ve collected our best advice for making it through a night in a terminal, and the gear to make it bearable.
Find Your Campsite
Some airports have dedicated rest zones with comfy chairs, nap areas, and even shower facilities for passengers who have long waits at the airport. However, that can’t be said of most airports, and a few make things really difficult—in 2018, London’s Stansted Airport went as far as implementing an outright ban on sleeping in its terminal. Fortunately, says Molly Fergus, vice president and general manager at TripSavvy, “most airports will try to accommodate or at least tolerate passengers who are stranded overnight.”
If you’ve already cleared security, you can explore other terminals to determine where the quieter spots are. If you’re feeling fancy, look into getting access to premier clubs or airport lounges. “Many lounges have comfortable couches, showers, and relaxation rooms,” says Fergus. “Premium credit cards often provide lounge access, while other lounges allow you to purchase day passes.” A peaceful place to rest might also include meditation, yoga, and exercise rooms, as well as business centers. “Denver International Airport, for example, has a business center that’s open to all travelers,” says Fergus. “It has several cubicles, benches, and lie-flat chairs that could work for sleeping.” Another overlooked area is airport churches. “Many airports have chapels that can be quiet and relaxing,” says Fergus. “Just check the operating hours before you settle in for the night.”
“Use common sense when staking out a comfortable spot to sleep in the airport,” says Fergus. Avoid stairwells, doorways, and areas with high foot traffic. You might even consider asking an airport employee or security guard about a quiet, out-of-the-way spot that won’t be disruptive or unsafe. Be respectful, and don’t take up too much space by spreading out your luggage. If you opt to sleep near a store, check its opening hours so you’re not blocking potential customers from entering the business. “Early-morning foot traffic will both interrupt your sleep and could increase the likelihood that something is stolen while you’re snoozing,” Fergus says.
Be Prepared with the Right Gear
There are a number of things you should always have on hand in case you’re stuck slumbering at the airport. Here are our go-tos:
Coalatree Evolution Hoodie ($77)
The Evolution Hoodie is so soft, you wouldn’t even know the fabric is made from recycled coffee grounds and plastic bottles. Hidden zipper pockets can easily stash your plane ticket, ID, and phone. Best of all, the Evolution stuffs into the zippered kangaroo pocket to become a handy travel pillow.
Rumpl NanoLoft Travel Blanket ($99)
This lightweight downy blanket weighs just 11 ounces and its polyester shell and insulation are made of recycled materials. It’s stain- and water-resistant and rolls up to the size of a water bottle.
Poseidon Pro Portable Charger ($120)
In a crowded airport, it may be difficult to find an open socket to charge your phone. The Poseidon Pro solves that problem and is waterproof, drop-proof, and crush-proof to boot. It charges fast and can keep your device charged for up to 36 hours.
Goodwipes Really Big Body Wipes ($10)
These 9.5-by-11.5-inch body wipes provide a convenient way of freshening up after a night camped out at the airport—or in the woods. They’re hypoallergenic and infused with natural tea tree oil, peppermint, aloe, and ginseng. Each individually wrapped wipe is biodegradable.
Astrea One Premium Filtering Water Bottle ($25)
This Astrea product filters out lead, chlorine, and other contaminants and toxins from that sketchy airport tap water. It’s the only water bottle with the highest NSF certification—assurance that it meets strict standards for public-health protection.
Lewis N. Clark Triple Security Lock ($13)
Secure your luggage before your sleep with the TSA-friendly Lewis N. Clark Triple security lock. This keyless contraption locks zipper pulls and luggage handles and can fasten your bag to a fixed object.