With airports that seem busier than ever, airline staffing reductions creating longer lines at check-in and airport security wait times that can be entirely unpredictable, these days the old airport “two-hour” rule often leaves just minutes to spare to buy a magazine, grab a snack or hustle your kids into the bathroom. Saving a few extra minutes here and there along the way can add up in your favor; here are some tips to get you from your front door to your seat on the plane as quickly and painlessly as possible – as well as some ideas to keep you moving no matter what is going on with your flight.
Making Your Way Through the Airport Like a Boss
Suitcase, ID, wallet, cash….. check!! There’s only one thing standing between you and your island getaway: “managing to get through the airport in one piece.” Not everyone enjoys the process of getting through the airport before you head on your journey. The hassle of tugging around luggage, the cringing cry from babies, and the incredibly long and slow process of going through security can make any traveler bug out.
Luckily, many airlines have sped up the process of ticketing and baggage check-ins with interactive kiosks for electronic check-ins. Yes, robots are now taking over – and are actually making things incredibly easy and hassle-free (let’s not jinx this). So what’s the best way to make a smooth sailing through the airports? Follow these tips to be a happy traveler:
A) BEFORE YOU LEAVE HOME:
First thing’s first: Just take a deep breath and don’t let the stress get to you. There are tons and tons of crowds, lines, and people who are trying to catch their flights. So just relax, you’ll get there. I promise.
1) Check flight status.
I feel like this tip is almost so obvious that I should not even include it. Few years back when I was studying, traveling from Mumbai to Ahmedabad with my mother, I am certain that in the rush to leave in afternoon, I would not have checked flight status (not even care to read sms the airline sent me) and hired a cab to the airport, headed into the terminal, stood in line and only then discovered the flight was 6 hours late. So —– check flight status!
I recommend doing the same before abandoning your ride or your car just before you head to the terminal; flight status updates change by the minute, so a last-second check is always a good idea.
Most airlines will text you flight status updates if you have put your mobile number at the time of booking, and sites like Flight Stats and Trip It will do the same by text, on the Web and through smartphone apps. Easy way; Call up Airlines Customer Care.
2) Before you leave for the airport, make sure you have all important documents with you if you’re traveling internationally – meaning passport, visa, and a couple forms of identification. For domestic flights, government id cards (such as PAN Card, Driving license, Voter ID card, etc.), boarding pass (if applicable), in an easily accessible part of your wallet or bag. There are two reasons for this: one, by going through this exercise, you make sure that you don’t leave home without these crucial items. Two, you don’t waste your (and other people’s) time fumbling around for them at the moment you need them.
3) Pack everything else out of reach.
Clutter is the enemy of smooth passage through the airport; pack out of reach and sight anything that you will not need between your front door and your airplane seat.
4) Don’t forget your chargers!
Keep your juices charged the night before flying out so you won’t have to fight for outlet plugs that are almost always taken.
5) Try to keep your carry on at a bare minimum.
This usually helps you flow through traffic once going through the x-rays and scanners.
6) Be in a comfort clothes.
The airport is one of those places where you should dress as comfortable and light as possible.
7) Don’t be a party popper. Avoid too many layers, lots of flashy jewelry, belts, boots, loose change in your pockets, heels (because why?) and all that jazz.
8) Get the Right Apps
Gate Guru has user reviews on restaurants and shops in dozens of airports.
TripIt organizes all your travel plans into one easy-to-read interface.
Flight Aware alerts you if your plane’s delayed.
Note: And check to see if the airport you’re going to has an app to tell you parking lot status and security line wait.
B) AT THE AIRPORT (DEPARTURE)
(i) Before Check-In
1) Prep your documents.
Before you get in line to check in, or at least before you get to the front of the line, dig out and have in hand all the items and documentation you will need to check in. Having this stuff out makes everyone happy – you, airline agents and the people behind you in line who appreciate your efficiency.
TIP: Enter the Terminal Near the Premier/First-Class Check-In. Do this even if you’re flying coach. The elite entrance is often at a quieter end of the terminal with smaller crowds. That means a possibly shorter line at the nearby security checkpoint. If you’re enrolled in the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) pre-check program CLICK HERE, which lets you go through security like it’s 1999, you’ll often find it near the fancy-traveler entrance, too.
2) Weigh your bags.
Many airports are installing scales in front of the check-in areas; if you suspect your checked bag might be overweight, weigh it before you get in line, and do any swapping between your bags before you reach the check-in counter. This also avoids any scrutiny from the check-in agents about your carry-on bag starting to swell (another topic altogether, which I won’t go into here).
(If you are really serious about baggage weight, you can even weigh bags at home – buying your own luggage scale is inexpensive and will prevent surprises at the airport).
3) Use the Mobile Boarding Pass (If you know how to use it).
You’ll have one less thing to lose. Plus, the airline can update your mobile boarding pass remotely, so you’ll know the proper gate and departure time if they change.
4) But Still Check That Departure Screen
You know the one—right after security, with all the flights on it. Sometimes an airline changes flight info, but there’s a lag before it hits your phone. Check the big screen to confirm your gate, lest you hoof it down to A55 only to discover your plane’s at A17.
(ii) Between Check-In and Security
1) Reserving Seats
When reserving airline seats for 2 people, get the aisle and window. If no one takes the middle seat you get a full row, and if someone does, just ask to switch so you can sit next to your travel partner.
(a) Window Seats Are Chillier Than Aisle Seats. Airplane windows leak outside air a little. At 30,000 feet, that air may be –30F. Move toward the aisle or bring a sweater.
(b) Sit in the seats near the wing of the plane for the least turbulence. The seats along the wings of a plane usually have the least amount of bounce when flying because it has more structural support.
2) Use ATMs instead of airport currency exchanges to save money.
Many ATMs will offer much lower rates than what you can get from the airport currency exchanges.
3) Skip the long lines for airport bathrooms.
It may seem like common logic, but the first bathroom in the terminal is the most crowded one. Use the next one to skip the long waits and save precious time.
Tip: Certain times are better for using the airplane bathroom. Since most airlines don’t let you stand in line for the restrooms, the best times to use it are right after the plane has leveled off and 15-20 minutes before landing.
(iii) Immigration Counter (For International Flights)
Passing immigration is usually straight forward. You can’t make queues any shorter, but there are a few things you can do to make it easier once you do get to the front of the line.
1) Before you go – Make sure you have checked if you need a visa or what paperwork you might need with you in order to clear immigration. Sometimes countries will require proof of your return airfare or your accommodation in order for you to clear immigration.
2) Have copies of the relevant paperwork with you – Make sure you’ve got copies of your flight itineraries and accommodation details on hand (i.e. in your carry-on luggage) so that you’ve got them with you at immigration.
3) Complete all the paperwork before you join the queue – Fill out your arrival forms on the plane before you touch down, that will save any unnecessary waiting at immigration.
4) Don’t joke, don’t be too friendly, just answer the question – Passing immigration isn’t about being friendly and nice, there is no need to be overly chatty to your immigration officer – just answer their questions and keep it simple.
5) Boarding Gate – After clearing immigration, head toward your Boarding Gate (written on your boarding pass). In between if you have plenty time, you can shop at Duty Free Shopping Centers, have snacks (without forgetting you gonna board the flight). Some International airport have gaming zones as well (such as Changi International Airport, Singapore). Well, that’s why I keep on writing to be at airport as early as possible (Appx 3-4 hours prior).
NOTE: If you are travelling on Domestic Flights, you will find Duty Free Shopping Centre and Restaurants at the Boarding Gate Area.
(iv) Way to Boarding Gate Area (For Domestic and International Flight)
Make sure you are at your departure gate early as it will CLOSE 20 minutes before departure time.
1) Speed Up Going Through Security
When going through security, stuff your small belongings like wallets, keys and phones into your bag before placing it on the conveyor belt. It eliminates the need for separate bins and saves you time.
2) Check the flight status boards again. Unless you are really early, your actual flight time is getting close, and this is when you will start to see gate changes and more reliable departure time estimates.
3) With that said, though flight status boards are your first stop for directions, go directly to your gate for any breaking information. The official system updates sometimes lag behind reality, so you want to check in at your gate to make sure nothing has changed. Beyond finding out your flight status, by showing up at the gate you will get a sense of how crowded the flight is, figure out what kind of terminal amenities there are and more.
4) If you forget your wall plug, charge devices through the USB slot on a TV or charging stations.
5) Put smartphones in airplane mode to save battery and charge faster.
6) Get free WiFi 🙂 When you’re at the airport, add “?.jpg” to the end of any URL to get around the ludicrously expensive WiFi. Alternatively, you can sit right outside an airport club lounge: Wi-Fi signals often glide through the walls.
7) To use Google Maps offline, type “OK Maps,” and the visible area will save for future access.
8) The order of boarding may be specified by the gate attendant when the time comes; often:
– Passengers in First class
– Passengers with special needs (such as physically handicapped, elderly and those with young children)
– Passengers in Business Class and those passengers holding top tier cards of an airline alliance’s Frequent Flyer program
– All other passengers
Budget airlines often board passengers who have paid extra for priority boarding first, followed by those at the back of the plane.
When no order for boarding is given it may help if those seated at the back were to board first, but this doesn’t usually happen, and aisle blockages are common. To estimate where your seat is, check your airline’s website for seat maps or ask staff at the gate. Regardless of the boarding order given, you are always free to remain in the boarding lounge until the final call for the plane. If you choose to spend the least time possible in a cramped aircraft cabin, just wait in the boarding lounge until you see the last person at the gate, and join the end of the queue. Just remember, the boarding gates close 10-15 minutes before departure and no announcements will be made outside the gate area.
The days of flying the glamorous skies seem to be gone forever. The seats are smaller, the leg room is more cramped and the airlines are charging extra for everything from luggage to snacks. But that doesn’t necessarily mean we have to resign ourselves to merely enduring air travel. In fact, there are plenty of ways to improve the experience of travel, despite federal safety regulations and snoring seatmates.
Here are some tips for you:
1) Get in Your Seat and Power Down
When you board the aircraft, find your seat, place your carry-on in the overhead bin (if you didn’t check it at the gate for free) and sit down. Then turn off your cell phone, iPod, portable DVD player, or whatever electronic device you have with you and wait patiently for the announcement from the captain or the flight crew that it’s safe to switch your approved electronic devices back on once again. That announcement is usually made just a few minutes after the plane is in the air.
No airplane can take off while people are standing or talking on the phone. And no flight attendant is going to look very kindly upon you when he’s had to ask you for the fifth time to turn off your phone. And while it’s very considerate of you to offer to switch seats with one half of a couple who are sitting apart, wait until the flight is in the air and the seat belt sign is off to play musical chairs.
Tensions can run high for passengers and flight crew alike, thanks to new regulations and the number of people packed into the cabin eager to get moving. Do your part to get the plane off the ground and it’ll be a better flight for everyone on board.
2) Bring a Sleep Kit
Sleep kits can be purchased in most airport gift shops these days, or you can build one at home to keep with your luggage. The basics for a sleep kit include a U-shaped travel pillow and an eye mask to block out sunbeams bouncing off the clouds below.
You’ll also want to block out as much sound as you can, and earplugs can definitely help with this. If you’ve got the extra cash, noise-cancelling headphones can make a world of difference, too. They can negate outside noise (crying babies and aircraft engine sounds included) whether you’re playing music through them or not.
A small blanket or large shawl is the final item you might want to stash with your sleep kit (Though you will be provided with blanket on-board (for international flights). It’s nearly impossible to grab some sleep when you’re shivering. Airlines used to give out blankets regularly, but these days, it’s often another item they can charge you extra for. So if you’ve got a red-eye flight or perhaps you’re crossing a few time zones, it’s best to bring your own sleep kit – but keep it light.
3) Pay for in-flight wi-fi (for Western countries)
Business travelers and the constantly connected will be thrilled to learn that many carriers now offer in-flight wireless internet – for a fee, of course. But for those whose time is money, it’s worth it to stay productive and in the loop while in the air.
The price isn’t prohibitively steep, especially if you can expense it. Gogo Inflight Internet, to use one example of the service, charges about $12 for one flight’s worth of internet service. A monthly pass for frequent travelers runs about $30. The connection isn’t annoyingly slow, and the ability to tweet / Facebook / Instagram from 30,000 feet (9.1 kilometers) above is priceless 😉
4) Bring Hand Sanitizer
It’s easy enough to be a vigilant hand-washer while you’re still on the ground, where soap and water are pretty easy to come by. The airplane bathroom has both, too, so make good use of them.
But sometimes, you’re sitting in the window seat with a sandwich on your tray and a rumbling stomach. Wait! Don’t pick up that sandwich! Not yet, anyway. First squirt a little alcohol-based hand sanitizer into your palm and rub it around. Airplanes have lots of surfaces that everyone touches, like arm rests, tray tables, overhead bin handles, in-flight magazines, light switches – the list goes on and on. A simple preventative measure, like using hand sanitizer, can help keep at least some of everyone else’s germs out of your system.
C) AT THE AIRPORT (ARRIVAL)
IMPORTANT: For Transit Passengers, check with the Help Desk Customer Care for your next connecting flight.
When you reached the destination, follow these Quick Airport tips to get out from terminal building faster:
(i) For Domestic Flight:
1) Baggage Claim.
Before step down from airplane, you will be informed for the baggage conveyor belt number. Check your Flight No. on status board at Baggage Claim area.
2) Head towards “Exit” sign board.
After claiming your baggage, you can sit and have snacks, book taxi (if you wish to, but it will be 10% higher than the outside cab. Regardless Safety First!). You will spot foreign exchange counter, hotel bookings, holiday bookings, cafeteria.
(ii) For International Flight.
1) Move quickly to Immigration Counter (As it will be again a long queue)
2) Baggage Claim.
Before step down from airplane, you will be informed for the baggage conveyor belt number. Check your Flight No. on status board at Baggage Claim area.
3) Custom Clearance
Note: Some airports have duty-free shops just before the customs station.
Last stop after you’ve passed immigration and collected your bags in customs.Usually customs requires you to complete a declaration about what items you are bringing into a country. For the average traveler this might involve declaring some food or alcohol, but not much else.Before making your way to customs you should make sure that you have thrown away any food you may have taken from the plane, as well as any fresh fruit and vegetables, the vast majority of which are prohibited from being brought into foreign countries for quarantine purposes.You must fill out a customs declaration and if in doubt, declare it!
Customs officials vary in their severity around the world – in some cases they issue on-the-spot fines for failing to declare restricted items, so we always declare anything we’re not sure about.In some countries (Australia included) they X-ray all incoming bags before you are allowed to walk out of the terminal, in others you can pick your bag off a carousel and basically walk through without answering any questions or declaration at all. Just be honest, declare anything you have that you’re not sure about and you will always be fine.
The customs border usually has two parallel passageways for travelers:
– GREEN CHANNEL: Nothing to declare
– RED CHANNEL: Goods to declare.
Though they might be separated only by a signpost, be sure to choose the right one, to avoid trouble.
You should choose the red channel (goods to declare) if you:
– Have to pay taxes on goods you are bringing in.
– Have to fulfill customs formalities.
– Are not sure whether you have to declare something.
You should choose the green channel if you:
– Do not have to pay taxes on goods you are bringing in.
– Do not have to fulfill customs formalities.
– Are not carrying goods that are forbidden.
– Are not carrying goods to which restrictions apply.
NOTE: If you are bringing in more goods than the goods on which you do not have to pay taxes, then you have to lodge a declaration and pay taxes to Customs. You should choose the Red Channel.
3) Head Towards “Exit” sign board
After custom clearance, you can sit and have snacks, book taxi (if you wish to, but it will be 10% higher than the outside cab. Regardless Safety First!). You will spot foreign exchange counter, hotel bookings, holiday bookings, cafeteria.
(D) AIRPOT DELAYS: Six Ways to Cope!
Nothing throws a wrench into your travel plans quite like a big, hairy airport delay. And there’s no shortage of reasons why your flight might be late: unpredictable weather, technical glitches, airport security problems, congested airways…..even U.F.O.’s. According to China Daily, an unidentified flying object that appeared above China’s Hangzhou Xiaoshan International Airport disrupted a total of 18 flights in July 2010. The U.F.O. hovered in the air above Hangzhou City, causing all inbound and outbound flights to be delayed for several hours.
Whether flying saucers or snowstorms are keeping you grounded, it’s important to know how to protect yourself in the event of a flight delay. First, you need a backup plan. Make sure you have options, like a hotel reservation or an alternative flight, in case you’re stranded. Second, you need to know your rights as a passenger. Read (or at least have access to) your airline’s contract of carriage in case of emergency.
Let’s get on to what you can do about it if (hopefully not “when”) an airport delay happens to you. Here are a few tips to help you cope in the event of software switches, storms or other airport snafus.
1) Watch the weather.
When it comes to the weather, you don’t need to be Jim Cantore (He is an American meteorologist. He is best known as an on-air personality for The Weather Channel) to know when a storm might affect your travel. If you are flying in winter, there’s no excuse not to know at least a couple days ahead of time that your flight could be threatened. Particularly in the case of a winter storm, weather forecasting is pretty reliable 48 – 72 hours out. Summer storms can be less predictable, as thundercloud formation can occur fairly quickly. But forewarned is forearmed, and it’s not like you need to look for red skies in the morning of your travel these days to know that you might have a problem.
2) Consider getting a hotel reservation.
Most hotels don’t charge your card until you show up at the front desk, so you can usually safely book a room and cancel if your flight does take off reasonably on time. If you’re stuck in an airport without easy Internet access, a good tactic is to have on hand the phone number of your preferred booking Web site.
Subsequently look for off-airport hotels that offer shuttle service to the airport so you can ditch your rental car or otherwise count on a ride to the airport without too much trouble or expense.
3) Pre-program your cell phone.
While we’re talking about phone numbers, you really don’t need an elephant’s memory to be able to call a reservation site, a hotel, your airline or any travel service outfit; you just need to program these numbers into your cell phone before your trip starts. Save the contact number for your airline (use the frequent flier program phone number if you have elite status of any kind, as the service is better), reservation sites, car rental companies that permit drop-offs near you, and your travel agent if you have ever used one – even if the agent didn’t book you into your current jam, he or she might be able to get you out of it.
4) Know your options.
If it looks like things might get ugly, make sure you know some of the alternative flights on other airlines; if this is too much to remember, just try to remember on which airlines the best flights are available. If you know a few flights on a couple of airlines within a few hours of your original flight, you’re way ahead of the game when you try to transfer your ticket to another airline. Ultimately you’ll have to get your original airline to sign off on the transfer, but at least you’ll get to the airline desk armed with information and maybe even a tentative reservation on the other airline.
A good way to do these searches is to use online flight booking sites, such as kayak or skyscanner. The best of these allow you to adjust several parameters on the fly, including airlines displayed (in case your original airline will grant exchanges only on select airlines), flight times (so you can see flights close to your original departure time first, then expand from there) and alternate airports (perhaps you can get within a reasonable drive of your original airport). You can also filter results by the duration of your itinerary, in case you are looking at absurd routes, connections or layovers on some of your results. These sites can offer a very fluid and customizable view of what is available to you airline by airline, hour by hour, airport by airport.
5) Check the airline website.
In the past, airline call centers have been utterly crippled by the high call volume that happens when there are masses of flight delays. Most airlines have figured out that the Web is a much better way to distribute information, and will have alerts, updates and sometimes even suggestions on how to proceed.
6) Call ahead to the airline.
This is likely to be your least effective tactic, as in all but the most extreme cases (and sometimes not even then), the airlines won’t tell you that your plane is delayed even when the entire airport is about to shut down. This is because the airlines fare better if you show up and sleep on the floor than they do if they let you stay in your hotel room an extra day.
As soon as they let you off the hook by saying you don’t have to show up at the airport, they’re on the hook for refunds, vouchers, hotel rooms, ticket transfers and a huge host of things they simply don’t want to give you.