A lot of us will be in an airport this holiday season: sitting through long layovers, awaiting never-ending delays or just picking up lost family members. If you’re not lucky enough to be addicted to Words with Friends, you might have more trouble passing the time. Unfortunately, not all airports can be like Singapore’s, which has a freaking pool you can use while you wait, but did you know that a lot of airports are packed with microbreweries? And some give you tons of coupons to use or free gym passes? Or that you might be able to see a free Taylor Swift concert while you wait for the crew to clean the vomit off the Skymall catalog?
To save you time, here is a cheat sheet on 12 airports you’re likely to be stuck in around the country (and one international one), including deals worth checking out, beer worth trying and which terminals have free wifi. Best advice? Always, always check out an airport website before you go (all linked below).
We’ll start where you’ll start (if you’re a Brokelynite), because it’s winter, which means you’ll be delayed…
John F. Kennedy Airport – New York
Internet: Wifi is operated by Boingo. Pay as you go: $4.95 per hour/24-hour pass (super-long delay!): $7.95.
What to do: Two words: Terminal 5. No, not the crap venue that is oft-maligned as the worst venue in New York; we’re talking about the unrelated airport venue with amazing food, free internet and occasional free, insane concerts (seriously, ROBYN performed last year!). Unfortunately, if you’re not flying Jet Blue, you can’t hang out in the best place in the world, so check out the offerings at the other terminals here (although seriously, they don’t even come close).
Tip: Internet rumors abound about the Delta Sky Club day pass – apparently cheaper than the other airport clubs, and accessible to anyone. But seriously, read this article on getting into airline clubs on the cheap first. It’s full of tips on how to save some cash and still get that all-important “free” drink.
LaGuardia Airport – New York
Internet: Port Authority loves this Boingo stuff… Pay as you go: $4.95 per hour/24-hour pass: $7.95.
What to do: If you’re going to be in the Central Terminal, shop. It has ongoing sales and specials and one coupon good for 20 percent off any item (that can be printed multiple times), on its website.
Tip: If you’re in the dreaded Delta Shuttle terminal, which has one café and two Hudson booksellers, don’t fret. There’s usually a shuttle (hence the name) going back and forth to the main terminal. Hop on and do something more fun (like … not be at the Delta Shuttle terminal).
Newark Airport – New Jersey
Internet: Surprise! Also owned by Port Authority, so same rules apply. Pay as you go: $4.95 per hour/24-hour pass: $7.95. Right now, Skype is offering free internet Dec 21-27 in each terminal. Check out the tip below for more info.
What to do: This is the smallest of the three airports in New York, which means two things: it’s easier to get around and it’s also more boring. It’s got the normal fare of Hudson News and coffee stands, but this time each terminal (A, B, and C) has its own website, each with sales and promotions, including free gifts from Swatch (after a purchase) and sweet food deals. Can someone please go to the America! Store in Terminal A and tell me what’s going on there?
And now for those pesky connections…
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport
Internet: Wifi comes with a fee, ranging from $4.90 per hour to $6.95 for 24 hours, and you can choose from four different internet service providers, including Boingo. Also, please note the Wifi page was obviously written by a computer nerd.
What to do: At the busiest airport in the world, the main thing to do is not get flattened by a golf cart toting grandmas. Dive into one of the airport’s many restaurants and bars, including the fancy One Flew South. If the food menu is a bit too expensive for your liking, grab a Basil Julep or Georgia’s finest Sweetwater 420 on tap at the bar and search for a Southern belle (or gentleman). Also, this is one of the few airports where you can still smoke inside in designated areas, if you don’t mind being penned in with other smokers like so much carcinogen-puffing cattle.
Tip: There are rumors of free interwebs in one of the food courts or Terminal E, so be on the hunt. If you find it, you’ll be endlessly entertained by the airport’s ridiculous YouTube page.
O’Hare International Airport — Chicago
Internet: Boingo! $6.95 for 24-hour wifi access; $9.95/Month for unlimited wifi access
What to do: This airport is full of art in every nook and cranny. Seriously, just look left, right, up or down and you’ll be entertained (there’s even a cast dinosaur skeleton!). Also, unlike New York’s airports, Terminals 1, 2 and 3 are connected, so you have the freedom of walking around as much as you want. Google just updated its Google Maps Android app to include airport layouts, so use it to navigate your way around.
Tip: You may only be in the airport, but you’re still in Chicago so eat a freakin’ hot dog. Head into Gold Coast Dogs or the aptly named Chicago Style Hot Dogs and chow down. Or if you’re like our fearless vegan editor, try Beer Advocate’s vote for best beer of 2010, Goose Island Brewing Company’s Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout instead (and/or check out VegGuide.org for O’Hare vegan options).
LAX – Los Angeles
Internet: The rates for T-Mobile wifi are $6 for the first hour and 10 cents per minute thereafter or a 24-hour pass for $9.99. Pay-for-use Internet kiosks are also located in all terminals. According to its Twitter account, the airport hopes to provide free wifi in 2012.
What to do: Drink beer. This airport has quite the selection of highly rated breweries. Check out the Karl Strauss Microbrewery in Terminal 7, the Gordon Biersch Brewery in Terminal 1 and the Redondo Beach Brewing Company in Terminal 6. And once you’re sufficiently tipsy (don’t get hammered or you’ll never leave), page famous people and see if anyone shows up.
Tip: Like Newark, LAX’s one official account updates with news about entertainment (like a recent flash mob) and cool things to do (like how you can take a trolley to the beach if you have a long layover). Otherwise, their website is supremely lacking.
Cleveland Hopkins International Airport
Internet: Free wifi! Cleveland rocks!
What to do: See above: watch lots of Hulu. Or, check out the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum and Store. While not as awesome as the real thing in downtown Cleveland, it still offers a chance to see a bit of history (there are seven plasmas pumping out jams and videos of famous rock moments).
Tip: Do some last minute holiday shopping: this airport is one of four that houses an Air Mall, which offers shopping at mall prices, rather than jacked-up airport prices.
Minneapolis – St Paul International Airport
Internet: Wifi is available for a fee through Boingo; Pay internet kiosks are located on concourses C and G.
What to do: Relax! Get a massage at XpressSpa Regis Salon (check out the tip below for this one) and then head over to one of four arcades and beat little kids at Pacman.
Tip: Print off the airport’s coupon booklet, 10 pages worth of coupons for everything from food to souvenirs to spa treatments.
What to do: If you’re willing to go through security again and take a 10-minute taxi ride, Bally Total Fitness offers a free day pass. Log on to AirportGyms.com for more conveniently located gyms (and their prices) near airports across the country.
Tip: A relatively cheap day pass ($35; most are around $50) to The Club at DFW might be worth it if you need to do some faxing. The club also has free snacks, alcoholic beverages and shower facilities. You could spend $10 on a beer and wash down hobo style in the bathroom, but if you want to feel schmancy, The Club is your chance.
Denver International Airport
Internet: Free wifi at Jeppesen Terminal and A, B and C Gates.
What to do: Try out Dazbog Coffee, a unique Russian coffee, available very few places outside of Colorado. Apparently their tea is also the bomb (or бомба in Russian, although I have a feeling it doesn’t have quite the same connotation, especially not in an airport…). The airport has got a lot of strange art too, like that Nazi zombie on the right and this horrifying horse.
Tip: If you have 4-5 hours to kill in the city but don’t want to lug around your carry-on, you can store it ($15 per day for a small suitcase and $20 per day for a larger bag) at the Airport Baggage Center.
Dulles International and Reagan National Airports – Washington DC
Internet: Free wifi in both airports
What to do: These airports have a wee bit of art pulsing in their veins, although nowhere as unique as the free Smithsonian museums around town. At Dulles, the Gateway Gallery has rotating exhibits, while the Daedalus 87, the first human-powered aircraft, stays permanently. At National, the Gallery Walk between Terminals A and B has rotating exhibits. Both airports promise live performances, but none were listed on the websites.
Tip: Like Minneapolis-St Paul, both airports offer a coupon booklet. There are a lot fewer offers, but hey, every penny counts.
George Bush Intercontinental and Hobby Airports – Houston
Internet: These airports offer very limited wifi service for free, basically just real-time flight information. If you’re more interested in the happenings at Brokelyn than the airport, you’ll have to go through Boingo.
What to do: The airport system has an extensive collection of art. To pass the time, try spotting all of them (keep in mind some might be located in the other airport).
Tip: Although the airport system hasn’t hopped on the free wifi train, they have on the promotions train with deals on Kindles, gifts and snacks.
Heathrow Airport – London
Internet: Like its US counterparts, this major airport’s wifi is supplied by Boingo at slightly more expensive prices (their monthly access is £11.95, about $19, versus $9.99 in the States). Pay internet kiosks are also located throughout the airport.
What to do: So, what to do before that connecting flight to Frankfurt/Paris/Morocco? Well, as with most other airports: shop. And man, does Heathrow make it easy. They’ll even hold your purchases at the airport if you’re planning to jet set around Europe. Check out the special offers before going; you can even do a little pre-shopping online and pick up when you get there.
And of course, you’re going to a different country, which means you’ll have to change money. The good news is, if you order your money ahead of time on Heathrow’s website, you won’t pay a commission. If shopping’s not your thing, check out the art gallery in Terminal 5, showcasing work from British artists. [Ed. note: The duty free alcohol shop is practically an open bar! You can get tanked on free samples Pimm's without spending a pence! -Td.]
Tip: If you’re in for a really long layover, head out to the YOTEL Cabin Hotel in Terminal 4. Unfortunately, it’s pre-security, so you’ll have to go back through, but for £25 for four hours, you can take a nap and use free internet and a shower. Worth it!
What else y’all got? Leave your suggestions on how to pass the time in the comments.
Follow Jennifer: @Ohmanalive.