A Guide to Sleeping in Airports

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Most people will never need to sleep in an airport. In fact, no-one ever really ‘needs’ to sleep in an airport, but if you travel enough there will be times when you’ll be waiting 7 hours for a connecting flight in a far-off country and your body’s crying out for sleep.

So how does one go about sleeping in an airport? What should you bring with you? Here’s a few ideas and tips that I’ve gathered together to help make sleeping at airports both possible and logistical.

Prepare Yourself

Wear the right clothes – When sleeping in an airport overnight the only clothes you’ll have access to are whatever you’re wearing (or what you’ve packed in your hand luggage). Unless you’ve ‘stayed’ in the airport before, it’s unlikely you’ll have any idea what it’s going to be like (temperature-wise). For this reason, it’s best to wear comfortable clothes (so that you’ll have no problems lying down for hours) and to dress in layers; so you can remove or put on clothes accordingly depending on the temperature inside the airport.

Sleeping in AirportsFind yourself a good spot – Find a good comfortable spot to sleep in. Every airport is different, so it’s your job to examine the airport you’re in to find the most comfortable spot (that’s also not a million miles away from your gate). For example, Chicago airport has incredibly comfortable chairs that tilt backwards slightly, whereas Dubai airport (as pictured below) is in the shape of a long tunnel whereby most passengers walk down the middle, meaning there’s lots of free space to sleep on the floor at the edges.

If you’re at (or near) your gate and you realize that the sleeping arrangements are poor, why not travel to another part of the airport (providing you have enough time before your flight)? It is surprising how much comfort levels can differ between terminals (or between departure and arrivals areas) – especially when traveling from one that deals only with domestic flights to one that flies internationally.

In regards to departure and arrivals areas; Arrivals usually has the best quality seating, presumably as most airports run under the assumption that most people departing will do straight to their gate (when possible) as opposed to waiting in the departure lounge, whereas the arrivals area needs good seating/facilities for people waiting to pick up their loved ones.

Dubai AirportPrepare yourself for questioning – Some airport officials will not take kindly to you sleeping in ‘their’ airport and may probe you with questions to find out why you’re there (and not sleeping in a hotel room). They may also ask where you’re flying to and wish to see your ticket (as proof that you’re not some airport-freeloading-bum). Because of this, it’s good to have your tickets handy (so you don’t have to spend 10 minutes rifling through your bags to find them).

In situations when you are questioned, it’s best to play dumb – like it’s your first time ever sleeping in an airport. You don’t want to give the impression that you’re an expert, as the staff are far more likely to be sympathetic to you if you give off the impression that you have nowhere else to go.

Note that you should have no problem sleeping in the majority of airports (let’s say over 95%), but there are a few around the world where you may be asked to leave if found sleeping. Actually it’s very rare that you’ll be asked to vacate the airport premises – it’s far more likely that you’ll be woken up and told you can’t sleep there.

Get there early – If you’re planning on sleeping in a (potentially busy) airport overnight, it’s likely that there’ll be lots of competition for the best sleeping spots. As a rule, look to have found a spot BEFORE 10pm, as that’s when things really hot up. Also, if you’re traveling during the summer, expect airports to be busier (meaning you should allow yourself more time to find a space).

Singapore's First Class LoungeThe airport’s best kept secret: First-Class lounges – Most people think that to enjoy the benefits of first-class lounges you need to be flying first-class, but that isn’t always the case. In some airports you can pay a small fee (much cheaper than a hotel) to have access to such lounges (even if you’re flying economy). Most lounges will offer showers, drinks, free Wi-Fi and food for their customers.

What Items Should You Bring?

There are several items that you can bring to enhance your sleeping experience at an airport. Here’s a list of my top recommended items:

An alarm clock – This is essential so that you don’t miss your flight (especially if you’re traveling solo). You may not need to bring an actual clock if you have your mobile phone on you (as many of them have alarms built in), but make sure you have something.

If you get caught short and realize you’re forgotten your alarm clock, a (slightly wacky) alternative is to write “Wake me at 6:00am” (or whatever time you need waking up) on a piece of paper and attach it to yourself. You might think that people would simply ignore this, but you’d be surprised how pleased people will be to help.

Eyes shade – a slightly obvious one. While they’re not for everyone, they definitely help to shut out the outside world.

Ear plugs – see above.

A blanket and/or pillow – If you’ve just got off a plane and you know you’re going to be waiting for hours for a connecting flight, consider taking the blanket and pillow that was provided for you to help you sleep at the airport. If you don’t have a blanket, a large jumper/jacket can be just as good.

Something to sit/lay down on – Sitting or lying down on the hard airport floor for hours on end can take its toll. Not everyone will have a sleeping bag with them, so it’s best to improvise on these occasions. Packing a soft towel (or something similar) in your hand luggage is perfect, and will make your experience a lot more comfortable.

Food and drink – If you’re staying in an airport overnight the restaurants and shops will all close down, making it hard to find any food or drink if you get the urge during the night (unless you can find a vending machine, of course). In situations such as this it’s best to stock up beforehand.

iPod/MP3 player/Music device – Listening to music is a great way to relax and drift off to sleep, and it’ll help to drown out the loud noise of the airport. I recommend listening to Brian Eno’s ‘Music for Airports’.

A word of warning when falling asleep with your iPod on – make sure that you’ve concealed it somewhere safe about your persons. You don’t want to wake up in the morning to find you’ve been robbed of such an expensive item. Avoid putting it in an easily reached pocket.

Sleeping Solo and Staying Safe

Sleeping in an airport is made a lot more difficult if you’re traveling solo and if you have a lot of bags. It’s vital that you stay close to your bags at all times for two reasons. Firstly, so they don’t get stolen, and secondly because you don’t want to raise any security alerts (and have the bomb squad investigating your backpack).

Thankfully, backpacks make good pillows. If you have multiple bags, consider tethering them to yourself by whatever means possible (so no-one walks off with them) and locking the pockets closed with strategically placed padlocks.

If you are traveling solo and need to sleep, see if you can find a group of other people sleeping (or attempting to sleep) and ingratiate yourself in amongst them. You’ll be much less of a target when surrounded by others.

You might think that sleeping in an airport is something that few people do, or that it’s something to be embarrassed about, but it seems there’s a whole community of people out there who sleep in airports, rate their experiences and post them on the web (this can be found here). The result is that there’s now a leaderboard of the ‘best’ airports to sleep at (it’s Singapore’s Changi airport, in case you were wondering). If you’ve ever experienced of sleeping in an airport, feel free to leave a comment below letting me know how you got on!

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