Airport Tips to Make Travel a Bit Easier

I love to travel - but, boy, do I hate airports!

Need some airport tips to navigate the maze of security, parking, and long lines?

More than 2 million passengers pass through U.S. airports every day. The lines have gotten longer, there are new passport requirements and tsa rules, and airport security in general takes much longer than it used to.

It's not easy, but here are a few airport tips you can use to navigate the process:

airport arrivals screen
  • Above all, ARRIVE EARLY! That means at least 90 minutes before a domestic flight, and at least 2 hours before an international flight.
  • Try to travel at off-peak times. If you can, avoid summer, holidays, and spring break, when families are traveling. The weather in spring and fall can be lovely, and the crowds are much thinner. Travel mid-week (Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday) instead the weekend. The lines will be shorter, and you'll save some money on the airfares, too.
  • Fly as early in the day as possible. You may be competing with business travelers, but there are fewer leisure travelers on 6 AM flights - and the flight is more likely to take off on time, so you're less likely to miss a connecting flight.
  • If you have a connecting flight, allow at least one hour between flights. If the first flight is delayed, you should still have time to catch your connection. Anything less than an hour, and you may find yourself running from one terminal to another, even if the first flight is on time.
  • Check-in online before leaving home. This is a real time-saver at the airport, especially if you do not need to check luggage. At many airports, you can check in curbside if you have your boarding pass. Or use the check-in kiosks at the airport. Even if you have luggage to check, you'll get done faster using the kiosks instead of going to an agent.
  • Park off-site. For a week-long trip, the remote lot at the airport will be less expensive than daily parking. But remote lots that are not associated with the airport are an even better deal. I've used Avistar at O'Hare (they have franchises at most city airports) and they are not only less expensive, they handle your bags and take you directly to your terminal; the remote lot, by comparison, requires a bus to the tram and a tram to the terminal - lugging your bags all the way!
  • Make your bag stand out at the baggage carousel. If you don't have a colorful bag , use a brightly colored luggage tag or a distinctive tag on a plain black or navy bag. I have a neon green tag with Tigger on it that I got in Orlando, and a large hibiscus flower I got in Hawaii. I have no trouble identifying my bags. Target has a surprising variety of colorful or character-shaped tags.
  • You can only check 2 bags and carry 2 - INCLUDING YOUR PURSE. I always carry a rather large tote with all the "stuff" I need for the flight, and a SMALL purse inside. (that one doesn't count, if it's inside the tote - the tote is one carry-on). Then I can have another carry-on with the first day's essentials, in case my checked luggage gets lost.
  • Pack light! Aside from making it easier to navigate the airport, it's also cheaper. Airlines are charging at least $25 for the first checked bag, and often $50 for a 2nd bag. And they will charge another $50 for ANY bag over 50 lbs. Do you really need 5 pairs of shoes? If you can fit everything in a carry-on, you can (usually) avoid fees - but be prepared for unpleasant stares from your fellow passengers. I usually use one checked bag and pay the fee; it's relatively easy and cheap.
  • Know your airport. Most airports have online maps (which can be printed), so you can find the terminal for your airline and plan where to park and where to go. (Click here to find airport info - look for "Getting Around the Airport" to find the terminal maps). Do not take the first parking space you find when entering the parking garage. Even if the garage is almost full, it's likely that the available spaces are on the upper floors, and they may be closer to the terminal.
  • Know where your airline check-in counter is, where your gate is, and the security checkpoint in between. If there are long lines at the closest checkpoint, see if there are other checkpoints in the terminal. You may have to walk a bit out of the way, but you can avoid a long wait.
  • Know the airport security rules, passport rules and TSA rules - and there are many! If you're not prepared to take off your shoes, or have the wrong containers for liquids, it will take longer to get through security.
  • Go to "airport security tips" for more information on dealing with TSA rules and long lines at security.

Follow these airport tips and you'll have a better trip - have fun!!!

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