The airport doesn’t have to be inconvenient or frustrating, but often it is exactly that. However, with a little experience, a few clever tricks and a willingness to learn the airport can be survived. Here are 23 Airport Hacks that both practical and clever.
What you will learn in this article
In this article we share detailed airport hacks designed to help travelers improve their airport experience. These airport tips and tricks are based on years and years of frequent travel. I am in an airport literally almost every week of the year and over time I’ve developed hacks, tips and habits that make my airport experience far more enjoyable. Happy traveling, fellow airport’er.
23 Airport Hacks that are practical (and clever)
If you spend a little or a lot of time at the airport you know it can sometimes be a real pain in the rear. Sure, practice helps, but a little ingenuity goes a long ways too. Here is a summarized list of the airport hacks we discuss in this article followed by a more detailed discussion of each and every suggestion.
- Save time by never checking a bag
- Get TSA PreCheck
- Pick the front of the airport tram or shuttle
- Mobile check in (download app)
- Research the airport (underused security lines, smoking areas, etc)
- Learn the security check in process and come prepared (remove ID, store phone, etc)
- Bring a Portable Charger
- Bring a multi plug adapter (especially if traveling with family)
- Wear your coat to save space in your suitcase
- Take a photo of your parking spot
- Use an empty gate on a layover to avoid the crunch
- Call the airline if stranded and skip the long lines
- Bring a second ID (e.g. passport) and/or copies of IDs in case you lose them
- Pack your bag as if it might be checked (but don’t check them!)
- Pack light so you don’t have to check a bag
- Bring a collapsible water bottle.
- Bring snacks
- Download movies or shows to your device so you don’t have to pay for internet
- Stretch before you get on the plane
- Check out the art
- Good eats!
- Be nice to staff
- Don’t lose your ever-loving-mind when things go haywire
These airport hacks have been divided into the following categories for easier consumption:
- Airport Hacks to Save Time
- Airport Hacks to Save Money
- Airport Hacks to Save Hassle
- Misc Hacks
Airport Hacks to Save Time
Here are a few airport hacks that will literally save you time. And we all need more of that now don’t we?
- Save time by never checking a bag. Never check your bag. Want to add 30 minutes to your trip and gamble with fate about lost luggage? Then check a bag. Setting aside bag check fees (which ought to deter your enough), checking a bag means extra time at the front and back of your trip. You have to interact w/ staff to check it, and then you wait w/ the huddled masses for it to (hopefully) arrive on the baggage Carousel. If you are curious about checking a bag vs carrying it on, check out our detailed analysis here.
- Get TSA PreCheck. Skip the long lines by paying the incredibly reasonable PreCheck fee and getting pre-cleared. Sure, TSA Precheck is busier than ever these days, but it still a major time savor (as well as hassle saver!) compared to the regular security lines.
- Pick the front of the airport tram or shuttle. If you can, board at the front of the shuttle so when you exit you are AHEAD of the rush of people and save time. This airport hack doesn’t always work, but more often than not it does, allowing you to stay ahead of crowds.
- Mobile check in (download app). Skip the check in lines and even skip the kiosks by using the mobile check in and mobile boarding pass. Rather than wait in a line to get a pass, go straight to the security checkpoint.
- Research the airport (underused security lines, smoking areas, etc). This airport hack often goes unused. Instead, travelers learn the hard way by being stuck in a longer security line than they need to, or perhaps they accidentally find a short cut or unique feature that is interesting. For example, there are often yoga rooms, pet relief areas or interesting art displays that are worth seeing. Moreover, sometimes you can go through a security line in a less used terminal and connect to your desired terminal on the back end (although be careful if they don’t connect!). Bottom line, read up on your airport if you have time and travel through it a little smarter.
- Get good at the airport security process. One of the best airport hacks you can deploy is simply being prepared for the airport security line. If you have pre-check, great! If you don’t, then be prepared. Have your laptop easily accessible (meaning pre unzip the pouch it’s in and don’t have it buried). Maybe untie your shoes. Have your ID handy. Know the TSA rules on things like water and toiletries. Be prepared and try to get a little better each time you go through.
Airports can be a real hassle sometimes. However, with the airport hacks shared below you can remove some of that hassle and travel a little easier.
- Learn the security check in process and come prepared (remove ID, store phone, etc). This airport hack could have slotted into the save time section too, but I feel it’s a little more about saving hassle which is why we included it here.
- Bring a Portable Charger. Watching your cell phone’s battery drain away is so frustrating. And airports can be notoriously busy making it harder and harder to find a place to plug in. Combat by this simply bringing a portable charger. We like the Anker PowerCore 20100, but there are many options to choose from.
- Bring a multi plug adapter (especially if traveling with family). Another travel gadget we can’t live without is a multi plug adapter. Maybe you do find one plug at the airport, but you have 6 devices to charge (your phone, your wife’s phone, you kid’s ipad, etc, etc). A travel size extension cord / adapter is the perfect solution.
- Wear your coat to save space in your suitcase (plus it can double as a pillow or blanket). I use this trick all the time. Coats can take up a lot of room in the bag. Save that space by wearing your coat to the airport. Plus, it doubles as a blanket or a pillow if you find yourself stuck at the airport for an extended period of time.
- Take a photo of your parking spot. I forgot to the do this the other day and was wandering around the airport parking lot clicking my key fob trying to trigger the alarm. Should have taken a quick photo.
- Use an empty gate on a layover to avoid the crunch. The airport can be pretty busy at times and especially crowded around the gate. Instead of squeezing into a seat next to that annoying family with kids find yourself a mostly empty gate and relax. Just don’t get too comfortable or you might miss your flight…
- Call the airline if stranded and skip the long lines. Ever seen those massive lines filled with passengers with very grumpy expressions that are trying to rebook their canceled flight? Yeah, no thanks. Save the hassle with this airport hack and simply call the airline to rebook if you’ve been stranded. This works better if you have status, but it’s still worth a shot instead of waiting in a line for 45 minutes.
- Bring a second ID (e.g. passport) and/or copies of IDs in case you lose them. I always carry my passport and Global Entry card with me and copies of my IDs – even on domestic trips. I’ve lost my driver’s license before and while you can get through security without ID it is a real hassle. Bring a second ID and copies (and store the copies in a different bag, if you can) and be prepared for any hassles that might come your way.
- Pack your bag as if it might be checked (but don’t check them!). Occasionally, you might find yourself on a smaller plane where you bag won’t fit in the overhead compartment or perhaps you boarded late and there’s no space left. Now you have to gate check it. Not fun, but at least try to be prepared. For example, don’t store LiPo batteries that can’t go under the plane. It can be embarrassing to have to unpack your suitcase on the plane or tarmac getting it ready to be checked.
Airports are notorious money suckers. From parking to pricey water and candy bars you can get find yourselves spending more money than you’d like to if you aren’t careful. Here’s a few airport hacks to help you save money.
- Pack light so you don’t have to check a bag. In addition to avoiding the hassle that goes with checking a bag you can also save a little money. Most airlines (except for Southwest) charge expensive fees to check bags. Save yourself the money by packing light and carrying your luggage on.
- Bring a collapsible water bottle. Airports charge insanely, dare I say criminal, amounts of money for water. Skip all that nonsense and bring yourself a collapsible travel water bottle that you fill up at one of the now common water filling stations on the other side of security. I recommend the Nomader which is a fine choice. You can read our review here.
- Bring snacks. I think I paid $3.75 for a Candy Bar the other day at Midway Airport. Yep, that’s highway robbery. Buy yourself some healthy travel snacks at a Costco or from Amazon and bring them with you to save the cash…
- Download movies or shows to your device so you don’t have to pay for internet. Nowadays most airport internet is free, however, using public wifi comes with some risks. In addition to using a VPN if you do use airport wifi you can avoid all that by simply downloading your favorite Amazon Prime or Netflix shows to binge watch.
Other Airport Hacks and Tips
This last section is a collection of airport hacks that don’t really fit into any specific category. This catch-all section rounds out our airport hacks and should leave you ready to hit the airport!
- Stretch before you get on the plane. This is especially important for long flights. Bust out a little airport yoga before your flight or at least stretch a bit in the airport. This increases circulation, helps your muscles and joints be ready for a long period of stasis. I stretch, usually briefly, before every single flight.
- Check out the art. Airports have upped their art game in recent years. One cool hack I use at the airport is to make sure I check out the art (even if it’s not my preferred sort of art). It can be tempting to zoom past it as you rush through the airport, but slow down if you can, or at least keep your head on a swivel and enjoy it briefly as you zip past.
- Good eats! It used be that airport food was kinda sketchy and sure there’s your usual fast food fare to waste your calories on, but man oh man, the airports have stepped up their food game over the years. This airport hack has you seeking out some of the better eats at your airport whenever possible. Take, for example, Austin Airport’s Salt Lick BBQ is some of the best
airportfood you can find!
- Be nice to staff. First off, it’s the human thing to do. But there’s a potential ulterior motive too: you might get upgraded occasionally. By simply being nice to hotel desk clerks, as an example, I’ve found I get upgraded more than when I am less pleasant.
- Don’t lose your ever-loving-mind when things go haywire. Travel can suck sometimes. You will have delays, you’ll be tired, you’ll get stuck in a middle seat sometimes. The hotel bed will be too soft, the hotel room air won’t shut off, etc, etc. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do. There are things beyond your control. So just roll w/ it. I’ve been stuck in a middle seat for 6 hours on the way back from JFK. It sucks, for sure. But it doesn’t last forever. I’ve also done that same flight in first class with a glass of Gin. You win some you lose some. No need to lose your ever loving mind because you had to store your backpack under your seat for the flight back from SLC to SAN. #Chill
There you have it, the 23 of the most practical, useful and helpful airport hacks to make your next airport experience 1000% better. Happy Traveling, fellow traveler!
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I love this list and as a business traveler do all of these things! I especially agree with using an empty gate to get some peace and quiet and to call the airline when something goes wrong! If there is a cancellation or delay, I attack it from two angles and get in line and call customer service. I usually have an alternate booking from the phone call before getting to the front of the line.
Thanks for the kinds words and great advice!
Big emphasis on being nice to the staff, especially the gate agent. When seating is tight and people might be involuntarily denied boarding, or if the flight is cancelled and everyone has to be rebooked, or if you’re volunteering your seat in an overbooking situation and prefer the bump to being boarded – gate agents often have enormous discretion in who gets accommodated first. I’ve sent people absolutely SCREAMING and cursing at gate agents when a flight cancelled. Well, there might be another flight in a couple of hours with a few open seats. Guess who’s going to be accommodated first, and guess who’s going to get first dibs on any available premium seats? Being nice is free, and it never hurts.
LOL! Love it, and it’s true right? Sounds like you have some personal experience 🙂
Great article and I can definitely appreciate the high cost of snacks at both Midway and O’Hare!!! Thanks for the link to the collapsible water bottle as I spend a great deal of cash on bottled water during my numerous biz trips.
Keep up the great advice!!
Midway and Ohare are BRUTAL when it comes to snacks and water. Arguably, criminal! LOL. Thanks for stopping in and glad you liked the article.
Nice list. Under wear your coat, an alternative if it is just a jacket is to pack a long double sided velcro strap. You can roll the jacket up and wrap the velcro tightly around the jacket then continue around a luggage handle or a loop on a backpack to make it easy to carry.
Smart! I like it.