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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!

Read More:

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6 Things to Consider When Buying Luggage

Cruise Tips: 7 Things to Do Before You Leave

10 Travel Mistakes I Always Make

This Post Has 41 Comments

  1. Great tips here! I’ve done my fair share of traveling, and did not know some of them. I’ve learned a valuable lesson though: if you have to make a connection via NYC or Boston to Europe, allow more than an hour between flights. I cut it close one time but the airline took pity on me because it was not my fault. The next year’s booking, I gave myself 2 hours minimum connection time, and breathed much easier.

  2. Also, please remember to remove laptops, breathing machines or game boxes (XBox, Playstation) etc… from your carry-on bag when going thru the TSA checkpoint. Triple check those carry-on bags for any drinks – they’re not permitted and always cause a hold-up in line when TSA needs to check inside your bag!

  3. I actually am in line waiting to check my bags two hours or more before my flight takes off. I always assume that there will be a long line somewhere. That leaves me with plenty of time to find my gate and relax. Running through the terminal (which I have done) is not a fun exercise.

    1. The site is great! I, too, was hoping for a way to ditnisguish between airports I’d flown to and airports that I’d been flown to.Looking at other people’s maps sure was humbling. I still have a couple to add when I have a chance to check my logbook, but boy, are my flights ever local. Farthest south: Columbus, OH. Farthest west: Columbus, OH. Lewis or Clark, I ain’t.

  4. I LOVE AIRPORTS TOO!! I watch the people and wonder where they are going. Vacation? To visit relatives? Business? Lovers flying away to paradise….sigh!! Anyway, I enjoy the experience, and there is always a story you come home with about the airport.

    1. I’m with you. I love the airport! It means I’m going somewhere or have just returned and that is always a great feeling. Plus you always see such interesting characters – kids on their first school trip, retirees enjoying their golden years, newlyweds going on their honeymoon. Airports themselves can be pretty interesting too. My carry on is a bag with spinner wheels so it’s easy to transport through the terminals. This allows me to easily walk around to check out all the shops and see what food options are available. In Japan this is especially fun.

    2. I agree with you too! I LOVE AIRPORTS especially (you might think I’m crazy) The Atlanta Airport. I love the feeling of going somewhere and people watching walking up and down the terminal and looking at the destinations on the gate boards.

  5. Bring my own soft blanket.
    Don’t trust airline blankets to be sanitary.
    Plus, on long delays in terminal, great to sleep on or sleep under.
    Rolled up, makes a pillow.
    Outside, it’s a coat while I wait for the shuttle.

  6. I LOVE airports too! They represent travel, adventure, and excitement. Even taking a friend to drop off at the airport is fun, although I would rather be the one leaving on a jet plane. For my 16th birthday (many years ago) I was given my choice of where to go for dinner — I chose to eat at a restaurant at the airport, where I could watch the planes departing.

    1. Oh my goodness, me too!!!
      I love it when someone asks me to pick them up from the airport. I arrive a minimum of 1 hour before they are expected to land just so I can sit and eat sipping an ice cold adult beverage and watch the activity outside around the planes.

  7. Yes also love airports they are great for people and plane watching.
    My best bit of advise is to be polite and use your manners if your flight is delayed or you are late for your flight I find the airport and airline staff are more helpful if you don’t loose your temper at them.
    Also it’s worth getting an app for the airport you are leaving or flying to on your phone they are a great help with airport maps and depature gates and times.

  8. We always arrive early and like to pass the time at the airport by making a list of Celebrity Look-Alikes. You’d be surprised how many “almost” famous people we have seen rushing from terminal to terminal. Who knows, maybe someday we’ll even spot a real celebrity…hopefully Samantha Brown! 😉

  9. I feel a little bit smarter knowing that my family and I travels like Samantha Brown!! Early flights, exercising in the terminals, games and lists and do not forget all the people watching!! Airports are what you make them and I choose to make them part of a fun environment and part of the vacation experience.

  10. Hi Samantha;Love your new web layout.
    Nice seeing you in Scottsdales AZ for the AMG Conference. You are the best!!!!
    Love this article, great Airport Survival tips,
    My 2 or 3 cents;
    In Rule #4, I would add, Travelers can always be stress free by using a Travel Agent to rebook, reissue and find their best connections, they can seat, enjoy a Margaritha or Mojito in the lounge Bar without making any long lines at the Airline counters 😉 (wink)
    7- I also reccomend travelers to invest in their luggage to be light and easy to carry around in case they have to run and change gates last minute.
    8- Will be best to use Hand bags that allow you to free both hands , very useful when checking in, pulling the rest of baggage and when placing items in security (TSA) best are backpacks, or cross body bags,
    9- As Floridian, I rarely wear socks, but traveling is good to buy a dollar store pair of socks to walk trough security, perhaps in the plane and then dont feel so guilty to toss them away.
    10-I always travel with my Total Pillow,sqeezes in the backback,or I placed in the carry on handles,wont fall because is a close circle, gives great support for neck, back,elbows,great if you have to wait a long time at the gates.
    Cant wait to my next trip..going to India in September and as always will be sure to use your Traveling tips! Happy Travels!..Cessy

  11. I didn’t know they no longer make you keep your id and boarding pass out through the body scanner. That’s nice to know! You learn something new every day. 😉

    I’m also one of those rare people who love airports! I sometimes show up hours early just to get photos and video.

    Thanks for sharing your tips!

  12. If eligible enroll in the global entry program–makes clearing domestic security at those airports that have pre check and customs coming into the US both a snap.

  13. This Content is very helpful to me, where iam going to travel first time.. My kid was 5 years old. so iam tensioned about selecting travel accessories for my travel. Here you gave us a very clear details for airport traveling necessary things, thanks. try to post necessary things in seasonal wearing also…

  14. I was wondering, what classes do you have to take in high school to be a travel guide? What all do you have to do?

  15. i always wear socks and birkenstocks on board. can easily slip in & out of the birks to go to the restroom. and if your feet swell on the plane, you can adjust the bands. great comfort.

  16. i always try to fly virgin america from lax to jfk. among other good things, they allow you to plug your computer into their electrical system so you dont have to worry about your puter running out of juice. and you buy wi-fi access. great for reading the news & your email, etc.

  17. I fly a LOT. Mid-tier loyalty program. One thing I do is make sure I have 24 hours worth of any medications, packed in a snack-size zip-loc, in an inside zipper compartment of my handbag. This would include any prescriptions I’m currently taking, and any ‘good possibility’ OTC meds like antihistamines or aspirin/Aleve. Nothing worse than needing a med and have to go digging through the carry-on that’s in the overhead. For men, the same little plastic bag can fit easily into a pocket. And if you’re going to have to take something soon after boarding, buy a bottle of water once inside Security. If you start asking the flight crew for a beverage immediately after boarding, you’ll annoy the crap out of them, and may not get the water in time to meet your scheduled dose.

  18. Never go near an airport without a book!
    Light fiction that you can read in increments works for me.

  19. I always take a very small (wallet-sized) cross-shoulder handbag that I can tuck into the top of my carry-on. It accomplishes two things: 1) I only have to deal with one carry-on, and 2) when I get to my destination(s), I don’t have to drag a backpack or carry-on sized bag with me everywhere. I’ve had lots of women stop me in airports and tell me what a great idea this is, and once had an gate employee tell me that it wasn’t allowed because I was ‘carrying two bags’ (he was told that he was wrong by his boss).

  20. If you’re traveling internationally and have bags to check, don’t try to cut your arrival time too close — my parents were allowed to board their RSW-YYZ flight when they arrived 90 minutes prior, but their checked luggage was denied! This meant that at least one Christmas gift had to be discarded at the check-in gate because it was an item that wasn’t permitted in their carry on bags.

  21. Hi Samantha. I read the tip about ear plugs to rule out those annoying announcements, I agree if you are in the airport and it’s not your gate, but if you are on the plane ALWAYS listen to the pre-flight announcement and the safety briefing. The cabin could loose oxygen and you wouldn’t know what to do (even if you’ve heard it 80,000 times, the announcement could change) I don’t mean to sound like a pessimist,
    hope that helps Samantha! 🙂

  22. Purchased you carry on and Dr. tote for Mary Kay Seminar 50th Anniversary in pink!!!! Saw other colors of same in Dallas but people offered to buy it out from under me, and it was noticed and remarked about by many. Even those that had navy, burgundy, black and teal. I am still just in love with it! Could not have made a better choice!

  23. I love to travel and always make sure I have my “ear planes”. If you are like me and always get a terrible ear ache on the plane due to high altitude and air pressure, the ear planes (or generic brand) really do work. For me, chewing gum, doesn’t work at all. The ear planes look just like ear plugs you would wear in the water, except these have a small hole through the middle to help with regulating the air flow in your ear canal while flying. I’ve used them for years and swear by them. You can get these at any drug store..over the counter.

  24. Enjoyed your tips…
    In Australia you cannot travel with fruit , eat it before you board much like trying to enter the USA with fruit or meat.
    For weight free luggage allowance , travel business class , use those points and you get free access to those quiet lounges plus food. A lot also have free internet centres with computers , saves the use of your mobiles.
    Some have free access to showers , they supply the towels, great way to freshen up after an over night flight waiting for connection.
    Have your TA or yourself allow extra connection time when arriving at an airport where you have to be processed through Immigration and Customs before your connecting flight. I always add an extra two hours as airlines are famous for saying you can make a 45 minute connection. The same rule applies for domestic connections, ask for the second flight leaving

  25. As one who works for a major airline I offer the following suggestions:

    1. If you travel frequently, join an airline club. When flights are delayed or worse, cancelled, the lines are so much shorter in the club than in the terminal. And the club offers a respite from the chaos.

    2. Get to the airport early. Make sure you have at least an hour between connections. The airport I work in is very large, and when there is bad weather, the train will not operate. Walking will take some extra time.

    3. Allow for long lines for TSA, especially on Mondays and Fridays. If you don’t you may miss your flight, and the airline may not have a seat for you for a long while, if at all for a few days. Especially if there has been weather.

    4. Pack a jacket no matter where you are going or from. Airports are cold, and if your flight is delayed, you may get chilly.

    5. Wear comfortable shoes on the plane. The kind that will remain on your feet should something happen (God Forbid) and you need to deplane in an emergency. I love high heels too, but I NEVER wear them when plane travel is involved.

    6. Be nice to the gate agent. The job they have is very stressful and people at times are rude. Please know that yelling at them because your plane is delayed due to maintenance or weather is futile. It may make you feel better, but they can’t do anything to change the situation, and you will look like a mean person..other passengers will see you that way as well as the gate agent. Use that frustration to write a letter to the airline.

    7. Understand weather is weather. The airline wants to get you out as much as you want to go. However, the flight crew wants to give you a safe journey, and return home to their families.

    Be a lot…look at life as a treasure.

  26. Good tips. Also keep food odor to a minimum. A couple I sat next to on a plane a couple of weeks ago had half a tuna sandwich each. I think each half was a full aroma.

  27. Take a picture of your bag before you hannd it over at the counter for checkin. If your bag is lost or delayed it helps to describe the bag when you lodge your complaint at the destination.

  28. After we park up at the airport, we always snap a picture of the sign that indicates what floor/section we are in. This little tip has saved us anxiety on more than one occasion!

  29. We often stay at a hotel the night before our flight and leave our car there. Taking a picture on our phone of the claim ticket for our car saves worry about losing it.

  30. I would also recommend that you are really aware of the luggage restrictions if you are traveling internationally.
    A few times I was stunned over some of the restrictions, esp. to Latin/South America. To be fair, I was moving there for a new job
    so I was taking more than normal (6 bags), but since I routed through Bogota, instead of flying straight from the US to Brazil, I was denied
    and booked for the next day (only allowed 5 bags). Some other workers flew directly from the US to Brazil and were allowed to take
    over 20 bags !!

  31. I have loved airports since I was a young child and my dad would take us up to the flight deck and let us watch them take off and land. They don’t allow that anymore of course, but that started my love of flying and all things travel related . I always pamper myself at the airport-better chocolates, good headphones, even upgrades if possible. Best, keep your cool, smile and be appreciative!

  32. Please, no nuts or peanut butter on public transport spoken from a very allergic lady. Good hints other than that though

  33. I always get to the airport as prepared for TSA as I can be. I arrive without my sweater on or take it off before heading into TSA line, put all the electronics in the same easy to reach place, leave my belt off, etc… Once I pass through security I take a couple minutes to rearrange everything to how I actually want it. Doesn’t do much to make other people move faster, but at least it saves you some of the annoying, embarrassing shuffle.
    I take a reusable water bottle and fill it with water after I pass security.
    Also, IMPORTANT: if flying domestically within the United States, double check that you don’t need your passport or a “Real ID” as states are shifting toward requiring more than your regular ID/license. This will be true for EVERY state starting in October 2020

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