These days, it seems like we spend more time at the airport than we do on the plane. There’s check in, luggage drop off, security, passport control, lines, waiting, delays and running to make it before your final boarding call. So is it even possible to get through the airport fast, stress-free and without losing your shit?
Yes. Yes it is.
I like to think of myself as something of an airport guru. I’ve been on hundreds of flights in airports all around the world and I know how to get through the airport fast. When I go to the airport with my partner or my family, everyone looks to me to navigate. I’ve spent many a security line silently begging for the people in front of me to take off their coats or shaking my head in disbelief when someone rocks up with a full-sized shampoo. It’s 2018 – that shit (literally) won’t fly!
If you’re ready to make your airport experience as easy and breezy as possible read on for how to get through the airport fast and without losing your mind.
If you want to get through the airport fast, you need to start preparing before you even arrive at the airport. My best advice? Go carry-on only. If you can, do not check a bag. It is entirely possible to travel for weeks and even months with just a carry-on. Remember: you can buy things there and you can do laundry!
If you travel with just a carry-on, you’re going to eliminate so much time and stress. There’s no chance of the airline losing your bag, no need to re-check your bag on a connecting flight, no time wasted waiting for your bag at the luggage carousel, no extra time at check in to drop off your bag, and no baggage fees!
Check in online
If possible, check in ahead of time online. Many airlines allow you to check in online 24 hours before your flight. This is also when you can often choose your seats (free of charge) and get a boarding pass sent to your phone or email. If you’re doing carry-on only, that means you can head straight to security with your digital boarding pass – the best way to get through the airport fast is to skip a step all together!
Not all airlines are created equal. Some will require you to print your boarding pass (cough, Ryanair). And some won’t let you select your seat or will only let you do it at the four-hour mark. Make sure you read your fine print! And if you are planning to order meals ahead of time or pay for special upgrades, do all of that online ahead of time too.
Know your airport
This one comes with experience. But learn all you can about the airport you’re departing from. Is it a large airport and international hub? Or is it a small regional airport? Are they undergoing a big renovation? Are they known for long security lines? Which terminal do you need to go to?
Arrive early, but not too early
There are two types of people in the world: those who arrive at the airport way too early and those who don’t arrive early enough. Showing up more than three hours early? Don’t even bother. It won’t help you get through the airport fast. Most check-in gates don’t even open until the three-hour mark. Arriving less than an hour before your flight? That’s too risky, in my opinion. Even if you checked in online and you only have a carry-on, any type of delay with security could mean you miss your flight.
My rule of thumb? 75-90 minutes for a domestic flight and two hours for an international one. Of course, those times can change. If I’m checking in luggage, traveling with a family or traveling at a busy time, like Christmas, I’ll add some more time. I’d much rather hang out at the gate, buy a magazine and use the bathroom before boarding than be running through the terminal to make the flight.
Look up & be aware
I think this is key in all situations but especially at the airport: you need to be aware of yourself and your surroundings. Instead of burying your head in your phone, look up. Read signs that tell you where to go. Watch what other people in line are doing ahead of you. Listen to security announcements. Realize when the line in front of you starts to move. And watch that your bags aren’t whacking into anyone.
Decide on a meeting place
If you’re traveling with a large group, odds are you might get separated. It’s almost impossible to make it from your house to your gate at the airport with a group larger than four. So instead of trying to wait for one another, I advise just meeting on the other side. You’ll likely end up in different check in lines, security lines and passport lines. It will slow you all down if you try to stick together and wait for each other at each point. As long as each group has a responsible member, go ahead and just meet at the gate.
Have your documents ready
This one is so key if you want to get through the airport fast and stress-free. Have your appropriate documents ready to go! This usually means your passport and boarding pass.
My tip is to wear a cross-body bag and keep your passport and boarding pass in a front pocket. That way, they are easy to grab at any point but you don’t have to keep them in your hands the entire time. Whatever you do, don’t keep putting them away into your luggage. Everyone is going to want to see them and you slow everyone down if you have to dig them out every time.
Take off your outerwear
You will likely need to remove your outerwear before going through security. Pro tip: take off your outerwear as soon as you get to the airport and put it away in your bag. That way, you don’t have to fuss with buttons or zippers and holding your coat when you’re trying to get all of your stuff through security.
Many airports will also require you to remove your shoes for security. My advice here is to wear slip on shoes WITH SOCKS! I can’t tell you how gross it is when you rock up to security in flip flops and have to walk around barefoot. So many people walk through there with who knows what on their feet. Gross!
Shoes that easily slip on and off are also essential so you don’t waste time with laces and buckles. If you do have to deal with laces or buckles, get them all undone while you’re still in line so you can just slip off your shoes when it’s your turn. On the other end, grab your shoes and head to a bench where you can sit to put your shoes back on – out of the way. Please do not be that person who tries to put on hiking boots and lace them up while blocking the security line for everyone else.
Get your liquids together
This post is about how to get through the airport fast but it’s also about how to get through smart. It’s 2018 – and by now you should know that liquids over a certain size do not fly. In general, you are allowed one litre (one quart) sized clear bag with liquid/gel/cream containers of no more than 100 millilitres (3.4 ounces). Note that it is the size of the container that matters, not how much liquid you have in it. You can’t bring a giant bottle of shampoo because it’s only half-full. Security doesn’t have time to take your liquids apart and measure them. If the bottle says more than 100 mL, that bottle isn’t coming on board.
Do not try to get around these rules. It’s a huge waste of time! Nine times out of ten, security will find your larger liquid and they will throw it out. They will also have to do additional tests and checks on your baggage. So you’ll slow yourself down and lose your products.
Go with travel-size liquids or non-liquid options (there are hard bars of shampoo you can buy). Remember, in most places you will be able to buy your liquids once you land. Keep all of these mini liquids in one clear bag at the top of your carry-on. When it’s your turn to go through security, pull this bag out right away and put it in one of the bins.
Have your electronics ready
Another thing most security agents will want to see are your electronics that are larger than a cellphone. So if you’re traveling with a laptop, make sure it’s accessible and take it out as soon as you get to the front of the security line.
Here’s where that pay attention tip is going to come in handy. Sometimes security will want you to pull out things like iPads and sometimes they won’t. So listen up! Odds are they will be shouting out these instructions or telling the passengers in front of you.
Move when it’s your turn
When you are getting close to the front of any line at the airport, be totally prepared. Have everything you need ready to go and know where you need to be. Please don’t get to the front of the line and then start fishing around in your backpack for your passport or act shocked when security asks you to take off your shoes. Your passport should be in your hand and your shoes should be off already.
Follow instructions and move when it’s your turn. And try not to ask questions. I know that’s the opposite of what every teacher ever told us. But if you can learn the answer by paying attention, that will get you through the airport faster!
Check your gate again
Phew! You made it through security. Now it’s time to check your gate number. Even if the number is printed on your boarding pass, it doesn’t hurt to double check that there hasn’t been a gate change. There are usually large screens right after security where all of the flights and gates will be listed. Quickly find your flight and verify you’re headed to the right place.
Find your gate
Some airports are huge and you may have gone through security very far away from your gate. It’s not uncommon to have to walk for another 10 or 20 minutes after security. So just because you made it through security, doesn’t mean your airport journey is over. Before you shop the duty-free or sit down at the airport bar, get to your gate. You’ll be much more relaxed if you can see your gate and know where you need to be. It’s also helpful to be close to your gate so you can hear the announcements.
For the love of god, don’t get up to board until your section is called
This might be my biggest travel pet peeve. I absolutely hate when people get up and crowd around the gate before their section is called or before boarding even begins. It drives me up the wall! Listen, we’re all going to the same place and our seats are assigned. I promise you will not get left behind. And I promise that by standing there, you’re not helping us get out of here any faster.
It becomes such a problem that people who are supposed to be boarding at that time can’t even get to the gate. Or gate agents have to turn people away who are trying to board first. Or if those people do manage to get on and board first, they slow down the system because we’re trying to board from back to front.
I know that many of us are worried about overhead space. Especially since airlines started charging for checked bags and many travelers are opting for carry-on only, overhead cabin space is at a premium. Breath easy. The flight attendants can help you to find a spot for your bag. And if there is no space, they will gate-check your bag for free. I know that’s not ideal in every situation but neither is blocking the gate and slowing down the boarding process for everyone else.
So you managed to get through the airport fast – what about your plane ride? Or the airport on the other side?
- I could write an entire post just on flying tips! For now, I’ll say that when you’re boarding, ensure you have what you need at your seat in your hands. I often have a purse, where I’ll keep my plane essentials like snacks, headphones and a book, and then my backpack, which I put in the overhead bin. That way, when I reach my seat, all I have to do is throw up my backpack and sit down instead of rummaging through my backpack to find things and holding up people behind me.
- Remember that not all airlines serve free food on flights, even international flights. Look into the food options on your airline ahead of time, especially if you have dietary restrictions, and be prepared to pay for food or bring something onboard.
- As your plane is landing, make sure you have all of your stuff together. Gather your things and be ready to deplane. When it’s your row’s turn, head out into the aisle, grab your things from the overhead bin and go. Do not dawdle! You can adjust your bags and put things away once you’re off the plane. If you really need to adjust your stuff, step into a row – do not block the aisle everyone else is trying to exit through.
- If you’re sitting on the aisle, you have a duty to get up into the aisle as soon as you can. You may think you’re being nice by staying seated until everyone else has deplaned but you’re just trapping the people who are sitting by the window (me!).
- Once you’re off the plane, follow the crowd. Most people will be headed towards the exit and luggage carousels.
- Look out for signs! There should be signs to show you where to find connections, baggage, the exit, etc. There should also be ground staff available to ask any questions if you get lost.
- If you have to go through security upon arrival, try to get there as soon as possible. Remember, you’re likely not the only plane arriving and headed to security at that time. There may be lines, so do your best to speed walk your way to the front. If you can hold off on going to the bathroom until you’re through security, do so.
- You did it! Not only did you get through the airport fast but you got through your plane ride and your arrival airport! Now all you have to do is figure out how to leave the airport. I advise looking up different routes out of the airport before your trip. It’s good to do some research about your different options, especially if you don’t speak the local language or you’re arriving late. Most airports will have an information desk and some have free wifi to help you figure out your best route.
And that is how you get through the airport fast, stress-free and without losing your shit. Feel free to print this one out and give a copy to the new or easily stressed travelers in your life!
What tip do you have to get through the airport fast?