41 Essential Tips for Airports (to Ensure a Stress-Free Experience!)

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While many people consider airports to be a horrorscape filled with stress, overpriced sandwiches, and angry sunburnt dads, I’m of the rare opinion that airports are actually pretty fun… a mentality I owe to the airport tips that I’m sharing in this post.

I mean… after a decade of frequent travel, I think I’ve finally nailed my airport routine – from when to arrive and check in with ease to breezing through security and boarding without crying.

So, below you’ll find the best tips for airports I’ve accumulated over the years, many through painful trial and error. I hope you find them useful!

Save this List of Airport & Airplane Tips for Later!

You’ll be very glad you did.

1. Book flights for off peak periods (e.g. mid-week)

The number one thing you can do to reduce your stress levels at the airport is simply timing flights around periods that are less busy. Less people, less chaos, less stress – it’s that simple.

So if you have the luxury of flexibility, keep in mind that early morning and mid-week flights tend to be less chaotic than flying on weekends or evenings, making for a smoother airport experience in general. Plus, earlier flights are less susceptible to delays that build up and accrue throughout the day… so it’s just a win overall that’s (to me) worth the earlier alarm.

NOTE: Off-peak times can depend on your airport. Some airports that are popular with business travellers may be very busy early in the morning for instance, so be sure to do a bit of research on what ‘off-peak- entails before you book.

Photo by Mark Broadhead on Unsplash

2. Pre-Book a time to go through security

Another great new airport tip is to (whenever possible) prebook a time to go through security.

This is a relatively new thing that I’ve seen at some airports, most recently on a flight in Toronto where I got to take advantage of it!

Basically, once you prebook a time slot to do your security check, you get to go in a separate line during your designated time slot, which can save a lot of time and stress.

NOTE: Not all airports offer this, but many do, so be sure to search up whether that’s a possibility because it is such a gamechanger.

Crowds walking in an Asian airport
Photo by Mikael Frivold on Unsplash

3. Reserve Parking in Advance

On a similar note, if you’re driving and parking at the airport, you should also be sure to reserve a parking spot in advance.

I mean, how many divorces have happened while looking for a parking spot at the airport? I don’t have the numbers on me but I’m imagine it’s a lot.

Plus, pre-booking is usually cheaper too, so reserving a spot can save you both time and money.

BMW car driving on the road
Photo by aranprime on Unsplash

4. Always check in online in advance, as soon as it opens

Next is a simple airport tip that many people still skip (to my amazement), which is to simply do the online check in. I genuinely don’t get why you wouldn’t – it saves you the pain of doing it in person, and you have full control over changing your seat if you want.

Online check in is especially helpful if you’re not checking any bags because you get your boarding pass right away, which allows you to skip the check-in line altogether and head straight to security.

And even if you have bags to check, there’s often a separate line for baggage drop off, which saves you from waiting in the longer check in line (which, from experience, takes way longer since it’s often full of less experienced travellers who opted out of the online check in).

Remember: Most airlines offer online check-in 24 hours before your flight, so be sure to hop on as soon as it opens to give yourself first priority in changing your seat if you want to. I’ve also anecdotally heard that those who check in first are at the least danger of getting bumped if the flight is overbooked… though I’m not sure how true that is!

Girl at desk shopping online with a coffee in hand
Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

5. Use seat map websites to choose your ideal seats on the plane

Now here’s a fun airplane trick – if you’re picky about where you sit on the plane and want to know in advance where the ‘best seats’ are, there actually are websites online that show you seat maps in advance.

Once upon a time, SeatGuru was the go-to website for this – you could just enter your flight details and have them pull up seat maps that show you the more desirable parts of a plane based on reviews, as well as detailed reviews from other passengers where applicable. Unfortunately, they were bought out by Tripadvisor recently and are no longer updating the maps, so they may not be the most accurate.

I’ve heard of Aerolopa as an alternative, but it’s not as easy as SeatGuru to use. You’d need to find out which plane you’re flying on (usually you’ll see this on your booking portal, or you can use Google Flights to find your flight and then look under the flight details to see the actual model of plane). Obviously, this is more cumbersome… but yes, just know that seat maps can be used in advance for seat picking strategy!

Generally speaking though…

  • I would sit closer to the front of the plane if you want to disembark first, like if you have a tight connection for instance
  • I would sit in the middle of the plane if I’m trying to avoid turbulence
  • And I’d avoid any seats close to bathrooms because there will be a lot of noise and disruption throughout your flight
Laptop and coffee on a table in a cafe
Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

6. Look into programs like TSA PreCheck or Global Entry

For American travellers, another thing to look into if you’re a frequent traveller are programs like…

  • TSA PreCheck: “Provides expedited security screening benefits for flights departing from U.S. Airports”
  • Global Entry: “Provides expedited U.S. customs screening for international air travelers when entering the United States” (includes TSA PreCheck)

This can really expedite security procedures for you and save you time and stress!

People walking in an airport
Photo by Jay Zhang on Unsplash

7. Look into travel credit cards that offer perks like lounge access

And if you’re planning a big trip or intend to do a lot of travelling, it’s not a bad idea to look into a travel-friendly credit card either.

Think about it this way: you’re going to be spending money on your flights anyway, so you might as well get points for them, and some premium cards also offer additional perks like lounge passes and travel insurance included, like the Amex Platinum for instance which is what I have.

Honestly, lounges are gamechangers when it comes to making the airport experience more bearable, but they don’t come cheap so I’d advise trying to find a credit card that includes them rather than paying out of pocket, because that’s not often worth it unless you have a long time to spend before your flight.

There are also lounge access programs you can enrol in like Priority Pass, but to be honest I don’t think those are worth it unless you fly a lot, and even then, I think getting a good travel credit card with lounges included is better value than just getting a Priority Pass membership.

Photo by CardMapr on Unsplash

8. Consider travelling carry on only

Now it’s time to mention some airport packing tips. The first, especially if you want to make the most of online check in, is to travel carry-on only.

Trust me – the amount of stress this saves at the airport is unreal. No checked bags means not panicking about baggage drop off lines, wasting time at baggage claim on the other side or losing anything you’re bringing.

If you’re able to pack everything into a personal item and carry on suitcase, your airport experience will be a lot smoother, so definitely give it a try.

And if you struggle with packing light, check out my full guide to packing light and not looking like a slob for more.

Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash

9. Take a photo of your suitcases before checking them in

That said, sometimes checking a bag is inevitable so in those cases, another tip to keep in mind is to get photos of what your bags look like before you check them.

I’ve luckily not had this happen to me, but I’ve heard some stories from people who have had their bags damaged in transit and could only claim compensation if they had proof the damage wasn’t there before. So, having photos of what your bags looked like before the journey can be really helpful.

A photo may also help you get help tracking it down in case it gets lost.

My babies

10. Put a distinctive cover or tag on your luggage

If you’re checking bags, another crucial tip for the airport is to make sure your luggage is distinctive in some way.

These days, a lot of bags can look the same, and while most parts of the flying experience are really strictly regulated, baggage claim is still like the Wild West, so if you’re not careful, someone could easily take your bag and leave, whether on purpose or by accident.

And this actually did happen to me once! Someone took my suitcase by accident because we both had grey suitcases with a pink tag, so definitely don’t count this out. Put a unique identifier on your bag to avoid any potential mishaps like these fun suitcase covers or these bag straps. The weirder the better.

NOTE: If you are using a luggage tag, try to find one that has a cover on it like this one, so that your personal information isn’t easily seen by others at the airport, and also do not write your address on the tag or anything that would show strangers where you live. Instead, just leave an email or phone number on it, just for that extra layer of security. There isn’t really any benefit to writing your address on there anyway.

Photo by Arthur Edelmans on Unsplash

11. Place a location tracker in your checked bags for ease of mind

I’m an Apple user so I use AirTags but Tiles are also a popular choice.

Keeping one of these in your bag lets you keep track of where it is, which is ideal for peace of mind but also for tracking bags down if they do somehow get lost.

I bought my first Airtag a few years back and now have several for all my bags. I’ve never been less stressed about losing my stuff – it’s great!

12. Pack an emergency outfit in your carry-on in case your bag gets lost

One of my top suitcase packing tips is to always ensure I have an emergency outfit or two with me on the plane.

This way, you have a change of clothes even in that worst case scenario that your bags get lost. At minimum, be sure to pack some fresh underwear and another top! This won’t take much space and could really save you in an emergency.

Photo by Junko Nakase on Unsplash

13. Plan your airport outfit carefully

Now when it comes to tips for airport outfits, what I’ll say is putting a bit of thought into what you wear can make a HUGE difference. I know many people who just fling on what’s comfiest, but some extra considerations would be to…

  • Wear slip-on shoes and SOCKS. Some airports will require you to take off your shoes (usually just with heavier ones like boots) but if for some reason you are asked to remove your shoes you definitely don’t want to be barefoot
  • Dress in layers so you can adjust accordingly since airports can vary so widely in temperature
  • Avoid synthetic fabrics like polyester and nylon because not only are they not very breathable, they’re also very flammable, which is not ideal in case of airplane emergencies
  • And avoid excessive accessories when heading to the airport like jewelry or belts. It’ll save time at security checkpoints.

14. Dress in presentable clothes (i.e. not pyjamas)

Next airport tip: this may be controversial opinion, but based on personal experience, I do actually think that dressing a little nicer can make the airport experience SO much smoother because airport staff are generally nicer to you.

This is why I prefer to look presentable when I fly, rather than wearing pyjamas or something which I’ve seen people do. This doesn’t mean sacrificing comfort – I mean leggings and a nice long top or dress can be very comfortable for me, and overall I just find people take you more seriously when you’re better dressed, but really it’s up to you.

Photo by Sarah Dorweiler on Unsplash

15. Pack your personal item smartly (e.g. liquids on top)

Now when it comes to the bags you’re bringing through security (e.g. carry on and personal item), remember that there should be some strategy involved in packing these as well.

A lot of people just throw everything into a bag, but that’s not the way to go. This will result in you being a sweaty, fumbly mess at the airport. Rather, here’s what I do: I pack my personal bag in order of least likely to need at the airport (e.g. my emergency outfit) at the bottom, then have the things I’ll most likely need to retrieve at the airport (e.g laptops and liquids) at the top.

This way, I can retrieve them super easily when I need to, and not have to dig for them.

I would also pack assuming there’s going to be a delay, meaning make sure you have everything you need in case a delay does happen, like movies or books downloaded, just because it’s always better safe than sorry.

16. Pack and separate liquids in advance

Alright, now this airport tip is fairly basic, but important, so I’ll include it anyway.

If you aren’t doing this already, make sure you’re separating your liquids in advance of your arrival at the airport… because in most cases, you don’t actually need to wait for those plastic baggs from the airport and can just use your own. I like having a reusable one like this.

Having everything pre-separated can save a lot of stress so that when you do get to security you can just throw your bag in the trays and not worry.

NOTE: Be sure to look up the rules around liquids for your specific country and airport though! Some can vary in their restrictions so it’s better to avoid surprises. I’ve heard way too many stories of people having to throw away their expensive skincare because they weren’t aware of limits.

17. Bring an empty water bottle to refill

This not only saves money but also helps reduce plastic waste. Most airports have water-filling stations post-security and it’s important to stay hydrated when you fly, so yes, be sure to bring an empty water bottle with you!

NOTE: A more old school hack is freezing a water bottle with water in it since this doesn’t count as a liquid, but honestly there are SO many fountains available now at airports that doing this doesn’t really make that much sense.

Water bottle on black table
Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

18. Pack some (healthy and filling) snacks with you

I’m sure this isn’t a surprise, but airport food is often the worst of all worlds… it’s expensive, often gross and usually unhealthy too.

Especially when it comes to snacks, there’s nothing special at the airport that you can’t get elsewhere so the Kit Kat you buy at the airport is the exact same as the one from the supermarket, except probably 3x the cost.

SO if you’re a snacky person, bringing some of your own Granola bars, nuts, or candy can be a good idea… especially when there’s unexpectedly delays and you start to get hangry.

Christina Guan Snack Backpack
One of my proudest DIY projects – the snack backpack! I think this would be overkill though

19. Make sure your devices are fully charged

Another underrated tip for the airport is to make sure ALL your devices are fully juiced up before you head out.

You don’t want to be battling for an outlet when you get to the airport and you’ll probably be using your phone or laptop quite a bit whether it’s while you wait or when you’re on board, so don’t skip this step!

20. Bring a portable charger (or power splitter)

Another worthwhile item to pack for the airport may be a portable charger.

This saves you trying to find an outlet and you can also charge up on the plane if there are no charging ports available. I’m a huge fan of this slim one – it charges quickly and doesn’t take up much space at all.

Alternatively, you could also pack a power splitter so that you can charge multiple devices or make some new friends while being reliant on airport outlets.

21. Bring charging cables with USB-A ports for the plane

Now if you do bring charging cables with the intention of using them on the plane, do note that most planes still use old school USB-A ports rather than the USB-C ones that are becoming a lot more common these days so be sure to pack either a USB-A cable or bring a USB-C to USB-A adapter like this.

Charging two phones
USB A on the left, USB C on the right. Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

22. Bring a good pair of noise cancelling headphones

Another tech must-have for airports and flying are good noise cancelling headphones.

Honestly, I have these old Sony ones and I love them so much that I can no longer travel without them. They can tune out any noise – crying (baby and otherwise), plane whirrs, you name it.

A good pair can make any long flight bearable. Trust me!

23. Gather all the necessary information for your flight before leaving the house

Now in addition to all those things to pack, I’d also make sure you have all the important details of your flight before you leave.

This sounds basic but there are tons of people out there who think they’ll just “figure it out” when they get there, when in reality, gathering the info before you leave only takes a few minutes and makes things infinitely less stressful.

So before you head to the airport, make sure you know your…

  • Terminal
  • Where your check in desks are
  • What time your check in opens/closes
  • Luggage allowances and restrictions

24. Arrive early to minimize stress

I know, I’m getting old and I’m starting to sound like my parents, but honestly, the easiest way to have a stress-free experience at the airport is just getting there early. For domestic flights I usaully do 2h ahead, for international flights I do 3h.

Honestly I quite enjoy my airport time when I can just relax and catch up on work, so just bring yourself some entertainment and you’ll be good. Rushing always sucks so I really wouldn’t cut it close if you can help it.

25. Take a few photos of your vehicle so you can remember where you parked

Next airport tip, if you’re parking at the airport, make sure you have some photos/videos of the lot so you can easily remember how to find your car.

It’s always better to have this than rely on your memory after all those vacation cocktails.

Driver in an Audi car driving on a highway
Photo by Victor Olariu on Unsplash

26. Always have your passport and documents easily ready

It’s baffling, but I see a lot of people at the airport put their documents in a suitcase or in a pocket that takes a lot of work to reach.

That’s definitely not the way to go! For me personally, I like to make sure my passport, boarding pass, etc. are within arms reach at all times because there’s many moments when you might have to present them, so you better be able to do it quickly… plus, it’s nice to be able to quickly check you still have everything without having to dig through multiple bags.

Here’s what I usually do: I like to wear either a jacket or vest with an inside pocket so I can throw the documents in there and make them easily retrievable, or I wear a belt bag that slings over my chest.

NOTE: Beware that some stricter airlines might consider the belt bag a personal item so you might have to stuff it in your bigger bag when the time comes.

Passport and boarding pass with coffee at airport
Photo by Fidel Fernando on Unsplash

27. Maximize brightness and enable orientation lock for digital boarding passes

Another underrated tip for the airport: if you’re using a digital boarding pass, make sure the brightness on your phone is turned up all the way and also make sure the orientation lock is on.

This will help you conquer those e-scanners easily.

Woman holds phone
Photo by Paul Hanaoka on Unsplash

28. Always add boarding passes to your Apple Wallet

A bonus tip for Apple users is to always add your boarding pass to your Apple Wallet whenever possible because then the boarding pass will show up on your lock screen and it’s very easy for you to pull it up with just one tap.

PS: Be sure to check my full list of iPhone hacks for travel if you want more tips!

black iphone on a red table
Photo by Miguel Tomás on Unsplash

29. Try the premium class check-in line if it’s empty

This is a sneakier airport hack, but I’ve had it work a few times so i’ll share it anyway.

If you need to wait in line to check in or drop off your baggage, keep an eye on the special line for business, first class or loyalty club members.

Obviously if there are customers in line, they’ll prioritize those but sometimes if they’re not busy and there’s no one waiting, they’ll be happy to check you in, particularly if you’re in a rush.

Departures area of an airport at night
Photo by Shawn Ang on Unsplash

30. Get help from an employee right away if you’re running late

That said, if you’ve arrived late and you’re stressed about possibly missing your flight, let someone from the airline customer service know as soon as possible.

Remember, the airline doesn’t want you to miss your flight either, so often they’ll take special steps like get you checked in with the premium class line or expedite you in the regular lineup. I’ve had this happen once and it completely saved my life.

NOTE: This only works if you’re genuinely in a rush and are at risk of missing your flight (they’ll ask to see your boarding pass), but hey it never hurts to ask.

Amsterdam Schipol airport by night
Photo by Pedro Menezes on Unsplash

31. Choose your security line-up strategically

Now, when you get to security, a very underrated airport hack I use is to simply pick your line strategically.

Assuming you have a choice of which line to join, always have a quick look at who is in the line in front of you. I always choose to go after business looking travellers because they tend to travel often and are more efficient and quick with security.

On the other hand, I tend to avoid lining up behind big chaotic or frazzled looking families. That’ll pretty much never work out in your favour.

Plane ticket inside passport on a table at the airport at sunset
Photo by Mariya Oliynyk on Unsplash

32. Start preparing for security while waiting in line

Another airport security tip I have is to start getting ready while waiting in line at security.

I pride myself on my efficiency, so while waiting in line, I’ll already be doing things like removing my coat, checking my pockets, etc.

Don’t wait until you get to the security line to do this because then you just waste more time.

33. Keep any small, loose items inside bags or pockets

This is a very important airport tip that I think many people don’t think about, and that is to make sure that your security trays don’t contain any small, loose items that are easy to grab.

Often in security, you wont have eyes on your belongings the whole time, so the more you can do to prevent theft, the better.

So, with any small and loose items like AirPods, keys or sunglasses, I would strongly advise packing them inside your backpack rather than have them out on the tray – they’re far less likely to get swiped that way.

These common pickpocketing scams are ALL over Europe!! Make sure to save this list to learn how to outsmart pickpockets in Europe and travel around safely, without worry. #Europe #Travel #Scams

34. Add unique identifiers to your generic looking items

And if you travel with any electronics that look just like all the others (e.g. MacBooks), then try to add a unique identifier like a sticker or something just to avoid someone accidentally taking yours.

This can be easy to do because laptops often go in their own separate trays so it’s not immediately clear to people who they belong to… especially when the order of trays gets mixed up due to some getting sent to the additional screening line.

35. Listen to what airport security employees are telling people ahead of you

If you’re a frequent traveller, odds are you go into autopilot mode once you reach security – I know I do…

But actually these days, it’s VERY important to keep an ear out and listen to what airport employees are saying, because these days a lot of airports are switching things up.

Some need your shoes off, some don’t, some even have fancy new scanners that require you to leave your liquids and electronics IN your bag which is a convenient but annoying plot twist since we’ve all gotten used to the old system. In any case, pay attention to what is being told to the passengers ahead of you – that way, you know what to expect when you get to the front.

36. Never have noise cancelling headphones on at full volume

Now, moving onto some airport tips for when you’re waiting to board…

First – if you have headphones on, try to make sure it’s not at full volume and that you can still hear what’s going on around you. This is because you do not want to miss any important announcements related to your flight!

NOTE: If you have a lot of time before your flight and you want to get some rest, then the website Sleeping in Airports can be an amazing resource that lists out the best places to rest and nap. It can also help you locate some quieter places to relax. Just be sure to set an alarm on your phone to make sure you don’t oversleep and miss your flight.

Man using noise cancelling headphones
Photo by Rafael Leão on Unsplash

37. Wait until your boarding group number is called

When boarding begins, another underrated tip is to pay attention to your boarding group number. They don’t take kindly to people who just come and try to board before their time, so be patient, and only board when your number is called.

38. Aim to be front of the line IF you want space for your carry-on bag

That said, if you don’t want to be separated from your carry on suitcase, do make sure you get a good spot in line because lots of people try to travel carry on only these days and there’s often a fight for overhead space. So, be sure to pounce when your group is announced!

people walking on airport
Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash

39. Ask to check your carry-on for free if you don’t mind being separated from it

Or if you don’t mind being separated from your bag, remember that (at the gate) they’ll often ask for volunteers to check their carry-on bags free of charge on fuller flights, so if that appeals to you, then be proactive and ask the staff if there’s a chance you can check your bag for free.

Usually, if the flight is full, often they’ll say yes.

carry on bag on an airplane
Photo by Bambi Corro on Unsplash

40. Try phone/online customer service while waiting for in-person lines

Now, this is a super sneaky airport tip that I LOVE, and I haven’t heard many people share it, so…

If you are faced with a delay or issue of some kind while at the airport and there’s a huge line up of people trying to speak to customer service at the same time, then consider hopping on a call with the airline customer service to get rebooked while you wait in line. This can sometimes be quicker than waiting for everyone else to be helped.

NOTE: I’d still get in line though just in case this trick doesn’t work, and stay on the phone as you move through the line so that you have two options and can pick the faster one.

Wall shadows of people waiting airport line
Photo by Yolanda Suen on Unsplash

41. Smile and be polite -employees will be more likely to help

Finally, this may be the most important airport tip of all, but remember how important it is to be nice to staff!

Both airport and airline staff members deal with stressed travellers daily, so if you want something to get done, usually a smile and a polite attitude is the way to go. I’ve lost count of the amount of times that just being nice has helped me out so remember, don’t lose your cool, even in a stressful situation.

A woman is smiling in front of the airport
Photo by Rostyslav Savchyn on Unsplash

Did I Miss Any of Your Favourite Airport/Airplane Tips?

Let me know in the comments!

My Go-To Travel Favourites:

🧳 Eagle Creek: My favourite packing cubes

💳 Wise: For FREE travel friendly credit cards

🍯 Honey: For finding coupons automatically

🏨 Booking.com: For searching hotels

📷 Sony A7IV: My (amazing) camera

✈️ Google Flights: For finding flight deals

🌎 WorldNomads: For travel insurance

🎉 GetYourGuide: For booking activities

1 thought on “41 Essential Tips for Airports (to Ensure a Stress-Free Experience!)”

  1. Some countries, like the US, don’t allow meat-based snacks to enter the country, even if they were originally purchased there. Having that cute TSA beagle come and sit by your luggage means business! And it’s kind of embarrassing.

    Reply

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