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What Should Frequent Flyers Do to Kill Time During a Flight Delay or Cancellation at JFK?

February 10th, 2017 /

“The worst airport we’ve ever been to.” “We were made to feel like cattle.” “It’s like a movie from the 60s—dirty, crowded, and small.” “Horrible experience, avoid at all costs.”

Reading Skytrax and Yelp reviews for JFK International Airport is disheartening, but since it’s my home base, I’ve had the opportunity to spend countless hours beneath its exposed steel ceiling trusses. I usually fly out of T4 (because I always choose Virgin America whenever I can), but I’ve had the distinct pleasure of being stranded in five out of its six terminals at one point or another.

JFK is known for being overcrowded and delay-heavy—a particularly unpleasant combination for business travelers. If you’re one of the poor unfortunates who finds yourself sitting at the gate, watching as your departure get pushed later and later, just know this: it is possible to salvage your time.

Keep Your End Goals in Mind

The first step toward making a delay more bearable isn’t an action. It’s a perspective shift. Instead of an inconvenience, try to look at your delay as something gained—you’ve been gifted a block of unstructured time that you can now use however you wish. Yes, your schedule will have to shift once you reach your destination. But if there’s nothing you can do about it now, focus solely on the present and take some time to decide which activities would honestly make your business trip more successful.

Diving into work at an empty gate or resting in a massage chair are both equally valid options here—you ultimately shouldn’t feel punished by your delay. So think about what it would take to ensure that this doesn’t happen. If you’re missing a neck pillow or a pair of noise canceling headphones, for instance, that might just mean not feeling guilty about an impulse purchase.

frequent flyers, in particular, might find themselves frustrated with what to do during long layovers

If you have to stay in JFK’s terminals for a while, be sure to enjoy views of the tarmac through the many windows. Image by Flickr user Luke H. Gordon (CC BY 2.0)

Coffee and Moderately Healthy Food Options

I would suggest you avoid the temptation to eat out of boredom. Especially if you’re headed toward a high-stakes sales pitch, you are the product your company is sending. You need to do what it takes to perform well.

If you’d normally have a meal at this time of day, of course, by all means eat. Just try to choose moderately healthy options and stick with regular eating habits as much as possible. I’ve had decent luck with the following JFK options:

  • Terminal 1: The Starbucks in Terminal 1 is pre-security, so if you need a caffeine fix, hold out for the Nespresso machine in the Air France lounge (accessible with Priority Pass). For “real” food, don’t be misled by the ethnic advertising of the Eat & Go Istanbul near Gate 5. Their food is mediocre—you’re probably better off grabbing a packaged sandwich.
  • Terminal 2: The food here is fantastic by design, as you can visit Andrew Carmellini’s Croque Madame or Cesare Casella’s Due Amici for a luxury sit-down meal near G62. For coffee, I’d suggest World Bean, across from G66. In fact, World Bean is one of your best options post-security.
  • Terminal 4:  Danny Meyer’s Blue Smoke near Gate B37 has surprisingly good barbecue, and if there’s a game on, this is also a good place to linger and watch. If you’re longing for white table cloths, try the Palm Bar and Grille—the steak is consistently good.
  • Terminal 5: Deep Blue Sushi has a good dragon roll and is a nice option for a lighter meal. If you want a bar to hang out in, try 5ive Steak. And if you need to treat yourself, I’d suggest dessert at Baked by Melissa.

Lounges to Try at JFK:

If my flight’s been delayed, it usually means everyone else is now checking out the same lounge options, so I often hunt down an empty gate, which tends to be a lot quieter. But sometimes you need a shower, a work cubby, or slightly healthier food, in which case it’s worth trying out one of these locations:

  • Terminal 1: My personal pick would be the Lufthansa lounge, which you can access with Loungebuddy for $49. You’ll get great tarmac views and upgraded food and drink options. You can also stop by the Air France lounge if you’re looking for nice showers, Nespresso, and free twenty-minute facials from Clarins Spa. Just be aware you won’t get Priority Pass access between 5:30 and 11 PM.

If you all you want is instant ramen with a side of good wifi, the KAL Business Class Lounge after 2 PM might be worth a shot. I’d skip the Alitalia Club altogether. It seems to have consistently bad wifi and mediocre food.

If you’re stressed, you might also want to skip the lounge entirely and go to the XpresSpa across from Gate 5 for a full body massage in a private treatment room.

  • Terminal Two: Delta Sky Club is your only lounge choice in T2. It can get quite crowded, entry is about sixty dollars, and “premium” food and drinks come with an extra charge. If you’ve got a really long delay (more than four hours) I’d suggest just taking advantage of Delta’s shuttle bus to T4.
  • Terminal 4: T4 has the king’s pick of airline lounges (as long as you qualify to swipe in). The only lounge with Priority Pass or Loungebuddy access is Wingtips, which is open 24 hours but tends to be crowded from about 5 PM to 1 AM. They do offer a pretty nice seating area, a good snack selection, and a library. 

Etihad Lounge has incredible buffet and menu options, modern architecture, great views, and fantastic service—and I also enjoy spending time in the Virgin Atlantic clubhouse, which offers complimentary massages and haircuts. However, both of these are only open to passengers on their respective airlines.

  • Terminal 5: Terminal 5 has  the AirSpace Lounge, which you can enter for around $25 (depending on demand) with unlimited re-entry. Showers are an additional ten dollars if you fill out the online form and reserve your time. The amenities are pretty standard, so you might want to visit the T5 Rooftop Lounge for some fresh air and a change of scenery (and a relief from the noise).
a flight delay at jfk doesn't have to feel like punishment

XpresSpa kiosks are fine, but get private treatment at the full store when you can. Image by Flickr user Sharon Hahn Darlin (CC BY 2.0)

Consider Your Travel Habits

If the delay still seems hard to handle, I’d also suggest that you take some time to contemplate your schedule. Because setbacks can be stressful, I now only book direct flights and try always to leave a buffer—sometimes by flying a day early, or taking an earlier or later flight time. As with other business decisions, you must learn to travel strategically.

what to do during a flight delay at JFK

If JFK were this empty, we would all enjoy the airport (and flying) a lot more. Image by Flickr user Maurice (CC BY 2.0)

If you’ve got to be stuck somewhere, JFK probably isn’t on your preferred list. But keep a positive outlook and an open mind, and hopefully the experience can be a positive one. And if a private, luxurious room sounds like just the ticket after your airport experience, I’d suggest giving JetLux Hotels a try. Membership includes a personal reservationist who will help you book rooms at top hotels across the nation for up to 40% off advertised prices. A quality hotel stay never felt better—especially after napping on an airline lounge couch.

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