How To Survive Being Stranded Overnight In An Airport Terminal

How To Survive Being Stranded Overnight In An Airport Terminal

Last night, I did something I’ve managed to avoid in over a decade of frequent flying: I slept through my alarm and missed my plane by mere minutes. Due to a series of unfortunate events, I also missed the connecting flight at the other end (basically, my make-up flight was delayed and then my bag got falsely pinged by security. Tch.)

With no more flights to my destination until the next morning, I was presented with two equally ghastly choices — I could either put myself up in a cheap hotel and go through the whole check-in process again tomorrow, or spend the night in the terminal with the other lost souls. Because I’m mental, I went with the second option.

Most airports will permit stranded passengers to remain in the terminal overnight, provided they have a valid ticket and the relevant documentation. However, you don’t have free run of the place to play tag or perform Dawn Of The Dead re-enactments. Instead, they expect you to stay put in a designated area.

At around 12am, airport security corralled us all into the same departure gate which was promptly cordoned off to discourage exploratory wandering. It all felt a bit concentration campy; especially when I stared into the hopeless, sleep-deprived eyes of the other passengers.

In the end, it turned out to be a pretty uneventful night, but I did pick up a few tips that might help if you’re ever in a similar situation.

Stake your claim early

With limited spaces to go around, you need to grab a prime piece of real estate before anyone else can nick it. Charging stations are guaranteed to be in short supply, so make that your first port of call.

Another thing to be mindful of is furniture you can’t sleep on – as you can see in the above photo, some seats have arm rests and some don’t. If you get stuck in an arm chair row, you’re going to be sleeping on the cold, hard floor.

Get over yourself and eat some junk food

When the hunger pangs start, you’re going to be limited to two food types: salt and sugar. Unfortunately for health nuts, there are no salad or fruit dispensers in the majority of airports. This means you’re left with crisps, chocolate or soft drink. It’s going to be a long night, so treat it as a cheat day for the sake of sanity and sustenance.

Have your own reading material

Unless you fancy reading Time magazine or a foreign newspaper, it pays to have your own reading material on hand. This is especially important if you don’t have internet access.

Did I mention loading up on junk?

It’s only for one night. Go bananas and screw the consequences!

Bring a pillow

How they all laughed when I walked into the airport with my huge carry-on pillow. Well, WHO’S LAUGHING NOW? EH? EH?! I am. In my sleep.

Dress up as Sandor Clegane (AKA the Hound) from Game Of Thrones

You’re stranded at an airport so you might as well have some fun. (In the unlikely event that you don’t have an official Game Of Thrones helmet on you, make one out of toilet paper.)

See also: How I Survived The 33-Hour Flight From Hell


  • I like the growing sense of insanity but I have only one question – they let you take that helmet as carry-on?!?

    PS I like how you ensured you wouldn’t sleep by reading about the Mothman. A deserted airport is exactly the type of place he’d hang out!

    • They didn’t even inspect the helmet when going through security. I was nearly tempted to don it mid-flight, just to see what would happen.

      Still here, btw.

  • Epic read mate!

    Have done EXACTLY what you have done about 4 years ago at Heathrow.

    Over 21 hours also and I arrived at 6pm with a 4pm flight the following day.

    I had a travel pillow, a blanket (I took from my international flight from Melbourne), a phone and a netbook.

    I slept under an escalator as majority of the airport was closed and was awoken at around 6am by a really rude security guard lol.

    Wouldn’t change that experience for the world as hell-ish as it was

  • It all depends on where you’re stranded.

    Changi Airport (Singapore) is a joy to be stranded at, what with its movie theatre, entertainment deck, arcade, nature trail, countless bars/restaurants/fast food outlets, designated rest areas…not to mention a transit hotel (no need to go through airport check-in again).

    Perth (Australia) domestic airport…not so much.

    • Being anywhere near Perth Airport is a fight to maintain the will to live, let alone being stranded there. The place is a festering cesspool.

      Last time I was there, there wasn’t a single restaurant or café open prior to the secure area.

  • Geez remind me never to be stranded anywhere on planet earth with this writer! The article leads me to believe you are a bit selfish.

    When it comes to charging stations, ever heard of sharing?

    No device takes 8 hours to charge, unless it’s a battery pack and if you have one of those, leave the charging stations for others (and share your battery pack(s) with fellow passengers if you can without losing them)

    If I was stranded in an airport overnight… well I would be the type to spring for the closest hotel, but if you are or your flight leaves at 3am or whatever – make sure you have a decent (big) meal at 8-10pm (as late as you can get away with) in the pub/cafe.

    Not only will it help you sleep, it could lead to less junk food eating.

    As others have said, it all depends on where you are stranded I guess.

    • When it comes to charging stations, ever heard of sharing?

      My point was more that you need to get in first – otherwise you could be waiting hours for the people in front of you with no laptop/phone.

  • As a giant I fear trying to find somewhere to sleep.

    Also what is that magazine you’re reading?

  • Was there an opportunity to (pay for) one-time lounge access?

    Changi and some other airports I frequent have surprisingly luxurious and featured lounges available to non-business travellers for an additional fee. It’s worth considering for the better food, more comfortable seating and that all-important shower.

  • Also see if there is a hotel nearby, they usually have a free shuttle. Some airports have hotels inside which you can have for a half day which is even better.

  • Loved this, so many times been stranded at airport for long periods of time so great read!

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