Stopovers can be a traveller’s biggest energy sponge. Once you get on the plane with a guidebook in your hand and a song in your heart, the last thing you want to do is have to disembark at a random airport where you pay way too much for a Big Mac that’s been sitting there for an eternity. Unfortunately, due to the restrictions of flight – sort it out, Science! – Longhaul planes have to stop somewhere.
Airports know that the stopover is never going to be the highlight of your trip. But larger airports have worked hard over the years, with many having undergone major overhauls in a bid to try and ensure that travellers have something to do while they wait. After all, a happy traveller is a traveller that’s more likely to a) spend money b) come back c) not bad mouth the country based on the airport.
Stopovers can range from the relatively harmless sixty-minute off-and-on again, upwards to the brutal soul destroying nine-hour marathon whereby you lose the will to live and begin plotting how best to seek revenge on your travel agent.
If you are stuck at the airport, here are a few suggestions on how to kill the time:
Depending on your stopover point of view, you’re either fresh out of luck, or incredibly lucky to only have an hour. By the time you get off the plane, you’ll basically be boarding again. You might get time to stretch your legs, walk up and down the airport, take in a few local water fountains, but then you’ll be sardined back into the metal bird like the seat number they see you as.
I have seen some people whip out a yoga matt and use their free hour to bust out a Bound Lotus right there on the airport floor, in front of everywhere, without a care in the world, not even realising how ridiculous it looks as they control their breathing and contort their body. Don’t be one of these people.
If you are choosing to be that yoga person, maybe try calming Zurich Airport, which is bland, pretentious and annoying to get your head around – just like your public yoga moves.
A more substantial chunk of time, but still not exactly a lifetime. You’ve got a bit of time to explore the airport, but that’s about all. Hopefully your airport has got a few stores so you can do some window shopping.
Check out the Duty Free store, spritz yourself with all the testers, try fourteen different types of face moisturizers with stupid ingredients like virgin bees or Caribbean pineapple starfish or shredded paper pickled in vinegar or apple.
Smile politely as the retail assistant asks you if you need help and then say you’re fine, just browsing. Then take photos of everything you want to buy, then go online and buy them cheaper. I know you think you’re being James Bond with your sneaky camera phone, but everyone knows…they know…they also don’t care. So snap away!
As if to prove their dominance in the extravagance market, Dubai airport has established the world’s biggest Duty Free shop. Clocking in at a staggering 58,000 feet of shopping space, there’s very little you can’t buy – including gold bars. Actual gold bars; like villains use.
Depending on the airport, it’s not really enough time to leave the airport, but it’s a substantial length of time to be stuck in a cramped plastic seat next to a child scoffing down tuna sandwiches. Once you’re hitting these amounts of time, the airport makes a big difference.
For example, Changi Airport in Singapore is an adventure in itself: it has a ceiling to floor slide, a butterfly and cactus garden, a playground, swimming pools, spas, cafes, hotels…in fact, it’s less of an airport and more of that science fiction hub out of Wall-E.
There are of course other airports that cater specifically for people who are forced to spend a lot of time there. It pays to do your research.
There’s absolutely no point spending eight hours sitting in an airport. It is a horrible way to start a holiday. And once you tip over to seven plus hours, you’ve opened the door to a new wave of, wait for it, LEAVING THE AIRPORT!! RUN FREE WILD CREATURE!!
Yes, yes, you probably have time to go exploring in the stopover city for a few hours. There are a whole new range of travel companies offering stopover specific holidays that give you a snapshot of a country that you can enjoy for shorter periods of time. A lot of companies even offer tours that depart from the airport, take you around the city and then take you back to the airport.
If you’d rather not be rushed, break up your trip with a few days in your selected stopover country. I mean, you’re already there, so it’d be a waste not to take advantage.
Airports you’d happily be stuck in:
Changi Airport, Singapore: Too many facilities to list; basically everything a luxury resort has.
Incheon Airport, South Korea: A cinema, a concert hall and even an ice rink.
San Francisco International Airport: A museum and an aquarium!
Schipol, Amsterdam: Casino, museum.
Hong Kong International Airport: Simulation golf, cinema, various exhibitions on.
Heathrow, London: Free beauty treatments!
Dubai International Airport, Dubai: All the duty-free. All of it. Some universities have less space.
Louis Armstrong International, New Orleans: Food. But not just any food – the best food I’ve ever had at an airport. Was as good as anything actually in the city.