30 Airport Secrets Only Insiders Know
Including one trick that will save you boatloads at the bar.
While airplanes are often griped about for their lack of creature comforts, schlepping through airports can be an equally disheartening part of any trip. From braving crowds during the holiday rush to paying an exorbitant amount for a lukewarm cup of instant coffee, airports are rarely the sites of any positive travel memories.
The good news? By employing a few insider secrets in the airport, you can save time, money, and most importantly, your sanity. Before you board another plane, make sure you've got these airport secrets committed to memory.
Using the airport ATM is cheaper than converting cash.
Exchanging currency at the airport means you'll be parting with much more of your hard-earned money than you probably want. Airport currency exchanges have some of the worst conversion rates you'll find anywhere. Luckily, there's an easy workaround: If your debit card has a four-digit PIN, you can use it virtually anywhere in the world to withdraw cash, often for little more than the ATM fee your bank would charge.
You should hail rides outside the airport.
If someone approaches you in an airport offering you a ride, don't take it. Drivers who approach people inside airports are often trying to price-gouge tourists, meaning you'll spend a fortune for what would otherwise be a cheap trip. If you need a car to your hotel, book one using a well-reviewed local company before you land or use the taxi stand outside the airport.
You can reap major benefits with the right credit card.
Want to enjoy a first-class experience on an economy budget? Bring the right credit cards with you. The American Express Platinum Card and airline-specific cards from Delta, United, and American Airlines all offer cardholders access to private airport lounges and bonuses like extra checked luggage and savings on future flights.
You should eat before the airport.
Instead of shelling out $10 for a bruised apple at your local airport café, eat before you hit the airport. Airports have some of the highest markups on food and drinks anywhere, thanks to things like mandatory airport employee background checks being built into the price of your goods.
TSA PreCheck speeds things up.
Skip the lines and save yourself tons of time by applying for TSA PreCheck and Global Entry. These programs, which cost $85 and $100 to apply for, respectively, make it easier to get where you're going in an expeditious manner, with over 200 airports participating in these programs.
Don't be afraid to bring medical equipment with you.
Worried that necessary medical equipment will be confiscated if you try to scan it? Don't be. TSA agents say that medical equipment gets scanned, but its validity is rarely questioned. In fact, one TSA agent says that he once witnessed a man bringing a golf club on a plane, claiming it was his cane.
Dress well for an upgrade.
Want to get your seat upgraded? Try dressing the part. Being polite, professional, and polished might just get you noticed by the ticketing agents, who happen to be the only ones who can actually offer you an upgrade.
Buy one-day passes to certain airport lounges.
Even if you don't have a travel rewards credit card or first class ticket, you may still be able to enjoy an airport lounge. Programs like Priority Pass allow you to pay a yearly fee in exchange for access to airport lounges, and certain airlines offer inexpensive one-time passes for travelers who buy them in advance.
That TSA agent may be military trained.
While you shouldn't harass TSA agents to begin with (they're just doing their jobs!), also consider that you might be getting screened by a member of our armed service. One TSA agent reveals that many of his colleagues, particularly those trained in bomb detection, are former members of the military.
Don't check your bags.
If you want to make everything faster and easier at the airport, don't check your bags. Not only will you have to shell out cash to check your bag, traveling without one means you can breeze through otherwise interminable lines.
Bring a refillable bottle.
While you may not be able to bring your drinks through airport security, having a water bottle on hand isn't a bad idea. Most airports have water fountains where you can fill up your bottle, saving you from the huge amount you'd end up spending on that tepid bottled water at an airport newsstand.
Those prohibited items in your carry-on get sold.
If you bring something prohibited through security, it's unlikely you'll get it back. One TSA agent reveals that airports usually keep the items and they are eventually sold at auction.
Some airports have resort-style entertainment.
Just because you're stuck in an airport doesn't mean you can't have a good time. Airports like New York City's JFK offer a variety of spa services, Hong Kong International Airport has an IMAX theater, and Munich's airport has a beer garden. Most airports have online directories, so you can plan your entertainment before you head out the door.
Use a personal hotspot, not airport WiFi.
Airport WiFi is a racket, but you can still do work on the go. Using a personal hotspot on your phone means you can enjoy a secure internet connection without the outrageous fees and slow load times associated with airport WiFi.
A lot of bizarre stuff makes its way through airport security.
While bringing dangerous items through security is a major no-no, that doesn't mean your weirder items will be flagged—but it happens from time to time. One TSA agent says that he once caught a couple bringing a bunch of human teeth through the airport.
Taking out your batteries can prevent confusion.
Before you pack your bag, make sure you've removed the batteries from your devices. Everything from prosthetic limbs with moving parts to vibrators can cause quite an uproar at the airport, so make sure there's no juice in those electronics before trying to bring them aboard.
There are behavior detection officers watching you.
The TSA scanners aren't the only people keeping a watchful eye on you when you go through the airport. Airports in the United States also employ Behavior Detection Officers to sniff out any suspicious behavior.
You may be able to check extra items for free.
Traveling with a lot of stuff? Some of it may be able to board the plane at no extra cost to you. Items like strollers, car seats, and even cribs can often be checked for free, so browse your airline's policy online before breaking out your wallet.
Liquids are more likely to be causing delays than weapons.
Want to make your security screening faster? Double-check those liquids. TSA agents claim that people bringing extra liquids in their carry-on luggage account for more stalls than dangerous items.
Weapons do get forgotten pretty regularly, though.
While airports are relatively safe places, people do forget to remove dangerous items from their bags on a pretty regular basis. One former TSA supervisor admits to seeing weapons coming through the scanner "all the time."
Using Google Flights can help make the most of your trip.
Instead of using a million different travel apps to get the best price, use comparison tools, like Google Flights, instead. This useful tool can help you search multiple airports, find the best price, and filter for your preferred flight time in one fell swoop.
An extra battery can save the day.
Airport delays can mean that your electronics are nearly dead by the time you reach the plane. While some airports have charging stations, there are rarely enough to go around, so make sure you've packed a fully-charged portable battery so you can keep your devices juiced up.
TSA agents aren't shocked by your sex toys.
It may be embarrassing to have a stranger see your sex toys, but it's nothing new for TSA agents. One TSA agent says that sex toys are constantly found in passenger luggage, including some truly creative contraptions.
Packing your electronics together expedites security.
If you're eager to make your screening time faster, pack your electronics in a single compartment in your bag. This way, you can take them all out at once without having to rifle through your things, holding up the line in the process.
You can bring mini bottles through security.
Don't want to shell out major cash for duty-free booze? Bring your own! Mini bottles are just the right size to bring through security.
But you can't drink your just-purchased booze on the plane.
However, don't try to toss back your own booze on the plane. "It's actually illegal to drink alcohol that you've brought onto a plane [that] hasn't been served by a flight attendant; it's in the small print of most in-flight magazines," says one former TSA agent.
Flying from a bigger airport can slash your ticket price.
If you're willing to travel a little before flying, you can save serious money on your ticket. Major travel hubs, like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles often have cheaper ticket prices than smaller metro areas. Better yet, this can often save you from annoying layovers.
There is a cap on how much you'll get for being bumped.
While you will be compensated if you're bumped from your flight, don't expect a windfall. Each airline has its own compensation limit, and the FAA puts a cap on how much you can receive for your inconvenience.
A medical note can speed things up.
If you have a medical condition that the TSA agent might not know about, get yourself a TSA notification card. This can help discreetly explain your need for certain medical equipment or keep you from getting pulled aside if metal parts from a surgery set off the scanner.
Using flashy luggage will expedite your arrival.
Get in and out of baggage claim at lightning speed by using a flashy suitcase. Everyone at the airport has a black bag, often leading to confusion at the conveyer belt, but a neon-colored suitcase is hard to miss.
If you happen to be flying into these major travel hubs, check out the 20 Secret Perks at the World's Busiest Airports.