15 expert airport hacks

Attention air travellers: these clever airport hacks from the experts will make your next trip a breeze
At the airport. Photo: Shutterstock
Keeping calm at the airport. Photo: Shutterstock

Going through the airport rigmarole isn't usually all that fun. Lucky for you, we've asked a few seasoned travellers to share their favorite airport hacks for making the whole thing a headache-free affair. Read on for their insider tips...

Still working out plans for your next trip? Let Insight Guides create a customised vacation just for you. You can also submit a trip request to your ideal destination; Insight Guides will work out all the details.


1. Prepare for delays

One surefire way to throw a wrench in your travel plans is to encounter unexpected delays. Soften the blow by planning ahead. Kelly Page of Tasting Page suggests preparing for the worst by packing a small bag of essentials.

"Unfortunately airport delays are often the norm versus the exception, so pack a carry-on that has everything you might need for a day at the airport. Think healthy snacks, water bottle (that you’ll need to empty before going through security), phone charger, reading, any medications, scarf and essential toiletries. If you have room, it’s also nice to pack a fresh set of clothes just in case the delay is longer than anticipated or there’s a lost-luggage situation."

Done and done.

2. Splurge on a lounge pass

Extended layovers don't feel so long when you spend them pampering yourself just a bit. Consider working a lounge pass into your budget; it just might transform you from grumpy traveller to relaxed jet-setter.

"You don't need to fly business class to get access to airport lounges," says Sacha Ferrandi, founder of Source Capital Funding and Texas Hard Money. "Especially with long layovers, a lounge day-pass usually provides access to showers, a quiet work space, and most importantly, comfortable chairs. To obtain a day pass, simply walk up to the business lounges and ask for one. In addition, the food and beverages that come with a day pass often cancel out the actual cost of the day pass."

In other words, they may be worth the money, if they provide a blissful escape from the airport hustle-bustle.

3. Download the airline app

These days, most airlines offer their own smartphone apps. Taking advantage puts all the latest travel details literally at your fingertips. British Airways, for example, includes the basics like flight booking, flight status, gate notifications, and mobile boarding pass. Passengers with an iPhone can also view in-flight entertainment for their upcoming flight, then create their own tailored schedule of what they'll watch once on board.

One super-simple way to make your airport experience as painless as possible is to take advantage of airline apps. Getting an instant notification of, say, a last-minute gate change could save you from missing your flight. International travellers can also put foreign languages in their pocket with the Insight Guides Phrasebook app,  a handy little tool that's packed with commonly used phrases.

4. Long layover? Opt for "day rooms"

Who says a long layover is a bad thing? It could actually be a relaxation opportunity in disguise if you choose to ditch the airport gate and head to a hotel day room.

"Many hotels, like Hilton Chicago O’Hare, have day rooms that can really ease the burden on a family with kids," says the hotel's general manager, Michael McMillan, who also flies roughly 100,000 miles per year. "For a fraction of the typical rate, you can spend four or five hours freshening up for the next leg of your trip rather than sitting at the airport and trying to keep track of the kids."

Even if you don't have kids, squeezing in a shower and a nap in between flights sounds better than hanging out at the airport all day.

5. Up your flight status

If you routinely fly with one or two airlines, opting into their rewards systems can reap big benefits (my brother, who flies throughout the US on a weekly basis, is a Southwest Airlines A-lister, which comes with a variety of perks like priority check-in and heaps of flight privileges that he often shares with his wife).

LPGA pro golfer Brittany Lang is a big believer in the process too: "At the end of the year, if you don’t make the highest status, you’re better off paying for it because it’s just more comfort to know you can bring your coloured golf shoes or three more outfits or whatever," she says. "I pack more than most people. I bring 10 to 15 golf outfits on most trips. I bring a lot of shoes, too. And I like my certain healthy foods when I travel, so I just travel with them as carry-ons."

American Airlines, for example, offers three free checked bags for its AAdvantage Executive Platinum members.

6. Take a screenshot of your boarding pass

Airline apps make check-in a breeze, but you'll still need to show your boarding pass when going through security checkpoints. Instead of being at the mercy of your cell phone signal, do yourself a favour and take a screenshot of your boarding pass prior to arrival.

"Many airlines have digital boarding passes, which you can display on your mobile device. A big time-saver in most cases... unless you have limited cell signal or are having trouble locating it in your inbox," says Karen Hoxmeier of My Bargain Buddy. "Screenshot your boarding pass so it is readily available. No signal or Wi-Fi required!"

Screenshot of the boarding pass. Photo: ShutterstockTaking a screenshot of your boarding pass can save you hassle later down the line... Photo: Shutterstock

7. Store your carry-ons close to your seat

Upon boarding a flight, those much-coveted front overhead bins are prime real estate. It makes sense in theory: if you're sitting in the back of the plane but store your carry-on up front, it should make disembarking faster, right? Unfortunately, it usually has the opposite effect, delaying the process by creating a passenger traffic jam.

"When boarding an airplane, try not to put your carry-on bags in the first empty overhead bin that you come to. Use a bin as close to your seat as possible," says Patrick Smith, an airline pilot and the host of www.askthepilot.com. "It drives me crazy when I see a guy shoving his overstuffed roll-aboard into a bin above row six, then strutting to his assigned seat in row 57. I know it's tempting, but this causes the forward bins to fill up. Passengers seated near the front are forced to travel backwards to stow their belongings, then fight their way upstream again.

"After landing, passengers again have to go backwards against the flow in order to retrieve their things. Thus, bin-squatters make the boarding and disembarking processes even more tedious than they already are."

8. Book your connecting flights strategically

Sometimes you can save the most money by booking stopover flights close together. But do so with caution; if you miss your connection, you'll be kicking yourself.

"Save yourself the stress and plan your connecting flights at least an hour and a half from your original flight," says Roni Faida Clark, an airline employee and frequent traveller. "This way, if there is any delay on your original flight, you will probably still have enough time to get to your connecting flight."

Unfortunately, delays are the norm for frequent travellers. Plan accordingly.

9. Fast-track customs

Check in with your local travel authority to see if any programmes are in place to expedite the customs process. If so, it can make international arrivals much smoother (and less time-consuming).

"Make sure not to overlook a programme from US Customs and Border Protection called Global Entry, which expedites your return to the US by way of special queues for immigrations and customs," says Eric Plam of Skyroam. "Entry also gives you access to TSA Pre-Check for fast domestic security screenings. Your favorite airline might also cover the cost of your Global Entry application: don’t forget to check! This is critical to frequent travellers because it allows us to pass quickly through security lines, freeing up time for productive endeavours."

Frequent traveller Brian Karimzad of MileCards.com prefers something called Mobile Passport Control, which lets you use priority lanes at over 20 of the busiest US passport and custom facilities. "It's completely free and doesn't require any advance registration. Just download the app, upload your passport and flight info, and you're set."

10. Carry a pen

This may sound like an overly simple old-school airport tip, but regular traveller Bruce Josephs of Travel Ideology firmly believes in the power of a good pen. Why? It can cut down on international travel time.

"Carry a small pen in your money belt or carry-on so that you can complete the immigration forms en route. This reduces time wastage on arrival."

Josephs offers up one other bit of advice regarding the lines. When it comes to reducing your wait time, follow the suits.

”Queue behind business people rather than parents with kids. The business people usually have everything ready and move through the queue quicker."

Hacks noted.

11. Be your own bartender

Jet-setters looking to pass time at the airport with dinner and drinks may find themselves with limited options. Crowded bars and restaurants may not always be able to accommodate, especially during heavy delays when stranded passengers flood the terminals.

To make your wait time more tolerable, some companies are offering up cocktail recipes designed specifically for air travellers. Drizly is one such business that's created in-flight cocktail recipes that can also be used at the airport.

"One of the easiest ways to upgrade your flight is to upgrade your in-flight cocktail," says Calvin Iverson of Drizly. "Cocktails on a plane tend to be expensive and drab, so why not plan ahead for a DIY cocktail that will make your seatmate jealous?"

Their "cheat sheets" provide all the ingredients you'll need to  mix your own signature libations.

12. Look into rewards cards

The credit card points game has an uber-loyal following, and with good reason. If done strategically, you can snag yourself free or discounted flights, along with a slew of other upgrades. Nerd Wallet, for instance, outlines a number of credit cards that reward jet-setters for their travels.

"Most of my points friends will direct me to some great credit card opportunity, which reimburses the fees for Global Entry and offers an extensive programme to access airport lounges around the world," says Charles McCool of McCool Travel. "The current coveted and drooled-over card is CSR (Chase Sapphire Reserve)."

13. Throw a power strip into your bag

This is one of those little-known airport hacks that's brilliant in its simplicity. It'll also change the way you charge your devices on the go.

"I travel with a power strip so that I never feel guilty about hogging one of the coveted wall outlets," says travel blogger Becky Pokora of The Girl and Globe. "It’s the best way to solve your own problem, even if you have two devices with low battery, and offering the extra outlets on your power strip helps other travellers as well. Best of all, you never have to be searching for an empty outlet; even if one’s in use, typically the other traveller has no problem sharing the direct wall outlet as long as you re-plug their device into the power strip."

14. Invest in good luggage

"My airport hack is investing in a piece of luggage that does everything to save you time at the airport," says full-time traveller Tessa Juliette, who runs the travel blog Travel Where to Next. "If you are even an occasional traveller it pays off in so many ways to invest in a Raden carry-on. I have this one. It comes with a smartphone app that shows its proximity to me, and I can also weigh it straight from the app (which is great for trips where I do a ton of shopping) so I always know if it's under the weight limit.

 "The best thing about it though, and also the biggest time-saver at the airport, is the charging ports that are on the luggage itself. That means I can grab food without having to worry about finding a plug before or after my flight."

15. Stay close to the business class desk

This clever (yet simple) trick is one of our favourite airport hacks. If checking in for your flight at the airport, consider your line choice.

"At the check-in (if you haven‘t used the online check-in option), stay close to the business class desk: occasionally the company reps take people in from the common queue, to make the whole process quicker," suggests seasoned traveller Maxim Shomov of Fair-Point.com.

Have any airport hacks of your own? Share them in the comments below

Ready for your next trip with Insight Guides?

Explore ready-made trip itineraries online now or talk to a local expert today

Looking for a little more inspiration?

Add these destinations to your travel wish list? 20 best places to travel in 2016

Work out your next summer adventure: Best places to go in June, July, August

Squeeze in your autumn trip, too: Best places to go in September, October, November