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Tips to Surviving the World’s Busiest Airports

Updated on August 29, 2013

What is your worst airport pet peeve?

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My biggest pet peeve is when I prepare myself for a quick run through the airport to my designated gate and I get stuck behind ‘that guy’. You know the guy I’m talking about. The guy who wears lace up combat boots, which takes him five agonizing minutes to remove; then goes through the metal detector wearing a belt and watch. He is also the guy who forgets, conveniently, that there is a fork at the bottom of his bag that he has to now dig out. He is ‘that guy’ who gives the ever-growing line at the security check a 10 minute delay.

Nobody wants to be the person holding up the process at the security gate because if looks could kill, you’d be dead 10 times over. Instead there are certain things we do to prepare ourselves for an easy time through check in and security so our time in the airport is not wasted lugging along a 30 pound bag with no wheels while frantically looking for our gate. The airport does not have to be something you dread, in fact it shouldn’t be. Think less ‘scene from Home Alone’ and more, relaxed walk through international mall where you can buy liquor, perfume and sunglasses duty free.

By preparing for your trip in advance, you’ll spend less time aggravating other travelers as well as make sure you don’t forget very important items such as your passport, medicines or your children.

Let’s face facts; it’s always embarrassing when we look at our luggage in comparison to our traveling companions’. Theirs is rolled or folded neatly while our own is balled up and squished in because we dawdled instead of packing the night before.

Below is a list of suggestions to survive a trip through the airport with limited sighs from other passengers and get you on your trip without having to make a speedy and expensive trip back to your house to grab your passport.

1. What to Wear

This is really important. As Simon Doonan, Creative Director for Barney’s New York, says, “Dress up! People wearing impressive clothes are treated better.” This does not mean wearing your stud-embellished vest with metal accessories but you can wear a stylish casual outfit and opt out of the bunny PJ pants and your collegiate hoodie. Wear easy comfortable clothes and layers. Skip the large coat, avoid wearing a belt and make sure your shoes are easy to slip on and off. This will make going through the security check that much easier.

Travel Tip: Bringing a full pillow can be very comforting when on a long flight but having to carry it through airport checks is a bit cumbersome. Instead grab a neck pillow from the travel section of your favorite department store. They are much more compact and easy to put away when not in use.

2. Luggage to Lug Around

Pick the smallest carry-on bag possible and make sure it has wheels (preferably swivel). They are just that much easier to lift onto the conveyor belt at security, fit into a crowded overhead bin or maneuver through a packed airport. Traveling through an airport with a heavy bag on your shoulder is uncomfortable and slows you down, so do yourself a favor and get the wheeled carry on. This bag should also have a front pocket for your laptop so it is easy to take out at security, as well as a perfect spot to hold all your important documents. Staying organized will cut down on the time it takes you to get through all airport checks.

Travel Tip: Remember to pack a pen and pencil in your carry on. These are invaluable when you are trying to take down information and to fill out forms for customs and immigration. You’ll be one of the people lending out writing utensils instead of waiting to borrow a pen.

3. Liquid Allowance?

Repeat after me: “Three ounces”. This means if you decide that you are going to bring all your cosmetics in your carry-on luggage, they must all be in little 3 ounce bottles. No, I don’t mean 3 ounces left within a larger bottle; I really meant a 3 ounce bottle. This also goes for beverages, medicine and anything else you would generally classify as a liquid. Again, I harp on about not being ‘that guy’ who doesn’t seem to understand the 3 ounce bottle policy and holds up the line at the security gate trying to gulp down a 24ounce Dr. Pepper. To further complicate this policy, airports are now requiring passengers to then place all 3 ounce bottles within the same clear bag so they may be easily taken out of luggage for inspection. If you haven’t remembered this policy they have baggies there, but again, don’t hold up the line. Come prepared with all your little 3 ounce bottles in a baggie or toss all the cosmetics in your checked luggage and viola, problem solved!

Travel Tip: Bring your empty water bottle. Airports never say anything about passengers carrying empty water bottles. Once through security, find the first water fountain and fill-’er-up. You have just saved $5 dollars. Make sure you keep hydrated during your long flights. Ask a flight attendant to fill the bottle up as well. It’s better to ask them once than to continue buzzing them for mini bottles of water.

4. There’s an App for That

Most of the busiest airports have their own apps, which are great for you when you have overslept and are running out of time. Download the app for your airport and maneuver through in the most strategic way. Gate Guru is an excellent application because it hosts information, maps and amenities for most of the bustling airports you’re bound to visit. Also check out this great blog article on Budget Travel’s webpage for some great suggestions of other apps you might want to download before you embark on your next adventure.

Travel Tip: Fill out immigration and customs forms on board your flight. They usually hand these forms out mid-flight, so, while you still have a tray table, fill them out. You’ll save some time and be able to quickly join the line instead of looking for a spare back to fill out the forms.

Be prepared with the physical address of your hotel or residence while you’re in the country, their phone number and the amount of days you’ll be there. They usually ask this information at immigration so be prepared.

5. Layout during a Layover

Layovers are inevitable so whether you have 4 or 14 hours to burn, there are activities to make that time go by. Firstly, if you are connecting from an international to a domestic flight; grab your bags, go through immigration, check in and the security checks. Once you’ve done that, wipe the sweat from your brow because it’s time to play. First things first; locate your gate and the nearest restroom. You might also want to get a charge on your phone to contact your family and friends, so find a PowerStation. They are usually connected to internet hubs so you’ll be set to Facebook away.

Layovers don’t have to be idle time wasted away; instead why not explore the airport for special treasures? Check out the more interesting shops, go to the newsstands and see what amenities they have to offer. London’s Heathrow Airport now offers a Lounge and Spa for travelers who want to get a little shut-eye. For the fairly steep price of for 3 hours, you can hop in the shower and have a quick nap before you heading to your next flight. You might be far too pumped for the adventure to sleep, so maybe check out an Imax film or a mini theme park at a nearby terminal. Hong Kong International has both; travelers and citizens alike can watch in 2D or 3D in a theater that seats 350 viewers. If you are lucky to be traveling with children, the Dream Come True Educational Park is the perfect place to allow them to explore adult life. It is a facility meant for role playing and a great way waste the hours away before your next flight. Make sure you check out some of the cool things offered at your next ‘destination layover’.

Travel Tip: Expect the unexpected. Delays and long lines are inevitable, especially during the holiday season. Stay informed of flight times and last minute gate changes. They are all part of the adventure and as long as you have prepared and allocated extra time for the inevitable you will usually come out on top.

Bon Voyage and Happy Travels!

What is your favorite airport pass time?

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    • amandajoyshapiro profile image


      5 years ago

      Really like this article! You started out with a great joke and made it informative too. Guess you've been to the airport enough times to know the "rules."


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