This post was most recently updated on July 23rd, 2020
I’m not a pro at everything travel-related, but I have been flying in and out of airports for my entire life. I’ve learned quite a few tips to make the airport experience more efficient and enjoyable.
It wouldn’t be very neighborly of me if I didn’t share, right? So here are my ten tips for having the most efficient airport experience:
1. Check-in early for your flight
Want to be sure you have an efficient airport experience? Always check-in for your flight before arriving at the airport. Most airlines allow you to check-in 24 hours in advance, some even earlier. You’ll have your boarding pass ready to print or save on your phone, and you’ll be able to bypass the ticket counter at the airport. You’ll also know at this point if you have TSA pre-check status, and that will allow you to go through a shorter line for security.
Share a photo of your boarding pass with others you will be traveling with. This is a precaution in case someone’s phone crashes before arriving at the airport. Unlikely? Sure, but it happened to my husband once. His phone literally died just as he was showing the pass to the security officer.
2. Dress for Flying
It used to be expected that people would dress up to fly, but that’s not necessary any more. Casual clothing is probably best (though not TOO casual, please — we don’t need to see you in your PJ’s!). Tips for dressing to fly include the following:
- Wear slip-on shoes so you don’t need to untie and then re-tie them after going through security. Shoes you can walk quickly in help if you are rushing to catch a flight!
- Leave your scarves in your luggage; security will make you take them off, anyway.
- For women, avoid dresses/skirts — they almost always trigger a special pat-down between the legs.
- Avoid clothing with extra metal decorations, like studs, zippers, chains, etc. They’re likely to set the beeper off on the metal detector and require another pass-over with a security wand. This goes for lots of jewelry, too.
You’ll have a more efficient airport experience if you don’t get hung up at security!
3. Go to the Airport Early
You probably already know the recommendations for how early to be at the airport to catch a flight — 60 to 90 minutes before a domestic flight and 2 hours before an international flight. These are the bare minimums for having an efficient airport experience. I suggest you give yourself a little more time than this if at all possible. It’s always better to be early than late. Things can go wrong (and they often do!) and having time on your side is always better.
If you’re willing to get to the airport for early morning flights, the airport is typically less crowded and flights are generally cheaper. (Just one reason to consider waking up early.)
4. Get a ride to the airport
Whether your ride is an airport shuttle, a taxi, an Uber, or a ride with a friend, it will be easier for you to be dropped off at the curb. Otherwise, you need to park somewhere and wait for a shuttle to get you to the airport…or pay an arm and a leg to park in the airport’s long-term parking. Personally, I prefer to arrange rides with friends. Of course, I reciprocate and give them rides, too, so it works out well for both of us.
5. Travel With a Carry-on and Personal Item
One of the best reasons for traveling with a carry-on is to save time. You won’t need to stop at the ticket counter and wait in a line to check on your baggage. Even if you self-check your baggage at a kiosk, there’s nothing you can do to speed up the process of waiting at baggage claim to pick it up after your flight. You can easily wait 20 to 30 minutes at baggage claim.
Don’t stuff your carry-on so full that it will be a questionable size. At the very least, you may have to gate check it. Or pay a bag fee to check it on the flight. Read “Seriously, How Can You Travel With Only a Carry-On Bag?” if you’d like more details about how to pack light. I guarantee you will have a much more efficient airport experience!
My suggestion? Use a spinner carry-on and a backpack for your personal item. Having both hands free to guide a spinner suitcase down the hall or around obstacles is probably the fastest way through a busy airport!
6. Get Through Security First
Since passing through security is mandatory, there isn’t anything more important than getting past that obstacle first. It is the one thing that could keep you from making your flight. It is also the reason you should give yourself ample time, since there are so many variables, and they don’t all have to do with you. You could be held up by the mistakes of others going through security, a shortage of TSA employees, a malfunctioning metal detector, or any number of things.
It just makes sense that you should avoid being the one who holds things up. Have your boarding pass and ID ready to show when asked. Check that your water bottles are empty, all your fluids are less than 3 oz and in a quart-size ziploc bag, and have your laptop or other electronics in an easy-to-access pocket.
7. Collect Everything After Security
Take a few minutes to be sure you still have your boarding pass and ID after going through security. I once dropped my drivers license between security and my gate, and was glad I had time to go back and search for it. Most airlines do not ask to see your ID at the gate, but occasionally they do. And you’ll need your ID for your return trip, anyway!
Remember to pick up your laptop…and your jacket, too!
8. Be Sure You’re at the Right Gate
As soon as you get through security, find a departures board to be sure you are headed to the right gate for your flight. Go straight there and confirm that it really is the correct gate. Sometimes gate assignments change at the last minute, and you don’t want to be waiting at the wrong gate while your flight has begun boarding elsewhere.
This is the best time to make any special requests, like seat changes or upgrades.
If you have your boarding pass stored on your phone, check that it has enough charge to show your pass when you board.
Confirm the time that boarding will begin, so you can get bathroom visits and snack purchases completed in time. Now is also the time to notice if your flight will be delayed and for how long. If you’re going to have a long wait, especially if traveling with children, you will want to be armed with this resource.
9. Plan for Your Flight
If you are feeling generous, buy a box of chocolates for your airplane’s crew. I guarantee it will be greatly appreciated. It may also buy you an extra perk. I once got extra sodas and a free inflight meal for gifting a box of Andes mints.
Think about the items you will need during your flight. You might want to change where items are packed so you can access them easily. Remember that what is in the overhead bin won’t be accessible until after the seatbelt sign is turned off.
Fill up your water bottle, take a dramamine if you get airsick, and check your messages one more time before having to put your phone in airplane mode.
10. Consider paying for TSA Pre-Check
It’s only $85 for five years, and with TSA Pre-Check, you get quite a few bonuses that make for a more efficient airport experience.
- shorter lines at security
- no need to remove shoes
- no need to remove laptops/electronics from baggage
- not required to pull out liquids bag
- no need to remove belts or light jackets
Following these steps will ensure that you have an efficient airport experience. Not only efficient, but possibly even enjoyable. I actually like to fly, especially when things go smoothly. I hope you will thoroughly enjoy your next airport experience — Bon Voyage!