When you have to fly, you probably grit your teeth and prepare for a forgettable airport experience. You get ready for long lines, surly fellow passengers, uncomfortable seating, mediocre food, and embarrassing security procedures where you almost have to strip. Is there any way you can get around these problems? Happily, there is! Implement these 15 hacks to make your next airport stay a much more pleasant experience.
1. Book a red-eye flight
Not as crazy as it sounds. Booking a flight with a late evening departure time and early arrival time (red-eye flight) does have its advantages. First of all, you will be able to travel at a quieter time as the airport will be less chaotic. It makes the airport almost human. The best result however is that you can sleep during the flight and wake up at your destination. This does depend on whether you are travelling east or west but in many cases, it really is worth it. You can save also on the price of the air ticket.
2. Get Nexus/Global entry
Once you apply for Global entry, you can avoid the long lines at immigration. This is one of the most painful airport experiences. No frustrating waiting or filling out boring questionnaires. With Global entry, you go to the special kiosks, key in some details and they recognize you from your fingerprints. You are in! It only costs $100 for five years and if you hold an American Express Platinum card, they will pay the fee for you. This system is operational in 26 US airports. American, Canadian, Swiss, and Dutch citizens can apply. To do so, fill out an online questionnaire and be prepared for a background check which includes a 30-minute interview. If you are a frequent flier to Canada, apply first for the Nexus entry because that will automatically get you on to the Global one without re-applying (it will also save you $50).
3. Get access to the first class lounge
This can really make your stay at the airport more human. All you have to do is to ask someone going in if they would not mind signing you in too. There are quite a few first class lounges which allow this. If you’d rather not ask a stranger for a quick favor, you can pay to get access yourself. This can cost between $30 – $50. You may prefer to get annual membership and pay for each visit. Some plans allow you to have access to 700 lounges worldwide. If you have a long wait while in transit, this is really worth it. These lounges are usually very comfortable and you will have access to better food, showers and also quiet areas if you need to sleep.
4. Cut down on walking
Airports tend to be large places and sometimes you have to walk miles. If you are elderly or have some disability, you can apply for wheelchair assistance for you or a family member. It makes life so much easier at the airport and also speeds things up considerably. You can apply for it when you purchase your ticket. Nobody is going to ask you for a medical certificate. Remember this is a great time saver if you have a tight connection. There are short cuts for wheelchairs!
5. Dine at the airport
If time permits or if you check in extra early, consider dining at the airport restaurants instead of having to put up with a doubtful plane meal. Airport restaurants are improving. It is also more cost effective and can help with jet lag. Just think, you can have a comfortable seat and plenty of elbow room for cutting your steak!
Another option is to bring your own food on board which is usually healthier.
Some people recommend bring frozen food on board so that they can have it during the flight. Apparently frozen food gets through security without problems, according to frequent fliers. Not for me!
6. Find a quiet place
If you are not in a first class lounge, it might be difficult to find a quiet spot. However, look for a religious symbol and follow that. Airport chapels of various denominations are usually provided. They are almost always very quiet. You can sleep or meditate there. Airports in the Middle East tend to have public shower facilities near the chapels or prayer rooms. Frankfurt airport has several chapels catering to Jewish, Christian and Muslim travelers.
7. Bond with your kids
Get the kids off their gadgets. If you have kids and are worried about how to keep them entertained for the long wait, encourage them and your significant other to switch off all devices. Playing cards, reading books out loud, or playing simple games like I Spy, can help to bond with your kids. If everybody is on their smartphone, this is not possible.
8. Use your frequent flier air miles wisely
When you work it all out, business class flights are the best and most economical way to use those air miles, especially where long haul flights are involved. Redemption rates on a business class return flight Sydney/London/Sydney works out at 4.52 cents per point. The same flight in economy class works out at 1.33 cents for each point. It is well worth checking out sites like iFLYflat to make sure you are getting the best value. Also, going business class will make your airport stay much more pleasant.
9. Plan ahead
Planning ahead can make the airport experience a much more positive and hassle-free one. Check out the airline’s policy on carry on luggage and actually measure the case before you leave home. Better safe than sorry. Checking in online and choosing your seat either from your PC at home or your smartphone is going to make things a lot easier when you actually get there. You can spend that extra time relaxing, by going shopping and eating.
10. Preparing for the security check
You know what is going to happen here. You can prepare for it with your choice of attire however. You can wear trousers which do not need a belt. Choose slip-on shoes and also remember that your socks should be in good condition so that you do not pick up a nasty foot fungus while waiting for your shoes to come through. Check out this guide for more details on making it all stress free.
11. Prevent luggage theft
One way to do this is to pack a gun and declare it. Another alternative is to pack a toy pistol (still needs a declaration) but no license, of course! It actually does not get special treatment because it just needs to be securely locked. So it really does work in stopping the airport luggage thieves at least. But think twice about this if you are travelling from or to a state which has strict gun laws. Examples are New York, Hawaii, California and Illinois. You could end up in prison!
12. Sleep at the airport.
You must be joking! Well, I am not actually, because there are passengers who prefer to do this, rather than stay at a hotel and get up at the crack of dawn. They are saving on the hotel bill. Also emergencies and bad weather may force you to have a long overnight layover. They say that London’s Stanstead airport looks like a refugee camp every night. People complain bitterly that there is not enough seating when they arrive at 10.p.m. If you decide this is for you, keep in mind the following tips:
- Bring a travel mattress
- You will be asked why you are there. Have your ticket ready.
- Pack your eye shades and ear plugs
- Ensure you have snacks and bottled water with you
- Post its to stick on yourself to ask people to wake you at the right time
- Dress in layers as some foreign airports can get too cold or hot
13. Watch movies at the airport
It’s a long wait so why not watch a movie. You will need your laptop and a USB flash drive. At the touchscreen kiosks, you can download your favorite film on the drive and load it on to your laptop. These are not available at all airports in the US yet. Digiboo and iTunes are the most popular ones at the moment.
14. Enjoy some terminal shopping
Take advantage of samples of lotions and hand creams to hydrate your skin. You are going to need it if you have arrived from a long flight. Zero cost and gives you a chance to explore the whole shopping scene.
15. Relax and enjoy the airport
Head for one of the airport bars and grab a drink. This is great for people watching if you are travelling alone, and can be great fun. Just relax with a drink and help to pass the time. If you are feeling sleepy, you can always crash out for a few hours at a YOTEL pod or next-generation cabin. Not every airport has these but Heathrow at Terminal 4 has one. You can stay overnight for £56. There are also lots of other things to help pass the time such as visiting a spa, getting a massage or even visiting an art gallery. Now, who said airports were boring?
Featured photo credit: Prague Airport/Nicola via flickr.com