9 Actions You Can Take to Survive the Airport

Sometimes it seems like a minor miracle if you can make it from the airport doors to your seat on the plane without being searched, patted down, waiting in an exorbitantly long line, having your gate changed, being charged a fee, or a host of other annoyances. There are many things at the airport that are beyond your control, but taking charge of the things you can do to create a non-aggravating experience may help. These 12 tips will show you how to do just that.

Arrive early: It sounds so obvious, but many people don’t do it, putting themselves through unnecessary stress. Arriving at the airport early starts long before you get in the car, though. It involves packing ahead of time, taking care of anything you need to do at home well before you leave, and thinking about what kind of weather and traffic you’ll likely encounter on the drive and at what time you need to leave the house to get to the airport early under those conditions. Then, if you’re a slowpoke and you need to leave the house at noon, plan to leave at 11 and you might actually make it out the door by noon.

When you get to the airport early, it won’t matter if the woman in front of you in the security checkpoint line takes 10 minutes and 5 of those plastic tubs to get out her laptop, take off her knee-high leather boots, remove her gigantic coat, find all the liquids in her bag, shove them in an airport-provided quart Ziploc, and explain to the screening agent that she can’t put her Chihuahua on the conveyor belt. With an ample time cushion, you can be amused instead of angered by these sort of delays if they arise, and avoid all the stress of possibly missing your flight.

Think small: Make sure your carry-on luggage is small enough that you won’t get hassled about it and that you can easily lift it in and out of the overhead bin. It’s a gigantic pain to have to repack or check your carry-on after you get to the airport because airline employees or security staff won’t let you through with your luggage. It’s also a gigantic pain to drop your suitcase on your head when you’re trying to get it in and out of the airplane storage bins (and a lawsuit waiting to happen if you drop it on someone else’s).

Don’t check luggage: You can shorten your total travel time by an hour if you don’t have to wait in line to check in luggage and hang around by the conveyor belt after your flight. You also won’t have to worry about your luggage getting lost, and you’ll have a lot less weight to carry. If I can travel to Europe in winter for 10 days with three pairs of shoes and not check a bag, you can leave the giant wheeled suitcase at home, too. If you simply must have a large amount of luggage, check out FedEx’s door-to-door luggage service. With the prices airlines charge for checked luggage these days, FedEx’s fees might make sense.

Check in online: It’s not always possible when you’re on vacation, but whenever you can, you should check in online and print your boarding pass before you leave for the airport. Not all airports have automated check-in kiosks, so you can really save yourself some time and hassle by being able to go straight to security. If you’re the type who loses things easily, you can print several copies of your boarding pass at home and put them in different places in your luggage so you’ll have one when you need it.

Familiarize yourself with the rules: Read FAA regulations and baggage restrictions ahead of time to make sure you don’t get any nasty surprises at the airport. The rules about things like baggage weight seem to change so frequently these days that you might want to review the rules again before each trip. When you’re in compliance, you won’t have to deal with getting your luggage searched, getting things confiscated, paying unwanted fees, or having to check baggage you wanted to carry on–or feeling any of the stress and anger that can come with these events.

Pack wisely: Pack your carry-on liquids properly ahead of time so you don’t have to worry about it at the airport, and put them in an easy-to-access part of your bag because you’ll have to put them in a bin separately to go through security. The same goes for anything else that has to be checked at the airport, like your driver’s license, the boarding pass you printed at home, and your laptop.

Get tips specific to your trip: Flyertalk’s bulletin boards are a great source of specific tips for flying. You can learn things like how to rack up frequent flyer miles, the pros and cons of specific airlines, how the airport you’re connecting through is laid out, where to recharge your laptop, which airplanes have the most legroom, and how to reduce your travel costs.

Dress appropriately: Wearing drawstring or elastic-waist pants will ease your trip through security and make sitting in that cramped seat in coach a little more comfortable. Don’t you feel undignified taking your belt on and off in public (especially if it is, in fact, holding up your pants) or getting patted down because you set off the metal detector? Plus, there are already so many things to worry about that you might as well cut down on the number of issues you have to deal with. If you need to look nice when you arrive at your destination, just change in the bathroom’s handicapped stall after you land. Also, wear shoes that are easy to take on and off, and make sure you’re wearing socks so you don’t have to go barefoot on the grimy airport floor.

Don’t wait at your gate: There’s no need to start being annoyed by the people on your flight before you’re even on the plane. Also, while your departure area will probably be cramped with everyone else waiting for your flight, there will often be plentiful seating at a nearby gate, allowing you to enjoy a few minutes of personal space and quiet instead of sitting on the floor next to some overly-energetic kids because there are no seats left in your gate area. Just make sure to pay close attention to the time, because you usually can’t hear the boarding announcements for your flight if you’re sitting at the wrong gate.

Try some of these ideas, if not all of them, the next time you fly, and the airport gods just might smile down on you.

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5 Responses to 9 Actions You Can Take to Survive the Airport

  1. Erica says:

    I am surprised to see that nothing was mentioned about bringing your own food, or empty bottles to fill up at water fountains. Most airlines (with the exception of the wonderful Jet Blue) is charging something for snacks, and after delays and frustration, even when they are expensive, they are tempting. Also, bringing your own headphones may save you from having to purchase some cheapies from their airline. That is of course, if they don’t charge you for the movie or “in flight entertainment.”

  2. baselle says:

    I think “prison” when I travel to the airport – no belt, no metal, slip on shoes, no valuables, ziploc bag of mini-toiletries, carry only the necessities. Organization and the checklist is vital. At least a week before, at home I set up a travel pile – the carry on bag, the passport (if applicable), plane ticket, clothes/shoes for the trip (solid colors, no branding), iGo adaptors for any electronics, Ziploc travel bag, money belt, etc. I add and subtract as I think of things, then I pack from the pile.

    And I would make the case of debriefing yourself and what you packed after your trip. If you did not use an item multiple times, you either didn’t need it or you might want to consider buying a small amount of it when you get there.

  3. Hilary says:

    One of the best tricks I learned this year is to program the customer service number for your airline in your phone. Then, if there is a delay or cancellation, you can call that number instead of waiting in line at the ticket counter. Just two days ago my flight was cancelled and I was able to rebook the flight and leave the airport within 10 minutes. It’s truly the best way to go about it, because the people on the phone are not stressed out by angry travelers, so they are much more calm and able to help you!

  4. crazyliblady says:

    I agree about the bringing of food, but for a different reason. I am allergic to milk, so sometimes finding something in an airport that I know I can eat is impossible. I bring along one of those tuna salad kits, a piece of fruit, and trail mix. I buy something to drink at the airport and I am all set. It’s also a lot cheaper to bring food that to pay a lot for a sandwich in an airport.

  5. Jenn says:

    Helpful tips, but I have to disagree with the last. Staying close to your gate can be a necessity in the case of a gate change and/or cancellation. If you don’t hear the announcement, it can ruin a trip!

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