While the airport isn’t normally seen as a hip place to spend your free time, most of us must endure the experience so we can travel. Many of us arrive early, often at the crack of dawn.
This helps avoid traffic that could make us miss our flights, but once we’re at the airport, it’s a lot of waiting and queueing. And waiting and queueing. And perhaps shopping for overpriced magazines and snacks.
But the airport doesn’t have to be a miserable place. These tips can make your flying experience more tolerable — and maybe even fun.
1. Sign up for TSA Precheck
Signing up for TSA Precheck lets you skip security lines and pass through inspection without taking off your shoes or removing your laptop from your bag. While you can pay $85 for a five-year membership, many travel rewards cards cover the fee when you sign up.
2. Get Global Entry
Global Entry can save you from waiting in line at customs when you arrive in the U.S. This means you’ll be able to exit the airport quicker or have more time to relax during a layover. Like TSA Precheck, you can pay for a five-year Global Entry membership ($100) or pick up a travel rewards card that pays for the fee.
3. Score airport lounge access via a Priority Pass membership
Airport lounge access provides you with a quiet oasis of internet, food and, at certain airports, booze. While you may have airport lounge access with a specific airline if you’re a frequent flyer, you can also purchase access to more than 1,200 airport lounges worldwide with a service called Priority Pass.
If you travel a lot, it may be worth picking up a travel rewards card that offers this perk to cardholders. Cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve, and Hilton Honors Aspire from American Express fit the bill.
4. Make time for a meal or a drink (or both)
Pretty much every airport offers a few restaurants and bars. Plan to head to the airport early enough to have a real meal and a few beers or cocktails and your travel experience will likely improve dramatically.
5. Bring something to read or do
In lieu of drinking or eating to kill time, bring something to read or do while you wait at your gate. A great book, a tablet loaded with games or a trashy magazine can make your wait time more enjoyable.
6. Weigh your luggage before you leave home
Most airlines let you check bags that weigh up to 50 pounds, with overweight baggage costing $75 or more per bag. If you want to avoid stress and fees, weigh your luggage before you leave.
You can do this with a regular home scale or a luggage scale. If your luggage is overweight, figure out what to leave behind or move items to a different bag at home instead of at the airport. (Worried about losing your luggage? Travel insurance covers that. But before buying a policy, make sure to compare prices.)
7. Check in for your flight at home
If you aren’t checking your bag, it makes a lot of sense to check in for your flight at home. You can review your seat selection and you may be able to head straight to security when you arrive at the airport.
8. Sign up for your airline’s app
Signing up for your airline’s app, if they have one, makes it easy to check in for your flight from anywhere and check your flight’s departure and arrival times. Some airline apps, including the Delta app, track your luggage and let you know when it is being placed on your plane.
9. Find out what you can bring on the plane
Knowing what you can and can’t pack in a carry-on bag can save you time, stress and hassle at the airport. Why? Because packing prohibited items will lead to an intense search of your bags and security throwing away items you can't bring on the plane.
What can you bring? Most items you’ll want to pack are fine, but there are some tricky rules. The Transportation Security Administration limits liquids to 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters), for example. This means you can’t bring your economy-size shampoo or water bottle along for the ride. You also can’t bring alcoholic beverages over 140 proof, plasma or electronic lighters, or items that can be used as a weapon. You can read more about what you can and can’t bring on the TSA website.