Top 10 Tips for the Airport

Nobody loves traversing the airport. It’s often stressful and unfamiliar. I’ve worked in the air travel industry for 15 years, and feel as though these ten tips will help you to feel like an air travel pro:

10. Arrive with lots of time. Airports are usually busy places, and it doesn’t take much to slow down the works. You may think you know your home airport, and how to game the system to your advantage, but you’re playing with fire by running late. Airlines recommend you arrive early, and that’s not just to inconvenience you. Anything from the weather in another city to sick calls by security screeners can make things run more slowly, and showing up later than the recommended arrival time will garner little sympathy from anyone at the airport should you miss your flight.

9. Have your travel documents ready, and make sure they’re valid. This may seem like common sense, but you should never book a flight, particularly international flights, using anything other than the exact name printed in your passport or other valid identification. No nicknames. Also ensure that the passport, national identity card, driving licence, or other document has not expired. Have your itinerary, or at the very least your airline confirmation code (PNR, Record Locator, etc.) to hand. If you find any errors, make sure you have them corrected before you arrive at the airport or ensure you add time to have this done, which can take longer than you’d expect.

8. Use the self-serve options available to you whenever possible. You’ll save yourself time, and you’ll allow staff more time to help people who have genuine issues with their reservations. Airlines are for-profit, and their margins are tight. Labour costs are one of the few they can control. Staffing levels are often sub-optimal in large airports, meaning that if you and I clog up the queue just to get a boarding pass when kiosks, apps, and online check-in are available to us, someone else may not get the help they need to make their flight. Also, if you qualify for a trusted traveller program, such as Nexus in Canada and the US, it may be a good idea to apply if you travel frequently. It can allow access to priority screening at the security checkpoint, as well as streamlined border crossings in some countries.

7. Be kind. Everyone in the airport is likely stressed out and busy too. Your approach to staff and other passengers can set the tone for how your progress through the airport will proceed.

6. Be organised. In particular, your hand luggage should be packed so that progress through security is quick and painless. Have large electronics ready to remove from your bag. Know what the restrictions on liquids and gels are, and follow them (typically not more than 100 ml per item in a clear plastic bag with a capacity no greater than 1 l in the EU, Canada, and the United States as well as others, but subject to change). Don’t wear excessive jewellery or anything that will trigger metal detectors. Security is the single biggest choke point, and it isn’t going away, so being prepared helps you and everyone else.

5. Be considerate of others. This applies in the airport and on the flight (and in general through life, but we’re focused on air travel here). Don’t wear strong smells (or be smelly yourself!), avoid bringing strongly scented foods, and don’t bring common airborne allergens such as nut-based products on board.

4. Don’t be drunk or high. Sure, reward yourself for being a good traveller and preparing well for the airport experience by grabbing a pint at the airport pub with that extra time you’ve allowed yourself, but don’t be excessive. It’s actually illegal in most countries for airline staff and aircrew to allow you to fly if you’re intoxicated by drugs or alcohol. They can be fined personally, and they aren’t willing to risk that.

3. Pay attention to announcements and the flight information display screens (FIDS). Airlines will announce delays, gate changes, cancellations, and other pertinent information using these systems. Many airlines also have apps which will allow you to receive push notifications. This information can make the difference between making and missing a flight, particularly in large airports where distances between gates can be substantial.

2. Board when you’re supposed to. Be at the gate on time (it will be printed on your boarding pass), and when boarding begins, there will likely be a system devised by your airline to make things a little more efficient. Often, this is done by zone number, row numbers, cabin classes, or some other method. By listening for the appropriate boarding time, and being ready to go when your zone is called, the flight will board more efficiently, and the flight will have a better chance of an on time departure.

1. Obey airline restrictions on cabin baggage, and ensure that you don’t monopolise space intended for everyone. Airlines set their cabin baggage restrictions based on the capacity of their on-board lockers, and although your backpack or other item may fit, it will then use somebody else’s space. If everyone follows the regulations, all bags should fit, in theory.

From my experience, I believe that these little pointers, which aren’t terribly difficult to follow, will ease your journey through the airport. I’ve specifically written them with the casual traveller in mind, and I hope you find them helpful and happy travels!

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