The 10 Best Airport Hacks Every Expert Traveler Knows
These tips and tricks can help you breeze through any airport like a pro.
When it comes to travel, few places give folks more anxiety than the airport. Why? From flight delays to long security lines, there are a lot of hurdles to cross on the way to a destination. But airports don't have to be scary or anxiety-inducing. When it comes to air travel, there are some go-to hacks you can use to make the most of your time… because, yes, you've earned this vacation! Read on for the best airport hacks from experts that you should commit to memory for your next trip.
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Sign up for TSA PreCheck.
Every day, between one and two million travelers are using TSA PreCheck, according to TSA. That means roughly 10 to 20 percent of all PreCheck users are utilizing their status daily since the program hit 10 million members back in 2020. Even if the waits are a little bit longer than they used to be, TSA still reports that wait times are one-third of those in regular security lines. When you don't have to take your shoes off, unpack electronics, or remove liquids from your bag, PreCheck changes the whole experience of getting through security.
Plus many credit cards offer reimbursement for the application fee, so signing up doesn't have many downsides.
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Get through customs faster with Global Entry.
In signing up for TSA PreCheck, you also have the option to register for Global Entry. Like PreCheck, many credit cards also reimburse the Global Entry fee as well. This handy feature allows you to bypass the often lengthy re-entry lines coming back to the United States. I can personally say I have never waited in a single line coming back to the States through customs since getting Global Entry—whereas my travel companions have waited upwards of 45 minutes to an hour at times.
Check security line wait times.
While several airports (like O'Hare) have their own security wait time estimates listed on their websites, TSA has its own system. With the MyTSA app, you can check wait times, what items are allowed through security, and even get help from agents. Knowing how long the security line might take will alleviate the stress of knowing how soon to arrive before your flight.
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Reserve parking ahead of time.
As is the case with most aspects of travel, last-minute choices often mean higher price points. Although not specifically about airport parking, INRIX data found that Americans overpay for parking to the tune of $20 billion a year.
Waiting until you get to the airport to reserve parking might also mean the lot you wanted to park in could be full. Save yourself the hassle and a few dollars by booking your parking spot before you're ready to fly.
Download airport maps—especially for layovers.
Running through the terminal to catch a short layover flight is stressful enough, let alone in an airport you may be unfamiliar with. Having an airport map downloaded for quick reference ensures that you'll know where you're going. Having the map saved to your phone can give you peace of mind (without worrying about having decent cellphone coverage).
Yes, technology in or around airports is still a tricky scenario. Case in point: AT&T announced in Jan. 2022 that their 5G rollout near airports was being delayed.
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Find easy parking memory tricks.
Not remembering where your car is is the worst part of parking in a big lot. And if you've been there, you're not alone: A 2020 study by the University of York suggests that there's no middle ground in site-specific memory. You either remember… or you don't.
Luckily, there are several ways to ensure you aren't pressing the car alarm button frantically, hoping to hear a familiar chirp. Taking a photo of where your car is, as well as its section information, can be a helpful trick. Another option is to drop a pin on the car's location using your phone's map feature. There are even phone apps dedicated to this purpose: Find My Car and GPS Vehicle Tracker are two good options.
Make your luggage stand out.
As of January 2022, the Department of Transportation reports that less than 1 percent of checked bags were mishandled (i.e. lost, delayed, damaged, or looted) that month. Although there's not much you can do if and when an airline loses your luggage, keeping some tricks in mind can save you time at the baggage carousel.
When purchasing luggage, buy pieces that are brightly colored or patterned. If you have a suitcase already, try tying a ribbon on it or putting a noticeable cover over it. When there is a sea of black or single-color suitcases, yours will be easy to pick out from the crowd. Plus, if it doesn't match the others around it, your bag is less likely to be accidentally taken by someone thinking it's theirs.
Checking in online for a flight allows you to bypass the check-in desk and head straight to security. That alone is a huge time saver for many passengers, especially if you're traveling during a particularly busy time like the holidays or spring break. In fact, the Official Airline Guide suggests that passengers get used to this kind of technology and biometrics being the future of air travel.
There are even more perks to checking in early for a flight. Many airlines allow you to change seats for little or no additional fee starting 24 hours before departure. You can also see how full your flight is and even check the waitlist in a lot of cases. If you're extra lucky, you might even get bumped to a better cabin!
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Take the left most security line.
People naturally gravitate towards the right line because it's typically the closest. However, going to the left will probably be less crowded since not a ton of people head in that direction.
Taylor Beal, owner and author of the travel blog Traverse With Taylor, suggests after heading to the left, be sure to calculate how many bins you'll need to grab before it's your turn.
"It cuts down so much time (for you AND those around you) if you know what to remove from your carry-ons before you get to the scanners," she says. Preparing your items and moving to the further line will ultimately speed up your security experience so get to your gate faster and relax before boarding.
Don't use the first bathroom past security.
Everyone usually wants to use the bathroom before boarding the plane, but you should find one that's a little further from the security chaos. "The first bathroom past security and the one closest to your gate are always going to be the busiest," Beal says.
She suggests finding one near a gate that isn't being used or one that's in a main hallway away from security. You're way less likely to encounter long lines and you can avoid the pre-boarding bathroom crowds.