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How to Sleep in Airports

by Jillian Tillman

Sometimes, you simply can’t avoid spending a night in the airport. The penny-pinching college student may do so by choice, whereas others may be stuck there unexpectedly. Some locations openly encourage passengers to cat-nap, and others outright prohibit it. Some airports provide amenities that will make you want to stay, and others will leave you crawling out of your skin. In whatever airports your travels may land you, you may want to consider some of nocturnal know-how of people who have perfected the somewhat strange art of airport slumber.

First and foremost, it is important to remember that just because you’re flying out the next morning/day/night/whatever, you are not in any way entitled to sleep in the airport or to use it as your free hotel (unless you were stranded there by fault of the airline, in which case you should be granted access to their lounge or some other form of accommodation). Even though most of the time airport officials won’t actually kick you out (because they do realize that between layovers, delays, cancellations, and jet-lag, it’s inevitable that people will be snoozing), they may ask questions about your being there, and rightfully so. Some typical questions to expect (and have answers for!) are:

  • Why aren’t you in a hotel? (You know, like those other, more sane individuals who aren’t occupying the floor?).
  • Do you have proof your flight is leaving in the morning? (In other words, please present your ticket or confirmation).
  • Can we please verify your ID? (As in, please show us your passport now).

Also, keep in mind that airports can make mighty nice places to sleep for local homeless and transients, so try not to appear as such, and, when possible, camp out in your terminal instead of in areas that non-ticket holders can access.

Sensible Suggestions
As a European airport worker wrote to, (we’ll get to more about this website later), “In general, if you behave properly, impose no security or safety threat (smoking where not allowed, etc), do not litter and are not a sour to the eye of companies with a commercial interest in airports, airport staff generally looks the other way.” This is the golden rule to follow when using an airport for overnight accommodations.

The second most important rule is this; always act innocent. Doesn’t matter if you’ve done this one time or a hundred, as far as anyone in charge knows, you really don’t want to be there, you really don’t have a choice, and you really didn’t choose to camp out on the floor intentionally. If you can manage, cry. As most women have learned, crying will get you out of practically anything.

Sound Sleeper Supplies

  • A pool raft. It’s cheap, it’s inflatable, it’s collapsible, and best of all it makes even the hardest of floors sleepable. Just keep in mind some locations will frown more severely upon people floor sleeping versus those who make do in chairs.
  • Eye shades. You can snag a sleep mask off a flight if they’re provided, but judging by the dwindling amenities offered by airlines, you’re best off bringing your own or using a pair of sunglasses (which you’re probably already planning to pack).
  • Ear plugs. ‘Nuff said.
  • Bottled water. There are a million reasons to have this, from stores that aren’t open 24 hours to water quality so scary you get the runs just looking at it. Always have your own supply.
  • Snacks. Again, some airports may not have 24 hour stores, and others might be just plain sketchy. Plus, do you really want to get up at 3 a.m. and lug all of your stuff to the only open store just for a quick bite to eat? Didn’t think so.
  • Books and magazines. No airport sleeper can do without these good old fashioned boredom busters.
  • CD player/MP3 player, etc. Make sure you bring large headphones, because hearing the same “Please don’t leave luggage unattended, or it will be searched and seized” message gets really old, really fast.
  • A trusty alarm clock, cell phone alarm, watch alarm, or, if all else fails, a pen and some post-it notes. Need to be up at 6 a.m.? Write it on some notes, stick them on you and around you, and someone will wake you up. Hey, it may not be Prince Charming, but it’ll get the job done.
  • A small blanket and a pillow. You really don’t need to call attention to yourself, so don’t use one you stole off the plane. You can find small blankets and travel pillows at travel supply stores and places like Brookstone, or, if nowhere else, for way too much money at the airport itself.
  • Tissue and/or toilet paper. Yeah, that’s right. Depending on your destination or stops along the way, some places will charge you an arm and a leg for a little bum fluff. Charmin makes a neat, small, packable roll of “to-go” tee-pee, and as well as a neat little pack of flushable toilet seat covers. I never go anywhere questionable without ’em.
  • A small satchel of potpourri or a hanging air freshener meant for a car. Foul odors are sure to keep you up, and your stomach turning, so do what you can to cover the smell. If you think you might find an electrical outlet, a Glade Plug-In will also do the trick.
  • Anything else you can think of that is small, packable, and entertaining. Will you be with a group? Consider throwing a Twister mat and game board into your bag or something similar. You can never have enough stuff to keep busy with.
  • Layer all of your clothing. Airports can be deathly hot, frostbite cold, and everything in between. Layers let you fine tune your outfit and sleeping arrangement to fit whatever needs you may encounter. Plus, extra layers you don’t need to wear make for great additional pillows and padding!

And last but not least, research the airport you’re planning on sleeping in! As mentioned earlier, is the internet authority on airport dos, don’ts, and ratings. They have an extensive list of airports with rankings, reviews, and stories, so you’re as prepared as possible for your airport adventures.

original photo locations, from top to bottom: Sleepin in Airports blog, 00ucci on Flickr, and 00ucci on Flickr