Sleepless in Schiphol: A Night in Amsterdam's International Airport

I missed a flight thanks to the French air traffic control strike, so my options were sleep on a book in the airport library. It seemed like the best option.

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Photo: Steve DaSilva

A few months ago, I made my way out to Malaga, Spain to drive the Audi RS5 Competition. International travel can always come with difficulties, but after a year in this business I know the ropes fairly well — no checked bags, no long layovers, I even had my Global Entry card ready to go. Surely, I thought, I was prepared to head from JFK to AGP and back without a single hitch.

Then French air traffic control went on strike, and the whole plan came tumbling down.

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Amsterdam was my layover airport on the way home, and I was already on edge about a tight transfer through its sprawling halls. But when delays out of Spain meant I missed every flight from Schiphol to New York for the day, I had the opposite issue — all the time in the world to wander, gawk, and peruse. With an early-morning flight the next day, and my passport already stamped out of Amsterdam, there was only one thing I couldn’t do: Leave.

Do you remember going to hotels as a kid? When the most fun thing in the world was to run through those identical floors, feeling the cheap carpet under your besocked feet? That’s the feeling you get when you’re stuck in an international airport, in a country you’ve never been to, with no sense of urgency to get around. It’s a truly liminal space in a very freeing way, allowing you to simply exist in this anonymous mass.

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It can also be incredibly uncomfortable.

If you ever find yourself sleeping in an airport, go buy a neck pillow or something. Don’t try to use a wood armrest as your headrest for the night, and definitely don’t try to sleep under bright airport lights with your glasses on. Genuinely not sure what I was thinking there.

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Beyond assaults on your own bodily comfort, however, it seems there’s no much you can do wrong when sleeping in an airport. After all, you and everyone else in the terminal are all stuck in the same, odd situation — there’s an unspoken understanding that nothing within these circumstances can be weird. Whether you’re brushing your teeth in the bathroom sink, or buying yourself the largest chocolate bar you can find, you won’t be judged.

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I can’t say sleeping in Schiphol Airport’s library, on a too-small loveseat, was the most comfortable thing I’ve ever done. But I can, without question, say it’s a freeing thing — a way to untether yourself from the constraints of daily life and simply exist for a night. Give it a shot sometime, you may just find it’s worth the neck pain.