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A sunset landing is always a treat, but what about a night at the airport? – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Even for the most enthusiastic air travel aficionados, the idea of an overnight layover probably sounds awful.

Airports, after all, are an awkward place to spend the night. Hotels by the terminal can be overpriced and uninspiring. Getting into the city isn’t always a realistic option. Transit lounges aren’t always open 24/7, and even if they are, there’s no guarantee that you’ll find a cozy spot to hunker down.

For these reasons and more, overnight layovers are anathema for the business traveler elite. But for flyers looking for dirt-cheap tickets, they are sometimes a necessary evil.

But hey, we AvGeeks are an adventurous bunch, right? I figured there must be at least a tolerable way to make it from sunset to sunrise without leaving the airport. And with summer travel plans that would place me overnight at Tokyo Haneda for not just one night, but three, I had the chance to put that guess to the test.

Could there be such a thing as a good overnight layover? Join me for my three nights at Haneda – each spent very differently – to find out.

Off we go!

A beautiful day and location for a run - Photo: John Huston

A beautiful day and location for a run – Photo: John Huston

It is said that if you’re running around on the fifth runway at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (ATL) you’re having a very bad day. Either your plane has just crashed or you’re about to be arrested and sent to jail for a very long time. Or… maybe there’s something else going on that has the makings of a very good day.

I had the opportunity to run The Mayor’s 5K on the 5th Runway at ATL on August 27. The race is an annual fundraiser for the United Way of Greater Atlanta, hosted by Mayor Kasim Reed and sponsored by Delta Air Lines among others. It’s the one day a year where mere mortals, like me, can be out there laying down shoe rubber in the same place where the big jets lay down tire rubber—without getting arrested.

On your mark... - Photo: John Huston

On your mark… – Photo: John Huston

This is the third year for the race. I hadn’t heard about it until recently, but once I did, there was no way I could resist the chance to participate.
There was one sort of catch, however. The race had to be over and the runway completely cleared by 8:00 a.m. You know, so the planes could land and stuff. Which means things began very, very early.

An ANA 787-8 made a graceful landing as it arrived from Tokyo's Narita International Airport (NRT) during the 2016 FOD walk.

An ANA 787-8 made a graceful landing as it arrived from Tokyo’s Narita International Airport (NRT) during the 2016 FOD walk

FOD (foreign object debris) is the scourge of airport operations. FOD includes the mundane as well as the unusual: baggage-claim tickets, random bits of plastic, airplane parts, dead animals, rocks, and clumps of loose dead vegetation. Keeping runways and taxiways clear of FOD is a seemingly never-ending battle; airports’ operations areas are festooned with signs both warning of the dangers of FOD and reminding airport personnel to constantly be watching for, and picking up, such trash.

Items as seemingly innocuous as a scrap of plastic hold the potential to damage an aircraft.

Items as seemingly innocuous as a scrap of plastic hold the potential to damage an aircraft

According to a 2013 FAA fact sheet, “FOD can be ingested in an aircraft engine, which can result in damage to the aircraft or cause an accident. It can damage or become lodged in aircraft operating mechanisms or cut aircraft tires. Boeing estimates that FOD causes an estimated $4 billion in damage to engines and aircraft taken out of service each year.”

Wikipedia’s entry on FOD claims the total is significantly higher, citing a now-offline 2008 report claiming $13 billion in direct and indirect costs to the aviation industry as a whole. In either instance, FOD damage is very expensive, and it makes sense that every airport have a FOD management plan.

Austrian Airlines A321-100 "Pinzgau" - Photo: Alastair Long | AirlineReporter

Austrian Airlines A321-100 “Pinzgau” – Photo: Alastair Long | AirlineReporter

Following a five-day trip to Austria, my son and I flew back from Vienna International Airport (VIE) to London Heathrow (LHR) in economy on Austrian Airlines — flight OS455. We had sampled a serious amount of wiener schnitzel over the last few days and that was important; we had to bench test Austrian’s own wiener schnitzel on the way home.

The airline’s slogan is “We fly for your smile,” and we were hoping to find lots of smiles.

We Fly For Your Smile - Austrian Business Lounge reception at Gate F - Photo: Bo Long | AirlineReporter

We Fly For Your Smile – Austrian Business Lounge reception at Gate F – Photo: Bo Long | AirlineReporter

We arrived at VIE and made directly for Austrian’s short-haul business lounge at Gate F in Terminal 3 — courtesy of the airline. The friendly receptionist found us on her list and gave my son an Austrian branded set of aircraft Mega Trumpf (top trumps) cards – we didn’t even need to fly for his first smile.