Enjoy these ‘secret’ airport hangouts when your flight is delayed

Jun 30, 2022

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The busy summer travel season is underway and airports are expected to face record passenger levels over the Fourth of July weekend. That means travelers are undoubtedly going to face flight delays, cancellations and other disruptions. No matter your airline status or lounge access privileges, you’ll need to pack your patience, take some deep breaths and find ways to deal with a stressful environment.

Rather than stand in that block-long line at the airport Starbucks, jostle for seats at your airline gate or stew while waiting for an airport lounge to let you enter, try to seek out some lesser-used spaces at airports. These quiet spaces will allow you to take a few moments (or even an hour or more) to relax and distract your mind from travel stress. (Just don’t chill out so much you have to make a mad rush to your gate to catch your flight.)

Here are some tips for finding a little more zen at a busy airport:

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In This Post

Find the terminal quiet areas

airport chairs
A rare row of empty chairs in an airport terminal can be a good thing. (Photo by Thomas Barwick/Getty Images)

Although arriving to your departure gate early, snagging a free seat and staying there until flight time might seem like it could reduce stress, the opposite is often true. A busy gate area quickly gets packed with customers battling over power outlets, screaming kids playing tag, baggage and trash-filled tables and aisles, and a stream of conflicting final boarding call announcements. You’re likely to be more stressed waiting at the gate than if you had sprinted across the terminal at the last moment to catch your flight.

To start with, enable text, email, and app notifications from the airline, which will reduce the need to hover around your gate or a display sign for the latest information.

Then, if you have the time, seek out the quiet areas of terminal to relax until a little before your departure time. Long hallways connecting different terminal areas often have dozens of unused seats where you sit and spend some time undisturbed. For example, on the second floor of Terminal 2 in Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) you can usually find plenty of empty seating along with bathrooms outside of the lounge areas. International terminal areas tend to have less frequent flights, and often boast large swaths of unused seating (and precious power outlets). One tip: It’s a good idea to first go to your gate to check how long a walk it is back from your “secret” spot to where you need to board.

Many airports feature observation or outdoor decks that are popular among plane-spotting aficionados — but not many other people. These areas can serve as nice decompression spots during a busy travel day and can also give you a few moments to appreciate the impressive operations of major airports. San Francisco International Airport (SFO) offers a Sky Terrace at Terminal 2; Minneapolis−Saint Paul International Airport (MSP) has an observation deck in the D concourse; Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI) offers an observation gallery (with art exhibits); and JetBlue has a rooftop observation deck at John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) in Terminal 5 across from Gate 28. All of these hidden spots were recommended by TPG’s frequent flyer staff. JetBlue’s rooftop lounge also serves as a “wooftop” lounge with a dog walk, so there’s a chance dog lovers can (politely) enjoy the presence of an animal for a few minutes.

Some airports even offer dedicated quiet areas for passenger relaxation. Among them, SFO has a yoga room, as do Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD) — in Terminal 3 — and Chicago Midway International Airport (MDW) — on Concourse C.  Denver International Airport (DEN) has what it calls a “secret garden,” which is a quiet public lounge area with comfy couches and reclined chairs; it’s located on the second level of Concourse A Mezzanine.

Related: Get a free massage with Priority Pass membership

Check out airport art exhibits

Terminal D hidden art gallery
George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) in Houston has a hidden art gallery in Terminal D. (Photo courtesy of Houston Airports)

Many airports put significant time, space and money into developing and displaying public art and other exhibits for passengers — but few travelers actually stop to enjoy them. If you have the time, visit these displays to distract yourself from travel pressures — you might even learn something new, particularly in the airport industry-focused exhibits. Spending time reading the captions on these displays is the airport equivalent of “stopping to smell the roses.”

Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) has an extensive rotating art collection throughout its terminals as well as one focused gallery in Terminal D. SFO has an “SFO Museum” project which shares more than 20 art and aviation displays around the airport (with a helpful map here). Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport (MKE) features the Mitchell Gallery of Flight, a nice aviation history mini-museum. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) claims it has “one of the largest public art sites in the Southeastern U.S.” There are more than 1,000 pieces of art you can study while waiting for that long-delayed flight. ATL’s “Good Trouble” exhibition about the life of local civil rights icon and former Congressman John Lewis is particularly notable.

The musical arts can also provide a few moments of relaxation in airports. Nashville International Airport (BNA) features a regular “house band” that welcomes passengers at the C/D concourse exit area, as well as other pop-up performances around the airport.

Related: 7 airports with great art displays

Seek out more remote cafes

wine and cheese
The Vino Volo wine bar at San Antonio International Airport (SAT). (Photo by Benét J. Wilson/The Points Guy)

Since many airport restaurants are crowded, short-staffed or open for limited hours, finding a relaxing airport spot for food and drink can be a challenge. Any relaxing benefit of that glass of wine and plate of snacks will evaporate as you panic waiting for the overworked waitstaff to bring you your bill before your flight boards. As long as you dedicate enough time to return to your gate, taking a long walk to find a less crowded venue is more than worth your time (plus the bit of exercise can reduce stress as well).

I’ve found Vino Volo to be a good option at most of its 33 North American airport locations; the wine bar and restaurant is often located at the far end of the terminal, past all of the gates. Most hungry folks get caught up in other restaurants along the way, leaving short lines and empty seats at many Vino Volo locations (or whichever vendor happens to occupy those lonely end spaces). Benet Wilson, TPG airport specialist, cites BWI’s Sky Azure as her personal favorite uncrowded outlet. She said the restaurant’s tasty cocktails and tapas, combined with a great view, make it her go-to spot for escaping crowds when traveling through Baltimore. 

Featured photo by Mlenny/Getty Images. 

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