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Some Young People Are Hanging Out at Airports for Fun. Is This Something You (Would) Do?

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Rene’s Points For Better Travel, a division of Chatterbox Entertainment, Inc. has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Rene’s Points For Better Travel and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.


There’s a growing trend called “Airport Culture” — members of Generation Z who spend time at airports for fun. No, they’re not traveling. It’s another version of hanging out at the mall.

We’re talking about killing time landside, before passport control, and pre-security. Not relaxing in fancy airport club lounges. Not planespotting from an airside Chili’s while sipping a drink. Maybe zipping back and forth on tram connecting terminals.

(And you thought you were an airport rat!)

Signage inside Terminal 4 at Heathrow Airport directs guests to the Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn Express, Hilton, and Premier Inn LHR hotels in Hounslow, United Kingdom.

Writer-podcaster Chloe Combi came up with the “Airport Culture” label while researching Gen Z for an episode of the You Don’t Know Me podcast.

In a piece for Vice (warning: there’s some language some may find offensive), she writes:

…one destination…came up so frequently and in such colourful detail, particularly for teenagers from poorer backgrounds, that it began to seem like an undiscovered subculture. It’s what I came to christen “Airport Culture”.

Going to the airport for fun or to while-away time has become a noticeably popular activity. Interrogate it a little further, and it becomes obvious why. An airport is a free, diverse and safe space that offers the roaming possibilities of streets and parks, with the added benefit of lots of security, meaning nothing bad is likely to happen to you there.

Kind of makes sense, doesn’t it? Plus, many airports are inexpensive destinations — thanks to public transit.

A check in area under construction at MSP airport.
A check in area under construction at MSP airport.

A 17-year-old named Isabel (her airport of choice is Heathrow) told Ms. Combi:

Most of my friends can’t afford pubs, clubs or festivals, and you just get hassled so badly in the park or walking around the street. Most house parties are [$#*!], but at the airport everyone is really friendly and often chatty because they’re either waiting for someone or to go somewhere. If anything bad happens, there are security there. But no one comes to an airport to cause trouble, you know? Except maybe terrorists. But you don’t get that thing of being aggressively pursued in airports by boys, like you do around town.

Her best friend reveals a slightly dark side to the hobby:
Provided you aren’t stupid or too loud, no one even notices you. We take edibles, usually chocolate truffles with hash, but sometimes gummy sweets with CBD oil, and just have a good time soaking up the atmosphere. There’s something exciting and anonymous about an airport. The only time we got asked to leave is when we were having trolley races in the bit outside.

Ah, yes. Drugs and trolley races.

You have to admit that airports are amazing for people-watching. Terminals with international departures and arrivals are especially captivating. During the course of an hour or two, you can probably see people heading to or arriving from each of the six populated continents. (And maybe the stray person visiting Antartica, who knows?)

As David Trottier pointed out in his book The Screenwriter’s Bible, airports are also an idea fount for fiction writers. Countless unique (and often emotional) real-life stories are carried out each day at every airport.

Crowds of travelers in long queue at TSA Security Check at Denver International Airport over summer holiday weekend.
(©iStock.com/obertcicchetti)

So while at first you might think, Gee, that’s a weird hobby, it’s actually perfect for some people.

I can sort of identify.

When I was a kid, I loved going to The Barnstormer restaurant at Hector International Airport in Fargo. The place was landside, had fantastic bacon-cheeseburgers and fries, and was in one of my favorite places: an airport. Plus, this was (very) pre-9/11, so I traipsed in and out of gate areas to planespot and jealously watch passengers board Northwest flights to Minneapolis.

If airports offered more landside “destinations” — like restaurants and bars with good views of the ramps — I’d absolutely be interested in taking my daughter there for meals or meeting friends for a beverage.

Do You Participate in Airport Culture?

Even when you’re not traveling, do you visit airports for the sole purpose of hanging out in them? Park in the short-term ramp and walk around the baggage claim area or airlines’ check-in desks?

Please leave your thoughts, experiences, or other relevant comments below!

Rene’s Points For Better Travel, a division of Chatterbox Entertainment, Inc. has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Rene’s Points For Better Travel and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.


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8 Comments

  1. I’d be surprised if this was much of a thing in the U.S. Most U.S airports aren’t kid friendly to get to and once there, landside, there isn’t much there.

  2. Mass transportation is cheap entertainment for little ones. Airports, train stations, and canal locks were all regular stops for my two growing up. ALB has a landside observation room (still free parking for 30 minutes or less) and a cell phone lot near the most-used runway.

  3. Pretty much what Patrick said. In the US you’ll have a Starbucks booth, and maybe if you’re lucky a few restaurants and gift shops landside. But with airports like SIN I can generally see how a culture can develop around airports.

  4. Barry Graham Reply

    When I was a teenager in London, decades ago, my friends and I would often drive to Heathrow and hang out there, because they had cafes that were open at all hours and it was fun to do. I guess this is new behavior in America!

  5. Joe Chivas Reply

    “Safe space” during a pandemic? Since when is hanging out around others in a busy area, exposing yourself to Covid for absolutely no reason considered “safe”? Stay home and save lives. #FlattenTheCurve

  6. Interesting. I never would have expected that Airport Culture was a thing for young people. The culture described in the article must have been pre pandemic. My family used to hangout at airports. Starting around age three, my mom would often drive us to nearby Weir Cook Municipal Airport in Indianapolis (now IND) to play in the grass and watch takeoffs and landings from the viewing area near the runway. Later when we had a bit more money, we would occasionally have a meal in an airport restaurant and watch operations from the viewing deck. At my home airport now (CLT), there is almost nothing to do pre-security except watch people at baggage claim waiting and waiting and waiting for their bags.

  7. I use to hang out at LGA and Plane Watch. The whole food court was landside.

  8. Jeffery Carrithers Reply

    This is really interesting. I have never imagined that we can even hang out at the airports. This is a good idea and will be helpful in developing diversified cultural relations.

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