I have spent my fair share of time in airports, and I have reached the point where I feel extremely comfortable in them, which, let’s be honest, is a bit weird.
In my travels, I have noticed a lot of things, such as issues that ridiculous people cause and ways to avoid unnecessary inconvenience. My behavior in airports has changed over time, and now I simply follow the path and go about my business without much thought.
There are many important things to consider at the airport, whether traveling domestically or internationally. I am fortunate enough to have never had a horrible airport experience (Knock on wood!), but I have learned certain things from my own encounters and observations of others.
Without further ado, these are my tips on making your airport visits relatively painless:
Can You Bring It?
Before I went to Europe, I checked the Department of State’s website to see what kinds of things were prohibited in other countries, and I am so glad that I did. There are many things people carry on their person daily but cannot bring to the airport, and you definitely do not want to get caught with something that could land you in jail or even with a fine.
Something I learned was that airports in the UK prohibit most self-defense items because they could be used as weapons. Naturally, I knew knives, guns, and the like would not be permitted, but mace and pepper spray were also not allowed, which surprised me.
Nobody in my tour group thought to check with the DoS, so it was lucky that I did because some of the girls planned to take some self-defense weapons. We brought it up in our last meeting before we departed, and they were all pretty upset about it (What are you supposed to do in shifty situations?), but we all adhered to the rules and ended up not in jail. I’d call that a success.
I also highly suggest checking the TSA website if you’re not entirely sure whether you can bring something. It’ll just take a few minutes, and it’ll save any hassle in security.
Remember: Before international travel, read up on the airport and national laws that differ from your home country’s. It could save you a one-way trip to the big house.
Do not be late for a flight.
I have never had the misfortune of missing a flight, even when I had 30-minute layovers, so I am pretty lucky. It is extremely easy to miss a flight when you don’t have control over how much time you have prior to it, but if you can, give yourself wiggle room.
If you can’t decide between two flights which both have layovers, choose the one that gives you at least an hour between them. If your flight is a bit late or if your new gate is on the opposite side of the airport, you will have less of a chance of running into issues. Though I don’t know what exactly goes on with the baggage situation, I imagine you’re much less likely to have your luggage left in your layover city if the crew has a bit more time to move it.
Though I say to give at least an hour, I suggest allowing two hours or more between flights to ensure you have ample time. You can grab a snack, run to the bathroom, and find your next gate without having to sprint.
My family is the type that arrives at the airport two hours before domestic flights and at least three before international flights. It’s the safest way, honestly. If the lines at the airline desk are long or there are tons of people going through security or we don’t know where we’re going, we always have a buffer.
Many airlines suggest arriving two hours before an international flight, but busy terminals (like in big cities) have busy security areas, which will cause delays. I always like to get water and snacks once I get through security, and I definitely prefer to give myself the chance for a bathroom break, so I will never risk my flight by arriving too late.
Arriving two hours before domestic flights and three hours before international flights will give you that comfortable buffer, just in case something goes awry (as it often does). Plus, most people don’t get to the airport that early, so you will have your pick of seats at the gate.
Even if you prefer not to get there that early, be sure to give yourself enough time to get through the various long lines and find your gate well before boarding begins.
Checking vs Carry-On
This is something that drives me up the wall!
If you have a suitcase or bag that just barely fits within the dimensions of allowable carry-on bags and you do not absolutely need to have it on the plane with you, please do us all a favor and check it.
I cannot tell you how many times I have seen people agree to check a bag once we’re at the gate or struggle to fit their suitcase into the overhead bin just to have a stewardess tell them they’ll have to check it. Some people manage to get to the gate just to find their bag doesn’t actually fit the dimensions of carry-on bags and they will have to check it.
All of these things infuriate me.
It really is just unnecessary hassle, and it’s a waste of time. People who do this are delaying our travel, especially when they throw a fit because they forced 800 stuffed animals they won at the state fair into a plastic bag and called it a carry-on. It can be so ridiculous!
Obviously, lots of people are very polite and understanding, and they realize that there is an issue and are willing to compromise, but so many people make a huge deal of it and their complaints fall on deaf ears. The flight attendants and gate attendants are just doing their jobs, and the passengers just want to leave. We all see you as a hindrance, and we will gladly glare at you or even tell you to shut up so that we can get on with the show.
Do not overpack. Bring what you need and some things that you simply want, and leave the unnecessary items at home. Also check your bags if they are large and do not absolutely need to be with you on the plane. You may be charged if you have to check it later anyway, so just be a decent fellow and do it from the get-go.
Make sure to check with your airline about dimensions for check-on bags and measure your baggage if you are not certain. This will save you a lot of time and hassle.
I will gladly admit that I passionately hate dealing with the security checkpoints in airports. There are so many things wrong with them, but that’s an argument for another day.
Today, I will say this: Just do it.
It sucks, I know. I feel your pain, my friend, I do.
But what sucks more than doing it once is having to do it multiple times because you refuse to follow directions.
And what sucks even more than that is being stalled an extra ten or twenty minutes because, even though you’re doing what you’re supposed to do, the people in front of you are not.
If you want to fight for your rights and complain about the conditions and throw a fit, that’s perfectly fine. I do it, too. Just do not do it in line.
They want you to take off your shoes? Take off your shoes because one of two things is going to happen:
- You’re going to take them off in the end anyway, regardless of the tantrum you throw, or
- You won’t be getting through security and will therefore miss your flight(s).
Take off your shoes, remove the laptop from the bag, take off heavy jewelry, take everything out of your pockets, alert them to any medical issues that may cause a problem, and stay with your stuff until it has gone into the x-ray machine.
If you don’t do this, they will probably yell at you, or at least get pretty frustrated with you since they constantly repeat the same things over and over.
And here’s an added bonus: If you cause a big enough commotion, they will probably consider you a threat. Do you know what happens to people that are considered a threat in an airport? If you do, that’s not fun. If you don’t, you probably don’t want to.
So just do yourself a favor and muscle through it. It sucks; it’s never an enjoyable experience; the TSA people can be really rude; and it mostly feels like an endless amusement park line to get onto a ride that isn’t particularly enjoyable.
I know you hate it, but for the sake of everyone, just follow the rules and directions and get through security calmly.
I could really go on forever about airport tips, but these are the ones that stick out as the most important in my mind. My main rule is this: Don’t inconvenience others or yourself unnecessarily.