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Sleeping at Athens International Airport

Stuck with one of "those" connections?

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Athens International Airport

Athens International Airport is quiet in middle of the night in the arrivals lounge. The departures lounge is another story.

Picture of Athens International Airport copyright by deTraci Regula; licensed to About.com
On my latest trip to Greece, I was cobbling together tickets from various sources and ended up with that dreaded artifact - the overnight layover in Athens that's too short to justify a hotel stay other than one at the lovely but potentially budget-busting Athens Airport Sofitel .

I'd encountered this situation once before, when a bus strike left me at the airport for two hours longer than expected, turning a layover which was just long enough to warrant an overnight hotel into one which just didn't. On that occasion, I'd attempted the Sofitel but they were sold out except for suites, and I ended up eventually taking the airport bus on an nearly hour-long transfer to an inexpensive but pleasant hotel, the Oceanis in Glyfada, grabbing three and a half hours sleep, a quick breakfast, and then going back to the airport. I'd sworn to never do that again.

By the time I got off the plane this time, moving slowly and with great politeness to use up as much time as possible - "Oh no, please, you go ahead! You, too." - it was about 2:45 in the morning. My flight out was for 7am. While I was tired, I wasn't yet exhausted enough to really sleep, so I decided to take a good look around the Athens Airport and see what I could learn.

Since I had just arrived, I went on out into the arrivals lounge to see what was up and running, both for the potential overnight layover and also for late-arriving travelers. This was in late summer, so off season travelers may encounter fewer options.

Facilities in the Arrivals Lounge

Travel Agencies - Both of the travel agencies, Anistorion and Pacific, were staffed and running, ready to provide hotels, transfers and other information.

Car Rental Agencies All of the car rental agencies were opened and staffed.

Food and Coffee Options The two coffee areas in the Arrivals Lounge were both open and operating.

Luggage Check There was no one at the Luggage Check at about 3am, and they appeared to be closed; I didn't recheck so it is possible the clerk was on a break.

Shopping and Entertainment To my surprise, the newsstand was operating, providing a wide range of books, newspapers, souvenirs, and travel gear.
I expected the Pharmacy by arrivals Gate 4 to be up and running, but it was closed for the night.
The Figaro Flower Club florist was open, and this turned out to be an entertainment opportunity as well. The florist had just received a batch of flowers, and was carefully trimming them bouquet by bouquet before placing them in a large glass freezer case. Collections of helium balloons gently wafting back and forth were mesmerizing as I got a little more tired.

The area in front of the closed pharmacy and opposite to the florist had been claimed by a number of overnight travelers, some stretched out on the benches, others wilting over their baggage carts. No one bothered them. In general, overnight travelers at Athens International Airport seem to be regarded as a necessary nuisance rather than as vagrants who must be kept moving.

Departures Lounge at the Athens International Airport

The Arrivals Lounge was definitely quiet, but even at 4am, the Departures Lounge was populated. Overnight sleepers were everywhere, even in brightly lit and quite public areas. Helpful hint - some of the benches in the shopping area do not have seat dividers, making this a better option than the benches in the outer part of the departure area. They are broad enough to stretch out comfortably. One man I saw used another method - he stretched out across two of the endtables at the end of the rows of benches, and seemed comfortably asleep.

Upstairs, I found the bonanza of sleeping areas - a darkened theater area near the small museum of archeological finds from the airport area. While the information video plays perpetually, if you need darkness for your overnight at the airport, this is the spot. The museum was empty of sleepers, but a hallway displaying photographs nearby sheltered several.

Facilities in the Departure Lounge

Other than the clothing shops, which were closed, many stores were open. I could have bought mastica toothpaste at 4am from the Mastica Shop, Boutari wine from the Wine Cave, Korres beauty products from the company store, and numerous books, periodicals, and travel items from several locations.

The Food Court was open, providing a variety of sandwiches, fresh pizza, possibly not so fresh sushi, and other items. The pizza was tempting but I was craving a "breakfast experience" and made my way to the McDonald's upstairs. My trick? Bought the egg sandwich and then got my beverage at the pleasant Starbucks-like "McCafe" area. The prices are regulated - my cappuccino cost exactly 1 Euro, one of the better deals I've found this time in Greece.

Shopping While shopping areas nearer the gates required that you already had a boarding pass in hand - which might not be possible if the airline desk has not opened yet - the area around the main food court was open to all. You could also make your way to the McDonald's and the nicer "McCafe" area. There are departure and arrival screens just outside, so you don't have to run back downstairs to keep informed while you wait.

Entertainment and Physical Therapy Since I did have my boarding pass, I was able to go into the area outside the B Gates and find one of my favorite things to do at the Athens Airport. I plopped into one of the 2 Euro Five-minute massage chairs - and I suspect I would not have been chased away if I'd stayed for a nap. A new "modesty screen" makes the whole area relatively cozy, and the massage, though automated, is a good deal for the price.

Now the big question - did I sleep? Yes and no. I dozed on the flat benches in the shopping area, passing my legs through my backpack strap, throwing my trusty sarong over me as a blanket (though the temperature in the airport was just right, neither too hot nor too cold - I really used it just to feel a little less exposed to the passersby) and using my jacket as a pillow. As a single woman traveling alone, I definitely felt safe enough to fall asleep - I was actually more worried that I would fall asleep so well that I might miss the anemic alarm on my cell phone and miss my flight.

While airport sleeping is never my preference, this choice worked for me and in a pinch, it might be one more option to consider in planning your trip to Greece.

Update: On my return leg, a last-minute change in travel plans gave me another short overnight at the Athens airport. That time, I did get some genuine sleep, first in the massage chairs though at one point I was aware of a security guard looking in my direction and I dropped in 2 euro for my third massage of the night. Later, I got some stretched-out sleep on one of the cherished benches without armrests. The shops were opening later as the length of my trip pushed me into October, but the airport was still busy throughout the night.
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