Airport downtime doesn't have to be a drag.
Don’t be one of these travelers.
It‘s no secret that air travel has lost some of its glamour over the years. We might be able to attribute these changes to increased security procedures, more people traveling, or simply lack of common sense, but one thing is certain: people seem to do the darnedest things when they step into an airport. Study this list and don’t get caught being one of these travelers.
Traveling abroad comes with a few additional considerations to remember. Almost all countries require that there be at least six months of remaining validity on the passport, and some (like South Africa) tack on stipulations that there need to be at least two consecutive blank pages.
Airlines also have to verify information before boarding for countries that require visas. Many a passenger has been left stranded and crying at the gate because they overlooked these rules. Airlines are held accountable and fined heavily if they let a passenger travel without proper documentation, so save your sob stories—they will not sway even the kindest of gate agents.
It’s easy to be distracted by dazzling duty-free shopping, the lengthy bar menu, or airline lounges with comfy seats and buffet spreads. But don’t forget that when traveling across time zones, you need to be sure to keep track of local time (your watch may not always be right).
Keep in mind that airlines close the door 15-20 minutes before the actual departure time to properly prepare the needed paperwork and weight and balance information. Gate agents do have a term for late-arriving passengers from connecting flights—"runners"—and they watch for them when the clock starts ticking. It’s never fun to be that last sweaty person to board after running through the terminal.
Unless you are flying Southwest Airlines or headed abroad, chances are you will have to pay for checked luggage. Despite this surcharge being around for more than a decade, many travelers still arrive dazed and confused when asked to pay for a bag. Study your airline’s baggage policy (not all are created equally), and beware weight and size limitations.
There are ways around the extra fees: get a credit card that offers free checked bags or earn status with a frequent flier program. Often, free bags are extended to those traveling with an elite member, too. Of course, you can always fly first class, but even then, some airlines have adjusted checked bag policies (American recently reduced the checked bag limits from three to two for most first-class passengers).
Let’s hope it doesn’t happen—but there’s always a chance it will, and if it does, you will be glad you planned ahead. Place your phone number and address inside the bag for an airline to easily contact you. Also, place a colorful ribbon or identifiable tag on your bag to prevent it from being mistakenly snatched by someone else in a hurry. I have seen several passengers rush back to the gate embarrassed after grabbing the wrong bag. Carry a change of clothing in hand baggage, and always keep valuables and needed medication with you.
Pre-Check is one of the best things to happen to frequent travelers recently. But, experienced fliers are used to seeing novices using the line (mostly because of managed inclusion programs that randomly send passengers to the expedited line). You don’t need to remove shoes and electronics if in the expedited line (yet some people still do). And for heaven’s sake, sign up for Pre-Check so you, too, can usually have faster screening.
We’ve all seen them: travelers aimlessly walking through the airport with headphones on or texting with heads down. You are not the only person in the airport, so be courteous to those around you; it’s not possible to hear a beeping airport cart or someone trying to pass by with headphones on at full blast. Your fellow travelers will also thank you for not standing in the middle of the moving walkway or escalator when people are trying to pass. Don’t be that guy!
You’re standing there, barefoot, with your belt off and personal toiletries exposed. But, don’t let security people or other passengers make you feel rushed. It’s so easy to forget something in the mad dash, like say a laptop or wallet. Tape a business card to electronic devices as a backup. I once left my laptop at security because a screening agent was barking at people to move along. When I realized my mistake later, TSA would not return it until I gave specific details of what was on my computer. It’s a good thing I had plenty of time.
Savvy travelers can sometimes skirt higher fares by buying two separate tickets between cities or connecting from one airline to another. While it’s a great idea in theory, it can lead to mishap if checking bags or not allowing enough time to change planes. If you’re not traveling on the same itinerary throughout your trip, airlines are not liable for missed connections or delayed travel. And don’t forget: sometimes you have to clear security a second time between flights.
These days, airline social media teams are an excellent resource when it comes to travel interruptions. Connect with them online while waiting in line or calling the 1-800 number. You are likely to get a faster solution and friendlier service than the exhausted airline employee dealing with grumpy fliers at the airport. If you have access to an airline lounge, don’t forget agents can assist you there, and lines are much shorter. It may even be worth paying for a day pass for expedited service and a cocktail or two while you wait.
A hard and fast rule I have learned over the years is to double check everything. Just because the gate agent said your connecting gate is B6 does not mean it has not changed. Just because an airline ticket agent says the flight is full and no room to standby, does not mean that other passengers might be late, opening up seats. Just because someone says you cannot get a free hotel room due to an overnight flight delay does not mean that said person was misinformed or unclear on the rules.
Never pester and always be polite, but just because someone says something is so, does not always mean it is so. At airports, it seems people are more eager to tell you something to move you along rather than to genuinely be right.
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