Last Updated on 20 July 2022
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What are the best airport tips and hacks?
There are so many things to think about when you go to an airport. How long should I be at the airport before my flight? How do I get to the airport? What should I bring on a flight? What do I need to bring to check-in at the airport? What should I wear to the airport? All of these lingering questions can add a whole lot of stress and anxiety to the departure day of any international trip. So I’ve collated the 25+ super helpful airport tips and tricks that I live by to help you have a hassle-free airport experience and look like the pro traveller that you are!
1. Plan your journey to the airport (and have a plan B)
I find that the journey to the airport can be the most stressful part of any international trip. But my top tip to reduce the pressure is to ensure you pre-plan how to get to the airport and have a plan B. If you’re driving, check for road closures before you leave, and ensure you have a Sat Nav or fully charged phone to access Google Maps in case of unanticipated hold-ups causing the need for sudden route diversions. If you’re using public transport, perhaps book an earlier bus or train to give you room to manoeuvre if there are delays, especially if you are in a country that you aren’t familiar with.
2. Arrive at the airport early
I always aim to arrive at an airport a minimum of 2 hours early, and a maximum of 3. It can be a bit boring and might seem excessive, because usually it’s super quick to get through check-in, security and into the departure lounge. But arriving with too little time to jump through all the hoops that crossing borders presents could cause you to miss your flight (just thinking about that makes me to feel all tense). Plus, arriving early means you’ll have plenty of time to utilise the bars in the departure lounge, and who doesn’t love an overpriced pre-flight pint?
3. Note your airport parking space
If you’re using an airport parking facility, then make sure you note the number of your parking space or snap a quick pic of your car in situ. These places can be like mazes and it’s likely upon returning from an epic trip in a haze of holiday happiness you could potentially spend hours looking for your chariot because you’ve forgotten that bit of vital information. Of course, this only works if the airport parking facility doesn’t move your car for you whilst you are abroad, because some of them do (in this case, they will tell you which space it’s in, so you can disregard this tip).
4. Check in for your flight beforehand
To save time, one of the top airport travel tips is to check-in for your flight beforehand. This will save time at the check-in desk upon arrival at the airport as you will (likely) only need to go there to drop off any hold luggage you need to check-in, and (usually) allow you to pick a pretty decent seat on the plane. And, if you have no hold luggage you may not even need to go to the check-in desk so can head straight to security. If we all checked-in before our flights, it would reduce the queues at the check-in desk which means airport bliss for all!
5. Pre-weigh your luggage
In my experience, weighing your carry-on bag and hold luggage (if you have any) before you get to the check-in desk can save you hassle. I remember one time, I had failed to follow this simple piece of airport advice and my carry-on was too heavy (some flight operators are super strict) which led to me chaotically transfer some items into another suitcase to distribute the load (not ideal at the check-in desk when there’s a big queue of passengers waiting for their turn). To avoid this, buy yourself some handy luggage scales and pack them, so you can use them when you return too.
Tip: If you go over your allocated luggage weight limit, flight providers usually charge for the privilege and this can be quite costly. Being a little organised and pre-weighing can save you money.
6. Download, screenshot or print your boarding pass
Sometimes airports are not the best locations for signal, internet connection or WiFi strength which can cause endless problems if you are solely reliant on this to access your boarding pass. So one of the best airport hacks is to ensure you screenshot your boarding pass or download it offline so you can access it without internet connection. I’m pretty old fashioned and never solely rely on my phone for my boarding pass, so I always print it and have it electronically as a back up (I like to plan for every eventuality, you see).
7. Carry a copy of your passport
This is not only one of the top airport tips, but one of the best international travel tips, and you could be thankful for this in a sticky situation. In my humble opinion, you should always carry a copy of your passport, in case it gets lost or stolen, so you have something to provide to the embassy if needed. I always make sure I have a photocopy and photograph of it (again, ever the organised person) when I travel abroad, and I think you should too…
8. Get yourself an international debit card
I remember on one layover in Abu Dhabi Airport whilst I was en route to spend 3 weeks in Thailand, I really needed a drink. I did not have any Dirham with me and only had my UK bank card which would have cost to use. Now anyone who knows me knows how much of a skinflint I can be, and as I did not have any local currency, I refused to use my bank card due to the charges I would incur (going thirsty was the most logical option)! So one of the top airport tips is to make sure you have an international debit card with you, like the one Starling Bank offers (read their small print for more information regarding fees).
9. Remove any metal work
You can count on being asked to remove your belt, watch and (perhaps) other metalwork like jewellery when you arrive at security for your luggage and body scans, so it’s a good idea to start doing this in the queue. Like with checking in for your flight before you reach the airport, if everyone took the initiative to do this, the security queues would flow steadier, like a sand timer.
10. Carry some essentials in your carry-on luggage
Imagine reaching your end destination to find that your large suitcase which (you thought) was in the hold area of the plane is nowhere to be seen on the fun-looking luggage conveyor belt and you have no clothes for your trip? You’re filled with a sense of dread at that thought, right? One of the top airport packing tips is to ensure you pack some essentials, like a set of spare clothes, in your carry-on luggage in case your large suitcase happens to go walk-abouts, so it doesn’t stop you enjoying your long-awaited trip away (or at least lessens the initial blow, at least until your suitcase is found).
11. Take an empty water bottle
Time and time again, I would get to the departure lounge and end up spending x-amount of money on a bottle of water because aeroplanes make me thirsty. So pack yourself a refillable water bottle and fill it back up in the departure lounge (they usually have water fountains you can use). I see so many full water bottles in the bins before security, so if it’s still full, empty it in a nearby toilet before you go through security then take it with you. (I don’t know why it took me so long to figure out the simplest of airport tips, but it did, so I hope I impart this knowledge on you sooner than I did myself.)
12. Pack plenty of snacks
Some of the most expensive food and snacks I have seen in the world can be found in airports and on airplanes. Even the well known fast food restaurants have inflated prices and saver menus are few and far between (and they aren’t really saver menus). Dalaman Airport in Turkey is known as one of the most expensive airports in the world for food, and I can confirm this (I nearly fell off my feet looking at the menu of a fast food chain). To avoid the sometimes extortionate prices of departure lounges and aeroplanes for food, pack plenty of good snacks.
Tip: Make sure you check if there are any foods which are prohibited from being taken on board a plane. These can change country by country. I always think that naughty snacks like crisps and chocolate are a safe bet, but better to be safe than sorry.
13. Pack your liquids in a clear Ziplock bag and take a spare
One of the top airport tips for first time flyers… don’t be the person sitting on the floor before security manically trying to sort through their liquids and place them in a clear Ziplock-style bag for security. Pack your liquids before you go to the airport so you can pop them straight into the tray and avoid unnecessary delays. Some airports even charge for the privilege of having a little clear bag to put these in, so take your own. And because they can easily rip with the sharp edges of toiletries and such, pack a spare in your suitcase.
14. Get yourself a travel wallet to keep your documents handy
Another of the airport tips for the super organised (like me) is to get yourself a little travel wallet. It doesn’t have to be a snazzy one (although these are lovely), and it could be something as simple as a little A5 plastic popper-shut folder. Anything that will keep your documents together and accessible is going to be a blessing when trying to get through the airport stress free! Pop your passport, boarding pass and any other useful information such as proof of travel insurance and tickets for onward travel in there – you’ll feel like a pro plucking this out of your bag on request for your documentation.
15. Keep your electronics accessible
Another piece of airport advice to bear in mind when you are approaching the security scanners is to keep your electronics accessible. Usually, security officials will ask that you place your electronics such as laptops and tablets in the tray separate to your carry-on bag (I have no idea why, but I’m sure there’s a more than plausible reason). To avoid manically fishing around in your carry-on for these with the eyes of a security person uncomfortably watching you, keep them at the top of your bag so they are handy.
16. Carry your chargers in your carry-on luggage
The last thing you need when travelling to a country you aren’t familiar with is a dead battery on your phone. It’s likely you’ll need this at some point to access passes, tickets or even call people on arrival, and the low battery alert is not going to be a welcome message. So keep chargers for your phone (and any other devices you use) in your carry-on. Usually, airports have charging areas or plug sockets you can use to borrow their electricity. And it can be handy to carry a USB charger with you too, as some planes (especially long haul providers) have USB ports in the back of the seats which can be used onboard.
17. Don’t race to line up to board the plane
Be smart and don’t rush up to board the plane as soon as it is announced that you can – wait for the rush to pass so you can provide your boarding pass and passport, and then walk straight to your seat with ease. It’s likely the plane is not departing for another 45 minutes anyway, and you will waste your leg energy standing in a queue that is going to be stationary for quite some time. Take a seat, and wait for the queue to begin to actually move and condense instead. Who’s the real winner here?
18. Wear comfy clothes
My go-to clothes to wear on a flight usually consist of jogging bottoms or gym leggings. I cannot think of anything worse than being cooped up in an economy seat in jeans. But let’s not just think about the clothes to wear on a plane, but your footwear too. Airports can be massive and require what feels like miles of walking and zooming on and off of flat escalators. You might need to walk speedily to ensure you get to your departure gate in time too (I’ve even had to run). And although the thought of wearing heels and looking all glam is nice, comfies are the clever option in reality.
19. Wear easy to take off shoes
Usually, security will ask you to take off any shoes that are anything more substantial than sandals, especially chunky boots. These will likely have to go through the luggage scanner with your carry-on bag. And trust me, hopping around in the security queue trying to take off chunky boots with laces and all other fastening mechanisms is not a good look and is quite frankly an accident waiting to happen. So perhaps wear something which slips off easily?
20. Padlock your hold luggage
To give you peace of mind, use a decent padlock to secure your luggage which is being checked-in to go underneath the plane. If you’re a bit of a worry-wart like me, it will help to ease this to know that no one else can (easily) get access to your belongings and all should be ship-shape on arrival at your final destination. And lets just emphasise the decent padlock bit – as a superscrimper, I have brought some truly poor quality padlocks in my travelling career which barely kept the zips securely together (I finally gave in and invested in a decent one a few years back).
21. Pack a toothbrush in your carry-on luggage
There is nothing worse than the feeling of furry teeth after a 7 hour flight, with another 6 to go. I cannot encourage you enough to pack a toothbrush and a travel size toothpaste in your carry-on luggage – it is one of the best airport tips I can give. This will enable you to clean your pegs in an airport toilet if you are on a stopover, or in the toilet of the aircraft itself. I feel like a new woman when I’ve cleaned my teeth after being on board for a few hours, refreshed and ready to go.
22. Pack a power bank
If the airport has no charging areas or plug sockets to use (plan A) and the plane has no USB charging ports in the back of the seats (plan B), then having a power bank will allow you to charge your devices (plan C). You can pick these up fairly cheaply online and in stores, and it’s one of those necessary things on any packing list for international travel. Of course, a good quality one is going to be worth its weight in gold, over one which manages to contribute 15 minutes of charge to your phone, so buy wisely and read the reviews.
23. Go to the right airport
This might seem like an obvious statement, but I can guarantee there are travellers out there who have gone to Rome Fiumicino Airport instead of Rome Ciampino Airport, JFK International Airport instead of Newark Liberty International Airport, and London Gatwick Airport instead of London Heathrow Airport. If there is more than one airport in the city you are travelling to/from, make sure you double check which airport you are departing from. A little bit of research can save time and avoid costly and stressful mistakes on the road.
24. Make your suitcase recognisable
I recently saw on social media a post which featured a photo of a suitcase with an elaborate design painted on the front. Now this might be taking it to the extreme, but it is really useful to make your suitcase recognisable. You won’t be surprised to know that there are likely to be similar looking suitcases to yours whizzing around the suitcase conveyor belt on arrival at your destination. So to distinguish which is yours, add something jazzy, like a brightly coloured ribbon or unique luggage tag.
25. Pack hand sanitiser
Airports are the perfect breeding ground for germs. Thousands of people pass through airports every day, each touching hand rails, card machines and door knobs as they go. Hand sanitisers usually come in carry-on friendly sizes and I would recommend that you carry one with you through the airport (and throughout the duration of your international trip) to use as and when needed. Toilets can often be at the opposite end of the airport when hunger strikes and you need a snack, so it’s handy to have a tube of this to use before eating.
26. Take a photo of your luggage and use a luggage tag
If the worst does happen and your hold luggage goes missing because someone has mistaken it for their own or it’s got lost in transit, having a photograph of your suitcase can be a saving grace to allow staff to know exactly what they are looking for. Don’t adopt the it won’t happen to me approach because unfortunately it can happen to any of us. And make sure you pop a luggage tag on your suitcase with your details on too – at least then you’re contactable if someone picks it up by accident!
27. Don’t leave your belongings unattended
You will probably hear something along the lines of please do not leave your luggage unattended and report anything suspicious to security over the tannoy system when you are travelling through an airport, and one of the best airport safety tips is to abide by this piece of common sense advice. Not only could it cause concern for staff and other travellers, but leaving your bags unattended could risk you losing important documents, money and all the other belongings contained within your bag if the wrong person comes along. Just be careful.
28. Don’t expect to get your passport stamped
I don’t mean to be the bearer of bad news, but it is becoming much more common NOT to get your passport stamped on arrival at border control in a foreign land. I feel your disappointment, because it’s something that has hit me where it hurts too. Because of technology, passport stamps are becoming redundant in some places (not all). But one of my pro airport tips is that you can ask the nice border control person to stamp your passport and if you do this with a smile on your face and they have said stamp, they may just do it out of the kindness of their heart.
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