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Hotel of last resort: The airport

By Allan Chernoff, CNN
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'Sweet dreams' at the airport
  • Airports are increasingly offering amenities for overnight guests
  • New York's LaGuardia Airport hosted overnight guests during seven storms over winter
  • Blankets, pillows and food vouchers are among items offered to stranded travelers

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(CNN) -- You're at an airport late at night. The flight home has been canceled. Nearby hotels are all booked. What can you do?

Airports these days are trying to make the best out of the nightmare scenario of wishing passengers "sweet dreams" in the terminal. Yes, airports are doubling as hotels.

Asad Mobin, unable to fly to Chicago, slept on a cot at New York's LaGuardia Airport on December 27 during the post-Christmas blizzard along with 250 other stranded passengers.

"It's not too bad," Mobin said at the time, sitting on his bed for the night in a passageway between the main terminal and a parking lot.

Travelers received blankets, pillows, paper sheets and pillow cases, water and $10 vouchers for food. The airport even keeps diapers and baby food on hand.

The "Hotel LaGuardia," as airport General Manager Thomas Bosco calls it, has put up "guests" during seven storms over the winter.

"Our air passengers, they're the life blood of our business here at the airport, even if they're the direct passengers or customers of the airlines. And so it's very important for us to take care of them," Bosco said.

"It's not that we have all the accouterments of a five-star hotel, but we do provide the basics for an overnight stay that will at least make it tolerable for our passengers until they can get out."

Similar emergency accommodations are available at Boston's Logan International Airport and at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, where the "amenity package" includes a toothbrush and toothpaste as well as some restaurants remaining open 24 hours.

"The cots are set up past security checkpoints so they are secure," said Karen Pride, spokeswoman for the Chicago Department of Aviation. "All of this is to make passengers more comfortable."

Impromptu hotels are appearing not just in cold-weather cities. Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport has cots and "comfort zones" with super-size seats that can be a decent place to catch some Z's overnight.

"Assuming you're going to spend the night with us, we're going to turn ourselves into a little hotel," said James Crite, executive vice president of operations at the Dallas Fort-Worth airport. "If you're going to be here, let's make it the best experience we can for you."

Airlines are quicker than ever to cancel flights when bad weather's on the way. That keeps many people with travel plans at home. But for those trying to return home from a business trip -- or make a connection -- airport accommodations can ease the frustration of not being able to fly.

Just ask Antonio Christopher Video who was stranded for not one -- but five -- nights during his recent marathon round-trip vacation from London to the Caribbean.

"It is military style. You have to go commando like Rambo. It's hard. But it doesn't really bother me. I'm used to it," Christopher said after his ordeal.

Travelers are getting used to it overseas as well. Last April's volcanic ash cloud paralyzed 313 airports, according to Airports Council International, stranding thousands. During a six-day travel suspension, Frankfurt Airport provided amenities -- from food that included Asian and African meals to bathing facilities.

"A shuttle bus was provided to transport transit passengers to Fraport's gym, where they could use the shower facilities," said Anne Reinhardt-Lehmann, who works in customer relations for Fraport, owner and manager of Frankfurt Airport.

Nobody is happy about airports becoming hotels. But the reality of flying these days is that sometimes you just can't get where you want to go, when you want to get there.