I board my last airplane of 2016 a few days after Christmas, joining the throngs of people who make this one of the busiest times of year for air travel. I'm OK with high volume travel periods in part because I employ these five strategies that take the stress out of airports and air travel, but also because -- when it comes to airports -- I know what I like, and I go in with a plan. Give it a try to improve your holiday (and year round) airport experience.
Know what you like
We each have different tastes. This is about knowing yours, and knowing what your traveling companions like. Wine bar? Sports bar? Quiet space? Do you value comfort? Food selection? These are basic questions that we ask ourselves every time we choose what to do with our time, but somehow forget to ask when we step into an airport. I see too many people surrender their sense of agency when traveling, as if the stress of the thing overwhelms the ability to make your own good experience. This is nonsense. You can't fix a delayed flight, but you can absolutely spend the delay in a place you like, ideally the type of place you'd be spending your time if you weren't traveling to begin with. Some ideas:
If you seek a wine bar, you're in luck, because these have really grown in popularity at the airport. Vino Volos are the best in the United States, I think, particularly because they can be counted on for consistent quality airport to airport.
If you seek a sports bar... OK, these are a dime a dozen in most airports. You won't have much trouble.
If you seek a quiet space, I'd beeline straight for the airline lounge. Most have a work area that is quiet as can be, and in any case I've rarely found anyone making a ruckus in the lounge. Most travelers are seeking a moment of peace and quiet... just like you.
If you equally value comfort and food selection, well, hope you're at New York (LGA), Miami (MIA), Dallas (DFW), Houston (IAH), Las Vegas (LAS), San Francisco (SFO), or Seattle (SEA) because the American Express Centurion Lounge is going to make your day here. Alternatively, if you don't want to bite the bullet with the often mediocre airline lounge food menu, grab something to go and bring it in with you. I've very rarely been fussed at about this.
If you like a good, stimulating view... look for terminal seating or establishments with big windows facing the tarmac. I can watch planes for hours. I find that Washington National (DCA) and Charlotte (CLT) excel at this. Washington Dulles (IAD) is an interesting possibility if you're interested in riding the "mobile lounge" (i.e. glorified bus) across the tarmac in a recreational fashion (I joke?).
If you love to shop, yeah, bring an extra carry on suitcase because many airports feel 50% transportation hub and 50% mall at this point. Pittsburgh (PIT) pioneered this concept, but others cities have jumped aboard. I've enjoyed many a shoe fitting in Atlanta (ATL) or flirtation with Vineyard Vines in Boston (BOS).
Of course, Las Vegas (LAS) is the king of in-airport stimulation. You can't spin your wheeled carry on without hitting a slot machine here.
Make a plan
Your desires in mind, make a plan before your feet hit the tiles of the terminal floor. Airport maps and websites make it easy enough to find what you're looking for, so go in with a plan to get from the curb to the gate with a stop at the lounge, bar, or restaurant of your choice. If you're on a layover, take 60 seconds to plot your path from gate to gate in your head. I rarely step off the plane for a connection without having a good idea of where the local wine bar or airline lounge is in relation to the gate I came in through and the gate I am leaving from.
In the end, we're really just talking about a little forethought while you resist letting a chaotic day of travel control your activities. Own the experience, and you'll increase your likelihood of being a happy flier. Safe travels, and happy holidays!