We fly more than ever these days; we wait in uncomfortably long security lines more than ever, too. Figuring out how to get through the airport faster feels like an urgent necessity as you linger in your socks, waiting for your bag to be returned to you by a TSA inspector.
But, waiting isn’t the only thing you want to avoid when navigating airports. There’s circling the parking lot a hundred times, having your flight delayed repeatedly, and exceeding the weight restrictions for luggage, among other annoying things.
As Annie Lindseth, a professional airport planner, says, “By the time you choose a flight, some key aspects of your experience are set in stone. Make sure these choices are deliberate.”
With this in mind, I searched the online forum Quora.com to find travel experts who consider airports their second home. Here are their top pieces of advice.
1. Pick a favorite airline and stick to it
This will help gain you priority assistance when it comes to rescheduling a flight; access to free food, drinks, and showers in some airport lounges; and the best help from gate staff in dealing with cancellations due to things like the weather.
2. Park a little farther away to save time
Prashanth Rajendran, an “airlines junkie,” has this advice: “If you are renting a car, check prices in non-airport locations as they may not have airport concession charges. You are better off taking a cab to the rental car location than an endless wait for the shuttle.”
3. Sign up for the TSA PreCheck and/or Global Entry
TSA PreCheck is a screening program run by the Transportation Security Administration. You have to pay $85 to sign up for five years, but by enrolling you allow TSA to verify that you are a low-risk traveler.
By being low-risk, you’re able to get into special (faster) security lines at airports; you can keep your shoes on; and you can keep your laptop packed during screening.
Global Entry provides the same benefits, as well as faster Customs and Border Control screening when you’re traveling internationally. Another program that speeds you past lines at some airports is CLEAR. It costs $179 for the year, plus $50 for each additional family member.
4. Make sure your bags meet the weight and size requirements before you get to the airport
Who wants to stand around bickering with airport personnel about this? Some people have actually taken to wearing multiple layers of winter clothing, in order to avoid adding the weight onto their bags. For those of us who would rather not do that, it’s better to check the airline’s exact restrictions on their website before you pack, then leave some things at home.
5. Use the stairs when exiting international flights/immigration
Robert Fitt, who has visited more than 35 countries, suggests this interesting tip. He says:
Most people take the escalators or elevators. Most staircases are empty. I pick up my hand luggage and quickly move past 100 people slowing trundling down the escalator. This is especially useful when landing in a country that requires passport control – getting ahead of a full plane load of people makes a huge difference to wait times.
6. Get the airline app on your mobile phone
Mobile apps by airlines usually have more information about your flight–and they post changes to it faster–than the airport’s monitors do.
7. Bribe them with bagged candy
This is a funny idea, but according to Rachel Rofe it’s an age-old trick that works to sweeten up flight attendants and airport gate staff. She learned it from a friend who worked for an airline.
8. Head left in line
Traveler Raghavan Usha Giriraj doesn’t offer statistics about airport travel to back this up, but the concept is worth considering. He says, “90 percent people are right-handed and are known to turn right on impulse, so pick the security lane that’s on the left to avoid queue.”
9. Declare something at customs no matter what
Sounds counter-intuitive, right? According to Trisha Cupra it speeds things up. “Going international, the ‘goods to declare’ lines at Quarantine are often shorter than the ‘No goods to declare’ queues. We often declare a few chocolate bars and get through really quick.”
10. Check FourSquare for Foodie Advice
11. Take an empty water bottle through security
If you take a full one, they’ll make you dump out the water, which involves exiting the security line, going back into the main airport area, and then returning to the security line. Very inconvenient no matter how you look at it.
They made me do this when I was traveling with my kids. It was such a pain. If you take an empty bottle, you can fill it once you’ve made it past the security check.
12. Grab a cab at the departures exit
As soon as flights land, people on it head for the arrivals exit of the airport. That’s also where most of them are searching for a taxi. Instead, says Adhavan Rajendran, “quickly turn around and head up to departures. There’s no competition for cabs in the departure zone; people are getting dropped off, and you can simply jump in as they’re jumping out.”