No need to dread long airport layovers. With planning, you can spend time between flights sightseeing. Here are some strategies and anecdotes from business travelers.
FAVORITE LAYOVER DESTINATIONS
Carol Margolis actually tries to get layovers in Amsterdam, an easy airport to fly through for KLM or Delta flights in Europe. With six to eight hours to kill, she stows luggage in a Schiphol airport locker and goes into Amsterdam by train for "lunch along a canal, shopping and people-watching." Margolis refined her layover strategies over 30 years as a business traveler, first as a consultant for Deloitte and Oracle, now on her own as a business travel consultant at smartwomentravelers.com based in Orlando, Florida.
Margolis' other suggestions include taking organized group tours from the Istanbul airport, designed for layovers of six hours or more (istanbulinhours.com) and hopping the train from the Minneapolis airport to the Mall of America for shopping.
MAKING THE BEST OF DELAYS
Even when flights are delayed by emergencies such as weather or strikes, you can turn those stressful hours into something pleasant. Jennifer Tombaugh, president of the Tauck luxury tour and cruise company, once faced a 10-hour layover in London while traveling with her family to Italy because of an "impromptu strike at Rome's airport. We beelined into London, saw Westminster Abbey, Parliament, rode on the London Eye, ate at the Sherlock Holmes pub, walked back through St. James's Park and trained back from Paddington before making our evening flight."
CHOOSING THE LONGER LAYOVER
Mark Aselstine, who runs a San Francisco-based online wine club, spent a Seattle layover sightseeing en route to visit winemakers in Walla Walla, Washington. He had a choice of driving five hours from Seattle to his appointments, or waiting for a connecting flight to Walla Walla with a three- or nine-hour layover.
"I chose the nine-hour layover as opposed to spending an inordinate amount of time in a car or just sitting at the airport," he said. "I'd never been to Seattle so this was part of the idea for the trip." He had a sandwich at Pike Place Market, saw the very first Starbucks store, toured the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Visitor Center and went up in the Space Needle.
BEWARE OF TRAVEL TIME ON THE GROUND
One thing to consider is how long it takes to get to and from the airport. Taxi rides from New York's airports can take forever given the traffic, and New York's bus and train options can also be slow. But in Seattle, airport trains got Mark Aselstine back and forth smoothly. He says airports with public transportation are usually more reliable than ground transport, but travelers should check schedules so they don't miss a flight.
RENTING A CAR AND RELAXING
Peter Lombard rented a car for his 11-hour layover in Frankfurt, Germany, and spent an evening catching up with old friends over dinner. "I didn't make it a scenic runaround being a tourist," said Lombard, who was waiting for a connecting flight to South Africa for a convention. Lombard is CEO of Insouciance Abroad, which organizes travel for large groups. He rents cars so often, he's got it down to a science, always opting for the rental company to fill the tank rather than looking for a gas station, and using Google Maps and his phone to navigate.
EXPLORING THE LOCAL SCENE
Kisha Mays, CEO of Just Fearless, a business development consulting firm based in Hong Kong, also looks forward to long layovers and likes getting local recommendations on what to see. A favorite memory was in Dubai, where she didn't go for "the skyscrapers and luxury you see typically." Instead, she was directed to a working-class neighborhood where she found "the best dried fruits, the best nuts and the experience of dining there, where they treated me like family." The only risk is running late for a flight if "you're having a good time, you don't want to leave, and you don't realize how far out you are," Mays said. "It does make me nervous, but it doesn't stop me. I want to explore."