Megan Abbott’s Airport Delay Hack
Every year, I find myself at the airport for anywhere between four and forty hours. The bulk of my family lives in the Detroit area and I always end up flying somewhere in that logjammed December 23–26 window, and flying to a place that can easily be wiped to whiteness by a holiday blizzard. If getting stuck at an airport is also your most reliable holiday tradition, I offer the only holiday hack I know to get through flight delays, cancellations or widespread airport catastrophes: Acquaint yourself with the nearest airport bar.
If you’re at a mega-hub like NYC airports, Atlanta or (shudder) O’Hare, you’ll have a wealth of options, but most smaller airports will serve you just as well. It doesn’t matter if you can get small-batch bourbon or a flight of craft beer. What matters is the critical combination of low-lighting, camaraderie, muffled holiday music and the buffering powers of alcohol. During the holidays, airport bars, far from being dens of despair, can offer up genuine bonhomie, especially if you follow a few tips:
- Download that airline app and keep your phone nearby. As much fun as you may be having you don’t want to actually miss your flight.
- Sit at the bar itself, not a table. Even if it means wedging yourself between a transatlantic traveler with a suitcase the size of Buick and the Big Ten alums doing tequila shooters, get a stool. All the people watching is done at the bar. (Caveat: maybe avoid sitting next to the guy who looks like he’s been drinking for twelve hours and possibly does not plan to ever leave the airport.)
- Order a drink, even if it’s nine a.m. Shirley Temple, a coke, a Bloody Mary, whatever. But order and tip well so you can sit for a while. I tend to go with beer or wine and nearly always nurse it, but that’s up to you. Know yourself and your limits, and remember what the drunk person on the plane looks like and how you don’t want it to be you. See also #4.
- Be open to the experience. Even if you’re the kind of person never to sit at a bar alone, much less strike up a conversation, you’ll be surprised how easy it is to sink into an easy-in/easy-out chat with the bartender and various barstool occupiers, and how diverting it can be. There can be a shared gallows humor aspect to the exercise, especially if you’re all facing multiple weather delays and a sheet of snow appears through the wall-to-ceiling windows in the terminal just a few steps from your cozy bar. “Raise a glass everyone,” one jubilant young man once proclaimed at Slapshotz (DTW), “we’re never getting out of here alive.”
- Have a book in front of you. Foremost, I love reading at bars, but this is also a key protective device, as it is at any bar, in case you find yourself drawn into too-soulful conversations with the business-traveler-with-desperate-gleam-in-his/her-eye. During the holidays, however, this is rarely a problem. The airport bars are crowded, festive, filled with overlapping conversations and occasionally great buoyancy. Or poignancy, if, say, it’s late, flights are looking dubious, and the just-right Adele song begins playing. Yes, there can be tears. It wouldn’t be a bar scene if someone didn’t get maudlin. And it’s not the holidays until someone cries. After all, there will be plenty of crying once you’re with your family.
Good luck and godspeed! And if you find yourself in a Vino Volo, look for me