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How to Perfect Your Airport Experience

Air travel is one of the world’s most impressive inventions. For years, it’s allowed people to see new parts of the world and companies to conduct business with global partners. But, regardless of our reasons for travelling, we still all have to go through the pains of queuing and waiting around the airport before a flight.

Luckily, there are a few things you can do that will drastically cut down the queuing time and make the airport the fun and hassle-free experience that it should be.

Here are our top tips that will help perfect your airport experience and have you travelling like a pro!

17 tips to improve your time at the airport

1) Pre-select a seat near the front of the plane

While you might want to spend a bit of time shopping around at the airport that you depart from, once you’ve landed on the other side, the chances are that you’ll want to get out of there ASAP.

By pre-selecting your seat, you can choose to sit close to the front of the aircraft and be one of the first to disembark. Not only does this get you off the plane quicker, but it also puts you closer to the front of the line for passport control if you’re flying internationally.

Seat Selection Alternative Airlines

2) Get involved in an expedited security/customs/immigration program

Using one, or a combination, of the programs below to breeze through security, customs or immigration can dramatically shorten your overall queuing time at the airport. Here’s a little overview of what programs are available:

  • TSA Precheck — TSA Precheck is a US Customs and Border Protection program that gives low-risk members access to an expedited security lane and screening process at selected airports in the US
  • Global Entry — As another US Customs and Border Protection program, Global Entry gives the same benefits as TSA Precheck, plus expedited customs screening for when international travellers enter the US
  • Nexus — As a program created by the Canadian Border Services Agency and the US Customers and Border Control, NEXUS allows pre-approved, low-risk travellers to use their NEXUS card instead of a passport at self-service kiosks at selected airports in Canada and the US
  • CLEAR — CLEAR is a program that allows its members to fast-track airport security, using biometrics for identification, in the US through an exclusive ‘CLEAR’ lane at select airports.
  • Automated Passport Control — Automated Passport Control allows those travelling to and from the US to use a self-service kiosk for border control checks. This speeds up the border control process by eliminating the need to fill out a physical customs declaration form.
  • Mobile Passport Control — Mobile Passport Control is a US Customers and Border Protection approved mobile app that gives travellers an electronic version of their passport.

3) Check-in online and with mobile

If there’s only one thing you take away from this list that you don’t already do, let it be checking-in online. Checking-in online is the ultimate time-saver and it couldn’t be easier. Just enter your flight details on the airline’s website to access the booking, punch in your passport details, print off your boarding pass and — voila! You’ve completed a process that might usually take more than half an hour in a couple of minutes and you haven’t even got to the airport yet.

And, if your airline has a mobile app or allows you to download your boarding pass to your mobile, do that too! The convenience of having your travel documents available at the click of a button can’t be overstated.

Hand holding mobile

4) Have any physical documents to hand

Unless you use Mobile Passport Control, you’re bound to have some form of a physical travel document that you’ll have to carry around. Keep these documents together and in a safe place, that’s easy to get to.

5) Research the check-in times

With over 650 airlines available worldwide at Alternative Airlines, we appreciate that online check-in might not be available with all of them, especially the smaller domestic ones.

If online check-in is unavailable on the airline that you’re flying on, spend some time researching the airport check-in times. Not only will this ensure that you won’t be late for check-in and miss your flight altogether, but it’ll also inform you of the opening times and prevent you from arriving too early and having to wait around.

6) Buy flights at quieter times

It might be common sense, but buying flights at off-peak times generally makes for a less-crowded airport and a smoother experience. Fewer people equals less queuing!

When are off-peak flights?

While it might differ from country to country, off-peak flights are generally:

  • Early morning or late-night and red eye flights
  • Between Tuesday–Thursday
  • Outside of the holiday seasons

Top Tip: You can also check out the low season months for many destinations here.

Person sitting on chair inside roo with glass windows with vacant chairs next to him

7) Only check baggage if you absolutely need to

Even if you’re given a free checked baggage allowance, ask yourself ‘do I really need it?’. If you think you can fit all the items that you need to travel with within your carry-on, don’t bother checking a bag! Not only do checked bags mean more queuing when you drop it off before departure, but you also have to wait to pick it up on the other side!

8) Brush up on what’s allowed in your carry-on

Knowing exactly what can and can’t go in your carry-on baggage is key to breezing through security. Learn the liquid limits and which items are prohibited to avoid your bag getting checked.

Our handy guide on prohibited items gives a great overview of what you can and can’t take.

Close up of a passport sitting on luggage

9) Pre-pack your liquids in a clear plastic bag

We know that squeezing all of your toiletries and liquids into the small plastic bag before security can be a challenge, especially when security insist that it must be completely sealed and within one bag. So, why not incorporate it into your pre-flight packing? You can purchase the plastic bags online or just re-use the one from your last trip and have it all ready for when you reach security.

10) Don’t wear anything that’s not allowed through security

Sometimes you’ll spend more time dressing and undressing than you’ll spend queuing at airport security. Make sure to pack belts, boots, jackets and anything else you might be asked to remove at airport security away in your case.

There’s no hard rule for this either, so if you’ve noticed some airport security will make you take off your boots and others won’t, that’s because different airports will carry out different security measures. We suggest to play it safe and to not wear anything that you think might slow down the process.

11) Get to know the airport before you travel

If you’re flying from an unfamiliar airport, it might be useful to do a bit of research on it. You can find really useful maps on the airport’s official website, as well as see what shops, restaurants and other facilities the airport has. This is particularly useful for larger airports, which have multiple terminals and different departure areas for different flights.

Close up of direction sign at the airport

12) Refuse your boarding pass when buying items at the airport

Have you ever been shopping at the airport and abandoned your basket because you left your boarding pass with the person that you’re travelling with?

Well, it’s one of the airport employees best-kept secrets that — unless shopping in duty free — it’s not compulsory to show your boarding pass when making a purchase and you can refuse to show it!

13) Order & collect

If you need to pick a few items at the airport that won’t fit within your baggage allowance or exceed the 100ml limit allowed in your carry-on, find out if the airport that you’re flying from has any shops that offer an order & collect service.

The order & collect service allows you to pre-order items online before you travel and pick them up from the shop when you’re airside at the airport. Not only is this a time-saver, but ordering online offers more choice and is cheaper than the inflated prices at the airport.

Please note: order & collect services are currently only available in countries within Europe.

14) Keep your mobile & other electronic devices charged

Keeping your phone charged is essential, especially if you have your boarding pass downloaded onto it. And, although many airlines offer in-flight Wi-Fi to keep you entertained in-flight, that can also drain your battery too.

There aren’t always plug sockets available at the airport or on the aircraft and, if you’re in a foreign country and don’t have an adapter, you might not be able to use the socket anyway. Therefore, we suggest taking a portable charger with you to ensure you can keep your devices charged on the go.

Close up of someone plugging their phone into a charger

15) Pre-order your currency

If you’re taking physical cash away with you, pre-order your currency instead of getting it directly at the airport. You’ll almost always get a better exchange rate in doing so and it’s one less thing to do on the day that you travel.

16) Be extra prepared if travelling with Children

If you’re flying with children, check if the airport that you’re flying from has a kids’ play area. You won’t have to pack as many toys for your child and they’ll stay entertained. According to this Mummy Travels blog children are more likely to be well-behaved on the flight after playing in a soft-play area at the airport.

It’s also important to learn the rules for taking baby food. Security will often let you take breast milk, formula, water (for babies) and essential liquid medicine that exceeds the 100ml limit, as long as it's screened separately.

Two children looking at planes on a runway out of a window at the airport

17) Check-in to an airport lounge

Whether you’re travelling for business and want a secluded area to work in, or you’re travelling for leisure and just want your holiday to get off to a great start (with unlimited food and drink!), airport lounges are a great way to make your experience at the airport relaxed and stress-free.

Plus, they aren’t always ultra-exclusive and expensive! Take a read of our blog on the best airport lounges across the world to discover lounges with great value.

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