Maximize Your Layover, Leave The Airport

Background

Normally when I fly, I try to find a nonstop flight. Why? Because I do not want to sit around in an airport looking at other people and waiting for the plane to show up. Besides, when you do not have a layover, you get your destination quicker and are less likely to buy overpriced food and drinks at the airport.

In May 2021, I traveled to Seattle. With COVID-19 practically dominating 2020 and nobody going anywhere, it was time to get out and explore, safely of course. Given that I was flying across to the other side of the country, there was only 1 non-stop flight that was available and it was at the worse time to fly... 6AM going to the destination and like 11PM coming from the destination. Thus the only choice was to get a flight with a layover in it.

In the past, if I had to do a layover, then I would try to find the shortest one possible. I had a work flight in 2013 that had a 30 minute layover, which was great! However, the only problem was that the arriving plane parked at Terminal A and the departing plane was at Terminal E. Oh... and this was at the Charlotte Airport (CLT) for those who have been there. Never would do a layover that close again unless I knew that the gates were close to each other.

This time, I picked a layover that seemed reasonable from the options presented. Below I account what I was able to do during the layover just to give you an idea of what you can do to maximize your trip in the future.

Preparation

Research What You Can Do Before You Land

Do not wait until you get off your flight in order to look up things to do. Do this ahead of time. Reason being is that you will waste your layover time trying to find something to do when you could be using that time to reserve transportation to get you to the attractions or restaurants that you want to check out.

Not to mention, if you are using a car sharing service (e.g. Uber or Lyft), it may take a moment to find the pickup points for these services as the airports have control on where these drivers can pick you up at. Hint: Usually they can be found easier if you follow the signs that say "Ground Transportation".

Have Enough Time

Before you leave the airport, make sure that you have enough time to do whatever it is you choose to do and to be able to get back. I would suggest that you have a minimum layover time of 3 hours between flights. Any shorter and you really will not be able to do anything fun or adventurous and get back through the security checkpoint before your flight departs.

Pre-screened Security Check

Now if you have TSA Pre-Check or Clear, then you can consider taking more time to do activities (although I would not recommend it) as the security lines for either of these are usually shorter than the general security line. I talk about my experiences and benefits of having TSA Pre-Check in another post.

Do remember that because you are leaving the airport, that you will have to go back through airport security to board your connecting flight. Thus do not buy souvenirs or other items that will get you arrested during your layover.

Leave The Airport

Denver International Airport (DEN) Layover - 3 Hours

The Atlanta (ATL) to Seattle (SEA) flight had a 3 hour layover in Denver.

Wanted to try to do more during this layover, but did not. Downtown Denver, where most of the popular attractions are, was at least 25 minutes away on this clear sunny day. From the airport, you can see the Rocky Mountains and the tallest of Downtown buildings from the airport.

Because the attractions were so far away, used the time to go to Renegado Tacos and Margaritas on Tower Rd. Talking with the Uber Driver, he had never heard of the place. Once we arrived, we saw that the restaurant appeared to be fairly new as the neighboring building still had some work that needed to be completed on it and construction vehicles could be seen in the distance working on nearby plot of land.

Unfortunately, I did not get a picture of the food that I had, but it was good. I will say that they seemed limited in the sauces that they had that you would expect at a typical Mexican restaurant.

After leaving the restaurant, went back to the airport as there was only about 1 hour left before the connecting flight was to leave for Seattle (SEA). Getting though security was quick, I assume because of the time of day and that it was on a Wednesday, which is the middle of the work week.

Chicago-Midway International Airport (MDW) Layover - 4 Hours

On the return flight from Seattle (SEA) to Atlanta (ATL), had a 4 hour layover in Chicago.

First stop was to get some food. Near the airport was a place called Masters Pancake House. Like with the last layover, checked with the Uber driver to see if he was familiar with the restaurant, and he was not. While the name does not indicate it, the restaurant was ran by Hispanics. Thus the food was a variety of American Breakfast with a Hispanic twist. In my opinion, the food was large size portions for the price. Like the omelet that I had must have been made from at least 4-5 eggs.

Because there was still plenty of time, decided to use it. The next stop was to check out The Bean, also known as the Cloud Gate. While going to and leaving the Cloud Gate, I got to see some of the major attractions in Chicago like the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower), Soldier Field, and Lake Michigan as we rode down S Lake Shore Drive. Since the Crown Fountain was right next to the Cloud Gate, visited it as well.

Still had some time left, but given the distance that I was from the airport and to factor in the traffic, figured that it was time to head back. That proved to be a wise decision. After arriving at the airport, it took approximately 45 minutes (if not longer) to get through security. I am not sure why they were so slow with getting people though the checkpoint. By the time we reached the gate, they were starting to board the plane and have people line up. Midway (MDW) has to do better about getting people efficiently though the checkpoint.

Conclusion

Taking a trip to one destination, can be more valuable if you are able to get in additional cities and sights in during the layover. In the future, I will probably be hesitant about trying to get a nonstop flight to my destination, if the layover goes through a city that I have not visited for and does not cost significantly different.

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