You know when you run a marathon in New Orleans, then blow your budget on foie gras at Restaurant August and realize your wife is going to frown for weeks if you drop another $169.99 on a hotel room? • Well, there's a way to keep everybody happy. • If you're sturdy, unashamed and a tad brave, you can save that money by sleeping in the airport. • Really. • It's not the most comfortable way to save, but if you know what you're doing, crashing in an airport is a decent way to spend a night and keep some cash in your pocket on out-of-town trips. Most airports stay open around the clock and you should be able to find a place to sleep. • If you have to catch the 6 a.m. red-eye, and you know you won't be in bed before midnight, why drop all that money on a few hours in the relative comfort of a Days Inn? You can catch a few Z's in the airport and avoid the rush of squirming through security and making your flight on time, because, hey, you're already there. And you can save even more by returning your rental car early. • Here, then, are a few ways to make your overnight airport stay as comfortable and safe as possible.
Get the skinny. The website sleepinginairports.net offers airport sleepers and stranded travelers tips about how to be comfortable and reader reviews of the best sleep-in airports out there. It's a good idea to scope out what previous visitors have said about the place you've chosen to bed down. The site also lists airports that offer cots, like Charlotte, N.C., Denver and Dallas-Fort Worth.
m Good chairs, well positioned. You'll want to find that random row of chairs that doesn't have permanent arm rests. Arm rests and curved seats are your enemy if you enjoy sleeping horizontally. (For an example of how to get little sleep, check out Tom Hanks, pictured above in the movie The Terminal.) In the event the airport has comfortable couches, these environs tend to get crowded by 10 p.m., so lay claim early. You'll also want to pay attention to those evasive electrical outlets. If you need juice for your phone or laptop, find a spot where you can plug in. If you go for the floor, you might think about sleeping under the chairs so no one steps on you.
Have a backup plan. As the website sleepinginairports.net suggests, make sure you have a backup plan if you get booted out or hassled by airport officials or security. Know where the nearest hotels are and where to find a cab or public transportation. You'll most likely be allowed to stay, but you should plan on being asked why you are there. You could even be required to show some proof that you have a flight to catch. Take it in stride. The power-hungry security guard might save you from being fondled by a hobo.
Explore. Think outside the box. Is the countertop in the family restroom large enough to sleep on? Will those old newspapers make a decent pillow? Will anyone flip out if you doze in the big, comfortable shoeshine chairs?
Find a safe spot. Upon arrival, walk around the airport to scout out the right spot to spend the night. Look for other airport sleepers, as you may want some company or someone to watch your back. Look for an area that balances security (surveillance cameras, good lighting) with comfort (soft chairs, minimal noise). Remember that Transportation Security Administration announcements or music could ruin your night. You might like the zydeco now, but it won't be as pleasant at 3:27 a.m. Your best bet will likely be landside, as many airside terminals close for several hours after midnight. Scope out arrivals, where you'll typically find more comfortable seating.
The appropriate apparel. Some folks recommend dressing in layers so you're prepared for the extremes, either cold or hot. But you'll avoid hassles if you dress respectably. It's far less likely you'll be moved or harangued if you look like a normal person who got stuck at the airport, rather than a professional airport sleeper. So avoid pajamas. If you think you'll need a change of clothes, try keeping them in your carry-on, which you can use as a pillow.
Snacks and drinks. If at all possible, find a comfortable concession area or restaurant that stays open 24 hours and buy something, or several somethings. Workers tend to look out for friendly customers and good tippers. They'll take care of you and may let you stay the night.
Think about vacuums. To avoid being jarred awake at 3 a.m., pay attention to the cleaning crew. Once they vacuum a comfy spot, they probably won't return for the night. Crash there.
Watch your things. Keep an eye on your belongings. If you're traveling with a roller suitcase and a laptop bag, you can rest your legs atop the case and use the laptop bag for a pillow. Or wrap an extra duffel strap around your arm or belt to secure your bags and make TSA agents aware those are your belongings.
Don't be too ambitious. Look, you're trying to sleep in an airport. It's not going to work very well, and you're going to get maybe a few hours of broken sleep at best. You'll be disappointed if you expect an uninterrupted doze. Think of this as an adventure, and think of all the money you're saving.