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How to Handle Layover Flight Delays Like a Pro

coseup of person holding luggage with blurred departures board

coseup of person holding luggage with blurred departures board

Since the dawn of airlines, traveling on a budget often means accepting a flight plan with layovers. Sometimes, these layovers are short and easy to handle. Sometimes, they are inconveniently long, or just long enough for you to get into trouble. Layover travel is often more exhausting than single-flight trips, and it can become a harrowing experience for anyone who doesn't know how to handle it — especially if you need to grab some sleep along the way.

Fortunately, you're not alone. You are among the millions of travelers who deal with layover routes every year, and in all that flying, a few best practices have shaken out of the shared experience. We're here to share those best practices in a quick and comprehensive guide to mastering layover flight delays.

Study Your Airports

First, know your airports. Get good at quickly discerning the layout of airports and finding the amenities you need. Many airports have rentable showers if you need to freshen and change without a hotel room. Many have lounges that might grant public or airline-specific access. And all airports have an exciting array of shops and restaurants in the SkyMall.

You'll get the most out of any layover travel by knowing the airports you're going to be stopping through. Study the maps and read a few travel blogs about those airports. If the airport has an app, download it. The better you know your airports, the better you can use their spaces and resources along the way.

Only Bring Carry-on Luggage

Layover flying can become a luggage fiasco. One mistake at a single stop-over could have your luggage jetting to the opposite coast. The best way to plan for a layover route is to eliminate checked baggage entirely. If you can, pack everything into carry-ons. It might even be worth the cost of an extra carry-on to keep all your luggage on your person instead of in various cargo holds.

Pack to Nap

If you have any layover stops longer than an hour, you may want to catch a nap along the way. That is very normal, and lots of people find a little corner to sleep in the airport before their flight is ready to board. How comfortable your nap depends on how you pack and where you can find to stretch out. Napping in the airport can be an incredibly effective strategy, whether you're catching a quick power nap or bedding down for an airport evening before your early-morning connecting flight.

The best method is to pack for a nap. Start with a tight-folding blanket or a large scarf to keep warm, followed by earplugs, a sleeping mask, and a soft-packed carry-on for a pillow. For long layovers with all-night stops, a simple inflatable pool raft can become an instant air-mattress. Great for laying on the ground or across several terminal seats.

Terminal-First Navigation

When you arrive at the airport, always head to your departure terminal right away. Memorize its location and what it looks like from a distance. It is home-base. No matter how much or how little time you have to explore the airport, do it from your terminal and always return to your terminal to take a break. If you sleep, it's often best to do so at your terminal.

Terminal-first navigation is the best way to ensure you don't miss your flight. Always know how to get back to your terminal and how long you have to explore or sleep so you're never far away when departure time comes around.

Eating on a Budget

Finding food in an airport is always expensive, and it can be hard to avoid those prices when your entire travel experience is one airport after another. If you're trying to save money on airport restaurants, it's essential to plan. First, always accept free in-flight snacks and meals. Even if you're not hungry at the time, you can stash them for later.

Second, you can pack a bag of sandwiches to tide you through the entire route. You can't bring liquid. So instead, pack an empty reusable water bottle and fill it at fountains to stay hydrated. And if you do need to buy food in the airport, prioritize delis and lunch-style places over the fancy darkened dinner restaurants and keep an eye out for meal-deals.

Double-Check Your Time Zones

When checking your departure boards for your flight and layover time, always double-check your time zones. Your watch and the clock on your phone is not reliably local-correct. Some mobile devices update the timezone automatically, some don't. It's all too easy to calculate one or two hours off by mistaking the chart's time zone for your home time zone. Always double-check.

One helpful method is to set up a world-clock or watch the time in multiple cities on your phone. Some phones or mobile apps even allow you to watch two different times on your phone lock screen for maximum convenience.

Set Unmissable Alarms

Finally, set unmissable alarms. If you have to, set your phone to rooster-crow and vibrate 30 minutes before every boarding call to wake you up or call you back from exploring the Sky Mall. Do not let yourself sleep through your boarding or find yourself at the opposite end of the airport at the wrong time. 

It can also help to have a backup plan in case your phone loses all battery power halfway through the trip. One astute traveler suggests using post-it notes that say "Wake me at 5:00 am" and sticking them around yourself if sleeping at the terminal. By their reports, considerate fellow travelers will wake you on time.

Taking flight routes with layover stops is an affordable and sometimes exciting way to travel. You get to see a variety of different airports, collect souvenirs from multiple states, and sleep in ways you never thought possible. But it can also be an exhausting challenge. The tips in this survival guide should help you continue to save money, relax, and even enjoy your layovers on future vacations. For more great insights on how to travel comfortably and sleep deeply wherever the winds take you, contact us today!