Traveling is so much fun but getting to your destination and passing through the airport can be a hectic experience. If you don’t know what to expect, or if this is your first trip abroad, airports can ruin your experience before it even starts. But no worries, there are many airport travel hacks that I’ve learned during the years, which will make your transition to your destination smooth. I’ve put this list of airport tips and tricks together thinking about what mistakes have I done during my trips and what I’ve learned from them. No matter if it’s Heathrow Airport or the tiny Zanzibar airport, it never takes me more than 15 minutes from the moment I step in, to the one I relax at the gate.
Here are my airport hacks you never knew about which will make your trip a breeze:
Don’t Forget to Check-in
There is nothing worse than arriving to the airport two hours before your flight and realising that you forgot to check-in. Most of the low-cost airlines in Europe will charge you an arm and a leg to check you in at the desk, so remember to check in online before you leave to the airport.
Select the Best Seat for Your Flight
When you fly long haul, usually you can choose a free seat when you check in online. Use SeatGuru in order to find the best seat on the plane. You don’t want your extra leg room seat to actually be a basinet space for a baby.
Book Your Parking Ahead of Time
A study revealed that 60% of us are traveling to the airport via private cars – some driving ourselves, some being dropped of by family or friends. If you are traveling with your family, parking at the airport makes sense, as it can save a lot of money. If your flight is scheduled to depart early in the morning, you can’t really rely on public transport, especially if you don’t live close to the airport.
Having your car waiting for you as soon as you exit the airport makes your journey back home so much more comfortable and hassle free.
Book a Transfer Ahead of Time
If you can’t drive or you don’t have a car, but you are traveling with your family, booking an airport transfer is the most cost-efficient solution. Booking in advance is much cheaper than last minute.
Check Out the Public Transport Alternatives
When you travel on your own it makes sense to go to the airport by public transport. Trains will get you to the airport faster, but they will be the most expensive. Make sure to check the schedule for the day you travel, as sometimes trains are not running during the weekend, on specific routes, because of rail roads – especially towards Southend Airport.
If you choose to go to the airport by bus, take in consideration the very long transfer times. From central London, it can take even four hours to reach Stansted or Gatwick Airport. I almost missed a flight from Luton, even if I left five hours before, because of the traffic jams in London. Always plan for traffic delays.
Download the Airline’s App
No matter which airline you are flying with, always download their app. Not only that you will be able to access your boarding pass at all times, even without internet, but you will also be notified if there are any delays to your flight through it. Imagine arriving at the airport only to find out that your flight has a five hours delay – which was announced in the app.
Check in to the Counter Closest to Business Class
If for some reason you were unable to check in online (it happens more often that you think, usually when you are randomly selected by the system for extra checks), or when you have to check in luggage, make sure to queue in the line closest to the business class. When there are no people waiting for the business class counter, the staff usually checks in people from economy as well, to speed up the queues.
Ask For an Upgrade
There is nothing wrong with asking for an upgrade when you check-in at the gate, you never know when the planets will align, and the answer will be yes. To maximise your chances of a “yes”, make sure to be a member of the airline’s loyalty program, preferably in the second tier. It is not as hard as you imagine getting to the second tier, you just need to fly with the same airline (or group) several times a year. A smart outfit, a smile and politeness towards the check-in agent count a lot as well in being successful.
Be Prepared For the Security Check
As a frequent flyer, there is nothing worse than being stuck behind someone who gets turned away several times at the security check because they forgot coins in their pocket, or behind someone who is frantically searching for the loose liquid containers in their luggage. Pack your bag smart and have your liquids and laptop handy, easy to take out.
Wear trainers, you will never be asked to take them off whilst passing through security. Boots will always make you walk barefoot through the metal scanner.
Go to the Left
When choosing a security check lane, always go to the left. Most of the people are right-handed and, naturally turn right when reaching a crossroads. The chances are that if you go left you will find smaller queues.
Wear Comfortable Clothes
Wearing comfortable clothes can make your journey so much easier, especially when you fly long haul and you need to sleep on the plane.
I have my designated flying outfit with jeggings, the same comfortable t-shirt, a scarf and trainers.
Choose a Bag With an External Pocket
An external pocket to your hand luggage is so useful when it comes to airport security. It’s where you should store your laptop, tablet and toiletries, for easy access. Imagine you are rushing to catch a flight, or you are selected for an extra screening. Being able to take out and put your belongings back in so easily saves so much time and keeps your luggage organised.
Have a Luggage Tag
A luggage tag is a life saviour if your bag goes missing. One of the reasons why airlines are losing bags is because the printed tags with the destination that the check in agents are attaching to them, break.
If you have a luggage tag with your name and phone number, if this happens, you will be reunited with your bag for sure. I had a bag lost forever because I didn’t put a luggage tag with my details on it, and now I’ve learned from my mistake and all my bags have one.
Take a Photo of Your Luggage
If your luggage goes missing, having a photo of your luggage and its contents can help the lost and found staff find it much quicker. Usually lost bags are open, and the airport staff can identify their owners by the items inside. If you are providing the lost and found office with photos of the contents of your bag, it will be much easier for them to find your luggage.
Remember, most of the people have similar luggage (black bags, backpacks without any distinctive marks), so providing photos can reunite you with your bag faster than you think.
Put a Sticker on Your Luggage
An easy way to identify your luggage is by putting a sticker on it. Everyone seems to have a black luggage, around the same size with the same features, and it’s easy to pick up someone else’s bag instead of yours. It didn’t happen to me, but it did happen to a friend of mine. She had to go back to the airport with the wrong bag that she took from the conveyor belt and then try to reach the passenger who took hers. She lost an extra day just because she didn’t pay attention.
By putting a sticker on your bag, you can avoid someone else picking your bag or you picking up someone else’s luggage. Some people recommend tying a scarf to your luggage, I don’t because scarfs can get untied. Better a sticker.
Wear Your Extra Luggage
If your luggage is heavier than your airline allows, wear the heavier items during the check-in process. Jumpers, jeans and coats weight much more than t-shirts and shorts. Wear your bulkier shoes and leave your flip flops in the bag for later.
A power bank can be quite heavy, so put it in your pocket.
Use Packing Cubes
One of my best airport packing hacks is using packing cubes to keep my bag organised and save space. They are very useful when it comes to compressing your clothes and getting more items into your luggage.
Packing cubes are also fantastic at keeping your bag tidy, with your clothes accessible at all times without making a mess. This is great when you stay in hostels and start your day early. Also, packing cubes don’t make any noise, so your hostel buddies will be thankful for not waking them up with the sound of plastic bags.
Weight Your Luggage Before Dropping It Off
If you are checking in a luggage, it’s good to know if it’s overweight beforehand. In some airports you will find services that will weight your luggage for a fee. But you don’t have to pay to find out how many kilograms your luggage has. An airport carry-on hack is to weight your luggage at any empty check in desk. They all have scales, so just go to an empty one and weight your bag for free.
Pack Your Valuables in Your Hand Luggage
It’s surprising how many people are still putting valuables inside their checked in bags. Do not leave anything that you care about or that has a high value in the hold, as the airline will not be responsible if your items go missing. Also, your insurance company will not compensate you if your valuable go missing from the hold luggage.
Have a Change of Clothes in Your Hand Luggage
I don’t usually check in luggage, but when I do, I am unlucky enough that the airline loses it. It happened to me twice so far and it’s not nice to get to your destination without any clothes or toiletries.
This is why now, when I do check in a bag, I always make sure to have a change of clothes and my basic toiletries with me. This way I don’t need to panic, I can go to my hotel, have a shower, freshen up, and then go shopping, and not wear the same sweaty clothes I had on the flight.
Book an Early or a Late Flight
If you are on a budget, book a flight that leaves early in the morning, or late at night. They are usually cheaper than flights during the day and the airports are less busy during those times as well. Also, if you are afraid of turbulence, you should know that the air is clearer and the wind tends to reduce early morning, so the chances of clear air turbulence are lower.
Wait at an Empty Gate
There are never enough seats at any gate for all the passengers boarding a plane. If you want to sit down whilst waiting for your plane to board, seat at an empty gate from where you can see your gate and the screen with departure times.
People love rushing to form a queue for boarding, just after the gate is announced. It doesn’t matter that there is still one hour until the plane departs, people will still queue. I never understood this, as everyone has their own assign seat.
I don’t like to queue, so I usually just wait at a different gate until the madness is over, and then head over to board. Boarding last has its benefits, as sometimes you can get upgraded to business class if the plane is overbooked – yes, this happened to me several times.
Bring an Empty Water Bottle
It’s been years since I last bought a bottle of water at the airport. Bringing your own water bottle will not only save you money – hey, we all know how overpriced water is after the security check, but also will help you be more eco-friendly.
Most of the airport have water fountains where you can fill your bottle from after you pass the security check. There is no excuse to travel these days without a water bottle. Think on the investment you will make, taking in consideration that a good quality, thermic water bottle will cost the same as five plastic ones bought at the airport. The reusable water will last for years and you will avoid using so much single use plastic.
Wear Your Glasses Instead of Contact Lenses
As someone who does wear coloured contact lenses from time to time, I can tell you that they can get extremely uncomfortable during flights, especially long ones with layovers. The air conditioning from both the airports and the plane can get your eyes and skin really dry so, if you have a choice, wear your glasses instead of contact lenses.
Bring a Long Scarf With You
I don’t know about you, but even in the middle of summer, as soon as I step into an airport, I feel that winter has arrived. I am also very cold during the flights, sometimes feeling that my feet froze. This is why I never fly wearing shorts or sandals, and I always have a long scarf with me, to cover my upper body.
A long scarf can be a perfect blanket replacement! During my latest long-haul flight, coming back from Tanzania via Zambia, on the first leg of the journey the crew ran out of blankets. I was asleep when they were distributing them and when I woke up shivering and went to ask for one, they apologised and told me they will get some more in Zambia. But that was two hours away. I was very grateful for the scarf I was carrying with me, until I got a proper blanket.
Have a Set of Hotel Toiletries With You
Hotel toiletries are perfect for traveling with in your hand luggage. They are small, fit in the liquid bag – which we all know it gets smaller and smaller these days – and are very useful for a weekend trip.
Now, don’t be a hoarder and take the toiletries from every hotel you visit. Non profit organisations such as Clean the World or Clean Conscience are recycling and repurposing hotel toiletries, sending them to communities in need from countries with high death rates from pneumonia and cholera. So only take what you need.
Bring Sanitizer and Wet Wipes
Now more than ever it’s important to carry hand sanitizer and wet wipes with you. There are so many sick people who chose to continue with their travel plans instead of staying at home. Germs can spread so fast in common spaces such as airports or planes, so it’s important not only to wash your hands as often as you can, but also sanitize your hands after you touch surfaces such as escalators or door handles.
On the plane, always wipe the tray table, the arm rests and the seat belt. They usually never get cleaned, especially in between flights, when the cleaning crew has less than 20 minutes to prepare the plane for the next passengers. Germs can live on plastic and metal surfaces for days, so it’s important to get them cleaned as soon as you sit down.
Have a Power Bank in Your Bag
There is nothing worse than spending your layover with an empty battery, without being able to connect to the WiFi. There are many airports that don’t provide plugs for passengers to charge their devices on, or, if they do, it will cost you money.
Always carry with you a power bank fully charged for situations like this.
Netflix is your best friend when it comes to long waiting times at the airport, or even longer flights. I always make sure to have at least 3 movies downloaded from Netflix on my phone, to watch when the unexpected happens, or when I am bored during a layover. Time passes so much faster when you are watching a movie.
Bring Your Own Headphones
There is no point of downloading movies if you don’t bring your headphones, so make sure you don’t leave them at home. If you are flying long haul, the airline will usually provide you with a pair of low-quality headphones that are uncomfortable and break halfway though, depending how many times you plug and unplug them.
Your own pair of headphones is surely more comfortable for your ears and they won’t break as soon as you leave your seat to go to the toilet.
Look For a Sleeping Pod
When you have a long layover and you feel very tired, look around the airport for a sleeping pod. Many airports around the world have installed sleeping pods where you can rest between your flights and pay by the hour. Some airports also have hotels after the security area, where you can rent a room with a bathroom by the hour as well. I used such a hotel in Sao Paulo and paid approximately £10/hour. It was a blessing, especially that my layover was 10 hours long and I hadn’t had any sleep in the past 24 hours.
Invest in a Priority Pass
When you fly a lot it is useful to have a priority pass that will give you access to the airport’s lounges. A frequent flyer annual pass costs £339 (most of the times you can get 25% off if you buy it on Groupon) and gives you access to over 1300 lounges around the world. If you fly 10 times a year, that’s £33/visit for unlimited food and beverages, free fast internet, newspapers and magazines, and usually beautiful views towards the runway.
Bring Some Snacks
If you don’t want to spend outrageous amounts of money on food at the airport, bring your own snacks with you. Usually there isn’t any issues in passing through security with food – I passed with all sorts, from fresh pesto (for which the Italian security agent congratulated my taste) to frozen pierogi from Poland.
Book Directly on the Hotel’s Website
If your flight is at 6AM, it makes sense to spend the night at an airport hotel. Whilst you can find all sorts of airport hotels on Booking.com, some airport chains don’t advertise on any booking platform. Take for example Premier Inn or Travelodge, which have amazing deals that start from £35 a night for an airport hotel which is walking distance to the terminal. You can only book these hotels on their own websites.
Stick With the Same Brand
Many hotels have loyalty programs which you should take advantage of, if you are a frequent flyer. I am a member of Hilton Honors and I always get at least 15% off by booking directly on their website. I call their Gatwick Hotel my second home, that’s how often I stay there. By reaching the Gold Membership I also benefit of free breakfast, free lounge access and automatic room upgrades.
Ask For a Wake-up Call
If you don’t rely on or don’t trust your alarm (I’m guilty of this), ask for a wake-up call. Reception will be happy to wake you up in the morning and you don’t need to worry that you will miss your flight for not hearing your alarm.
How about you? Do you have any airport hack of your own that I didn’t cover in this article? I would love to read your opinion in the comments section below.
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