Raise your hand if you love travel, but not always traveling.
So, not just me, then.
Airports are busier than ever, and between staffing shortages, ever-changing health requirements, and some staff just seeming to have woken up on the wrong side of the bed, the airport is my least favorite part of the journey.
Here are 7 suggestions to reduce or eliminate hassles at the airport -- aside from showing up nice & early (at least 2 hours before a domestic flight, or 3 hours prior to an international flight).
1. Sign up for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry
If you travel more than about once a year, this is well worth the time to apply and (for Global Entry) go in for an interview). Plus, it’s good for 5 years.
Being able to cruise through security at over 200 US airports with TSA PreCheck is darn-near delightful. It seems that more people are wising up to this tip, as the TSA PreCheck lines are getting longer (I had to wait behind 20 people last time), but it’s still miles better than the regular line.
Global Entry is your secret door when you return to the US via 55+ participating airports (and even as you arrive into a few select international airports).
Instead of waiting in line to give your paper customs form to an officer, you go to a kiosk, answer those questions on the screen, and it spits out a receipt that you give to the officer collecting them as you leave the immigrations area.
Don’t forget: the Global Entry program includes enrollment into TSA PreCheck, so that’s kindof a two-fer.
I have a whole separate article on this, if you’ve got 5 more minutes.
2. Check your Flight Status
It seems like an obvious thing, but you’d be surprised....
Find out if your flight is still predicted to be “on time”, if there are any weather delays or warnings, or if <heaven forbid> there has been a cancellation.
I tend to double up on this:
First, make sure you’ve downloaded your airline’s smartphone app, and get signed in. When you have your frequent flyer number applied to your booking (why wouldn’t you? -- costs you nothing), they will know who you are, and can send you alerts on the app (if you’ve opted in for notifications).
Second, you can use Google to help keep an eye on the flight (handy for friends and family watching your arrival, as well).
In the search bar of Google, type the airline’s 2-letter code and the flight number.
Try it: see what the status of UA57 is for today -- or tomorrow. Or what it was yesterday.
Sometimes, one is updated before the other, so checking both can be useful.
Add the phone numbers for your airline, travel insurance company and travel advisor into your cell phone so that you can quickly reach someone if there is a flight delay/cancellation. While everyone else is waiting in line at the gate, you can have someone on the phone working on your behalf to fix the issue.
3. Check-In Online
Overall, this is one of my top recommendations for air travel. It may not save you time (unless you’re not checking any bags*), but it can certainly save some hassle.
By checking in as early as you’re allowed, you have the best choice of seats (if you haven’t already been able to select your preferred spot). Some airlines could take your reserved seat assignment away if you have not checked in prior to the flight, especially on a highly overbooked flight.
One caveat, that might make you decide to delay check in: during especially busy, or rapidly-changing times, it might be prudent to NOT check in super-early. Once you click that check-in button, your reservation locks in, making any last-minute changes harder (and longer, since most will require a phone call). So if you think there’s any chance you might need to change your plans, hold off on checking in.
*If you are NOT checking any bags, online check-in means you can avoid the whole kiosk/counter area at the airport when you arrive. Just look at the monitors for your departure gate, and head to the security line.
4. Prepare your Documents!
Before you get in line for check-in, bag check or the security line at the airport, be sure you have all the items and documentation you will need, actually in your hand.
Driver’s license or passport
Boarding pass from your online check-in (or confirmation code)
Credit card if you are paying to check any luggage (this will be easier and faster to take care of online, though).
And that is for EVERY MEMBER OF YOUR PARTY. One person can present the IDs for the whole group to the agent (everyone still needs to be there, of course). The airline agent and the folks behind you in line will be grateful.
If you’re traveling internationally, you may not have received your boarding pass before you get to the airport -- that’s because they may want to have an agent actually verify your passport.
5. Weigh your Luggage
How heavy is that bag, anyway?
Find out BEFORE you reach the drop-off point. You can check at home using a bathroom scale (hold your luggage and check your total weight, then set the luggage down and check your weight again, then find the difference). Or invest in a handheld luggage scale -- they’re about $12, very small to store, and much cheaper than paying for an overweight bag.
If nothing else, many airports have scales in the check-in areas.
Sidenote: Yes, the weight being put onto the plane is all the same whether it’s in 1 bag or 2, but the airport luggage crew has safety issues to think about -- that’s why there’s a limit.
6. Survive Security Screenings
While you’re waiting in line (hopefully a short one because you were smart and signed up for TSA PreCheck), stow everything in your carry-on except for your ID and boarding pass.
Keys. Cash. Kleenex. Chapstick. Anything that might make the security monitor agent wonder “what is that?”.
Phone (unless you are using it for an electronic boarding pass, in which case, just send it through in a bin).
And please check that your water bottle is actually empty. Otherwise you’ll be pulled aside and have to empty it or abandon it, go back through the line, and your partner will remind you of this Every. Single. Time. You. Travel.
When you hit those bins, quickly remove your shoes**, take your laptop and liquids bag out of your carry-on and place them in the bins. Place your carry-on directly on the belt…take a deep breath, smile and proceed.
Keeping a positive attitude is key here. Those TSA screeners don't enjoy it any more than you do.
** Another advantage to having TSA PreCheck: shoes stay on, laptops stay in, liquids stay in your carry-on, light jackets stay on. SO much less hassle!!!
7. On The Other Side
You made it! Check-in, security, all done. Now double-check the departure monitors again to make sure your gate hasn’t changed. Walk directly to your gate to make sure everything is still accurate and on time. Then you can venture off to get something to eat, fill up your water bottle, and visit the restroom.
Stay within range of your gate as much as possible so you can hear any last-minute announcements like gate changes or delays. Most of all, keep your cool. You will be on that plane very soon winging above the clouds to your destination.
Above all: don't forget to pack lots of patience and an oversize sense of humor. Weighs nothing, super-valuable.
Ready to book a trip somewhere so you can practice these tips?
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