How to Drink Well in Any Airport

Long layover? Crack-of-dawn flight? Unexpected delay? Here's how to breeze through all of it.

You just hauled thirty pounds of luggage across town to the airport, shuttled to your terminal, dragged your carry-on through an impossibly slow-moving TSA line, re-packed all of your belongings after the security attendant decided that the nail clippers at the bottom of your bag were a threat to national security, and finally made it to your gate with some time to kill before your flight. What to do now?

Drink. That's what.

Why? Well unless you're flying private, air travel is usually not a lot of fun. The food is usually bad and overpriced, the flights are fraught with delays, the planes are cramped, and time concerns lend an underlying stressfulness to the whole thing. Being able to sit down and relax with a fresh beer, glass of wine, or simple cocktail makes the whole thing feel a lot smoother.

It's pretty easy to do (walk up to bar, order, enjoy), but if you want to master the art of the pre-flight drink, there are a few ground rules.

Forget About the Time of Day

Want a mimosa – or, to hell with it, a beer – at 8 a.m.? Go for it. Traveling messes with your schedule and internal clock, airport hours drag by slowly when you've got nothing to do, and you've got at least an hour in the air to nap it off. So you get a free pass to hop onto a barstool no matter what time it is. This goes doubly so if you're on vacation.

There are two caveats here, though:

  1. Two, maybe three drinks at an odd time of day? No harm, no foul. Going too far beyond that and winding up drunk before noon, though, is a bit much.

  2. If you're traveling for business with conservative coworkers, wait until at least noon. Your professional demeanor should probably not involve ordering whiskey with your breakfast.

Drink Local, Whenever Possible

If you're somewhere new, even just for a layover, take advantage by seeing what local drinks are pouring. San Diego has a Stone restaurant. JFK has a "beer garden" with over 20 local brews. Tampa has a Cigar City pub, with beer actually brewed onsite. Philly has a bar with nearly 50 different beers. Twin Cities has an entire lineup of bars and restaurants that serve all kinds of local suds.

We could go on, but the point is that no matter where you are, keep your eyes peeled for local offerings that you wouldn't be able to drink at home. Odds are, you'll find something.

Keep an Eye on the Clock

Enjoying your beer is a lot more captivating than the drone of loudspeaker announcements and airport conversation. Just don't forget to look at your watch every once in a while, lest you realize halfway through your third drink that you flight boarded twenty minutes ago.

Skip the Food

It's usually terrible, and always overpriced. Eat at a local spot before you get to the airport or when you land, and save your hard-earned cash for overpriced airport drinks instead. At least those will make traveling a little more manageable, unlike an unsatisfying $20 sandwich.

Lower You Standards

Not usually great advice, we know. But when it comes to airport bars, you won't always have the option of craft cocktails and critically acclaimed beers. If there's slim pickings in your terminal and you don't have anyone to impress, there's no shame in sidling up to a chain restaurant's barstool and ordering something neon-colored. Who's gonna judge?

Keep It Together

This should apply to any type of drinking, but is especially important when you're at the airport. A drink or two to melt away traveling stress and smooth out your impending flight is just fine. Half a dozen, so that you end up stumbling to your gate and being a nuissance on the plane, is not. Don't go nuts.

With any luck, those tips will make your four hour layover or cross-country redeye a lot more bearable. And then you can focus on what's far more important: enjoying your destination once you land.

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