5 free things to do during a layover in Miami airport

From my discover USA travel series | Read other chapters – See photo gallery

Tips to keep yourself busy at Miami’s aeropuerto grande

Miami, located on Florida’s Atlantic coast, is the eight biggest city in USA and a hub for major airlines such as American Airlines and LAN. So if you are travelling to South America or the Caribbean, it is very likely that you would have a layover at Miami. While I cautiously avoided a stopover in USA while traveling to Mexico and Peru, the ticket prices for a flight to Ecuador were too lucrative to look over.

Staying entertained for free

35 million passengers used this airport in 2010, making it the 12th busiest in USA. Most of the traffic occurs on concourse D also called the “north terminal”, and a hub for American Airlines. Typical layovers are 3-6 hours long, leaving time for people to go through a round of US customs, if applicable. However, if you are flying from places in Canada, you don’t need to go through US customs again, so the layover time is all yours to enjoy:

1. Take the sky train

↑ Skytrain mechanism (yes I am a geek!) and interiors. The train runs on rubber tyres with guiding metal rails on the side.

Skytrain is an automated people mover train system that shuttles passengers across the 45 gates that dot the l.9km long north terminal. It is very convenient to use and you can get some great shots of parked airplanes, and the runway where the planes land or take-off. I don’t know how many back-n-forth trips I made in this train, taking pictures and hanging out.

2. Take lots of pictures

↑ American Airlines planes on terminal D

Besides the art installations in various places, a peculiar characteristic of any airport is the number of travellers, and this number is huge in Miami. Some are excited, some are exhausted, while some are restless and some are snoring away. Look out from the glass windows and you’ll find airplanes of all shapes and sizes hanging out in the field or taking off on the runway. A photographer’s paradise I’d say.

3. Eat and shop

Miami airport has tons of restaurants, most of them overpriced and serving mediocre quality food, nothing surprising. In addition, there are numerous stores selling stuff, also overpriced, something that seems to be a characteristic of airports. But since I promised to keep this list free, I’m suggesting you keep your eyes open for promotions and free samples that are often handed out. Stop by a perfume store to checkout samples of an expensive, boutique brand of celebrity endorsed perfume, which, to be honest, I don’t get.

4. Relax

This includes everything from sitting in a quiet corner reading a book to looking out of the window watching airplanes take off. Miami airport is huge, especially the north terminal, and not all gates are busy all the time. There is usually a place to take a nap, or, if you are lucky to find a power outlet that actually works, use your laptop.

5. Stay hydrated and exercise
It is very crucial, especially during long flights, to drink fluids and stay active. This helps in overcoming fatigue and jet-lag. Unlike many airports, numerous water fountains are located throughout the airport. And if you decide to ditch the skytrain, you could walk from one end of the terminal to the other, a 1.9km lap (but please don’t run.) 😉

6. Practise Spanish, prepare for Latin America
About 68% of Miami residents speak Spanish as their first language, while only 25% speak English as their first language. So, most working class people at the airport either natively speak Spanish, or understand it extremely well. If you are the kind of person that likes to chat with people, this is the right place to get acquainted with some Español.

The city of Miami itself is a great destination and if my layover was just a bit longer, I would have ventured out to enjoy the beach. Several small towns along the gulf and atlantic coast attract vacationers to places where you can lease accommodation for a short term. At the moment Miami airport has some public transit connections but most people are forced to rely on the unsustainable modes of transport such as taxis and car rentals. This is slated to change next year with a new high speed rail line.

Did you have a layover in Miami recently? How did you keep yourself busy?

From my discover USA travel series | Read other chapters – See photo gallery