Updated May 13, 2021: The content of this blog post still applies to learning how to be airport-savvy. What’s changed? COVID…and the restrictions that are going to remain in place for awhile. Just as airport security changed after 9/11–remember when we used to be able to meet passengers as they got off the plane?–the pandemic is altering our air travel behavior.
As a traveler, it’s your responsibility to know and follow all regulations. Stay-up-to-date with these websites: Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Certainly you know to check with your airline for its specific requirements.
Now…back to being Airport-Savvy…
No matter our travel style, when we’re trying to get somewhere, there’s one thing we can all probably agree on: Airports are a necessary evil. It’s not that they try to be difficult…at least, I don’t think so. So, the sooner we become airport-savvy, the less stressed we’ll be. And the sooner we can enjoy our adventure. Are you with me?
“There are those airports which make you feel better, and there are those airports that, when you go there, your heart sinks: you can’t wait to get out of there. They both function as airports, but it’s the things that you can’t measure that make them different.” –Norman Foster
Mr. Foster makes an excellent point. We can’t always control which airports we’ll use–some destinations have only one. I happen to enjoy big, busy airports…they’re trickier to maneuver, but more vibrant and interesting. Some of you love small airports; they’re a breeze to manage and you’re fine settling down with a good book while waiting for your flight. When we know how to be airport-savvy, it doesn’t matter…as they say, we’ll just bloom where we’re planted!
Learning to be airport-savvy starts before you leave home
- Know where the airport is–and the travel time to get there. Yep, this is pretty basic, but if you haven’t used your airport recently, or are returning home from an unfamiliar airport, you need to know the best way to get there and how long it will take. Whether you’re using public transportation, a taxi, or a friend is driving, look it up. Is there construction? How do travel times vary during the day? What terminal is your flight? Where are passengers dropped off? If need be, print out the map and directions.
- Have absolute proof of your boarding pass. Two choices here: If you’re using a device to scan at security and the gate, take a screenshot of it and save it in your photos. Now you don’t have to rely on internet or the airline’s app. If you still love hardcopy–many of us do–print it out before you leave. Some airlines charge if you print it at the airport.
- Dress appropriately. I’m not talking about high-fashion…those days are gone. I’m referring to two things: First, consider what will make it easy to walk through the x-ray machine. No “heavy metal” jeans or shoes that take forever to get off and on. Keep it simple. Second, you’ll want to look well-groomed when you go through Customs. First impressions count–don’t give the Immigration Officer any reason to ask extra questions or even detain you.
How to manage the dreaded security queue
- Zip through security. The easiest way is to join one of the government’s Trusted Traveler Programs. If you’re departing from a U.S. airport, at least get TSA Pre✓. It’s $85 for five years. I think Global Entry is absolutely the best choice–$100 for five years of hassle-free domestic and international travel. Land, Air, and Sea. But the You’ll head straight to the TSA Pre✓ lane, keep your shoes on, leave your devices and liquids in your bag, and sometimes even get a smile from the screener.
- Bring an extra quart-sized baggie. Twenty years after 9/11, the 3-1-1 rule is still with us. You will already have filled yours when you packed–and of course, it’s easy to pull out when the time comes. But, once you’re at your destination, those liquids and gels don’t need to be constrained and the baggie can get lost. Just bring an extra for your trip home. Bring a few–others will thank you.
- Don’t wait to be told. It never fails: Someone has to be told to take off shoes, scarf, watch, jewelry, etc. They leave their phone in their pocket and their full water bottle in their backpack. Just assume that you have to strip down to your top and bottom. And never question the security person–they didn’t make up the rule.
- Follow the suits. Want to get through the line more quickly? Avoid following families–kids slow things down. (If you want to go slowly, feel free to join that line!) If you get the chance, size up the lanes and look for people who know what they’re doing. Now THAT’S how to be airport-savvy!
You did it! Now that you’ve been declared safe…
- Find your departure gate. Airports can be huge and not laid out logically; gates can be tucked into mysterious places. Security can be spread out far and wide; TSA Pre-Checks can be in a special area, so when you enter the terminal, you may be in for a hike. Do yourself a favor and locate the gate before setting off to eat or explore.
- Set your alarm. Depending on how much time you have before your flight, you may want to wander away from the boarding area. Go for it! Just set the alarm on your device to allow ample time to return to the gate for departure. You’d be surprised how people lose track of time. It can be fun to browse the shops or enjoy a relaxing drink. Airports are notorious for not having clocks everywhere…you’d think you were in a Las Vegas casino!
- Look around–everytime! Whether you use the restroom, stop for a bite, leave your seat at the boarding area, whatever–always check that you have your belongings. Always! When you’re in an unfamiliar setting, your normal routine gets disrupted. There is no greater shock and disappointment than to realize you left your phone/credit card/ticket in the stall or at the bar.
These airport tips may seem incredibly simple…and once you include them in your travel routine, you won’t even remember back when you used to wonder why the start and end of your journey seemed so challenging.
More flying travel tips? Sure!