How to Crash at an Airport Overnight

Lounge in Taipei Taoyuan International Airport

Consider:

You land in Hong Kong at 10pm on a Thursday night. Your connecting flight to Kuala Lumpur leaves at 7am the next morning. What do you do?

Or …

You arrive at Incheon International Airport, South Korea, at 12:30am. You plan to spend a week in Seoul, but tonight the buses and trains to the city have already stopped running. What do you do?

Or …

You’re in Tokyo. You have a 6am flight to catch the next morning. The first train to Narita International Airport doesn’t depart Shibuya Station early enough to get you there in time. What do you do?

In each of these situations, your first thought might to hop in a taxi and ask the driver to take you to the nearest hotel (or catch an early taxi, in the Tokyo case.) And that’s certainly not a bad idea.

But what if you’re feeling adventurous? Perhaps you should consider holing up in the airport for the night.

If you’re new to air travel, staying overnight in the airport might sound awkward, but it’s actually not as uncommon as you’d think. In fact, many modern airports are built with overnight stays in mind!

Have questions? Good — because I have answers.

Who should consider crashing in the airport?

Anyone limber enough to spend a few hours sitting in a chair or lying on a bench is fully capable of airport crashing. One caveat: small children could pose a problem (especially if your kids are of the hyperactive variety!) — a single traveler or a couple will likely have more luck with this strategy than a family.

When in doubt, just remember — if Tom Hanks can do it, so can you.

Tom Hanks in The Terminal

When is staying overnight in the airport a good choice?

If I may, allow me to answer this question with another question: How much is a soft bed and a dark room worth to you? If you have an earlier morning connection to catch, ask yourself if it’s really worth paying for a hotel room. Likewise, if your flight arrives late and you don’t want to pay for a taxi, you’re better off hanging around the airport and waiting for public transportation to start running in the morning.

How can I find out if [insert airport name here] is set up for overnighters?

Believe it or not, there is an entire website dedicated to the topic! It’s called sleepinginairports.net. If you go there, you can search for an airport, and read about other travelers’ experiences at a given airport.

Where will I stay in the airport?

While the layout of every airport is different, generally they are divided into two sections.

  • Landside – All parts of the airport before you go through security and immigration.
  • Airside – The area you enter after passing through security and immigration.

Which one of these sections you stay in will depend on your circumstances. If you’re travelling internationally, and just transferring at a given airport, you should look into staying airside. That way you won’t have to check in again.

In other cases, however, you might stay landside. For instance, if you show up the night before to catch an early morning flight, you’ll likely have no choice but to remain landside.

One area is not necessarily better or worse than the other. Reading the reviews at Sleeping in Airports can help you decide what’s best in your situation.

What about food?

Depending on how long you’ll be crashing at the airport, you may need to consider the food situation. Again, this will vary by airport. These days, many airports have convenience stores that are open 24/7, but this is hardly universal. Do your research, and pack food ahead of time if  necessary.

Is there anything else I need to bring?

This is entirely up to you. Blankets, pillows, ear plugs, eye shades … It all depends on what you need to comfortably sleep in public. Personally, I’m content to fold my spare clothes into a pillow and crash just about anywhere.

One thing to keep in mind is that temperatures in airports are often a little on the chilly side. You don’t necessarily need a blanket, but do it’s best if you have at least a hoodie or a light jacket.

Is this really safe?

In theory, yes! But again, it will depend on the airport and the country you’re in. When I camped out in Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, I felt completely safe — the airport was well lit, there were other travelers around, and Taiwan is generally a pleasant country. I’d be more apprehensive about staying in say, Pyongyang Sunan International Airport — sorry, ain’t gonna happen.

What if security hassles me?

First off, even if you plan to stay at the airport, make sure you have a backup plan. (Remember, you’re staying at the airport to save time and money, not because you have no money!)

If security gives you trouble, the first thing to do is to explain to them why you’re at the airport. Show them your ticket, and let them know that you’re a customer, and not a bum camping out. Often, this will be enough to get security off your case.

If not, then you’ll just have to bust out your wallet and take a taxi to a hotel. Certainly not the end of the world.

Note that if you’re involuntarily stuck at the airport — due to a snowstorm, for instance — you won’t run into this problem. Your airline and the airport are responsible for accommodating you in those situations.

Will I encounter Tom Hanks?

Potentially. I haven’t run into him yet, but perhaps you’re a luckier duck than I am.

That’s a wrap! If you have any tips or experiences you’d like to share, please do so in the comment below.

I took the header photo in Terminal 1 of Taoyuan International Airport. Other photo credits: TheAlieness GiselaGiardino²³ / Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Henry Olsen

Writer, adventurer, and humble servant of the universe since 1986.