There are two types of people in this world: Those that view the airport experience as an exciting part of their journey in getting to their destination. And then, there are those that absolutely despise it. Our travel journalists fully understand both perspectives.
On one hand, airports are the gateway to the world. Just hop on a plane and mere hours later you are transported to your dream destination. So it’s an amazing part of the vacation. On the other hand, airports are loud, busy, confusing, and somewhat intimidating.
To help ease the stress, we have compiled our Top 10 Tips for a faster and easier airport experience, starting with things you can do before you even leave the house
1. Put Toiletries in Proper Containers
No one wants to be in a situation where security agents are confiscating your belongings. This is why you need to adhere to airport regulations and have your shampoos and conditioners, hand creams, body washes, and all other liquids organized into 100 mL (3.3 fluid ounces) bottles. You can have as many 100mL bottles of the same product as you need but they must be in these measured containers and stored in a transparent bag for easy viewing. Also, any medication you need to take on your trip should be in their original pharmacy bottles with the original labels attached, including YOUR name. Make sure sharp items, such as nail scissors, are stored in your checked luggage, otherwise you risk confiscation. Doing these things will eliminate questions from agents and will ensure you pass through security quickly.
2. Make Luggage Identifiable
If you are taking a short trip, we highly recommend packing only a carry-on (even if you have to sit on it to close it). This allows you to skip the extra fees associated with checking your bags, it eliminates waiting time at the carousel, and it prevents the possibility of your luggage being lost. However, if you absolutely must take full-size luggage, remember that thousands of black, grey, and navy suitcases pass through airports each and every hour. If your bag is very plain and looks like everybody else’s, there’s a good chance that someone could mistake your luggage for theirs and vice versa.
To prevent mix-ups, we suggest making your suitcase as identifiable as possible. Not only does this prevent other travellers from taking it by accident, it also helps the airline or cruiseline to identify it should it get lost in transit.
Aside from an identification tag, consider attaching a heavy-duty key chain, a brightly colored rope, scarf, or piece of tape, all of which can wrap around the handle or through the hole of a zipper so you can see the baggage as soon as it falls onto the carousel. Beyond that, consider buying unique luggage or a brightly colored or patterned suitcase cover. Not only does this protect your bag from scratches, marks, and spills, it also makes your suitcase super unique and identifiable.
3. Check Flight Status before Leaving Home
There’s no worse feeling than getting to the airport and realizing your flight has been delayed 2-3 hours or even worse, cancelled. Headaches and stress can be avoided by checking your flight status before leaving home.
On the airline’s website or airport site, you can enter your flight number and know where the plane is coming from, when it will be at the airport, the estimated time it will reach your destination, and, of course, any delays or cancellations.
4. Check in Online
Before you can board a plane, there are several lines in the airport that you likely will need to stand in to take care of business. However, you can eliminate at least one of them by checking in online, which you can do up to 24 hours in advance.
5. Reserve Your Seat Ahead of Time
Reserving your seat online and ahead of time gives you and your traveling companions more of a chance to book seats together, whereas waiting until you reach the airport ensures that more seats are already spoken for and your options are fewer. Additionally, advance seat selection creates less of a chance of being bumped from your flight.
Most airlines require you to check in 2-3 hours prior to departure. If you arrive last minute, they have permission to boot you from the flight and resell your ticket to someone else. For more information and tips on avoiding being bumped from a flight, check THIS out.
At airports, less is more. There are only a few items you need to keep with you at all times: passport, boarding pass, travel documents, credit card or cash, and phone. If these are in your hand, you’re good.
We suggest purchasing a travel wallet which has a place to put said items. Put everything you are not using and will not need into your checked luggage (if you have any) or into your carry-on or purse. The less you have to search through at each checkpoint or line-up, the easier and smoother the process will be.
7. Be Security Ready
This section covers a lot of ground since it applies to different aspects of your airport experience. For starters, let’s look at the security checkpoint involving a physical scan of your body and your belongings.
You know that person in the security line that has no clue what to do? Even when the security officials are yelling instructions and there are signs indicating the removal of shoes and the placement of all belongings in a bin, these people remain lost. We cannot stress this enough: Do NOT be that person. Please.
If you’ve been on a flight before, you already know the drill. If you haven’t, here’s the deal: All of your carry-on luggage, as well as personal items, including purses, jackets, shoes, laptops and phones, must be placed in a plastic bin on the conveyor belt to enter the X-ray machine. Since you have to remove so much, we suggest dressing lightly. Wear shoes that are easy to slip on and off, wear just a zip-up sweater or hoodie if you are cold. If you are traveling with a computer, it must come out of its bag and be placed into Xray its own bin.
Don’t panic. Your belongings are safe and you will meet up with them again in a matter of minutes after you are scanned and cleared from the metal detector. Your items will roll out of the Xray as easily as they went in (presuming there are no suspicious items that will cause security to pick them out of the assembly line). That’s when you can collect everything. This is where less is more because the fewer items you have to put away and/or put back onto your body, the quicker you will be on your way.
Now, for the documentation aspect of security checkpoints. Ensure that you are prepared with all relevant documentation, including a valid and up-to-date passport and possibly a VISA if required. Travel itinerary including confirmation of hotel reservations, for example, couldn’t hurt if you find yourself in a position of having to verify the purpose of your trip and your destination.
Carrying special documentation for accompanying children is something that is rarely thought about, but given so many child abductions in the news, it’s not uncommon for single parents to be questioned at border crossings/customs, particularly if the child’s surname differs from the parent. If you’re a parent that has undergone an acrimonious divorce entailing custody issues, and especially if you’re in the midst of one, it’s wise to consider travelling with documentation that clearly defines your permission to take your child out-of-province, out-of-state or out-of-country. Simply take any original court-issued documents such as Custody Papers, a Statutory Declaration, or a Mobility Agreement that asserts your right to take your child away on vacation. If questions are asked, you can quickly and easily provide the necessary documentation and avoid being pulled to the side for a possible interrogation.
8. Find the Fastest Line
A word of warning: The security line with children and strollers will never be as quick as the line that is primarily adults and business travellers. If you are a single traveler or couple, choose the line with the fewest children.
However, if you are traveling with children, we suggest briefing them on airport procedures a few times before your trip so they know what is expected of them and will cooperate. Give your child plenty of advance warning that any handheld dolls or toys might be momentarily removed to go through x-ray and assure them that their belongings are safe and will be returned to them quickly on the other side of the x-ray machine. Knowing this ahead of time will spare your child of any trauma and any potential temper tantrums or crying jags that will slow you down.
9. Go with the Flow
Border security officials have the right to perform a drug test on any of your items. They also have the right to confiscate items and ask you questions for security reasons. If you have nothing to hide, you shouldn’t be nervous. Just let them do their thing unless you feel your rights are being violated. Then, you can speak up. Other than that, airport procedures tend to go a lot smoother when you eliminate questions, sarcasm and any kind rebellion. Try to remember that everything that goes into these procedures is for ‘safety’ purposes – yours and everyone else’s – and in this day and age it’s highly necessary. So just go with the flow.
10. Be Friendly, Polite, and Cooperative
A spin-off of going with the flow is being polite and cooperative with security agents and airline staff. Like the old adage says, treat others the way you want to be treated.
Take it from avid travelers, the airport process goes much faster and easier when you smile and cooperate. Skip the sarcasm, eye rolls, entitled attitude, or anything that might lead security to believe that you are being dishonest. And for heaven sake, never joke about a firearm or a bomb. You might think you’re being funny, but they won’t! And you’ll likely find your airport experience will quickly become a nightmare if they choose to take you seriously and haul you aside for investigation.