Getting through the airport can be a tricky and harrowing business these days, so just showing up and hoping for the best won’t cut it. You need to be prepared, nimble and wily. To help you pull it off, we’ve compiled 18 airport hacks to help you slip from the parking garage to your gate with as little trouble as possible at every step along the way.
1. Check for information about destination and layover airports.
You’re probably pretty familiar with your own home airport, but layover and destination airports can be disorienting. The GateGuru app can help, with its airport maps that include amenities available in each terminal. This can save you time if you’re trying to find food or toiletries during a tight connection. The app also has information about airport Wi-Fi options, which can eliminate the hassle of trying to figure out which of a dozen available networks are legit.
2. Put a few Ziploc bags in your luggage.
Zip-top bags can be useful in countless ways when traveling (for liquids when going through airport security, to stow snacks, to keep your phone dry), so I always stow a few in the pockets of all my travel luggage. I leave them in there even between trips, and then replenish the stash as needed.
3. Have a dedicated set of “air travel clothes.”
Having a favorite set of clothes to wear on planes can make the minutes before you leave for your flight easier, and guarantee comfort at the airport and in flight. Your air travel clothes should be comfortable but presentable, neither too warm nor too thin and somewhat durable. Once you have chosen your air travel clothes, make sure they are clean and at the top of your packing list a couple of days before you travel.
4. If your luggage is overweight or close to it, wear more clothes.
When packing, if you suspect your luggage might be close to your airline’s weight limit (a small luggage scale can help you figure this out), put a jacket, sweatshirt or other heavy item of clothing in a front pocket or right at the top of your bag. If the airline calls out your bag as overweight at check-in, you can open the bag, rip out the garment and put it on. (This tip also works on the way home from a trip if your suitcase is weighted down by a few extra souvenirs.)
5. Pack stuff you will need within easy reach.
This applies to your carry-on; your “personal item” in which you might carry your ID, boarding pass and other critical items; and your checked luggage. Pack stuff you will need first or frequently in easily accessible locations to avoid the misery of digging through your bag in view of dozens of fellow travelers.
6. Take a photo of your parking spot.
Snap a picture of your parking spot before heading to the terminal, making sure to include signage identifying your location (level, aisle, etc.). At some airports the garage or terminal number is not obvious on the signage (this is the case in Philadelphia), so you may need to remember which garage you were in.
7. Put in-flight essentials all in one small bag.
Put everything you’ll need during the flight into a single small bag — earbuds, e-reader/book, a snack, etc. — so you can just grab it and stick it in the seatback pocket before you stow the rest of your stuff in the overhead bin or under the seat. (Note that if your in-flight necessities include liquids like antibacterial hand gel, you may have to transfer them into the small bag after you get through security.)
8. Pack an empty water bottle in your carry-on.
To avoid paying huge mark-ups for bottled water at the airport, bring your own empty bottle (which will go through security just fine) and fill up at a water fountain after the checkpoint.
9. Check in next to the first/business-class line.
As check-in becomes more automated, with most economy check-ins taking place at kiosks, standing in big lines is becoming less common, but some travelers swear by the tactic of using the check-in option closest to the first- and business-class counters, where agents will sometimes help economy travelers if no one is at their counter.
10. Use a jacket to carry on more stuff.
One photographer I know wears a photography vest that has a half-dozen large pockets designed for lenses, which he fills with his stuff. When he gets on the plane, he folds up the vest and puts it in the overhead bin next to his carry-on bag.
11. Wear a belt with a plastic buckle.
Some security agents will let you leave your belt on if it is not made of metal; a belt with a plastic buckle might save you the trouble of taking off your belt and having your clothes half falling off.
12. Bring a portable phone charger.
Having a portable phone charger can be a lifesaver if you can’t find an open outlet at the airport. You can also use it in-flight, when your phone is likely in airplane mode and therefore not using much power. This can be a great way to make sure you have charge when you land.
13. Bring a multi-plug adapter.
Especially if you are traveling with family or a group, bring an adapter that can turn one outlet into multiple ones so more people can plug in. Even if you arrive at the gate and all the outlets are in use, often a fellow traveler will share one with you if you have such an adapter.
14. Go to the left at security.
Apparently most humans are biased toward their dominant hand, so the fact that the majority of people are right-handed causes most people to select the security lane on the right when faced with a choice. Zig when they zag by checking out the lanes to your left.
15. Stow your stuff while going through the security line.
Don’t wait until you get to the front of the line to take your phone, keys, loose change and other stuff that security agents don’t like out of your pockets; take care of it while winding through the inevitable security line.
16. Find an empty gate during layovers or delays.
If you have a few hours to kill, opt for a more peaceful and comfortable experience by finding an empty gate where you can have seating, power outlets, Wi-Fi signals and brain space to yourself. Just be careful not to be too far away when announcements affecting your flight might kick in.
17. Sneak your stuff into a shopping bag.
If you’re having trouble adhering to the “one carry-on and one personal item” rule, some devious travel hackers suggest asking for a shopping bag at an airport store and putting your extra stuff in it. Gate agents will think it’s just some things you purchased, which they may not count against your carry-on allowance.
18. Be careful when wearing headphones at the gate.
Listening to music, streaming a podcast or watching a movie on your mobile device helps pass time at the gate, but also puts you at risk of missing important gate announcements. Be careful when tuning out the noise that you don’t also tune out the signal.
Do you have any cool or innovative airport hacks that we missed? Add them in the comments below. Until then, see you at the gate!
Editor’s Note:is published by The Independent Traveler, Inc., a subsidiary of TripAdvisor, Inc., which also owns GateGuru.