What do you do on layovers? Nap? Catch up on email? Mindlessly watch some sports without any rooting interest? Christopher Berger, a physiologist, has a better idea.
It’s simple. Stand up. Walk away from the gate. Heck, leave the premises if you have at least three or four hours. There’s no rule that says you have to spend the layover inside the airport. Baltimore has a fitness trail encircling the airport grounds (and it’s not the only one with a walking path). So what if it’s not the most scenic stroll of your life? “Anything is better than eating fast food and waiting for your flight to show,” Berger says.
Berger, chair of the American College of Sports Medicine’s Task Force on Healthy Air Travel, is on a mission against the sedentary airport lifestyle. He understands that people on vacation might want to chill; he’s not above vegging out in a gate area from time to time himself. But for frequent business travelers with a fitness regimen at home, falling out of the routine quickly takes a toll. “If you travel a lot, this is a big deal,” he says. “You can’t let yourself be that deconditioned. You have to have a plan if you travel at least once a week. It’s worth talking about.”A plan is as easy as packing a pair of lightweight walking shoes and taking a brisk stroll around the airport. Check out the public art, the chapel, the yoga room or services you might not expect to find, like medical clinics offering immunizations and air-sickness medicine. You might not need to see a doctor, but it’s interesting to explore.
Since 2007, Berger has done much of this himself conducting a study of fitness opportunities at every major U.S. hub airport. He has flown 488 times, including 100 cross-country trips. The research is complete, and he expects to release the findings this summer – and eventually convince airports to make it easier to burn calories on a layover without sprinting to catch a connecting flight.
The return of airport lockers would go a long way toward freeing travelers from the gate area. “Airports needs to be willing for you to drop off your bag.” he says. “But post-September 11, people don’t like unattended bags at airports.” And in the wake of the Boston bombings, Berger’s not expecting an attitude shift anytime soon. In the meantime, he recommends checking to see if your airline loyalty program babysits luggage.
If you can check bags and carry on just a backpack, you can become as mobile as Berger is on layovers. Unlike most travelers, he’s not paranoid about leaving the terminal if he has at least three hours (and he has never missed a flight when doing so), especially in cities with an airport light rail station. In Salt Lake City, you can get in a round of golf at a course adjacent to the airport.
Minneapolis’s airport is a favorite for a layover field trip. “Out of the airplane, you can be at the light rail in under 15 minutes, and that runs every 10 to 15 minutes. I’d say within 45 minutes you can be downtown. It’s totally walkable, flat, well laid out, pedestrian paths all over the place,” he says. “There are parks you can go to. Just lay in the sun, get some fresh air. Budget 45 minutes or so to get back. I’ve done it in three hours.”
He has a trick for a speedy return: Use the terminal likely to have the shortest TSA security line. Forget about the terminal with the airline that has a hub there. For instance, in Atlanta, don’t go through Delta’s terminal. Return through the one serving US Airways and Air Tran. “You can bet dollars to donuts that line won’t be as long,” Berger says. However, do your homework to make sure you can walk from your entry terminal to your gate. At Washington National, for instance, changing terminals can require a bus ride, negating the time savings.
Berger hopes airports will move in this direction for the sake of competition, if nothing else. And he believes the strategy is best suited for big airports in the middle of the country. “In West Coast or East Coast cities, no one changes planes except for international flights,” he says. “It doesn’t work as conceptually as it does at a place like Dallas or Denver or Atlanta.”
Don’t overlook full-service hotels near airports for fitness amenities, too, especially if it’s raining and you can’t go outside. Many offer day passes to their gym and swimming pool, Berger says, and are easily accessible by light rail or shuttle from the airport.
Simply bypassing the tram between terminals and walking – which isn’t always as far as you might imagine – marks baby steps toward breaking the habit of layover laziness.
“It’s not going to turn you into a marathon runner,” Berger says. “But you’re expending something in the way of calories.”
Via the New York Times
[Photo credits: Flickr users Dogpong and Moominmolly]