Nobody likes airports. They’re often big, confusing and full of weary travelers and cranky staff. Delays, cancelations and outrage about overweight fees and extra charges can add to tension and generally make the airport an unpleasant place to be. Customs and security can be a stressful experience, especially when we have to go through metal detectors and have our baggage subjected to X-rays and the scrutiny of officers who are looking for threats. We understand why it’s done, but sometimes, it’s just a big pain. There are plenty of ways to make the airport, including security and customs, much less stressful. There are ways around some of the restrictions, as well as some of the extra charges that come with having too much luggage or overweight bags. We’ve gathered up some of the best tips from the travelers here at EscapeHere and others in order to bring you the 10 best airport hacks! Next time you’re traveling through a big hub, give some of these tricks a whirl and make your trip all the more pleasant.
10. Follow Signage
This may seem like a no-brainer to most people, but for some reason, people often become completely flummoxed the second they enter an airport terminal. Even though airports often have easy-to-follow signage, some people still find themselves pondering where they need to go or what to do. One thing not to do is follow the crowd; the crowd sometimes has no idea what they’re doing.
Case in point: On a flight into Geneva, I witnessed a number of passengers with U.S. passports heading into a line up clearly marked for EU passport-holders. Some of these passengers waited just as long as I did in the correct line-up, only to be turned away when they got up to the window. A similar thing happened to passengers arriving in New Jersey from Europe; EU citizens attempted to go through the lanes designated for U.S. and Canadian citizens. Some of those people were just “followers” and ended up in line because they followed the person ahead of them, rather than reading the signs themselves. Read the signs and avoid standing in line for double the time!
9. Dress Sensibly
This probably seems like another no-thinking-required point, but you’d be amazed by how many people still arrive at the airport dressed in a completely impractical get-up. While some people insist style should always trump comfort, I say you’re going to be stuck in a flying tin can for the next few hours, so you might as well be comfortable. I’m not saying you should show up to the airport in your pyjamas, but you also don’t need to break out the waist trainer and the 5-inch heels, ladies.
Not only is some attire uncomfortable, some of it is actually impractical for traveling through an airport. You know you need to go through a metal detector, so why would you wear chains or additional metal jewelry that you don’t normally wear? U.S. customs makes you remove your shoes (and EU airports definitely prefer it), so why would you wear the most uncomfortable pair of shoes you own, knowing you’re going to put them on, then take them off and not be able to get your now-swollen feet back in them? A cute pair of flats or nice dress shoes will suffice.
8. Use the Priority Lane
Okay, this might run contrary to the “read the signs” point, but sometimes, it’s okay to break the rules. Most airlines reserve 1 or 2 check-in lanes for their first-class customers. These priority lanes are available to passengers who paid extra in order to ensure them better and faster service. However, since there are fewer customers flying first-class or business-class than there are economy passengers, the attendants on these lanes often aren’t nearly as busy. Sometimes, if there’s no one in their queue, they’ll even wave you over.
First-class passengers also have a tendency to show up very early (so they can hang out in the lounge – free food and drinks!) or as close to the flight as they can, in part because they know they have priority check-in which means these lanes are often empty for long stretches. Since there are also fewer passengers to check-in, and many of them are experienced travelers, there are fewer cases where the line gets held up by, say, an overweight bag or a confused customer. While it won’t happen every time, if you see the priority lane is free, hop it!
7. Wear Your Extra Luggage
Extra luggage is perhaps one of the banes of any traveler’s existence. With airlines charging more and more for checked baggage, often including the first bag, more people are attempting to get around these fees by using a carry-on and a personal item. Of course, carry-ons have size and weight limits, so this isn’t a perfect workaround. I’ve even seen flights where there was too much luggage in the cabin, so the crew actually had to force people to check some of their baggage (for free, of course) in order to free up space.
Let’s say you’re coming back from vacation and you’ve picked up a few extra things. You only brought a carry-on and you loathe to pick up (and check!) another bag. You just don’t want to deal with the carousel routine at the other end. But your carry-on is overweight. What to do? The easy answer is wear some of your luggage. Layer your clothes, put on some jewelry, or pick your running shoes over your flip-flops, because the sandals take up less space in your luggage. After all, they don’t weigh you! (Yet.)
6. Use a Shopping Bag
We’ve all been there: you picked up too many things while you were on vacation and now you face a difficult dilemma. You must either face overweight fees for your luggage or check a bag (or perhaps a second bag). Either way, you’re going to have to pony up some extra money for your extra stuff, right?
Wrong! There is a solution here, and that’s to get an airport shopping bag. Chuck all your extra stuff into the shopping bag and, voila, it looks like you made some purchases at the gift shop before getting on your flight. Most airlines don’t require you to check these items, nor do they weigh them. Most will even gather them right up and put them on the cabin. Grab a bag, fill ‘er up, and avoid the fees. If you’re really stuck, however, you can usually check a second bag at a discounted rate over the first. And, if the cabin is really crowded or there’s too much luggage, you might luck out and have the airline offer to check your luggage for free.
5. Rub Elbows to Get into the Lounge
First-class and business travelers get perks at the airport, not just on the flight, and one of those on-the-ground perks is access to the priority lounge. First-class flyers can hang out in the lounge, which is generally furnished with more comfortable seats and also offers complimentary food and drink. Some lounges also offer showers.
Another perk? They’re also usually allowed to bring a friend or a guest with them into the lounge. If you’re dying for a comfortable seat or some free grub, hang out near the lounge and see if one of the lounge-goers would be willing to admit you as their guest. Some might not want to and others might already have traveling companions, but you might find someone who is willing to sign you into the lounge. If you’re having difficulty, but still dying to get in, don’t be afraid to spin your story—interesting conversation, adventures, or even a little bit of “woe is me” can go a long, long way.
Flying can be extremely traumatic for some people. Some take a couple of pills in order to deal with anxiety, while others use everything from deep breathing techniques to meditation to help relax on the flight. Others resort to alcohol, often taking advantage of the drinks served on the flight. While most of these people don’t get plastered, a drink or two might dull the edge of their fear and make the flight slightly more enjoyable (or at least tolerable).
The big problem, of course, is that airline drinks don’t come cheap. If you’re flying economy, chances are you’re on a budget anyway, so if you need a drink (or more), you may not have the funds to fork out for it. What to do? Well, remember that you can bring up to 100 mL of liquid onto the plane. That means that, yes, you can bring the little bottles of alcohol into the cabin with you. Grab a soda or some juice from the beverage cart when it comes by and make yourself a cocktail!
3. Freeze Liquids
We all know that there are restrictions on how much liquid a person can carry with them into the cabin of the plane. While some restrictions have been loosening up in the past couple of years, most airports still play by the 100 mL rule, which means you can only have 50 mL of any given liquid in your carry-on.
However—and this might seem like a weird exception—the TSA in the U.S. has no guidelines about frozen liquids. So if you want to bring a 500 mL bottle of water with you on the flight, just freeze it first. Of course, you have to ensure that it’s frozen at home, so if you happen to grab a bottle of water while you’re at the airport, you’re going to need to ditch that or drink it before you go through security. And if you’re traveling on a hot summer day, your water might unfreeze faster than you anticipate, so don’t be surprised if you’re asked to remove it and dispose of it anyway.
2. Bring an Empty Water Bottle
We all know that we can’t bring more than 100 mL of liquid through security, so that 500 mL water bottle you brought from home is going to have to be emptied in a sink or tossed in the trash. Trust me; I watched a nun get frisked and be led off to additional security checks just because she refused to give up her bottle of water. Surely none of us want that; it’s too much hassle.
But why pay for overpriced water bottles on the other side of the security checkpoint, especially for non-reusable plastics bottles? If you know you won’t be able to wait until the flight attendants bring around the beverage cart after take-off, but you want to save money, bring an empty container from home. Once you’re through security, you can fill the bottle up at a water fountain or, if worse comes to worse, in a bathroom sink. Sometimes, you can even ask staff at airport restaurants to fill the bottle up for you; many are happy to oblige.
1. Fly Red-Eye
Need to fly, but dread the hustle and bustle of busy airport terminals? Do yourself a favor and book a red-eye flight. The later your flight departs, the more likely the terminal is to be quiet, as there’s both fewer flights and many of the airport amenities will have closed for the day, which means there will be fewer people queuing up for food or thronging around overpriced gift shops. Security and flight check-in desks will also be less crowded. While you can’t be guaranteed a quiet flight, flying through the night also allows you to (try and) sleep on the plane, instead of spending your waking hours stuck in a flying metal box.
A red-eye also gets you into the arrivals terminal early, which means the airport is often just as quiet, as few flights are arriving, staff is at a minimum, and most services and amenities are just opening up. You can be in and out almost in a flash.