Flying from Bangkok to Kathmandu, I had the dubious pleasure of spending almost 10 hours (1am till 10:45am) on an overnight stopover at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
I have flown a lot in my life, but up till this point I’d had the wisdom to book flights that didn’t even have long stopovers, let alone long overnight ones, and I was woefully unprepared.
An airport during the day can provide you with hours of entertainment. You can play with perfumes and eat food and if you’re in one of the good ones, like Changi Airport in Singapore, you can go watch a movie. I thought it could be fun.
KLIA completely closes for the night though. And they erect barricades everywhere to prevent people from wandering around unnecessarily as they restock all the stores. It’s like a ghost town. A ghost airport. Except that there are people around, but they’re all fast asleep, stretched out across 4 seats each.
On the bright side, my mistakes taught me some important lessons for the future, which I thought I could share with you so that you too can benefit from my (long, arduous, painful) experience.
1. Make Sure Your Phone Is Fully Charged, And/Or That You’ve Carried The Right Charger With You.
I’d used my phone all day in Bangkok as a GPS to direct taxi drivers, and then because I’d hitched a ride to the airport with Bea, whose flight was several hours before mine, I used it to read ebooks at the airport.
So by the time I got on my flight, it was almost dead – and I completely forgot to charge it in-flight. This was a mistake. Your phone is your number one ally during your long overnight stopover.
It is your connection to the outside world whereby your friends can offer you sympathy for your ordeal, it offers a wealth of entertainment possibilities to keep you from feeling like you’re slowly going insane, and the alarm will wake you up in time for your flight AND give you the peace of mind to fall asleep without having nightmares about sleeping through your departure.
I’d ended up in KL airport with a phone on 2% battery, the wrong power adaptor (I’d packed the Nepalese one, forgetting completely about Malaysia), incredibly sleep deprived, with no other entertainment materials, and I wasn’t sure how I was going to survive the night and make it onto my flight in the morning.
Some airports have phone charging stations – and if so, you’re in luck, although there’s often a lot more demand than supply so you might have a long wait before you can use one.
KLIA didn’t even have any phone charging stations – I know, because I asked at the information desk. I was in luck though, because when I tearily explained my dilemma to the woman behind the desk, she looked at my power adaptor and said that it would work with some of the Malaysian ones – I just had to shove it in, hard.
It didn’t work with all the power points, but I did find one outside Old Town White Coffee, where I camped out on the floor under the suspicious eye of their night staffers until I had enough charge to be sure that my battery wouldn’t die before my alarm went off.
2. If You Have Problems Connecting To Web Portals With Chrome, Download Dolphin – If You Still Can’t Connect, Scope Out The Coffee Shop.
Facebook is great during transit just because it can feel lonely having to go on this long, uncomfortable journey all on your own, and checking Facebook, where you can see what your friends are doing – even if you’re too tired to chat to anyone – creates a sense of their presence and makes you feel less alone.
You need internet to connect to Facebook though, and for some reason when I tried to access the free wifi, Chrome and the built-in internet browser on my Galaxy just wouldn’t take me to the login page for their portal (and yes, I tried all the common workarounds – forget network, reconnect, refresh browser, try putting in various URLs to see if they cause a reset – nothing worked). The woman at the help desk couldn’t help either.
But an airport is full of many free, open networks – most coffee shops will have their own – and the chances are that one of them will work! I used the Old Town White Coffee network . Googling my problem later on has suggested that downloading Dolphin seems to overcome this problem.
3. Make Sure You’ve Downloaded Enough eBooks/Movies to Keep Yourself Entertained – Better Yet, Bring A Real Book.
Waiting 10 hours for anything is always going to be a bore. Waiting ten hours in an airport where everything in the near vicinity is closed except for one coffee shop and there are barriers preventing you from wandering around is enough to make anyone feel a little depressed.
But if you think about it, almost everyone’s binge-watched a show at some point, where they’ve gone 10 hours (give or take) watching episode after episode, completely losing track of time, only to emerge after the season finale feeling dirty and hungry and guilty.
Bringing a good TV show to your long stopover will let you indulge without any of that guilt at the end, and even better, it’ll make the time go really fast. I was thinking of this fact and cursing myself for missing that opportunity as I sat waiting for my phone to charge…
Luckily it didn’t take long and I napped after that, but I woke up really early – still too early for anything to be open – and desperately wished I’d bought a book with me so I didn’t have to worry about constantly charging my phone whenever I needed entertainment, and also just because reading a book on your tiny little phone screen becomes really annoying after a while.
4. Bring Some Food With You.
I have Crohn’s Disease, and my trigger foods are gluten and lentils, so my food options are a little limited unless I want to be really gassy, have awful cramps, and be running to the bathroom constantly.
Unfortunately, gluten-free meals on flights are often about half the size of a regular meal, so that I was already pretty hungry when I got to KL. ‘That’s okay’, I thought, ‘I’ll just buy food at the airport. Airports have so many meal options!’ Not at 1am they don’t.
The only place open was Old Town White Coffee. And the only thing Old Town White Coffee was serving was hot beverages (and maybe cold beverages too, I didn’t really check the beverage situation) and the cakes that were in the window. None of which were gluten free.
Hunger warred with caution. I sat watching the cakes, mouth watering, wondering if maybe I could get away with just a little bite…. but chronic flatulence and a small enclosed space do not good friends make, and caution won out.
Instead, I went to sleep with hunger gnawing at my belly, then camped out at Boost Juice later in the morning as they opened up, probably the most desperate looking customer they’d have all day.
5. Stake Out A Seat Or Carpet.
Once I’d charged my phone, I needed to find a place to sleep. The Holy Grail of long overnight stopovers is those long leather cushioned benches, which you can stretch across comfortably and get a decent’s night sleep on.
I was fortunate enough to snag one as someone else left theirs to go to the bathroom/get a drink/I’m not sure what they were doing but they got up and I got on. You snooze, you lose baby – or, more accurately in this situation, you stop snoozing and you lose.
Even better, it had a powerpoint on the wall behind it, so I could keep charging my phone as I slept without worrying about it getting stolen! Finally something was going right.
6. Get A Water Bottle, But Only Take Small Sips.
Why? To avoid being like the schmuck whose seat I took over. Flying dehydrates you so you’ll probably be thirsty during your stopover. But whether you’re sleeping or you’ve set up camp with a laptop or book, you don’t want to have to keep getting up and going to the bubblers to refresh yourself.
Grab a bottle so that you can stay put. The aim is to drink only small sips so that you don’t feel thirsty but don’t drink enough that you need to use the bathroom either. It goes without saying, of course, that you should try to empty your bladder before you stake out a spot to spend the night.
Being super sleep deprived, I fell asleep pretty easily. But even then, I kept getting woken up by the noise from the stores restocking and from errant night-time wanderers who’d just landed and were still familiarising themselves with their new territory.
And before the first flights of the morning, a whole new load of people come into the airport, 1hr before boarding. Point is, you probably won’t get a lot of sleep, and what you do get will probably be light and frequently interrupted, leaving you feeling even more tired and cranky when you wake up at 4am, giving up on getting those 40 winks.
Instead, try to sleep on that first flight. Or at least get a decent amount of sleep the day before. I’d been up well past midnight trying to get my laundry done (4 45-minute long drying cycles and my clothes were still damp) and then Bea’d woken me up early in the morning, so that I was already feeling pretty low in the energy department before I ever got to the airport.
Add to that a flight that leaves late at night, and being seated on said flight next to a toddler with a large set of lungs whose sole purpose in life appeared to be making the best use of his vocal facilities, and I was micro-sleeping and in a complete haze by the time I’d reached KLIA.
I guess I should also add that you might want earplugs for your flight, or noise-cancelling headphones, which work just as well (or so I’ve been told). I actually had earplugs, but I couldn’t use them because my tragus piercing was still healing, and it hurt too much. So maybe the advice I should be offering is ‘don’t get a tragus piercing if you know you’re going to be flying while it heals’.
8. Bring A Scarf, Unless You Can Bring A Blanket, In Which Case Do That.
It’s just super cosy having something to throw over yourself while you sleep, especially because airports tend to turn the aircon up a fair bit, and extra especially for me because I was wearing a dress.
I was thinking about comfort during my flight, and dresses, I find, are the comfiest things to wear on a long flight. They are a little hard to sleep in, however, without flashing passers-by, and that’s a pretty big faux pas in a country whose main religion is Islam. I ended up putting my cardigan around my legs, leaving the rest of me feeling even colder, and as I fell asleep shivering, I pondered sadly just how much comfier I would have been if I’d just packed a scarf in my carry on.
9. What To Look For In A Carry On: Easy To Hold, Easy To Close, Usable As A Pillow.
Speaking of carry ons, I’d carried a tote bag and it was not a good decision. I was worried that everything would fall out, or that someone would steal it, so I had to sleep hugging it and with the handles wrapped around my wrists.
If only I’d put in some forethought, I’d have chosen something that actually closed up, was easy to hold, and that could have doubled as a pillow. Don’t make the same mistake I did.
10. At The Very Least, Pack A Toothbrush And/Or Gum.
I usually don’t bother with toiletries on flights because I hate having to take them out during the security screening process. If you’ve got a long overnight stopover, however, having a fuzzy mouth after you wake up is not a great feeling.
I just used chewing gum, but this is what I’d do if I could do it again: Most planes have moisturising cream in the bathroom, so I’d wash my face and moisturize a little while before landing, and then brush my teeth when I did land. Then after sleeping, when you wake up in the morning, brush your teeth again, and hopefully by this time the duty-free stores will also be open so that you can filch some moisturising cream from the testers there.
Sneaky, I know.
11. Use It As An Opportunity To See The Sunrise.
Once things started to open up and they removed the barriers, I thought I’d do some exploring. Mainly I just went on the train between the main building and the satellite building of KLIA, back and forth, about 15 times. The view was lovely as the sun was coming up!
12. Research Your Airport.
You can also research your airport so you know what your options are going to be and whether things stay open or not. There’s a really cool website called Sleeping In Airports which offers great tips for overnighting it anywhere around the world.
Hope That Helps (Or At Least Amuses) Someone!
PS. Huge shout out to Kaboompics, which is where I got all the stock images (the photos that look like they were taken by a professional photographer and obviously aren’t of Kuala Lumpur International Airport) used in this blog post.