With the risk of disrupted travel ever present, whether due to post-pandemic staffing, aircraft delivery delays or strikes, many people face having to spend an impromptu night at the airport. Though it may seem pessimistic, it’s good practice to think ahead in case this happens to you.
Dozing off in your seat for a few hours while waiting for your flight is not going to be a problem at any airport, things only get a little complicated when you want to take up a few seats to lay down or find a corner on the floor to get some shuteye.
Is sleeping allowed?
While bedding down in the airport is not against the rules most of the time, some airports, such as those in Spain, run by Aena, explicitly forbid sleeping, while others make it difficult to get any shuteye by choosing concourse furniture that acts as a barrier to lying down. London Stansted has even deployed a squad to seek out would-be sleepers and move them on.
Moreover, not all airports are up and running 24/7 and those will not allow you to stay there while the place is shut. You should also watch out for restricted areas. Would-be sleepers-over have been kicked out of secure areas, a Boston Airport representative telling the Washington Post that “Passengers are not allowed to remain in the secure area during hours when there are no operations.”
Note especially that some airports close secure sections at certain times of night, so even if you are allowed to fall asleep there, you could awake from counting sheep to find yourself unable to get through your gates to catch your flight.
Other airports, however, offer bespoke resting places and quiet areas. Paris’s Charles De Gaulle, as well as Dubai, and Istanbul airports offer free options like lie-flat chairs, recliners, and “nap zones” respectively. Dallas Fort Worth and Singapore have a range of facilities, including places to refresh and, in Singapore, even a free cinema.
If you know in advance there will be a long wait (or even if you don’t), it’s worth researching the airports on your journey, just in case.
Is it worth paying to sleep?
If you have the budget to spend on getting comfortable, airports with paid-for sleep facilities are numerous and range from airport hotels to pods to cots rentable by the hour, so if you’re faced with long layovers or delays and are able to pay, you should check airport websites for information.
Before you pay for anything though, double check whether your airline is offering accommodation or sleeping facilities if you are caught up in a delay.
If no free accommodation is forthcoming, only you know your budget and priorities, but The Points Guy observes that fancy 24-hour airline business or ‘elite’ lounges can often be accessed with a one-off payment that is often less than what you’d pay for a hotel room or sleep pod. Most star lounges are quieter than public concourses, provide free food and drink, comfortable seating, reading matter, decent bathroom facilities and free WiFi.
Safety and comfort
When choosing a spot, the general advice is to think about safety. Be aware of surroundings and ensure your belongings are attached to you or inaccessible. Importantly, have your boarding pass or proof you are travelling with you to show you are a flyer and have business being at the airport.
In terms of comfort, it may be worth packing a lightweight, packdown blanket or sarong-type item to use for warmth, as airports can sometimes be pretty cold. At a push you can use items from your suitcase, if you have it with you. After ensuring your warmth, noise cancelling headphones and an eye mask are the next items that will really improve the quality of sleep you get at the airport.
And don’t forget to set an alarm to make sure you don’t miss your flight.