One of the perks of this job is that I get to travel for work often, so I’ve become what I would consider somewhat of a pro at handling airports. With a little prep plus some experience and flexibility, it’s pretty easy to fly hassle-free. Follow these tips for a more streamlined trip next time you’re at the airport.
While traveling solo and sans kids makes for an overall easier experience, preparation is the key for a hassle-free experience at the airport. Here’s how I prep:
When booking I always use the airline’s seat-selection tool and make sure to select a seat near the front of the plane. This means you’ll board last and be one of the first ones off.
When packing, I fit everything into a carry-on item and a personal item—unless I can check a bag for free and am traveling for more than two weeks—and I make sure I don’t overstuff my carry-on. Bags that look larger will be more susceptible to gate-check, which means you’ll have to wait for your bag after landing and undo any benefit of not checking your bag to begin with. Make sure you label your bags to avoid any confusion and save time at the airport by not doing it there.
Have your essentials and medication in your personal item and organize everything for easy access. I like to keep chargers, cords, a pen, and headphones in one pouch inside my bag, and medicine, lotion, lip balm, gum, and disinfecting wipes in another. Always pack an empty water bottle to fill up after security at a hydration station or water fountain and pack this in your personal item along with a few snacks.
Arrange your transportation pick-up ahead of time, whether it’s calling a car or researching public transit options. This will save you time once you land.
If you don’t have TSA PreCheck or Global Entry—which you should apply for right now if you don’t—then make sure your laptop and liquids are easily accessible at security. Also make sure to wear a comfortable and hassle-free outfit so you don’t spend as much time removing items in line.
And lastly, check-in ahead of time on your phone and use a mobile boarding pass. You’ll be able to see the boarding time before you get to the airport, and a paper boarding pass will be one less thing you have to worry about keeping track of. For domestic flights I try to get there 60 minutes before boarding time, and 90 minutes for international flights.
At the Airport
If you’ve prepped ahead of time, you should be able to walk straight to security at your terminal and go right into the TSA PreCheck or Global Entry line. This should take under 10 minutes depending on when you’re traveling, but I’ve never had security take more than that since I enrolled in TSA PreCheck. The best benefit is that you don’t need to remove anything from your person or bag. Global Entry will do the same for you but also for international flights.
I always head straight to my gate after security and note the closest bathroom and news shop or restaurant. I do my best to never have the need to buy anything at the airport, but if you’re about to get on a long flight or want to skip the in-flight meal, you may want to grab a coffee or sandwich. If all goes as planned (which it usually does), I have about 30 minutes’ downtime before boarding. This lets me go to the bathroom, fill up my water bottle, grab some food if I need it, and stretch—all with plenty of time so I don’t feel rushed, but also not so much time that I’m just sitting around.
If your flight is delayed, make sure you know your cancelation rights so you know if you can ask to be switched to another airline or compensated for meals and accommodation.
I always tend to wait and board towards the end of the process since you’re going to be on the airplane long enough already. The one exception to this is if it’s a shorter flight and you know the plane will be low on overhead luggage space. In this case, get on as soon as your boarding group is called so you won’t have to gate-check your bag.
Once You Land
If all has gone smoothly so far, you should be able to exit the plane quickly since you booked a seat towards the front, and you can head right to the airport exit since your bag should be with you. If you are flying internationally, make sure you already filled out the customs form on the plane (that’s why you brought a pen) and head straight to the customs line. If you can help it, wait and use the bathroom once you’re through customs to avoid waiting in a long line. Once you’re through, find your pre-booked transportation or hop on public transport instead of lingering in a long line at the taxi stand.
Now, all that’s left is to enjoy your vacation.
More from SmarterTravel:
- 10 Free Things You Can Get at Airports
- Is Curbside Check-In the Best Thing You’re Not Using
- 11 Hidden Travel Fees You Probably Overlook
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2016. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.