How to Make the Most of Your Layover at 5 of the Busiest Airports in the United States
Even when you’re able to plan your trip to minimize airport time, unpredictable weather can still leave you with hours to spare in the terminals. Whether you’re flying for business or pleasure, we’ve identified some of the busiest airports in the nation and how to spend a few stress-free hours while you wait for your flight.
ATL – Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson
The busiest airport in the US is arguably the best suited for a longer stay. Admire the artwork adorning nearly every wall as you explore this vast travel stop and be sure to take advantage of the free WiFi.
Where to Eat
- One Flew South: How often do you find a James Beard nominated restaurant in an airport? At Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, make your way to Concourse E to One Flew South. You’ll want to savor slowly, as this restaurant is worth the hype. At the time of opening, it was Hartsfield-Jackson’s first non-chain restaurant as well as the first fine dining option. The restaurant prides itself in regional ingredients, transforming them into travel-inspired cuisine. You can find expertly crafted sushi alongside dishes like pulled duck confit sliders, Lamb ragout, and a traditional NY Strip.
- Paschal’s: For quicker, truly Southern bites, grab some fried chicken from Georgia favorite, Paschal’s. The airport boasts three locations, one in the Atrium, Concourse A, and Concourse B. Don’t let the mall-kiosk facade fool you, you’ll find tasty regional fare and a hearty breakfast. Paschal’s has been in operation in Atlanta since 1947, and it shows!
What to Do: Is your layover extra long? After you’ve had your fill of Southern delicacies, for a modest fee you can take a nap in your own private room while you wait out a delay or layover at Minute Suites. If you’re traveling with a pooch, be sure to check out the dog park by the MARTA station.
Lounges: Delta loyalists will be pleased to learn there’s a Delta Sky Lounge located on every concourse. Non-Members can purchase a day pass for $59. Definitely worth the expense for long layovers.
LAX – Los Angeles
Although it’s tempting to try and make a day trip out of a Los Angeles layover, the unpredictable traffic jams make it a risky choice. You can enjoy a handful of LA favorites from inside LAX, sans traffic. Free Wifi?: Free for the first 45 minutes, paid plans after that.
Where to Eat
- 800 Degrees: Sit down for a slice of Neopolitan pizza at popular LA pizza joint, 800 Degrees. Their airport location may not have all the ambiance of their downtown locations, it does have a real brick oven.
- Osteria: Top Chef favorite Fabio Vivani knows Italian cuisine, and shows off his range at this Terminal 6 upscale casual sit-down. If you’re looking for pizza, panini, pasta, and unique cocktails, this is your place.
What to Do: If you’re stuck inside LAX and can’t venture out to Rodeo Drive, taking a stroll through The Great Hall is almost as good. Despite being in the Tom Bradley International Terminal, you can access it without needing to be flying internationally (you just won’t be able to partake in any Duty Free deals). Stroll through the hall and admire the current art installations all around you as you pop into stores like Gucci, Burberry, Coach, Armani, Michael Cors, and more spread out across the length of three football fields.
Lounges: It may just boast snacks and well drinks, but the Virgin American lounge in Terminal 3 (the only lounge in the terminal) prides itself in being hip. Lounge in futuristic furniture and enjoy the funky music while you wait for the next leg of your journey.
ORD – Chicago O’Hare
Multiple sources suggest exiting the airport entirely and hopping on the Blue Line to spend your layover in the city proper. Since not everyone wants to lug their bags around the city, thankfully there are some options for killing time inside O’Hare. Free Wifi?: Free for the first 30 minutes, paid options available after that.
Where to Eat
- Tortas Frontera: Rick Bayless’ Mexican-inspired sandwich concept, and bite into one of their famous tortas with a cold agua fresca. As word gets out about this delicious O’Hare oasis the lines get longer, so take advantage of their online ordering while waiting to de-plane.
- Goose Island Bar: One of Chicago’s most famous beers has its own pub in O’Hare, one of the newest eateries in the airport. Pints, pizzas, and paninis, what could be better?
What to Do: Those who want to get in some exercise will love the new yoga room in Terminal 3. It’s easy to let the stress melt away in the bright, clean room while practicing downward dog. If you want to pump some real iron instead, day passes are available for the gym at at the Hilton Chicago O’Hare Airport Hotel via underground tunnels between the terminals.
Lounges: United Club one-time passes are available for purchase for $59 at club locations.
DFW – Dallas
The third largest airport in the world offers wifi throughout all terminals–meaning if you want to grab a cup of coffee from one of the many Starbucks throughout the airport and binge-watch Netflix on your ipad between flights you can do so in any cozy corner you may find. Free Wifi?: Yes
Where to Eat
- Cousin’s BBQ: You’ll find endless options for BBQ outside the airport walls, but of the inside options this Lonestar favorite stands out. Highlights of this smoked meats mecca include brisket, ribs, smoked sausage, and broccoli casserole.
- Cantina Laredo: If you can’t overindulge in BBQ, the DFW Tex-Mex options are just as good. Tex-Mex and Modern Mexican meet in this Terminal D hotspot. Indulge in one of their signature (and strong) margaritas while you nosh on chips and guacamole and people-watch from their seats over the mezzanine.
What to Do: Like ATL, DFW also has two Minute Suites locations, with an added upgrade: the Dallas location offers showers for an extra fee. If you have time to factor in going through security a second time, leave the airport and head north to Founder’s Plaza, an open-air park and observation area with picnic tables telescopes to watch the planes fly overhead.
Lounges: The Club, located in Terminal D, doesn’t require a membership for any airline and isn’t associated with any entity except the Dallas airport itself.. Anyone with $35 for the entrance fee can enjoy all The Club has to offer–snacks, drinks, and a place to charge your iPad before your flight.
JFK – New York City
It may be tempting to leave the airport and explore all the sights Manhattan has to offer, but unless you have an 8 hour or longer layover, it’s best not to tempt the traffic fates. Something to note: you’ll have to clear security a second time if you leave your arriving terminal. Free Wifi?: Yes
Where to Eat
- Shake Shack: You simply cannot travel to New York without making a stop at the famous Shake Shack. Even if your home city boasts its own location, there’s something about enjoying a thick milkshake, crinkle-cut fries, and a juicy burger with melted cheese on a soft roll. There’s a reason why this place is famous, and you’ll find it in Terminal 4.
Bonus, our picks for each Terminal:
- Terminal 1: Eat & Go Istanbul. Mediterranean fare like gyros and baklava.
- Terminal 2: Croque Madame: A French sandwich shop by chef Andrew Carmellini in Terminal 2. Enjoy francophile favorites like crepes, quiches, and the tituar Croque Madame.
- Terminal 5: 5ive Steak. Gastropub meets steakhouse.
- Terminal 8: Wolfgang Puck Express for quick and tasty pizzas, sandwiches, and soups.
- Terminal 9: Cascata, a wine bar with small plates and a handful of grab-and-go options.
What to Do: You’ll have to be creative here, since JFK is pretty straightforward with what they offer their passengers: food, drink, some retail stores, and your flight. If you’re not into exploring the shopping (some high-end retailers and souvenirs), we suggest finding a wine bar and sampling the vino while you people watch, or dipping into a Hudson News and grabbing a book to pass the time.
Lounges: Nine of the lounges inside JFK offer day passes for $60 and under, so if you’d like to step away from the crowds and relax with complimentary food and beverage that’s probably your best bet.10