11 Airport Hacks for Hassle-Free Travel
Everyone loves a holiday, but getting through the airport and onto the plane can be a bit of a struggle. It doesn’t have to be. All it takes is a bit of forward planning and careful time management.
Here are 11 expert tips to help take the hassle out of your next trip...
Snap your parking space
Do yourself a favour before you've even set foot in the airport. If you've driven there, you'll be excited and will probably be thinking about your trip. The prospect of collecting your car will be very far from your mind, hence the real danger that you won't actually remember where you left it when you get back. Avoid this return-journey fiasco by snapping a picture of your car in the parking spot where you left it. One-nil to you already.
Get set to sail through security
When it comes to customs, preparation is the watchword. The advice from Keith Jenkins of travel blog Velvet Escape is, “Be prepared: toiletries in the bag and laptop in the tray. Coat too. Don't wear a belt or jewellery. It helps speed things up.” Other smart ideas include bringing an empty water bottle that you can fill up after security and charging your electronics in advance. (If you can’t turn it on when requested, you won’t be allowed to bring it on board.)
Sign up to an airport loyalty scheme
Look out for airport special offers and apps that will brighten your day. Most airports offer free Wi-Fi if you sign up to their membership programs, but Gatwick and Heathrow airports go one step further. With Heathrow Rewards, you can earn loyalty points to spend at restaurants and on duty-free shopping, while myGatwick gives you access to dining and parking discounts, and even a free coffee to set you up for your flight. You can also get ahead by pre-ordering food by app at select US airports: Austin and Atlanta (Grab) and San Francisco (AirGrub).
Travel blogger Renata Pereira’s pet peeve is being asked to check in carry-on luggage just before boarding. To avoid extra hassle, she suggests checking there’s enough space for your luggage in advance. Allowances differ between airlines, but the smallest we’ve found for hand baggage is 42cm x 32cm x 25cm with Wizz Air.
Locate your gate
Stage one: find out as early as possible where your gate is. Obvious, yes, but there's no worse start to a holiday than a breathless last-second dash to a closing gate you didn't realise was a mile from the Gatwick Wetherspoons.
When you do arrive at the gate, get your passport ready and have your ticket folded (with the information on the outside) or loaded up in the app to save time, but don’t be too fussed about getting in line as soon as they call the flight. Everyone (usually) has an allocated seat, so you can afford to relax until the queue dies down. Of course, this only applies if your hand luggage fits under the seat in front. If you’ve got a bigger bag, don't leave it too late - you’ll be fighting over locker space.
Go left, life is peaceful there
You've reached a security checkpoint. Hmmm, to go left or go right? Whichever side you choose, you know the other line is bound to move faster. Beat the odds by going left - studies show that most people (being right-handed) will naturally veer to the right. Laugh at their foolishness as you step the other way and breeze through the checkpoint. That's the theory at least.
Travelling with kids? Keep the snacks coming
Gretta Schifano of Mums Do Travel says, “With small kids, use a backpack for your hand luggage so that your hands are free”. We’d also recommend having plenty of snacks at the ready - you never know when the family will get peckish, and sweets can also help when cabin pressure gets too much on landing.
Leave plenty of time for connecting flights
Visa Traveler’s Thirumal Motati reveals, “Leave at least three hours for connections even if you are not checking in bags”. This way you’ve built in leeway for flight delays, queues at customs and getting between gates (or even terminals) at the airport. Also, try to avoid transits through the US - you’ll need a visa or ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization), even if it isn’t your end destination.
Personalise your bag
Find it hard spotting your bags on the carousel? Worried someone else might inadvertantly grab yours? Kirsten Powley from Kirst Over the World advises personalising your luggage for a swift getaway. She says, “Before you leave home, tie something colourful and obvious on your suitcase (I’ve used various colours of ribbon and a shopping bag around the handle before) so the moment it rattles onto the carousel, you’ve spotted it and can scoot over to the most convenient place to grab it."
Stay loyal, rack up rewards
If you fly at all regularly, it’s essential that you sign up to a loyalty scheme. Ana Silva O’Reilly of luxury travel blog Mrs O Around the World says the perks you get will make for a much more luxury-like airport experience. “From no-queues check-in to fast-track security and lounge access (with proper champagne of course and, if you are lucky, a pre-flight facial or massage) and priority boarding. You can also pay for these services as extras in some airports - No 1 Lounges for example offers fast-track security and lounge access at select UK airports and they get it very right."
Go Global for faster US customs entry
We love the US and that's a fact. The one thing we don't love about the US is the scene below. Chances are you know what we're talking about.
However, there is hope! British citizens can now avoid the immigration queues by applying for the US Global Entry program. This program gives you expedited entry via a kiosk system at 46 US airports. Joining is a 3-stage process: first you’ll need to be vetted by the UK (£45 fee), then you can apply for a 5-year Global Entry membership ($100 fee). If approved, you’ll be interviewed by a CBP officer before (fingers crossed) gaining membership.
If you don’t fancy the fees and the interviews, consider flying via Ireland instead - you can go through immigration there and skip the queues when you land in the States. You’ll still need to register your fingerprints and comply with visa regulations, but it will be much speedier in Ireland than doing it when you land.
Got an airport hack you'd like to add to the list? Share it in the comments below!