My Airport Survival Guide

  • Arriving At The Airport

For domestic flights, I recommend arriving at the airport no later than 2 hours before your flight. It’ll give you enough time to clear security even during the busiest time, and relax for a few minutes at the departure lounge before boarding. I hate the feeling of being rushed so I’m normally at the airport two hours prior, in case of any surprises.

For international flights, I arrive at the airport anywhere between 2.5 to 3 hours before my flight, depending on what time I’m flying. At O’Hare, where I fly out, I find I need more time for flights leaving after 9pm than for flights leaving in the afternoon. There are more flights leaving after 9pm and fewer security lanes open. Also helpful will be to check your airport’s departure board online before leaving to gauge how busy it will be when you fly out, then plan accordingly.

  • Checking In

If the airline you’re taking offers online check-in, do it! Most airlines open their online check-in 24 hours before the scheduled flight, and will enable you to select your seats if you haven’t done so yet. For most domestic flights, you are able to print your boarding pass at home. Once at the airport, assuming you have no baggage to check, you can go directly to security.

For international flights, both direct and connecting, you need to see a gate agent for passport check. You can check in online and print your boarding pass, but you will still need to see a gate agent. If you have no baggage to check, most airlines will allow you to bypass the massive Economy queue and check in at the Business Class counter. Turkish Airlines and British Airways are pretty good with this.

  • Footies and Cooties

I know a lot of girls, myself especially, who prefer to wear flats or shoes without laces because they are comfortable, cute, goes with any outfit, and can easily be taken off and put back on at the security check. However, have you seen how filthy those floors are? Seriously!! My advice, wear socks. Wear your trainers/sneakers/boots when flying since those take up the most space your bag anyway. Yes, tying your laces after you put your shoes back on is a pain, but they are worth the hassle given the alternative. Not packing any trainers or boots? No problem, pack a small pair of socks and stash them in your purse, then right before queueing for security, put them on. Yes, you’ll look a bit dorky but your feet will thank you. You can take off the socks once you get your shoes back.

Note though, the shoe removal procedure is not mandatory in some airports, particularly in Europe. At these airports, only those wearing boots or shoes that go past the ankle are required to remove them. Even so, these airports actually provide you with plastic disposable booties to protect your feet from cooties as you clear security.

  • 3-1-1 and the TSA

Airport security is very SERIOUS about that 3-1-1 rule. Don’t even bother trying to go around it. Every person is allowed to bring one 1 quart plastic, re-sealable bage filled with bottles containing no more than 100ml or 3oz of liquid. That new Chanel perfume of yours that’s marked 3.4oz? That’s too big. Either place it in your checked baggage or don’t bring it at all. Do not hold up that mile long line arguing with the TSA agent that 3.4 oz is the same as 3oz. It’s not. And you’re not proving a point by arguing for your “right”,  you’re just pissing off the hundred or so people behind you.

Also, please don’t wait until it’s your turn to clear security before you start taking out your laptop and liquids from your bag. And please, DO NOT WAIT for the security officer to tell you to take off your coat, shoes, watch, belt, phone, coins, and jewelry before you do it. You know the drill, you know you do! Don’t pretend you don’t.

Please remember as well that the TSA has no sense of humor. Leave the funny/political/ironic shirts at home. The TSA is also not fond of jokes involving bombs, explosives, guns, Anthrax, drugs, smuggling and the like. Be polite and be courteous. Answer what is asked of you, no more no less. Do not offer information that is not asked from you. This is not the time to be chatting about last night’s episode of Homeland.

  • Snacks and Munchies

In a nutshell, bring your own. Airport food is notoriously overpriced and bad, and that applies to about 95% of the world’s airports. Water and juice will have to follow the 3-1-1 rule, so the best thing you can do is bring a refillable bottle, and refill at the water fountains after security. Or you can bite the bullet and buy the overpriced ones at the stores and kiosks in the airport’s secure area. I know it sucks, but not all airports have water fountains.

For the food though, bring your own chips, dried fruit, granola bars, and other solid non-messy food. Personally, I don’t bring sandwiches. They are a disaster waiting to happen in my purse filled with electronics. When traveling, I have this ritual of stopping off at a Chipotle or Panda Express on the way to the airport. I figured there’s about 3 hours before my plane takes off, and another 2 hours before they serve the first meal. My Veggie Burrito Bowl should hold me for about 6 hours.

  • Entertainment and Killing Boredom

Most airports have a shortage of power outlets and finding a free one is like winning the lottery, so with that in mind, I go old school for entertainment when I know I have a substantial layover. I bring a book that’s long enough to last me at least 10 hours. It does get big and cumbersome in my bag, but I usually leave it or trade it for another (hopefully smaller) one at the hostel at my destination. I don’t bother with my iPad since I probably won’t get WiFi connection anyways. Very few airports offer free WiFi, and when they do, they usually cap you at 30 to 60 minutes.

My preferred mode of airport entertainment however, is people watching. The sheer variety and number of people you see in airports is astounding. I like to imagine where people are going and what they will be doing at their destination based on how they dress and move. I can write a dozen novels playing this game.

  • Personal Responsibility and Security

Some airports are designed brilliantly with the passenger’s comfort and well-being in mind. There would be restrooms and departure boards every 200 feet, signs clearly telling you where everything is, information desks staffed with polite and helpful staff, an abundance of power outlets, free WiFi, and reasonably priced good food. But those airports are unfortunately the exception and not the norm.

Read the departure board before going through security. This will help you figure out which security point is closest to your gate (this is of course assuming you did your research online and have a good idea of the airport layout). Read the departure board again after you clear security, you never know if the gate number has been changed in the twenty minutes you spent clearing security. Read the departure boards again before settling in at the departure lounge at your gate, then lastly, check if the gate’s monitor reflects your flight number and destination.

Take off your headphones or set the volume on low. Airport PA systems are notoriously garbled and indecipherable. Listen to the announcements. They could be changing the gate number of your flight at the last minute. Listen and listen well. Did the announcement mention something similar sounding to your flight number, destination, or airline? Get up and check the departure boards to be safe.

Watch your belongings and do not entrust them to strangers. I know this seems like common sense, but you’ll be surprised at how many people just leave their laptops plugged in to a power outlet while they get up and go to the bathroom. Remember, if your bag is randomly checked and contraband is found, YOU will be responsible for it, not the sweet granny you asked to look after your backpack when you went to get some coffee. Bring your bag into the bathroom stall with you if you are traveling alone. I know it’s a pain, but do not open yourself up  to a Bridget Jones type of situation.

Remember, you are solely responsible for making sure you board your flight. You are solely responsible for your bags and its contents. You are solely responsible for your well-being and amusement. Do your due diligence before and after booking your flight, and plan accordingly.

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