How to Survive an Insanely Long Travel Delay

The chillest guide to actually enjoying travel delays

How to Survive an Insanely Long Travel Delay

Don’t let this be you.

Photo by Hernán Piñera/Flickr

Nothing activates that noxious, gut-dwelling ball of dread as quickly as the words “holiday” and “travel” in the same sentence. Every year, the surge in travelers trying to make it home for the holidays coupled with unpredictable weather and the universe’s morbid sense of humor create the perfect storm of travel disasters. Will you be trapped on the tarmac for five hours? Or find yourself unwillingly stepping into Tom Hank’s role in The Terminal?

While we’re all dreading the reroutes and delays and predicting the worst, we have to keep one thing in mind: A travel delay can actually be awesome. Yes, you read that right. Being forced to stop running around, relax, and enjoy an entire airport of increasingly delightful food, drink, and entertainment sounds like a pretty good deal to us. Here’s how you can turn a disastrous delay into a mini-vacation-within-a-vacation.

Come prepared
The good news is that if you’re well-prepared with the necessities for a long flight, you’re also well-prepared for a comfy stay in an airport. If you’re not already traveling with an oversized scarf that doubles as a blanket, this holiday season is the perfect time to start. Keeping crucial toiletries on hand will also allow you to freshen up whenever you want (nothing doubles down on an excruciating travel delay like 12 hours of bad breath). Traveling with others? Consider investing in headphone splitters so that you can actually snuggle up and enjoy the movies and podcasts you’ve loaded on your electronic devices together. Throw in a pair of fuzzy socks or two and you’ve got yourself an airport slumber party. Most importantly, it’s an open secret that a multi-port USB charger or a multi-port adaptor will guarantee you access to a coveted outlet, and a few new best friends to boot.

Plan your emergency strategy ahead of time
Let’s just agree to assume that a flight delay during holiday travel is inevitable. The only thing more stressful than a delay is Googling “what to do in the event of a travel delay” seconds after you find out your plane has been delayed. While it takes a little extra planning, getting your logistics sorted out ahead of time will let you start enjoying your surprise airport vacation sooner.

Consider travel insurance—since we’re assuming you’ll be delayed, it’s going to come in handy. Most airlines’ flight protection policies and conditions of carriage don’t cover weather-related delays, so check on the extent of your coverage from any rewards credit cards, or consider buying from a travel insurance company like Travel Guard. Just like that, you could while away your extra-long travel delay lounging in a hotel robe, enjoying room service, and watching a popular movie from two years ago—at no extra cost.

Related: How to Cope When Your Flight Is Canceled

Even if you have travel insurance, your airport vacation won’t last forever, so you should stay on top of your itinerary changes. A delay can affect everything from car rentals to hotel reservations to tours you may have booked, so keep those contact numbers (or email addresses) handy so that you can alert rental and travel agents of your change of plans and rebook as soon as possible, if necessary.

Finally, add key travel apps to your arsenal, like the all-in-one TripIt and TripIt Pro. These apps will help you navigate your terminal, send you updates and notifications on your flight, and some can even help you easily rebook your flight online so you don’t have to wait in line.

Maintain your zen
Once they’ve announced that your flight has been delayed, don’t panic! If you find that you do need to relocate your center of calm, find the nearest yoga or meditation room. Often complete with mats, wood blocks, and sometimes even instructional videos, yoga rooms are popping up in airports all over the world. These days you can get your “ohm” on in San Francisco International, Chicago O’Hare, Helsinki-Vantaa Airport, and more. USA Today reports that we can expect to see an increasing number of airport yoga rooms in the coming years. Most are free to use, but a few are part of larger fitness facilities or lounges and may require a small fee (which, to us, is worth it).

Head for the lounges
Even if you’re not a member of a rewards program or rewards credit card, the best thing you do when facing an indefinite delay is to buy a day pass to an airport lounge. Escape the fluorescent-lit and echoing halls of the terminals to be cocooned in the style and comfort of plush couches, curtained windows, Wi-Fi, and available electrical outlets. Depending on the airline and location, your closest lounge may offer free food and drinks or shower facilities, and all lounges come fully-equipped with peace and quiet. There’s never been a better time or place to dive into that bestselling book you’ve been meaning to start, accompanied by a glass of champagne, of course. Most lounge day passes start around $50.

How to Handle a Missed Connection Like a Pro

(Don’t) Sweat it
Can’t shake that flight delay anxiety? Work it off in an airport gym. Airport gyms have long been popular with business travelers whose hectic schedules make it hard to fit in exercise, but gyms are lifesavers for weary, delayed travelers. will help you locate fitness lounges and centers in airports across the United States and Canada. For airports without fitness facilities, the site lists nearby gyms and the fastest way to get to them, which is usually a short taxi ride. Stretch your cramped legs and sweat out all that lethargy—just remember to pack your gym clothes and shoes in your carry-on!

Spring for the spa
If there is ever a perfect time to treat yourself to a massage and a manicure, this is it. We’re not just talking about massage chairs, either. Many major international airports and airport hotels around the world are home to top-quality spas that offer a full range of services, from quick-fix massages to longer, full-body treatments that target common travel complaints from dehydration to achy muscles. If you have the time, airport hotel spas offer a more comprehensive sanctuary experience, but if your plane may take off at any time, Be Relax and XpresSpa both have locations onsite in multiple terminals across the country. You’ll be so relaxed and rejuvenated, you might just “forget” to get on your flight.

>>Next: Here’s What You Should Know About Using Wi-Fi While Traveling

Maggie Fuller is a San Francisco–based but globally oriented writer driven to provoke multicultural worldviews as a multimedia journalist. She covers sustainability, responsible travel, and outdoor adventure.
From Our Partners
Sign up for our newsletter
Join more than a million of the world’s best travelers. Subscribe to the Daily Wander newsletter.
More from AFAR