My life often circulates around airports these days. Getting there, waiting there, and finally, getting away from there. Airports are the main downside of being a frequent flyer, so I’ve learned to make the best of them.
Ironically, I get there early.
My friends and family laugh at me when I head off to the airport—rushing to get there two to three hours before departure time. It prolongs the agony of the airport, but I’ve found it also reduces the stress of the ordeal. I hate being late and the initial job of getting to the airport and through security makes me anxious. (I’m not alone on this – “airport anxiety” is a thing! “Airports are the breeding grounds for panic because they impinge heavily on our basic sense of control and agency,” says this blog on neuroscience.)
The minute I get to the airport, I want to be on the other side of security, in the lounge or at a coffee shop working and not worrying about getting through. And I want other people to get through quickly too. (Who ARE those jerks who clog up security because they overpacked their hand luggage or have water in their bottle?)
For all my fellow travelers who dread the airport, who may even need Valium to get through it, here are my airport survival tips.
Plan ahead to travel like a VIP (and a pro)
- If you live in the U.S. and travel a lot, invest in TSA Pre-Check. Or Global Entry, if you travel a lot internationally. (I hesitate to share this tip, because then Pre-Check lines will get as long as the regular ones. Though I did just tell my best friend to get Pre-Check so I wouldn’t have to wait for her on the other side…) For a real game-changer, get Clear.
- Check in 24 hours before your flight on the airline app or website. Download your boarding pass to your phone and that’s one less detail to mess with at the airport.
- Look after your passport. And email a copy of the photo/info page to yourself, so you have all the necessary info to replace your passport, should something happen.
- Invest a small bit and indulge in the airport lounges (actually, don’t. Or they’ll get crowded.)
Plan ahead—to wait
- Big, busy airports are insane and slow. Give yourself plenty of time.
- You KNOW there will be lines. Plan for them. Use the time to people-watch. Or practice your deep breathing.
- Don’t assume anything in an airport. They’re all different around the world. Luckily, the signage is usually pretty good, even if it’s in a language you don’t read. Follow the signs, but allow time to get lost.
Plan ahead for security check
- Pack for the security you’ll be going through. Different countries have different rules. I always have to remember that the quart-sized bag for liquids used in the U.S. isn’t the same size as the one required in the U.K. Websites are readily available to advise you of local airport security requirements and procedures.
- Pack your hand luggage so you can get your quart-bag of liquids and laptop out quickly and into the bin. (If you have Pre-Check, you don’t have to do either.)
- Dress so it’s easy to take off shoes, jackets, belts, etc. (Another benefit of Pre-Check, you get to keep all these clothes on.)
- Watch and listen for instructions when going through security as procedures differ. (And try not to take it personally when TSA staff is barking out the rules. I admit, I always want to yell back…)
With some upfront planning and a lot of deep breathing, airports don’t have to be horror chambers. You might even take advantage of some of the amenities. Book stores. Wine bars. Ice cream stands. And if the airport has a massage spot, get there early enough for at least a 15-minute seated massage—does wonder for your neck and your mood.
Good packing and travel hacks:
Best Travel Websites
45 Travel Hacks that Will Make you a Better Traveler
Suitcase 101: Guide to Choosing the Right Travel Luggage
Packing for Airport Security
The Points Guy