How to make your airport experience the best it can be!
Getting from the ticket counter, to dropping off your bag, to the security line, to the boarding gate can sometimes be time consuming and stressful. Even if you sail through the lines, there are things you can do to make the best use of your time, and money, at the airport. Here are some tips on making it through the airport and onto your plane, with as little hassle as possible.
Download Your Airline/Airport App - Using your airline carrier’s app is important not just at the airport, but also before you get there. Most carriers have apps you can download on your smartphone that will alert you if your flight is delayed or canceled, even before you leave for the airport. Once there, the information on the app is often more up-to-date than the arrival-departure screens in the terminal. I’ve even had times when I’ve went to the ticket counter to reschedule a canceled flight and they didn’t know yet that it had been cancelled. Plus, more and more airports have developed apps that help you easlily navigate the terminals with maps, lists of services, etc. Some of the apps also keep you informed on your baggage – that it’s been loaded on the plane or where it’s at if it didn’t make it to the same airport you’re at!
Always try to check in online before your flight - Within 24 hours of your flight, you will be able to check-in. Unless you have some kind of problem that can’t be resolved ahead of time, or you just aren’t able to get internet, you should be checking in online. Use the phone app or go online. If you check-in and don’t have any luggage to drop off, you can skip the counter and head straight to the security line. Also, based on what type of ticket you purchased, some airlines only let you choose a seat when you check in so if you’re flying on one of these, you’ll want to check in and choose your seat as soon as possible.
Get TSA Precheck - If you fly more than just a few times a year, you’ll want to apply for TSA Precheck or if you fly a lot on international flights, you’ll want to consider getting Global Entry. The precheck lines are usually shorter than the regular lines and because you don’t remove your shoes, laptop, and liquids, the lines move much quicker and you’re not likely to leave anything behind as you scramble to get to your gate. You’ll need to fill out the application and pay the nonrefundable fee, then schedule an appointment at one of the enrollment centers. That may sound like a lot of work, but they are good for five years and worth the price in saved time and frustration.
Take Food or Snacks with You - It’s no secret that airport food, whether from a grab-and-go vendor or a sit-down restaurant, comes with a hefty price tag—and the only value-add is that it’s convenient. Plus if you get held up in the TSA line and get squeezed for time, a sandwich, chips, cookies, and fruit in your carry-on can save the day. Most food is allowed, except for liquids like salad dressings, soups, yogurt, etc. If in doubt, check the TSA’s website for prohibited food items.
Wear the Right Clothing - I dress for comfort on the plane but I also dress to get through the TSA line faster. Even if you have TSA Precheck, there will be times when those lines are closed and you end up in the regular lines, unpacking your laptop, taking off your shoes and belt, and digging out the liquids – especially in the smaller airports. It pays to play it safe by eliminating anything that could set off the alarms when going through the body scanner - like chunky jewelry, your belt or your watch. Keep your footwear simple, too, with shoes that are quick and easy to get on and off. And try to wear socks – it’s much more sanitary!
Take Advantage of Courtesy Checked Bags at the Gate - After airlines started charging for checked bags and implemented weight limits, everyone started flying with a carry-on. It used to be that we all stuffed our checked bags full so we didn’t have to hassle with carrying around all this “stuff” when we fly. But that has all changed in the last few years. The airlines now have problems getting everyone’s carry-ons in the overhead bins and you can often check your carry-on at the gate for no charge. I’ve run across this numerous times, especially on domestic flights that are full and overhead bin space is at a premium.
The gate agent will make an announcement asking for volunteers to check their carry-ons. I just make sure the things I need on the plane can fit in my backpack under my seat. They also don’t allow things such as lithium batteries, e-cigarettes, etc to be in a checked bag so your backpack or personal items also has to be able to hold those items. This means I have one less bag to carry around which is particularly helpful if you have a short layer for a connecting flight. I don’t have to lug that extra bag around the airport, it will be on the baggage claim when I reach my destination and I didn’t pay extra to check it.
Play Nice - It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. You’re going to need someone’s help. It could be a problem of your own making, or of the airline’s, but it almost never pays to be angry, indignant, or whiny. Patience and a smile goes a long way when it comes to interacting with other people such as gate attendants, flight attendants, TSA agents, and even your fellow travelers. I’ve seen overweight bags let through with no fee, seat upgrades given, and special favors accommodated simply because someone was nice. And even if you don’t end up getting what you want (or need), you know you went about it in the best possible way and your stress levels stay low!
Consider Buying a Pass to the Airport Lounge - If you’re not an elite flyer, or aren’t enrolled in a credit card that offers this perk, the world of airport lounges can seem like a pricey, exotic indulgence. But there are occasions—most notably if you have a long international layover—that it’s worth buying a day pass to your carrier’s airport lounge. The fees I’ve seen run between $25-$60 but it gives you a quiet place to rest. It also includes Wi-Fi, surprisingly good food, and a generous array of beverages, including beer, wine and some liquors. Most U.S. airlines charge $50 to $60 for a day pass, which is a good chunk of change, but not paying for food and drinks at an airport restaurant helps offset a good part of that cost.
Sending Personal Information Over the Airport Wi-Fi - Thankfully, more airports are acknowledging that free Wi-Fi isn’t just a convenience for travelers, it’s a necessity. And that’s a good thing! But never forget that “free” doesn’t mean “safe”: Public Wi-Fi networks aren’t secure, so whatever you do, don’t type in personal information—passwords, IDs, etc.—or you could return from your trip only to find that your Facebook has been hacked and your bank account is suddenly a lot lower.
Not Marking Your Luggage – You’re finally there and all that’s left is to grab your luggage from baggage claim. One by one here they come, an endless stream of suitcases that all look alike. Mark yours with something bright such as ribbons or bright colored tags/straps. You’ll be able to spot your bags quickly and be on your way. And put more than 1 tag on your checked bag – put one on the side handle and one on the top handle. Your bags are tossed around and not handled nicely. If a tag should be pulled off, they can still identify who it belongs too.
I’ve fly all the time and find these suggestions to be the best advise I can give you. I hope these hints help with your next journey. Happy travels!