Over the past 10 years we have travelled through many different areas in countries all over the world. With this travel experience there are certain tips and tricks that we have learned to make a journey through the airport as good as it can be. Granted, airports are not exactly the most interesting places to spend 2-6 hours in but you can make that experience a little bit easier with these tips.
I used to travel 36 hours to fly from London, Gatwick Airport to Pittsburgh International Airport. This was the worst journey I ever had to take and I did it 7 times in a year. If I didn’t then this blog wouldn’t be here now! But this journey involved me arriving at the airport 15 hours before I was due to fly, which was the latest time I could arrive from my home destination to avoid being late for the flight. This meant that I had to spend all night in a freezing cold airport with nothing to do. All the experience I have gained through travelling through airports have inspired me to share my top tips with you.
1: Don’t Arrive Too Late
You might be reading this thinking “wow, I’m so glad I started reading this blog to know I shouldn’t be late.” But there’s more to it than that. Some people get a bit too confident when it comes to airports. They may have flown from the airport once every year and have never had a problem so they start to leave later and later. The problem is, when you leave later expecting a nice clean journey with no disruptions, that’s when you run a higher risk of missing your flight.
Did you think about the following factors when leaving later?
Accident causing standstill traffic
You forgot your passport and need to return back to collect it
Public transport delays
Huge check-in lines
Security line has a 40 min to 1 hour wait
There are many factors that can impact your journey and most of them you cannot control. Don’t take the risk of missing your flight, because the airline will not be obligated to help you. If you get there early and everything goes smooth, so what if you have to wait a few hours. Better than missing your vacation or paying more for another flight.
2: Don’t Arrive Too Early if You Can Help It
You also should try and avoid arriving too early. As I mentioned above, I had no choice but to arrive 15 hours early for my flight. If you have a choice then anywhere from 5-3 hours is a good time to arrive, anything earlier that 5 hours before, is a bit excessive and unless you love airports, is not necessary.
3: Prepare for Security Before
One of my biggest problems in life is when people “mess up” the system. It causes delays and inconvenience to everyone. For example, people that board a plane and STILL stand in the aisle rummaging through their bags because they panic that they won’t have access to stuff for the whole flight… Why can’t they just follow the instructions, get on the plane, sit down, and let everyone else board in a timely manner. Anyway.. Rant over. When going through security, you can speed up the process for yourself and everyone if you prepare beforehand. If you are someone that wears belts and watches etc, take all these off in the morning and keep them in your hand luggage. All you need to do is place everything in your hand luggage, then when you get to security, take your large electronics out and your done! You don’t have to stand there for 10 minutes undressing, reaching through the hundreds of pockets you have, and taking jewelry off. If makes your journey easier and it speeds up security.
4: Research the Airport and Airline Before You Leave
Knowing about the airport can help your journey. For example, you should understand that if there are 3 terminals, you need to know which one you are departing from. You can also check security wait times for some airports which is useful when planning what time to leave. Researching the airline allows you learn about baggage restrictions, flight details, what’s included, and other useful info. Being prepared makes your life much easier.
5: Research Connection Information
Connections can be confusing, trust me. They also generally do not allow much time to connect. I have had fights where the connection was 45 minutes and the next terminal took 30 minutes to get to. That’s why you need to know what you are doing before you go, or you will be wandering around aimlessly with the risk of missing your flight.
Some ways that you can find out information about connecting flights are:
Airport website (look for connecting flights section)
Facebook chat with airline
Contact airline directly
Last resort, speak to airline staff on the day
You should also download or screenshot the airport map you are connecting in, this will help you navigate easier. Some airports are very well signposted, but some are really not. So be prepared just incase, it doesn’t take too long.
6: Always Take a Snack
Airport prices are a considerable amount higher than other locations but they still aren’t unaffordable. You would however, benefit from bringing a snack along to the airport which if you don’t eat there, you can take on the plane with you. I am not talking about a cooked meal like a Chicken Korma in a saucepan (I have seen this) I am talking about nuts, chips, protein bars, etc.
The point is you want to avoid paying airport prices but also, if you suddenly find yourself delayed on the tarmac or in the airport you could be waiting for a very long time.I have been cancelled on a flight before and been restricted to the gate waiting area for 3 hours. No food available. This is why I added bringing a snack to the list, you may thank me later.
7: Always Take Something To Do (Even if Your Plane has Movies)
I can’t stress this one enough. Some airports only offer Wi-Fi for a restricted length of time, so if you are planning on sitting on your phone the whole time, it might not pan out. When I had my long 15 hour overnight flight, all I had was my phone. I can’t even begin to explain how much slower time goes when you have nothing to do. So take a book, music, playing cards, whatever you can that will pass the time.
You will also benefit from this when flying. Recently I took a 7 hour flight with Qantas, the plane had really outdated screens for movies, but at least they had them right? Well not for me. My screen didn’t work and they had no spare seats so I was stuck for 7 hours with nothing to do while everyone around me was chuckling away to the latest comedy movies. Oh, and the same thing happened on my return flight, I was the only one on the plane without a screen. So always take something extra to do… I have only just learned my lesson at the time of writing this blog!
8: Take an Empty Water Bottle
You may have already heard about this one but taking an empty water bottle is a great way of saving money. Most airports have access to water fountains where you can fill up your water bottle and not have to pay $5 for one from the store.
9: Plan Transport To and From the Airport and Allow Enough Time
No matter what method of transport you are taking to and from the airport you should always have something prepared or at least have researched it. If you are taking a taxi to the airport, be aware of traffic issues and book earlier if necessary. If you are taking a train, take into consideration public holidays, line works, changes in services, and anything else that may impact your journey.
You should also be aware of transport you shouldn’t get. For example, in New York JFK airport people will constantly approach you and offer a taxi, these people are unlicensed and will charge you extensive amounts. Stick to Uber or the labelled taxi services when you arrive and if you can agree on a price beforehand.
Another tip is to make sure you have 100% confirmed your pickup if you are having a hotel pick you up. I have asked for a hotel pickup before and when arriving at 1am, there was no one to be seen. I didn’t have any cash to get change so I could phone the hotel and there was no ATM in the airport. I ended up paying $50 for a taxi rather than getting it for free. Lessons learned again.
10: Keep a Change of Clothes In Your Hand Luggage
Simple but effective. If for some reason your flight is cancelled but your bags have gone through. The likelihood is you will not get those bags back until you board your flight again. So if you have to stay in a hotel overnight, you will want to have a fresh change of clothes. I have seen this happen more than once so it makes sense to be prepared. Besides, it’s not really going to add any weight to your hand luggage.
11: Keep Your Documents In an Easy Place
Another simple tip. It makes sense to have all your documents in one place so they are easily accessible. You could put everything into one pocket of your bag, have a folder with everything in, or however you want to be organised. Just don’t throw documents in your case, some in your bag, some in your pockets, etc. You won’t know where anything is, might think you’ve lost or forgotten important documents, or may actually lose them.
12: Search for a Quiet Place
Airports can be extremely busy and overwhelming for some. Or maybe you want a quiet place to relax and sleep or get some work done. Most people think that when you go through to the departure lounge that you are restricted to that area until you board. This is not true. If you take a walk through the airport and venture through the gate areas, I guarantee that you will find gates that are completely empty and quiet, they may also have plug sockets too. If you are flying from a small country and the airport has one room, then you will not find any extra space, just to make that clear. But plenty of airports have empty and quiet areas that you can just go and sit in to relax.
13: Be Aware of Luggage Restrictions
It varies for every airline and is more of a flying tip but it’s still an important tip. Some airlines are changing weight allowances and this will be an ever changing problem. Some flights I have taken recently only allow 20kg Checked luggage and 7kg hand luggage (inclusive of handbags, laptop bags, coats, backpacks.) If you ask me 7kg is ridiculous. I exceeded this weight with a laptop, some cables, and 2 drinks, the airline charged me $60. Whereas the next flight I got, I was allowed 23kg checked and there were no imposed weight restrictions on my hand baggage. There is no consistency and you should check before you fly. This is more common with budget airlines.
A tip regarding the 7kg allowance, if an airline calls passengers up to weigh their hand luggage, leave the laptops or heavy items with a friend around the corner while you weigh your bag. Once they have tagged the bag and it’s “passes the weight allowance” you can put the stuff back in without a fee!
Improvise, adapt, overcome.
14: Add Your Mobile Ticket To Your E-wallet
Don’t struggle to find your boarding pass by scrolling through emails and logging into apps etc. Just download the pass to your phone and you have it easily accessible. You should also print out a copy just incase your phone dies.
15: Ask for Preferred Seats if You Haven’t Picked Them Yet
If you check in at the airport, there is no harm in asking for your preferred seats. For example, if you want to sit on the outside rows then just ask. You can try to ask for extra legroom seats, but these are usually paid seats and you would be lucky to get those.
16: Use a Fake Name for WI-Fi
I know so many people that sign up to marketing emails at airports because they put their real details into the Wi-Fi sign up. You don’t need to. This is what I do every time:
Name - hfiwhfowehf
Country - Uganda
17: Charge Everything Before
I have been to airports before where there have been no available plug sockets to charge items and some of the airports have been major international airports. You should always keep your items charged and carry a portable charger where possible. You might need your phone for the boarding pass or your laptop to finish some last minute work, whatever the reason is, make sure you are prepared. If you get stuck or delayed and cannot contact anyone at the other end to amend plans then you will be stressing out even more, so I would also recommend not using your phone when it hits 15% battery to save it for emergencies. DO NOT turn it off, there's a chance it will die and won’t come back on. It takes more battery to power up a phone than to leave it on.
18: Don’t Change Currency in the Airport
I don’t change currency at all unless I know I am visiting a small country that doesn’t widely accept credit cards. But if you need to get currency or still enjoy carrying cash with you then you should avoid airports. They generally have the worst rates. If you can change your money in the destination country or somewhere reputable in your home country.
If you don’t want to use your card then you can always load your money onto a travel card which will be beneficial for not carrying cash around.
19: Find a Good Place to Sleep
Whether you are staying overnight in an airport or just need a nap, you should look for a comfy place to sleep. Be aware that airport departures generally close overnight so if you are staying at an airport then you will be staying in the main lobby. When I did this at Gatwick Airport London, every seat and bench was taken by people sleeping so it was either the floor or going on an adventure to find comfort. I walked around for about 30 minutes and I found a staircase at the backend of the airport, fortunately, it wasn’t restricted. Inside the staircase was a chairlift for disabled access, it was probably the comfiest seat in the whole airport, and I didn’t get disturbed once. Every time I returned to the airport, I slept there and no one knew about it.
20: Have a Backup Plan
There will come a time when your plans will change and it’s out of your control. If you have a really important trip or flight to catch and it gets cancelled on the day, you need to have a backup plan. The best thing to do is research the next available flight that departs to your desired destination and keep that search saved on your phone. If the worst does happen you can head straight to that link and purchase your flight. You might spend more money but should get a refund from the cancelled flight anyway.
If you do end up having to book another flight then make sure you only book one way as you will still have your return flight from the original cancellation. Just give the airline a heads up that you are still taking that return flight.
21: Be Aware That Most Airports Only Let You in to Departures 4 Hours Before
Out of the 50+ airports I have travelled from, I think that only 1 has allowed me into departures earlier than 4 hours before. So you shouldn’t bank on turning up really early and going through to departures to start your drinking or get food. Research the airport before and find out. If you are at the airport earlier than expected, then you can still try and get through to departures but your ticket may be denied entry or staff will turn you away. No harm in trying though.
22: Some Airports Won’t Let You Take Food and Drink That You Bought in Departures!
One of the craziest things I have seen was flying from Bali to Australia. I wanted to purchase some food and drink to take on the plane once I had passed security. At the checkout the staff member told me that I wouldn’t be allowed to take drinks on the plane. So what was the point of having a food and drink shop in every gate? They actually had staff checking your bags at the gate to ensure you weren’t bringing items onto the plane. Just be aware of this before you splash your cash and have to throw it all away!
23: Hang Around in the Big Duty-Free Stores for a While
If you have time to kill, why not? One duty free store I went through had a live DJ, free alcohol tastings, the obvious after-shave samples, skincare samples, and food samples, why wouldn’t I stay there? I mean when stuff comes for free there’s no excuse not to enjoy it no matter who you are.
24: Some Airports Have Deliveroo
If you don’t want to sit in a packed out restaurant but want food then did you know that some airports have Deliveroo or versions of that service? You can order you food on an app and someone will bring it to your gate to enjoy in peace and quiet. It might be a bit lazy but who cares!
25: Always Fill out Your Landing Card Information
I once missed a tiny section on my landing card and after waiting in line for 2 hours, yes 2 hours, at security. The office made me go out of the line, refill the card, and start the line again. I was furious but then it was my fault I guess. Some officers will let you jump back in line but don’t take the risk, just make sure they are filled out.
26: Don’t Worry About Connecting Flights
As mentioned already some connecting flights can only have 1 hour connecting times. If you have booked with the same airline then it is that airlines responsibility to get you to your destination. So if your first flight is delayed and you only have 10 minutes to make it to your connection, don’t panic. You should speed up a bit, but don’t get worried. Airlines will usually hold a plane for as long as possible to ensure their connecting passengers make it. They have a list of all passengers connecting and chances are, there will be 30-40 people on your flight that are catching the same connection that you are.
Obviously if your flight is delayed by more than an hour, you will likely be rescheduled onto the next flight because that’s too long to make other passengers wait.
27: Dress Warm
Airports and planes are cold. Unless you are in somewhere where the humidity is 100% and no air con. But even when leaving a hot destination, bring warm clothes to change into. You will be freezing if you don’t and personally, I can’t get comfortable on planes or in the airport when it is that cold.
28: Always Check If You Have to Check in Before Getting to the Airport
Every airline is different as you should know by now. Some require you to check in online and if you check in at the airport you will be charged an airport check-in fee. That will apply to hand luggage only but every circumstance is different and dependant on the T&C’s of the airline. Just look up the airlines policy before your departure date to avoid unnecessary charges.
29: Be Aware of Credit Card Perks
Did you know that some credit cards give you free airport lounge access? I have used many in the past and it’s much better than sitting in the busy departure lounges. You will also receive free food and alcohol so it’s a win win.