I am a regular traveler from Hawaii to different countries in Asia with the majority of my trips going to Thailand. From Hawaii, there are no direct, non-stop flights to Bangkok, Thailand. I either have to go through Japan, Korea or Taiwan.
I have never booked the flight on Korean Air through Seoul because the flight times and cost are worst and the highest. I have flown through Narita Airport in Tokyo and Kansai Airport in Osaka but my preferred flight is on China Airlines via Taipei.
Prices on Japan Air and China Air are close but China usually wins out. Northwest Airlines and United also fly to Bangkok via Narita, but, I prefer to travel on Asian airlines over U.S. carriers.
The primary reason I choose China Airlines is the arrival time. All the airlines I mentioned above arrive in Bangkok right around midnight which gets me to a hotel at two or three in the morning. China Air has flights two days per week that arrive at about 4 PM and it is so much better to arrive during the day.
Let’s get back to the layovers and what to do while you are waiting. For the layover I have in Taipei, there is not much time to do anything since the layover is only about one hour. About all I have time for is a cigarette or two and then it is time to board the plane. I have no problem with this and actually prefer the short time between flights.
I have had to experience longer layovers while traveling to Bangkok flying on Japan Airlines and stopping at either Narita or Kansai. Layovers on the Bangkok flights can run four to six hours and this is longer than it takes to get from Japan to Thailand. So, what to do?
If you have your laptop, you can use the Narita airport’s internet wireless connection. It isn’t free but it only cost about 10 U.S. dollars for 24 hour access. Speed was good and it helped me kill some time chatting and checking email.
If you have enough miles and qualify to use the airline lounges you will have a very pleasant stay. These lounges in Asia cater to the businessman and have everything you need. There is TV, free internet access, food and drink (including adult beverages), newspapers and very comfortable seating. You can even sleep and tell the hostess what time to wake you up. Don’t worry. They will not forget to wake you on time. Some lounges even have shower facilities.
If you don’t qualify for the lounge, you can spend some or most of your time shopping. There are numerous duty free shops where you can get alcohol, perfume, cigarettes and some expensive brand name articles at a tax-free discount. Just make sure you can bring the liquids on your follow-on flights. I bought a bottle of vodka in Japan and had no problem bringing it to Bangkok. I forgot about the 45-minute in-country to Khon Kaen the next day and security wouldn’t let me bring it in my carry-on. They were nice enough to retrieve my luggage so that I could put it in stowed baggage. Fortunately, it did not break.
You can also sample some of the local cuisine at the airport, but be prepared to spend a bit of money. Restaurants and snack bars in Kansai and Narita can be very expensive even if you just want a hot dog and a cola. Don’t worry about having Yen as they will take U.S. dollars but you may get your change back in Japanese currency.
You can shop at some of the little shops throughout the airport and get some gifts at relatively decent prices. Small boxes of candy or snacks can be purchased for under $10. Small knick-knacks are also available.
Most of these small shops also carry a wide assortment of snacks and drinks. I don’t recommend drinking any alcohol but I highly recommend you keep hydrated and get some bottled water. You can get it at the shops or in the numerous vending machines (but you need Yen for the machines). My favorite bottled water is called Pocari Sweat. I buy it just because of the name.
Killing four to six hours at an airport can be extremely painful but you can wile away the hours on your laptop, shopping or eating. Maybe the best thing to do is diligently search for flights that have the shortest layover time. An additional six hours and a midnight arrival time can get your holiday off to a very tiring start.