Lonely Planet Writer

How to make friends at airports




Recently, we were approached by men's grooming brand Axe to discuss working together. This article was inspired by a survey carried out by Axe.

Holiday season certainly means an increase in travelers' plopped bums on airport carpets and waiting out flight delays. But don't whine. It can be a good thing. At least if you believe that friends can be found in a departure lounge.

According to a recent US study sponsored by Axe and BestPlaces.net, as many as two-thirds of travelers are willing to go on dates with people they meet at airports. And 59% admit to flirting at airports. They ranked 33 top airports worldwide for likelihood of 'connections' (wink wink) -- meaning simply getting an email address, telephone number or at least a new pal to kill a few dead hours at O'Hare.

Airport lounges have always felt to me like an adult camp, minus the kumbaya. There’s always a voyeuristic buzz that comes with the energy from impending travel. And it can embolden us. We all have taken our shoes off and gone through the radar detectors. We all endure a lingering wait with untoasted bagels served on Styrofoam plates, the mindless loop of CNN stories, and ‘slippery floor’ signs barring entrances to the bathrooms.

But unlike being on the planes – when the last thing most people want to do is chat up the person next to them – everyone has an easy out in an airport lounge: you can leave the bar, the magazine rack, the cellphone charger hub whenever you like. It makes it easier to comment on a magazine someone’s flipping through or share a joke of the Atlanta family whining about a flight to Houston delayed by 45 minutes.

What to think about this holiday season.

  • Go to New Jersey. Cancel the trip to grandma’s and book a ticket for Newark’s Liberty International Airport, which ranks #1 on AXE’s list of top of 33 international airports to meet someone, based on three factors: likelihood of delays, bad weather and nice amenities (Newark has spas, plus ‘Jersey’ merch).
  • Or New York in general. JFK is #2, meaning the dream scenario is flying into Newark (hanging out after arrival) then leaving from JFK (and showing up early).
  • Worldwide: Paris, London, Rome? Good for meeting people. Madrid, Dubai? Far less so.
  • Avoid Phoenix & Vegas like the plague. Phoenix’s Sky Harbor is dead last on the list. Weather’s too good, and travelers show up last-minute. While Vegas’ slots distracts from chats, and so many travelers come in groups.
  • Do not wear shorts, head bands or take off your shoes. You’ll look like schmuck. Be a pro. Dress like you understand flying, how to look. Nothing can faze you – you do this all the time.
  • Keep a handy stack of Swedish krona or Vietnamese dong. So you can flip them out at a bar or magazine rack, ‘Man, all I have is this krona – forgot to get dollars.’ It shows you travel all the time. It is IRRESISTIBLE.
  • Don’t use headphones. How can anyone talk with you if you’re watching Street Fighter II on your laptop, or listening to the Gin Blossoms? Read a paper, magazine, book or Kindle book on ‘how to knit.’ Don’t put yourself in an earphone cul-de-sac.
  • Sit in lightly populated areas, not empty ones. A few empty seats around you helps, but not too many.
  • Or at the bar. Some airports have a wine bar – is there anything more conducive to breaking the ice than mulling over a Pinot Noir at a wine tasting?

I never expect to find a soul mate while waiting for a plane, but I've met some funny, interesting people. On a flight from JFK to Vladivostok a year ago, I met a young Siberian psychologist who worked with ‘deviant behavior,’ she explained dryly after Aeroflot announced a seven-hour delay. We ended up pooling our food vouchers and talking the full time – then met again for coffee (with her husband) in Vladivostok. Back in New York, after my trip, I met her twin sister for bagels. All fully platonic and fully rewarding.

In the name of truth in travel, I go to Phoenix Sunday -- the worst airport on the study's list for 'connections' -- and will try to make a friend. I'll report back in a couple days.

--> Have you met any friends, or future spouse or boss, at airports?


-Robert Reid, New York