When you find yourself stuck at the airport overnight due to an unfortunate layover or sudden change of plans, the last thing you want to have to worry about is getting a good night’s sleep. That’s why it’s important that you be prepared for this possibility and have a few tricks in mind for making this uncomfortable experience as comfortable—and safe—as possible.
Here are 13 things you can do to sleep safely and comfortably the next time you find yourself stuck at the airport for the night.
Pack a Sleep Kit
Get into the habit of taking a sleep kit with you every time you fly. You never know when a flight will be delayed or canceled last minute, and no one wants to have to go 24 hours without brushing their teeth.
Essential toiletries like toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, and hairbrushes are likely already packed somewhere in your luggage, but it wouldn’t hurt to pack these separately so that they are easily accessible. Other items that might make you feel more at home—sound machines, eye masks, slippers, etc.—should also come along.
A sleep kit is easy to throw together and can minimize the discomfort associated with staying in a new place unexpectedly. Sure, you won’t need to use it at the airport most of the time, but many of the items are probably coming with you on your trip anyway. Don’t pack anything that you wouldn’t typically use to sleep and you won’t need to worry about additional baggage fees.
Keep in mind that some airports provide complimentary toiletries and items such as shampoo and blankets, but you can’t always count on this. You can ask ahead of time before a flight or just play it safe and bring a sleep kit.
Try a Hotel or Sleep Pod
You could always stay in an airport hotel or sleep pod, but not all airports offer these conveniences, and using them is not cheap. However, if these are available to you and you don’t mind investing the extra cash into a night of uninterrupted rest, this is probably the most comfortable you’re going to get. Otherwise, try some of the other tips on this list.
Most nap rooms or sleep pods can be rented by the hour and typically run anywhere from $20 to $40 per hour. Rooms are often upwards of $150. Both of these are often in short supply when they can be found at airports, so get to them as quickly as possible because they are rented on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Sleep Near Your Gate
If you’re stuck sleeping in the airport, you’re going to naturally want to look for a restful place to rest in a quiet corner with low foot traffic.
But although no one wants to get woken up all night by lights, other passengers, and staff members, it’s even worse to miss a flight. Don’t give in to the temptation to find somewhere isolated to doze off. Not only is this less safe due to decreased security, but it’s a good way to miss the flight you waited all night for when exhaustion sinks in and you oversleep.
If your flight was canceled or delayed for one reason or another, chances are good that other passengers on your plane are going to be in the same boat as you, and sticking around the people you’ll be traveling with lets you take cues from other passengers when it’s time to go. Benches and seats are obvious choices for comfortable sleep, but you’ll need to claim these fast or you’ll wind up roughing it on the floor.
Change into Cozy Clothes
Take advantage of your packed suitcase and get those sweatpants and hoodies out the moment you learn that you’ll be spending the night at the airport. Find the nearest restroom and change as soon as possible—wearing cozier clothing makes a world of difference in making you feel more at ease. Most people won’t even bat an eye at a tired-looking passenger in pajamas at the terminal.
Visit a Gym or Lounge
Depending on what airport you’re in, you might have access to a top-notch airport fitness center or swanky lounge with a shower. Such luxuries are complimentary with many first-class and business tickets, but any passenger can purchase a pass most of the time. For a relatively small fee, you can get a hot shower at the very least. Some lounges and fitness centers also have pools, saunas, and jacuzzis. You’ll feel almost normal once you’re clean.
Treat yourself to anything that will relax you. This could be a manicure or pedicure, a facial at a nearby spa, a movie on your phone, or a comforting meal at one of the many food joints in the airport. Stress and tension are usually already high when flying, and they’re going to be made even higher when you’re inconvenienced by spending a night at the airport. Stick to your nightly routines as closely as possible and you’ll fall asleep much more easily.
Give yourself a break and do a little more for yourself than you normally would. Find somewhere comfortable to settle in and do your best to block out your surroundings. And when you wake up, whenever you wake up, celebrate with a fresh cup of coffee—or two.
Ask for a Cot
Not every situation warrants an airport hauling out the cots, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. Often, airports reserve cots for times when large masses of passengers are stranded—perhaps by inclement weather causing many flight delays, federally mandated travel restrictions like what we’ve seen during the COVID-19 pandemic, etc.—, but you might be able to get one even if you just have a long layover. Use a courtesy phone or go to a counter to ask personnel for sleeping accommodations. These are almost always free of charge, but they are in limited supply.
Please note that courtesy cots are just one of many types of accommodations airports regularly provide to stranded travelers. Many airlines also offer hotel vouchers, meal tickets, complimentary shuttle rides, and other services and discounts to passengers whose flights have been delayed or canceled.
Sleep in Shifts
Those traveling in parties of two or more are at an advantage when it comes to sleeping at the airport because they can sleep in shifts. Take turns sleeping with the people in your party so that there is always someone keeping an eye on the group and their luggage. This will make you all less vulnerable to theft and ensure that at least one person is keeping track of the time. Use timers and alarms so that everyone is able to get a bit of shut-eye.
If you’re traveling alone, look for other passengers turning in for the night and set up camp near them. You don’t have to work out a shift sleeping deal with strangers, but solidarity never hurts.
If your flight has been assigned a new departure time or you know exactly when your layover ends, set an alarm for an hour before this. This will give you time to gather your belongings and get yourself ready to board the flight. If your new flight time has not yet been announced or you’ve been told to stand by, you’re better off taking short naps and getting an update before going back to sleep than turning in for a full night’s rest.
Again, if you’re traveling alone, sleep near your gate as close to other parties as is possible and comfortable. That way, if for some reason your alarm doesn’t wake you up or there is an unexpected change to the flight, you’ll be woken up when the other people on your plane start moving around and preparing to board. Alternatively, if you don’t have a smartphone or watch, write a note on a piece of paper stating when you would like to be woken up and airport staff or passersby are likely to help you out.
Sanitize Your Chosen Location
The bench you’re going to be calling a bed for the next several hours has seen thousands of passengers come and go. It doesn’t take long to wipe it all down with cleaner, and this extra precaution is well worth it. Ask the airport staff if you can borrow cleaning supplies or sanitize with hand sanitizer at the very least. You’ll be able to sleep more peacefully when you know your area is free of disease-carrying germs. In addition, avoid direct contact with public surfaces as much as possible (i.e. lay your jacket down on the floor or seat before laying on it). That shower mentioned earlier? Might not be a bad idea to squeeze it in after sleeping.
Sleep on Top of Your Stuff
Airport theft is a very real problem, and keeping your valuables safe should be your number one concern when it comes time to sleep at an airport. If you don’t have the option of sleeping in shifts with others in your party and keeping watch over your luggage, you may just have to sleep on top of it. In this case and many others, it pays to travel light.
Many weary travelers use their soft-sided suitcases as pillows and it’s a good idea to keep your arm wrapped around the straps of the rest of your bags. That way, should someone try to take advantage of your compromised situation and swipe a bag, you will be roused awake before they can make off with your belongings.
Remember not to travel with too many valuable items if you can help it. Items that you would not be comfortable leaving unattended in a busy coffee shop while you run to the restroom might not need to come with you to a busy airport.
Store Your Luggage
Some airports can store your luggage—for a fee, of course. If you’re traveling with a lot of bags, traveling alone, or just don’t want to have to worry about keeping track of your stuff all night, it might be worth it to hand over a little extra money to store your luggage until your flight. Look for luggage lockers, and if your airport doesn’t have those, check with the lost or left luggage counter. They might be willing to keep an eye on your bags for a price.
Luggage lockers are surprisingly affordable most of the time. For example, LockerLink lockers by SmarteCarte—found at thousands of airports—are just $4 for the first hour and $1 for every hour after that. You can store your bags for a couple of days or a couple of hours, and you’re likely to sleep much better when you’re not worried about protecting your things. Even if you just rent a small locker for your wallet or purse, you’ll be glad you did.
Keep Your Boarding Pass Close
You may or may not have to answer for yourself if you’re woken up by a security guard.Many security guards let snoozing slide without so much as a second glance, but others take precautions against non-passengers sneaking in and will ask to see your boarding pass to confirm that you are a passenger if they see you sleeping. Rather than try to hide from security somewhere remote and risk being thrown out, keep your pass and identification close by so that you can get right back to sleep if interrupted.
If you travel a lot, it’s not a bad idea to research the different policies and practices in place for stranded travelers at the various airports you frequent. Some airlines are a lot more accommodating of overnight guests than others, and you could use this information to make decisions about where to fly. Airline sleepovers can either be painfully awkward or not that bad, and it pays to know ahead of time what will or will not be available to you when you have no choice but to sleep at the airport.