How to make the best of a late night flight


David Whitley departs Washington DC at 10.30pm, and hits upon a strategy for making the best of the day before

It’s difficult to know what to do before a late flight. Planes that take off long after darkness has fallen are something of a nuisance. This is largely because you have to check out of your hotel way before you need to go to the airport.

It creates a series of problems. None are massive, but all are slightly annoying. First, you’ve got your bags to deal with. You really don’t want to lug them around with you all day, but leaving them at the hotel means you have to traipse back to the hotel before going to the airport. You can’t venture too far from the hotel, sadly.

Then there’s the issue of getting horribly hot and sticky all day before having to sit on the plane in grim, sweaty clothes that needed a change hours ago.

It took a trip to Washington DC for me to work out the solution to this problem. Washington Dulles Airport is 26 miles west of the city. There’s no direct train link, so getting there from the city either involves an almighty faff with buses, trains and interchanges or an unpleasantly expensive taxi ride. If the fare comes in under $60, you’ve got very lucky.



So on my last night, I decided to test a theory. Would it be possible to hire a car for the day from somewhere near the hotel, then drop it off at the airport? And if so, how much would it cost?

The good news? It is possible. The bad news? It cost $81 including a SatNav or $66 without. That’s quite pricy for getting to the airport – especially if you have to top up on fuel before dropping the car off.

But when the flight’s at 10.30pm, it’s not about just getting to the airport. It’s about getting to the airport after spending the day visiting things that would be tricky to get to by public transport. I could have a proper explore, go to the Arlington National Cemetery, Mount Vernon, the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site or frankly wherever else I wanted within a reasonable driving distance.

That suddenly makes financial sense – it’s a transfer to the airport AND a day tour round things I wouldn’t otherwise get to. Hell, I could have just spent the day in a theme park had I wanted to.

There was also no need to get back to the hotel – I had my luggage in the boot and could get at it all any time I wanted to. And the most crucial things in there were swimming trunks, goggles and a towel.

The second strand to the genius plan involved a little online research the night before. Guidebooks, largely for good reason, don’t make a habit of listing public swimming pools that are quite near the airport. But a quick Google Maps search located a couple. And, at about six o’clock following a long, roasting hot day walking around in the sun, I went for a swim at a particularly unremarkable leisure centre.

A shower afterwards, a change into the clothes I planned to wear on the plane, and the issue of flying for seven hours in sweat-caked pants and a stinking shirt was neatly dealt with. An air-conditioned drive to the airport, and air-conditioning once in the airport. Beautiful.

This tactic won’t work everywhere of course – I really wouldn’t fancy trying to drive to the airport in Bangkok, for example. But it’s certainly worth considering – and can turn a problem into an opportunity.