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Travel Toolbox: the Lowdown on Layovers

When you think about the most-anticipated moments of your next group trip, a long layover in an airport probably doesn’t come to mind. But if you travel far enough, your group is going to have to fly. And unless you live near a major gateway city, chances are good your itinerary will involve changing planes in a connecting city, which often comes with a long wait in the terminal.

At best, airport layovers are benign convenience stops, offering travelers a chance to use the restroom, stretch their legs and get something to eat before continuing on to their destinations. But there are plenty of ways they can go wrong: Few things are more stressful than a layover that is too short or more boring than a layover that is too long. Experienced business travelers are adept at handling these situations. But for large groups, which might include inexperienced or nervous flyers, a layover gone wrong can cause considerable trouble.

Next time your group travel plans call for an airport layover, keep these five tips in mind to make the experience as positive as possible.

Allow Plenty of Time

When you travel alone, you might book flights with short connection times — say 45 minutes — between flights. But avoid this temptation with groups. Your travelers won’t move as quickly in a group as you do by yourself, and you need to allow plenty of time for pit stops, meals, questions, etc. Shoot for a layover time of 90 minutes to two hours. If you are traveling internationally and will have to clear customs and immigrations between flights, build in a three-hour layover to allow for delays.

Use Group Messaging

Lots of unexpected things can come up during layovers, such as flight delays, gate changes and other surprises that you’ll want to communicate to your travelers quickly. If they are spread about the terminal doing things on their own, the best way to get the word out quickly is through a group messaging system. Collect everyone’s cellphone numbers before the trip, and set up a group text thread to keep people up to date in real time. If your group is more than 20 people or so, you may need to use a group messaging service like GroupMe to communicate with everyone at once.

Offer a Treat

To help stave off boredom and turn long layovers into positive experiences, consider setting aside money in your budget for an inexpensive group treat at the airport. You could host a round of drinks at a bar, buy everyone their favorite coffee creations at Starbucks or offer a cone from an airport ice cream shop. With some advance arrangements, you could hand out prepaid gift cards in small denominations so that each traveler can treat themselves to what they crave at the moment. This small gesture could help you earn loyalty from your travelers and put them in a good mood from the outset of the trip.

Print Maps

If your layover is longer than 90 minutes, you’ll probably want to turn travelers loose to spend time on their own. Every major airport in the country has maps of its terminals available online, so why not print copies of those maps and distribute them to your travelers ahead of time? This will give them a handy guide to restaurants, shops and other conveniences in the airport. And if your connection calls for switching from one terminal to another, a map will help them find their way to the gate where you’ll catch the next flight when the time arrives.

Set Up Headquarters

During a long layover, you may be tempted to wander around the airport or spend time perusing shops along the way. But less-experienced travelers in your group are likely to want to know where you are at all times. Make it easy for them by choosing a spot in advance where you will set up your headquarters for the layover. This can be a restaurant near your departure gate, a table at the food court in the center of the airport or the boarding area for your next flight. Let everyone know they can find you there and they are welcome to join you in waiting there if they wish.