Traveling can be rough. It can be exhausting, stressful, boring, and - arguably worst of all - expensive. Sometimes you can find a good deal here and there, but the cost of food, transport, lodging, and so on – combined with the tricky unanticipated cost of things like water, lodging, alcohol, and various forms of entertainment – it adds up. Moreover, sometimes searching for good deals and freebies can feel like a stressful, full-time job – with little reward on top of the stress of (particularly) air-travel.
That’s why we wanted to put together a list of things that people can get for free on airplanes and in airports. If you’re paying all that money for the flights to your destination, you may as well squeeze every drop of value out of the experience. You might be surprised by what we found, particularly for travelers who find themselves looking for free things in airports!
25 The Whole Can Of Soda & Hot Chocolate! – “Wholey Moly”
When your flight attendants are walking down the aisle handing out drinks and snacks, often they’ll just hand you a cup (sometimes even without ice) filled with your beverage of choice. Next time, make sure you ask for a whole can of soda—and be sure they know what you mean. They’ll hand you the can and you’ll be traveling luxuriously! If you’re healthy, maybe instead of a soda you can get some water, but make sure it’s the good kind.
But if you're craving a warm beverage, and you're not so sure about drinking the crappy coffee, there's a great and FREE alternative.
Most – if not all – airlines carry hot chocolate as an alternative to coffee or tea, which you can drink…even in Economy class.
Some of the airlines that carry hot chocolate include Etihad Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Southwest, and Qantas. Qantas even has hot chocolate that is made with Cadbury chocolates – extreme luxury!
24 Basic Medication & Bandages – Doctor Who?
Did you know that most planes carry basic medications and band-aids? I didn’t This usually comes from a first aid kit that they are required to have on airplanes, but they crack it open for issues less urgent issues than one might expect.
Headache? Advil. A paper cut? Bandage. Acid reflux? Antacids. Though the availability of these items depends on the airline’s regulations, most flight attendants will get you what you need should you experience any issues!
23 Free Adult Beverages – Just be smart about it
Many airlines already offer free drinks, and unfortunately – yes – it depends on the airline’s regulations. At least, this tends to be the case with long-haul and international flights – though not always. Check ahead of time to avoid any confusion, or look in the magazine in the seat-back pocket in front of you.
Sometimes, passengers can ask for beer and wine (sometimes hard liquor costs extra) with dinner and after all of the flight service is complete. Be sure to add in a smile and some niceties—but it never hurts to ask!
22 Grooming Kits & Sleeping Kits– Oh, la la
If you’re a fancy pants that already got a first class ticket, then you’ll already have a complimentary grooming kit with lotion, lip balm, toothbrush, sanitizer, and sometimes even ridiculous things like a “calming pillow spray.” But did you know that on longer flights, many airlines stock items like earplugs, combs, pens, and the like? Etihad even throws in luxuries like shaving items, toothbrushes, and socks!
As for sleeping...even on short flights, most airlines carry blankets, pillows, and sleeping masks - for every passenger! If you need to slip into something a little more comfortable (by taking your shoes off), you can ask a flight attendant for a free pair of disposable socks and/or slippers. They’ll bring it right to you, and maybe you can ask for a calming cup of tea while they’re at it!
21 Extra Snacks – Snack Attack
If you’re still feeling peckish once all the customers have been served (and if there are leftovers), flight attendants will absolutely give you an extra snack. Make sure to either flag them down, turn on your seat alert light, or go and find them in the galley –i.e. where the snacks live—and ask if they can help you curb your hunger.
Maybe they’ll give you another snack, or maybe they’ll sneak you a leftover meal from first class! If you’re nice and genuine, this can totally happen. Just remember to be extra polite.
20 A Tour Of The Cockpit – Pilot AND Tour Guide
This one is famous, because it seems like it would be a safety hazard, but it’s actually true! When you’re on the ground (no actual flying lessons are possible), passengers can go to the cockpit or flag down a flight attendant to get a tour!
Obviously, this depends on the airline's regulations and safety, but it's still just as cool! Typically, the best time to ask for a tour is after the flight has landed, because this is when pilots are not in a rush.
Hooray for heroes, and tour guides!
19 Sanitizing Wipes – Avoid Germs!
So, as any traveller knows, airplanes can be a breeding ground for germs. Often flight attendants can’t fully wipe down all surfaces in between flights. Who knows who sat in your seat before you?
So if you’re feeling particularly obsessive and/or if you’re immune system is feeling compromised, then ask your flight attendant if you can grab a sanitizing wipe for your seat as you're boarding the aircraft, and avoid catching the next anti-biotic resistant germ!
18 (Temporary) Babysitting – Be Back In Five
If you need to run to the restroom or stretch your legs in the galley (apparently not popular among flight attendants, but still), feel free to ask them to watch your little one! Obviously, planes are an enclosed space where not much can go (too) wrong, so the risk of leaving a flight attendant to watch your child is low.
There's a lot of discretion with what flight attendants will and will not do, so if you've noticed that we've put in notes to be polite, we will reiterate: Be Polite!
Flight attendants are there to help you, but if you're rude they won't want to. Still, if they agree to keep an eye on your baby, don’t just ditch them - because eventually, they’ll have to work!
17 In-Flight Entertainment – Pick Your Flicks
So, this one most of us know about because many flights will have digital screens on the seat-back in front of you. While many airlines offer this kind of entertainment, did you know that some airlines (even on short flights), offer some sweet, digital entertainment in the form of an app or a website, or even WiFi (@JetBlue)?
Pro-Tip: Look up your airline in advance to see if you’ll need to download an app (like on United) and that it’s available from any device (like on Southwest). And Fun Fact: If you’re “old school,” many airlines also carry playing cards for extra entertainment.
16 Airline Wings - For Kids…& Maybe For Adults Too!
This is often the Golden Tip for people traveling with kids and/or first-time travelers. Plus, this has the potential to be an amazing bargaining chip to get kids to be quiet and still on a long flight!
If you get a tour of the cockpit, often times the pilot or flight attendant will toss you some airline wings, but even if you don’t get a tour, you can still ask for the wings - for your child, a child you’re going to see, or even YOURSELF. Because you’re a strong independent person who is allowed to geek out over an airline wing pin.
BEWARE: Not all flights will have them, so if you use it as an incentive for children to behave, ask ahead to avoid any baby meltdowns.
15 Special Meals
This is a good one for any people with allergies, dietary restrictions, or even just aversions to certain foods. No longer will you have to suffer in silence! If you’re NOT flying on standby (i.e. if you bought a ticket at least 24 hours before your flight), you can request a ~special meal~ for yourself and/or your passengers.
Many companies offer a wide range of meals: dietary issues, vegetarian, kosher, and even easily edible meals for children. PLUS, you won’t have to pay an extra fee for it.
Extra Fun Fact: due to its immense prevalence and popularity, if you’re flying to/from Asia, usually you can ask for instant noodles, at any time. And you’ll get it, for free!
Ok, so now that we have airplanes covered, stocked, and loaded - let's look at what travelers can get for free at airports!
14 Airport: Water-Bottle Refill – Hydrate Or Else
So this one feels obvious, BUT did you know that you can at any part of the airport get a free refill? If you’re carrying your own water bottle (empty, of course, because security), you can go to any bar or restaurant and get ICE water in your glass, free of charge!
What’s more, some (fancy) airports have designated sections of the airport where you can refill your bottles with cold, clean water for free – a nice green gesture. So remember your water bottle! It may mean more trips to the restroom, but that’s better than dehydration!
13 Airport: “Pet Relief Areas” – Potty Break For Buttercup!
Speaking of restrooms, travelers can even find pet-centered “bathrooms” – which are sometimes called “pet relief areas.” These are designated spots - usually well-marked, and typically consisting of a patch of outdoor space (or fake, plastic “grass”) -reserved especially for any furry (and sometimes not furry) friends you might be traveling with to do their business.
As emotional support dogs (and cats, and lizards, and pigs, and peacocks) become increasingly more popular (in the United States in particular), it’s important for airports to adapt to this trend.
Make sure you plan ahead of time, because sometimes these areas are situated just outside of security rather than in the terminal, which would be very inconvenient if you're about to board. For a list of airports that offer pet relief areas, visit this website.
12 Airport: Religious Services and Prayer Rooms - Thank God
Flying can be scary. So it’s nice to know that one can find a place to seek Higher Guidance wherever you go, or before you get to wherever you’re going.
Even if all you need is a quiet room or a religious ceremony, the vast majority of airports will offer free facilities for exercising your religious rites. Moreover, many airports also offer various religious/spiritual services.
For example: Boston Logan Airport (BOS) has almost-daily masses; Albuquerque International Sunport (ABQ) provides a quiet, appropriately sun-lit meditation room. Nowadays, one can even find mushollas right next to water fountains for convenient prayer.
11 Airport: WiFi - (FaceTime) Call Me, (WhatsApp) Beep Me
We are extremely fortunate to live in the year of 2018, where we water is accessible when traveling, and so - too - does the WiFi flow like water. Many airport authorities have made the (correct) decision to offer access to free, high-speed internet as an amenity for travelers...though many might say that, at this point, it's a basic right.
Some airports, however, may limit internet access to specific terminals and/or waiting areas, rather than simply providing access in the entire airport.
But beware! Apparently, certain airports are beginning to back out of providing free WiFi in favor of paid services or hourly availability, because users often suck up so much bandwidth by watching videos. So pre-download your movies, people!
However, here's another #ProTip: where there is a Starbucks - there is ALWAYS free WiFi. So if you're an unlucky traveller who wants internet access in one of those cursed airports, go ask the information desk where you can get a cup of Starby's coffee, and you'll get your wish.
10 Airport: Luggage Tags - Fragile Bags & Frazzled Passengers
Those anxious world travelers out there know that sometimes it can be hard to pick your bag out of a crowd. While many people utilize various tactics such as covering their baggage in shrink wrap, or stickers, or a special “baggage belt” – many travelers also like taking the precaution to label their luggage with their name, their address, their email, and – most importantly – their phone number.
What if your bag gets lost in the bowels of a massive international airport transfer?
Typically, the process of losing your bag and then finding it again is not only a nightmare, it’s also anxiety-inducing. Will you get it back? Are people going through it?
So unless your description of your black, brand-less, non-descript bag is oddly specific, they’re not going to be able to get your bag back to you for a while. These baggage tags are ALWAYS free right by check-in, and they’re very useful! Remember to do this, as you never know what could happen.
Another fun sticker to get: FRAGILE stickers (also always available), for luggage that you want to make sure gets a little more care.
9 Airport: A Little Help - From Your Friends
Travelers that are differently-abled will absolutely find special assistance at airports around the world. But sometimes travelers may need a little more than physical guidance getting around; sometimes we all need a little extra assistance.
Many airports (and airlines) have programs, guides, and staff that offer assistance to virtually anyone who needs it, such as young travelers or first-time travelers, flyers who don’t speak English nor the native language, or even passengers that are simply anxious, lost, or confused—for free.
There's no shame in needing a little extra help, and taking it where you can get it!
8 Airport: A Charge - Because what are we without our screens?
So most airports are crawling with people, all of whom are on some smart device – whether it’s a cell phone, or a Kindle, an iPad, a Mac or a PC… and they all need to charge up.
Sometimes you’re competing with a businessman on a phone call who inexplicably needs all four of the sockets (?), and sometimes you’re racing to get to the open socket before a desperate family with young children who NEED to watch their iPad or they implode (just give them the spot, they deserve a break).
But did you know that most of the time (and especially if you ask politely), staff of airlines or even bars/restaurants will let you plug your phone in behind the desk while you wait there. It always helps to be polite, but it’s also important to demonstrate your need for your phone or device in whatever place you land. Just a tip!
7 Airport: Gym Time – For Big Gym Energy
If you’ve ever travelled long distances, you know how difficult it can be to stuff your feet back into your shoes at the end of a flight. Exercise can be crucial for staying mobile, sane, and to keep your feet happy! Exercise can technically be done anywhere, but it’s nice when you can have a designated place to do it. Sometimes you just want to jog or tire yourself out.
Well, thanks to the airports that thought ahead, you can find gyms, pools, yoga rooms, and walking/running paths all over the world!
Some airports that offer gyms (though not all are free) include: O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois (ORD); Singapore Changi Airport in Singapore (SIN); the Munich Airport in Germany (MUC); the Metropolitan Wayne County Airport in Detroit, Michigan (DTW); and Dubai International Airport in the United Arab Emirates (DXB).
You can EVEN find airports with a walking or running path! These include the St. Paul International Airport (MSP) in Minneapolis, the Indianapolis International Airport (IND), and the Baltimore/Washington International Airport (BWI); the latter of which has a “Cardio Trail” that’s two kilometers long!
6 Airport: Yoga Time – For All Our Yogis
However, if yoga is more your speed, you can even find designated places just for that – sometimes with classes!
San Francisco International Airport opened a special “Yoga Room,” which was, apparently, the world’s very first one of its kind. And though this novelty opened less than two years ago, it’s now it’s a lot more common to see people doing downward dogs and cat/cow poses all over the airport.
If you don’t happen to be traveling through San Francisco, you can find yoga rooms in: Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport in Texas (DFW); in BOTH Chicago Airports (ORD and MDW); Helsinki International Airport in Finland (HEL); and in Burlington International Airport in Vermont (BTV)…of course.
Though this phenomenon is mostly a North American trend, the idea of having exercise areas in airports is definitely catching on. Here’s to hoping they soon offer free personal training…and maybe a sauna?
5 Airport: Get a Makeover - VideoChat THAT!
Sometimes we have to travel for work, or work when we travel, or for some reason or another, we'll need to hop on a video call. Traveling isn’t necessarily that good-looking, and often we have to get up way too early and worry more about getting through security than we do about our appearance.
So here’s a tip for the business people, the selfie-takers, or the aesthetic perfectionists out there: there are tons of free (usually simple, but still) makeovers that you can ask for, as well as free skincare consultations—all at airport duty-free shops. (Hint: Hit the Dior section.) Maybe they’ll even give you some free samples to take with you as well.
4 Airport: A Massage - & Chill
By: Peter Parks / Getty Images[/caption]
Ok, so maybe you’ve seen the weird massage kiosks in the middle of the airport, where you can get a massage in full view of the traveling world. The thing is that those cost some precious dollars, and more than mere chump change. However, there is also the other option of massage chairs. Yes, massage chairs.
Did you know that many airports across the world have these magical chairs that massage your swollen extremities? And (usually) they’re free!
They can’t be reserved via app (yet), so it’s first-come-first-served…which means you should try to get there as soon as possible! When you get into the terminal, ask the information desk if they have them, and then to point you to where they are. This is also a great time for those sanitizing wipes, if you still have them from your flight.
3 Airport: Exhibitions - Art, & Culture, & History: Oh My!
In order to reduce the combined stress and boredom of traversing in and out and around terminals, various airports have collaborated with artists, historians, curators, and so on to build beautiful exhibitions, like one you might find in a museum.
And it makes sense: think about how much time you might find yourself waiting around in an airport. As the New York Times wrote of airports exhibitions, “their goal is consistent: to provide education and entertainment in an environment typically dismissed as an anxiety-inducing no man’s land.”
This has become such a popular design trend that the list of exhibitions goes on and on. But you may never stumble across it yourself, so the next time you travel, go ask the information desk where you might be able to find an art exhibition, or learn more about the local culture.
2 Airport: A Tour – Terminally Fascinated
Surprisingly, if you’re one of the mutants who are actually able to get to the airport and through security very early (just kidding, kind of), you can inquire at an information desk if the airport offers a tour. These are typically available at regular hours and intervals in the daytime, so hit the information desk to learn more.
A bunch of airports offer these tours; at the San Diego International Airport, there’s something called the Terminals to Tarmac Tours (which is free), and some other airports offer these as well, including: Singapore’s Changi Airport (SIN), Istanbul Ataturk Airport (IST), and the San Francisco International Airport (SFO).
1 Airport: City Layover Tours – While You Are Here…
This is one of those “Big If True” Moments, and yes...it’s true. There are some VERY special airports (and airlines) that offer free tours in some incredible cities across the world – specifically if you have anywhere between a 5 to 12-hour layover in that city.
Airports that kindly offer this AMAZING service include: Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar (DOH); Singapore Changi Airport in Singapore (SIN); Incheon Airport in Seoul, South Korea (ICN); Narita Airport in Tokyo, Japan (NRT); Ataturk International Airport in Istanbul, Turkey (IST); Taoyuan International Airport in Taipei, Taiwan (TPE); and Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City, Utah (SLC).
Most of these tours are a few hours, and operate on a first-come, first-served basis – so as soon as you land in one of these airports, make a beeline for the information desk and sign yourself up. Some of these tours can be super convenient, a great way to take advantage of a too-long layover, and extremely simple to participate in. The tours will manage all the visa details for you, and sometimes they include snacks!
Of course, remember to always carry money with you at all times. While free, many of these tours will have you pay for public transit, food, or entrance fees to attractions. But a free tour guide?? Sign me up!
For more information about these city tours, visit this website.
References: New York Times, Business Insider, BBC, Dog Jaunt, Reddit, Jayride, Bravo, Condé Nast Traveler, Forbes, ABC News, Travel and Leisure, The Independent, Chicago Tribune, Belfast Times.