My Airport Survival Guide
I’m about to admit something I know you have never heard from anyone else. I love airports. If I didn’t my life would be miserable. I’m not saying I haven’t had my ups and downs, my missed connections and delays. But I’ve had a very close relationship with airports for thirteen years and counting. Like any couple in a long-term relationship, I’ve had to invest a lot of effort into making it work. And…living in NYC I happen to use three of the top ten worst airports in America for everything from on time departures, arrivals, amenities, quality of toilet paper… you name it. So if I can love the airport ANYONE can.
Rule #1: Leave Plenty of Time
Really, you do just that and 90% of anxiety goes away. So how much is plenty? Most airlines would say it’s 90 minutes before your departure time for a domestic flight and I agree. Another tactic in time management is to think of the Boarding Time as the mark to hit, not the Departure Time. This is usually 30 minutes before a flight leaves and will give you some built in breathing room.
If you do like to cut it close, there are two things you should know:
- The airlines have a minimum required check-in time of 45 minutes. That means if your bag isn’t checked 45 minutes before your flight leaves, they can refuse to let you board. It’s 30 minutes if you’re carrying on.
- You also need to be at the gate 15 minutes before the flight leaves. Did you know that? I didn’t. Last year I was walking the terminal in an effort to board at the last minute. When I got to the gate, it was empty and the attendant told me she could deny me boarding based on this rule. I was amazed, I never knew this rule existed simply because …it doesn’t need to. WHEN do they ever get 200 people to stow their bag, sit down, stand up to put their coat up, sit-down, stand up to get the pen they forgot, sit down and buckle their seat belt in 15 minutes?
Don’t be a slacker
Choose a flight that leaves early in the morning. Yes it’s miserable getting up at 4am but an early flight (before 8am) means your plane most likely came in the night before and will leave on time. Bad weather usually rolls in late morning backing up thousands of flights, creating nightmarish scenarios. But you’ll already be in the air above the storm clouds. On the plus side these early flights are usually cheaper.
Side note: My smart thinking is useless in San Francisco where the fog is known to be thick in the early morning and burn off later.
Always check in on-line 24 hours before your flight
It secures your seat and tells the airline “I’m a coming!” Even if you’re checking luggage this could save you time as at busy airports there’s usually a full service line and a “Luggage Only” line, meaning you already have your boarding pass. If you don’t have a printer-still check in on-line. You can print it at the airport on the airlines own computer kiosks.
Follow your airline on social media sites
Follow the airline you’re using on Twitter or Facebook. If the flight is cancelled or you will miss your connecting flight, it might be the best way contact your airline and let them know you’re stranded. You may get help faster then waiting in the customer service line or calling. But still get in that line.
Have a plan should your flight be delayed
For me this is the worst. Since it usually happens when I’m on my way home after being gone for weeks. There was going to be a nice dinner waiting for me, the wine was going to chilled and now…ugh. In this case I change my attitude. I think about what I could accomplish now that would give me even more free time when I’m home. There’s always work to do whether it’s creating a list of what to accomplish around the house when I get home to writing down the 10 ways I’m going to lose weight while I eat this Auntie Annie’s soft pretzel with cheese dip.
If you want to be really productive you could go for a long walk around the terminal to get some exercise. I’ve even used this time to actually call close friends I haven’t talked to in awhile rather than send them an email.
Pack survival tools and have them at the ready
- Your favorite head-ache medication.
- Ear-plugs that take the edge off of all those announcements.
- Sunglasses-to combat fluorescent lighting. Use along with ear plugs and you’ve created your own private Idaho.
- Travel uniform: think comfy loose clothes with a few layers. No matter what temperature your destination is – ALWAYS dress for spring like conditions in the airport and on the plane.
- Rations: bring good for you energy snacks: nut mix, energy bars, a peanut butter sandwich, an orange or a banana — just don’t forget about that banana.
A few things you should know that may have changed since the last time:
1. Children 12 and under no longer have to remove their shoes or be “frisked” by TSA. Even for those of us without children this is good news as during the summer months there are a lot more kids and this helps speed up the line for everyone.
2. Passengers 75 and older no longer have to remove shoes or their light jacket. They are also allowed multiple passes through the metal detector or AIT machine to clear up any issues. This is to cut down on the invasive frisks and pat-downs.
3. You can become pre-approved through TSA to avoid long wait times. Also, many airlines and airports now allow you to show your boarding pass on your smartphone. See: Tips for Traveling With Your Smartphone
And to all you battle-tested frequent-fliers out there, if you have a great airport tip, share it with us in the comments below!
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