Leaving the airport during a layover?

20131227-120715.jpgA few nights ago the Home Warrior and I were watching Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. It’s a show on Food Network where Guy Fieri goes around the country checking out delicious little hole in the wall restaurants. During this particular episode, a segment set in Chicago caught my eye. Guy opened it by saying, “People contact me all the time, asking this question. I’m stuck in an airport for a few hours–is there somewhere nearby where I can get some good food?” The place he recommended was only 15 minutes away from O’Hare, and looked very tasty.

I have a lot of problems with this advice. Sure, the restaurant looked tempting, and I can certainly understand the desire to enjoy something other than airport cuisine. However, in my opinion leaving the airport during a normal layover is just too risky. In Chicago and many other cities, 15 minutes away can pretty easily become two hours away during traffic. Also, in lots of airports security can get backed up and take foreeeeever to get through.

The only time I can think that this might be okay is if your flight is super delayed, and you use a tool like Flight Aware to track your incoming plane. It is still pretty risky though. Besides, not all airport food is bad! (Pictured: The salmon bites from a recent visit to Vino Volo. Yum!)

I know a lot of folks like to schedule stopovers, where they plan to leave the airport. If that’s the case then you should definitely go check out the city. If you’re on a normal two hour-ish layover, I recommend staying at the airport.

Readers, do you ever leave the airport during a layover?


  1. When I am traveling overseas and the layover is more than two hours, I will, more often than not, leave the airport to visit the local area. I have found many interesting places, restaurants and shops within walking distance or within a couple of stops on public transport.

  2. It certainly helps when there’s a rail link into the city from an airport. I’ve done short half-day connections and trips into town at LHR, FRA, MUC, SFO, DCA, VIE, PEK and PVG among others. I do it more for museum and gallery visits than for food, but often have time for a meal too. Plan such a city-visit next month when passing through LHR.

  3. More than 2 hours at LAX means an In-n-Out run for me. I’m a fast walker so it’s usually only 15-20 minutes each way from the United Terminal via the parking lot.

  4. Unless I am actually planning the stopover, I never leave the airport. Besides, at OHare, best thing to do is head over to Tortas Frontera even for breakfast!

  5. I agree with all the other comments, too risky for me unless it’s a planned layover. Even in places witth a metro with access directly to the urban center I always worry about some subway delay.

  6. I’ve left once in 4 years. I had a 3.5 hour layover at DCA so I went to dinner with 2 girlfriends in Crystal City (5 min from the airport). If I have a 3 hour layover in other cities I might consider it if there is somewhere or someone I really want to see. Otherwise I feel more comfortable staying at the airport and I can almost always find decent (& sometimes good food) there.

  7. WithTSA Pre-Check, agree 2+ hrs for walk to LAX In-N-Out, or SAN (C-Level). Many other non-DEN domestics I’ll consider 3+ worth looking.

  8. I normally give myself long layovers due to immigration (3 hours at SFO last time) but I find it better to go hang out in one of the airport lounges and get some work done and have a shower than to risk heading out of the airport. Also a lot of airports don’t tend to be near anything and what if you get slow table service..

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