The airport is a confusing, stressful, harrowing place at the best of times, but never more so than when there is a meal involved. Running late or spending hours on a hard seat during a layover can lead to bad choices when deciding how to dine. Here are the 11 pitfalls to avoid the next time you find yourself stuck at the airport:
1. Leaving the Airport for a "Quick" Bite
“I'm just popping into town for an hour for a bite at a real restaurant—I have a long layover!” Famous last words. Even if it's just a few miles to town, anything could happen: The subway could have delays, your car could break down, and what are you going to do with your luggage, anyway? For layovers under 12 hours, stay in the terminal.
Photo from Houston Press
2. Buying a Premade Sandwich
There are so many options in airports nowadays that there's no reason to rely on these flabby, flavorless sandwiches wrapped in cellophane. Languishing under the fluorescent lights for 24 hours or more, plasticky cheese sweating into its wrapper...a sandwich like this is at best overpriced and at worst a recipe for food poisoning.
Photo from Club Sandwich Reviews
3. Passing Up Duty-Free Alcohol
It might seem counterintuitive to buy a heavy, expensive bottle of alcohol when you're on the way to an island paradise, but you'll never get such great prices on high-end liquor as you will in an airport. Now, you have stuff to drink on the plane and in the hotel room without paying higher prices for a lesser product.
Photo from Airport Business
4. Choosing a Worldwide Chain Over a Regional One
Don't you dare pass up Jollibee or La Maison Paul for Starbucks. This is your chance to try spaghetti with fried chicken, baked potatoes topped with sweetcorn, and any number of other local oddities. Get the Frappuccino at home, and indulge in regional delights here.
Photo from Serious Eats
5. Ignoring the Lounges
Even if you aren't allowed in the deluxe international first-class lounges with caviar and champagne, you can often pay to get into lounges like the American Express Centurion Lounge. Here, enjoy a shower, craft cocktails by mixologist Jim Meehan, and freshly made food designed by the likes of Scott Conant and other celebrity chefs, all complimentary once you pay the entrance fee.
Photo from PhotoBucket
6. Enjoying Baked Beans
Or any beans, for that matter. Changes in altitude, crossing time zones, beans' natural predisposition to cause flatulence...just say no to beans when eating huevos rancheros or a full English breakfast. Your seatmates will thank you.
Photo from Celebrity Radio
7. Nonchalantly Drinking Ice Water
Don't drink ice water just anywhere. When traveling to places where our North American bodies aren't used to the bacteria in the water—like Mexico, India, Egypt, and even parts of Greece—the results can be less than optimal on a long flight with one small bathroom for 200 passengers. Stick with bottled water if you're unsure.
Photo from Discovery News
8. Thinking That You Are Going to Get the Real Deal in the Airport
A real Chicago hot dog, an authentic pan Catalan, sushi like Jiro makes...no matter the outlet, if it's in the airport, chances are that the authentic taste of the iconic food of the city isn't going to be there. Aim for lower-end eateries, fast-food chains, or small regional bakeries in the terminal, and you are much more likely to be impressed.
Photo from The Paupered Chef
9. Cheaping Out
The high-end offerings at airports aren't just there for show—these days, you can enjoy a fine dining experience in many airports. Caviar, champagne, steaks: They're all there for the taking. And considering how long you'll be sitting for the next eight hours, it's not such a bad idea to indulge in a martini to soften the blow.
Photo from Foodspotting
10. Indulging in Bad Fast Food
A Cinnabon might sound like a great idea at the time, but a bottle of water later and it will expand in your stomach like one of those tiny fabric animals that unfurls to become a beach towel. Go for some fries, but don't supersize them, and heaven help you if you decide to do some super spicy Mexican food.
Photo from Wikipedia
11. Forgetting to Buy Local Snack Food as Souvenirs
No one needs an extra shot glass or an expensive chapeau—what people want can be found at the magazine stand of the airport. Candy, potato chips, spicy snack mixes, and adorable gummy candies that we can't get here. As a bonus, you can buy these items after security, so don't worry about shoving them into your already packed suitcase.
Photo from Holleys Fine Foods; article header image from Port of Seattle
Sarah Spigelman Richter is a New York City–based writer, blogger, and social media manager. She has developed recipes for Tabasco, blogs about her favorite restaurants and recipes at Fritos and Foie Gras, and can be found, most Friday nights, watching "Arrested Development" reruns.