Friday, July 24, 2015

10 Handy Tips to Breeze through Airports

Have you ever faced a situation where you swore obscenities at how airports are such a big pain in the wrong places? I have got mightily pissed so many times. Just thinking about those long airline counter and airport security queues gives me the shudders.

It is not just time that we waste at airports, but we end up getting tired and start off our holiday or business trip on a wrong note. We all know that air travel cannot be avoided especially if time and distance are of essence and hence I thought be helpful if I put together a list of simple tips and tricks that will allow you to breeze through airports. These simple and handy tips are based on my personal experience with airports and air travel. I hope they help alleviate some of your travel worries.

Online Check-in please!

Airline Counter Queues at Delhi international airport

If you are traveling by a low cost airline, you might be already doing this to save on money, but if you are traveling in a full service airline, you should still make use of the online checkin facility. You could do this on your computer (a printout of the boarding pass will suffice) or mobile (a QR code of your booking will do).  You don’t have to stand in those long queues. All you have to do is drop in your bags at the baggage counter.

Get Smart! Install those Smartphone Apps!

I would recommend that you install at least 4 apps:

1) The app of the airline you are flying with – to help with mobile check-in, emergency contact information, customer service, frequent flyer details and more.

2) The app of the airport you are flying out of or into – to help you with airport navigation (terminals, gates, lounge rooms, ticket counters, food court, duty free shopping and more).

3) Seat Guru or other similar apps – to help you choose the right seat before you select one during your online checkin. Different aircrafts have different seating arrangements and this comes in handy to help you choose that seat with more leg room or that aisle or window seat.

4) Gate Guru or other similar apps – to stay on top of your flight timings and gate. Sometimes, flights get delayed or the gates get changed and you might be busy doing some duty free shopping. If you have this app, neither do you have to stand next to those TV monitors to search for your latest flight information nor do you have to keep your ears open for the latest announcements. If you have this app, you can relax in your lounge, do your shopping or simply find a cosy spot and do your reading or work.

Choose a Convenient Cabin Bag
Waiting area at London Heathrow Airport

Whether you carry a duffel, a backpack or a suitcase on wheels, choose one that allows you easy access. Personally, I prefer at least 3 easily accessible compartments or pockets in my cabin bag:

1) To keep your passport, other ID, boarding pass, wallet and mobile phone – comes in handy while dropping your bags at the airline baggage counter and while clearing security.

2) To keep all your electronics (laptops, cameras, tablets, kindles, phone battery backups, camera batteries and others) – comes in handy to remove all your electronics while going through airport security.

3) To keep everything else – You don’t want to spill these things while you remove your electronics, ID or liquids. If you do, then it will be a nightmare putting it all back together.

In my mind, this is one of the most important things to look into while traveling. The best part is that you can pick up a type of luggage that suits your needs, personality and taste. And you can look at this article on airline luggage to start the search for your perfect cabin bag.

Don’t Forget to Carry your Pen

As silly as it may sound, do carry a pen (no fountain pens please) with you when you travel and make sure it is in your carry on case. This is one thing that most travelers forget, but it comes in so very handy for filling immigration and visa forms and you don’t have to borrow a pen from other travelers. Everyone is in a rush and sometimes, it becomes quite difficult to get a pen in time.

All Liquids in Transparent Plastic (Zip-loc) Pouches

Immigration Line at Beijing International Airport

Assuming that you are carrying liquids and gels in internationally accepted sizes, do ensure that you carry them in one transparent zip-loc pouch. If you have any liquid elsewhere in your bag, the airport security will make you take everything in your cabin bag out and that is just a recipe for disaster, especially if you wanted to make use of the time before your flight. This applies to perfumes, gels, moisturizer, creams, nail polish, lip balms, lotions and more.

Comfortable Clothing and Slip Ons

Normally, I wear comfortable clothing for air travel, which means pants with elastic bands, no belts, no metallic items on clothes, T shirt and slip-ons (loafers, flip flops, etc.). This allows for minimal stripping and a miniscule number of minutes to get fully dressed again.

But, I do understand that you cannot always do this, especially if you are on a business trip, traveling in colder weather or simply wish to save on your luggage weight. In which case, you should remove your boots, belts, any metallic accessories, watches, sunglasses, jackets, hats and any jewellery before you go through the body scanner machine. The last thing we all want is to be told to step out of the line and be given a full body search.

Leverage Frequent Flyer Benefits

This is one thing that a lot of travelers lose out on. If you are a frequent flyer or traveling business or first class, you get a lot of perks. These could be priority access at airline counters, priority security clearances, priority immigration, priority boarding, discounts at shops or restaurants and/or a relaxed time at the premium lounges. Not all of these are offered to all frequent flyers at all airports. But, priority service is definitely a blessing at airports. So do make sure you are enrolled in the right frequent flyer program or even become a TSA member if you are from the US. Depending on your airline, origin and destination, you might gain on some precious time and enjoy some preferential treatment.

Weigh your Bags and use TSA Locks
This is not the most important thing for light travelers, but is an issue if you are either a new traveler or traveling with family. It is always prudent to weigh your bags at home so that you can avoid re-juggling weight at the airport and/or pay additional fees for extra baggage weight. And do remember to use TSA locks on both your check-in and cabin bag so that airport staff don’t damage your bags while conducting their random searches for suspicious items.

Know which Airport and which Terminal

This might sound crazy, but I know countless number of travelers who landed at the wrong terminal and sometimes even a wrong airport. This generally leads to panic led running and/or missing a flight.

Most of the larger cities across the world have one more than one airport. Generally, one is for international or full service airlines and the other one is for domestic or low cost airlines. In addition, these airlines have many terminals each spread quite a distance apart and sometimes taking as much as 30 minutes just for the simple commute. I am not even talking about time taken to clear airport security between terminals. The terminals of London’s Heathrow airport are one prime example.

In such a case, you might want to know which airport and which terminal your flight leaves from, else you might be kicking yourself for being stupid.

P.S. I am assuming that you are all sensible travelers and don’t carry firearms, inflammable goods, sharp tools or other banned items on your person or in your bags and hence haven’t bothered to talk about those in this article.

Note: The pictures in this article are courtesy of and have been used under the creative commons license. Each photo has been linked to its original page on wikipedia.

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