Travel may be one of the best things that we can do with our time (and money), but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t stressful parts! Actually being somewhere new, leisurely exploring, enjoying the local cuisine, even just relaxing on the beach - those are the parts that everyone looks forward to. The actual process of getting from wherever you are to those new places, though… that can just be a big mess.
Airports, in particular, can be horribly stressful places. Lines upon lines upon lines in a big, fluorescent-lit terminal, rushing to a gate in the hopes that the plane will still be there, dealing with check-in, security, customs, gate agents - it definitely isn’t the best part of a vacation. Even veteran travelers like to get through airports as quickly (and easily) as possible, and if you aren’t a veteran traveler, they can be a bit overwhelming at times. Even if you travel all the time, there are things you might be doing that actually make the process a little longer and more of a hassle than it needs to be. Thankfully, we’ve got some of the best things to do to get you through the airport and onto your plane with ease… and some things that you should never do (unless you like racing through the terminal, crossing your fingers that you don’t miss your flight!).
Let's start with the 15 do's of air travel...
25 Check-In Close To The First Class Lines
If you aren’t going for online check-in and don’t have any baggage to deal with, that is! If possible, get all the check-in stuff out of the way before you even hit the airport; it will save time and waiting around in lines. However, if you do choose to use the check-in desk, aim for the lines next to the first class and business class check-in. Often, if these desks are manned but there is no one waiting, the attendants will check in whoever is next - which means time saved for everyone who chose the closer ones.
24 Know Your Airline’s Baggage Policies
It only takes a few minutes to double-check the baggage policy for your airline online before hitting the airport, and it can make a huge difference. Not all airlines allow the same items (or number of items) for free, and your ticket may include two carry-on bags and one checked bag… or it may only include a handbag or laptop bag before charging fees. Knowing exactly how much you can take will mean you can pack to match - and not be that poor person trying to combine suitcases at the airport (or losing some of your holiday funds on them).
23 Weigh Your Suitcase
While checking how much you are allowed to bring, double-check carry-on measurements and the weight of any checked bags. A luggage scale is a great investment (and not a pricey one, either), and means that you won’t be guessing the weight and dealing with re-packing at the check-in desk. And ‘I brought this carry on last time’ isn’t going to fly (pun intended) with most airlines. Accepted bag sizes vary, so make sure that the carry on you bring works for the specific airline you are flying.
22 Pack Outerwear On Top
When it comes to packing a carry-on, try and wear your heaviest items - pack the flip flops and wear the hiking boots, for example. This is a good way to ensure that your checked baggage won’t tip the scales and get you an overweight fee. If you don’t have a luggage scale or if your bag is just under the wire, don’t be sure that the airline scale will read the same as yours, and pack heavier outerwear on top so that if you need to, you can just pull out one item and wear it.
21 Bring A Credit Card
Even if you are planning on using nothing but cash or debit on your trip (and we salute your debt-free style, in that case), take a credit card to the airport. You may find that there are places where debit and cash just don’t work; pay for parking, fees for baggage or flight changes, or in-air snacks if you get hungry. This is also a good idea in case the worst happens and you miss the flight and have to pay a fee to change it, or you ignored our earlier advice and got hit with an unexpected baggage fee.
20 Use The First Class Lines For Security
Some airports will provide an extra line for first and business class at security, but chances are that the TSA isn’t overly concerned about that - they just want to get everyone through the lines as efficiently as possible. Head for the shorter queues no matter your seating, or just ask if you can use it. If you are running a bit late, tell them. Most of the time the TSA will allow you through the first-class line if there is one, and you won’t have to stress about time.
19 Wear Slip-On Shoes
Speaking of security, if you can, wear slip-on shoes. While not every airport will require you to take your shoes off to get through security, many do, and having to spend ten minutes untying and retying big lace-up boots is just going to slow everyone down - including yourself. It’s also going to add to the stress, knowing that the line is being held up while you mess around with your impractical footwear. Go for shoes that you can take on and off easily instead.
18 Know What Needs To Come Off For The Scanner
Many airports will post their most up-to-date security information online, so double-check it before you get there. Make sure you know what you are (and aren’t) expected to remove to pass through security, and what is (and isn’t) allowed. Many airports around the world have different rules on coins, pocket knives, lighters, etc, and knowing what is and isn’t allowed means that you can make sure nothing will be confiscated. This also means you can plan ahead in terms of jewelry or metal belt buckles and avoid having to divest yourself of half your outfit in the line-up.
17 Start Getting Ready Mid-Way Through The Security Line-Up
To save time going through security, don’t wait until you are at the head of the line with a tray in hand to start getting ready. Transfer the contents of your pockets while in the line up (or even before you get to the airport), make sure that your electronics and liquids are at the top of your bag and easily accessible, and if you know you’ll be removing belts or jewelry, don’t wait till the last second. Tell the TSA agent about anything that you can’t remove too - as early as possible. They’ll appreciate knowing that you have a metal pin in your leg before you set off the scanner.
16 Research Layover Airports
A lot of the stress of layovers can be dealt with by leaving plenty of time between flights - but if you have a tight connection (or if you are aware your first flight may be delayed), it’s a good idea to know roughly what to expect when you land. Will you have to go through extra security or customs processes during your layover? If it’s a huge airport, will you be getting shuttle buses or transit? Have a look at an airport map, too, so you can get oriented (and to your next gate) as soon as your feet hit the ground.
15 Double Check Lounge Availability
Airline lounges are a great way to deal with some of the stress of airports, especially with longer layovers. Many lounges even have showers for those early morning layovers, as well as food and drink (without the long lines), comfy seats, wifi and more. Many people think that lounges are just for the chosen few who have member privileges, but more and more lounges are opening up to a wider range of passengers, or for those willing to pay a little extra. Have a look at what’s available before deciding that the floor by the gate is the only place you should be hanging out.
14 Check The ‘My TSA’ App
Many individual airports have their own apps that you can download before arrival, and that will help with flight updates and providing airport information and interactive maps. These can be a huge time-saver, but there are other apps to consider as well. My TSA is a great app for anyone traveling within the US and provides info on line times, flight delays, and live assistance, among other features. It’s a fantastic way to make sure security is as simple as possible.
13 Get Approved For Pre-Screening
If you travel often, consider becoming approved for security pre-screening. You can skip the long lines (and the higher risk of being ‘randomly’ searched), and it’s not as complicated a process as most people think. TSA Pre-Check (or Global Entry for a wider range of global airports). It does come at a cost ($85-100), and involves a short in-person meeting… but that appointment will be made up for time and time again as you breeze through security each time you travel.
12 Use Your Phone
Go paperless, and download your boarding pass at online check-in. Create a note on your phone with other important information, too - hotel addresses, itinerary dates, return flight info, etc. If you are asked about any of this at customs or security checks, not having to dig through your inbox will save a lot of time and stress. Use apps, and sign up for text alerts on flight delays too. Just make sure you also bring a battery pack and charger cable, so that your phone doesn’t die when you really need it!
11 If All Else Fails, Talk To Someone
If you have managed to really mess up, and are running late for your flight, don’t bother trying to politely wait in lines. There is almost always a customer service rep at the self-service check-in machines for people who struggle, and if you tell them which flight you are on and when it leaves, they will do everything they can to get you to the gate on time. It’s not something to plan for, but emergencies happen, and the airline wants you on the right plane as much as you do!
And here are the 10 things that might make you miss your flight...
10 Don’t Forget To Account For Travel Time…
By which we don’t mean the time of your flight! One of the most common ways to make sure you arrive at the airport late and stressed is to forget to leave enough time to get there in the first place. Check the estimated travel time a few days before, and make sure you do it for approximately the times you will be leaving - drive time changes a lot between 2.30 in the afternoon and the middle of rush hour! Double-check your route for roadworks, closures, and line changes on public transit, and make sure you have ready cash (or cards) for tolls and tickets.
9 Don’t Forget About The Parking Lots
When estimating travel time, don’t forget to account for the parking lot if you are planning on driving to the airport. Many airports feature park-and-ride style lots, where you may have to wait for a scheduled shuttle (which aren’t always every five minutes). The time taken to find a spot, pay, find the shuttle service, and actually take it to the terminal can also vary - and may add quite a bit of time to your trip. Parking is something that Google Maps isn’t going to take into account, either, so do your research ahead of time.
8 Don’t Lose Track Of Time At A Restaurant…
Even if you’ve left plenty of time and whizzed through security, don’t get too comfy when you are in the terminal itself. It’s a great idea to stop and get some food (which is probably going to be much better - and better value - than anything served on board the plane), but set a timer on your phone so that you don’t get too relaxed and miss your flight! Most dining options don’t have screens that show when a flight is boarding and can get quite loud, so pay attention to the time if you aren’t able to clearly hear flight announcements.
7 Neglecting To Plan For Lines To Get Food
If you are going to forgo the restaurant option and just grab some food on the go before heading to the gate, don’t forget to account for lines there too. (Lines are everywhere in airports, and there’s not a lot to do but plan for them.) Some coffee shops have apps that will allow customers to order ahead, which can be a great option if the security line is long. Otherwise, leave extra time, or bring your own snacks so that you don’t have to think about getting food in the terminal at all.
6 Wearing Headphones
It can be tempting to get to the gate, pop on some noise-canceling headphones, and just tune out while you wait for boarding to start, but this is a great way to miss important announcements like time and gate changes. Consider leaving the headphones till you are on the plane, or just putting in one earbud so you can still hear the announcements. If you absolutely can’t bear to listen to the airport noise for a single second more, ensure that you are facing the gate screen and pay attention to any changes that pop up on it.
5 Only Checking Your Gate On Your Ticket
Yes, your ticket will have your gate number on it, but gates change all the time. Airports often shuffle gates due to delays and schedule changes (and sometimes, we swear, just for the fun of it). When you get through security, double-check the gate on one of the screens, and then keep an eye on the screens at the gate itself. If you can sign up for text alerts, it’s a great backup system as well. The last thing anyone wants is to realize that their plane left while they were sitting at the wrong gate!
4 Going To Customer Service If You Are Running Late
You are running late, and you know that talking to airline staff is a great way to get through the lines faster (or get one of those little carts to speed you through the terminal). You may be right, but whatever you do, don’t go to the customer service desk. The line may not be long, but most people waiting here will take quite a long time to be served, because they are dealing with complex problems, rebookings, etc. Instead, try and find someone at the self-check-in, or go to a check-in desk for first or business class instead.
3 Waiting In Line For Customer Service
If you aren’t running late, there may be other reasons you need to deal with customer service - like flight delays and cancellations. If you are dealing with lost luggage or there is a very short line, customer service may be the way to go… but if there is a whole flight (or more) all waiting in line, it’s going to be a long wait (and the agent you deal with will be frazzled by the time you reach them). Instead, call the airline on their customer service phone line. You’ll get dealt with (and probably rebooked) faster, and you don’t have to stand in a crowd of annoyed passengers to do it.
2 Don't Bring A Bottle Of Water
Staying hydrated in transit is a great idea, but trying to bring a bottle of water through security is a terrible one. Bring an empty bottle and fill it up on the other side, rather than trying to deal with chugging it on the spot (or throwing it out and having to buy a new one). And don’t push your luck with the ‘frozen water bottle’ trick. Some agents may let that pass, but others may not - and most airports have free water fountains, anyway.
1 Don’t Make ‘Jokes’ Around Security
You may think that you are the next big thing in stand-up, but when it comes to airport security and customs, keep the punchlines to yourself. Wisecracks about bombs are especially dumb, and pretty much guaranteed to get you an interview with the TSA (and not for a job), but basically any joke about not coming home, smuggling things in your suitcase, or similar subjects is not a bright idea. Be polite, be cheerful, but be serious - because these guys are definitely going to take your ‘joke’ seriously, and that’s not fun for anyone.