If you’re not an avid traveler, the airport can be a confusing, frustrating place. People are rolling their luggage swiftly behind them, on a mission to get through security and reach their gates. There’s no time or space for you to wander around lost, trying to figure out how to get your boarding pass, check your luggage and fiddle around with your carry-on bags in the security line. Here are some tips to help you streamline your airport experience and look like an old pro at the airport:
- Print your boarding pass at home. If you’re not checking bags, you can save a lot of time for yourself (and others) by printing out your boarding pass at home. Most airlines will send you an email 24 hours before your flight, reminding you about this option. Whether you get a reminder or not, you can go to your airline’s website, login with your flight confirmation code or frequent flier number and check in for your flight. Then, if you don’t have any bags, you can proceed directly to the security line and bypass the ticket counter.
- Use the electronic ticket kiosk. Even if you have bags to check, you can save time by using an e-ticket kiosk at the ticket counter to print your boarding pass. You can retrieve your flight information by swiping your credit card (don’t worry, it just reads your name, it doesn’t charge you anything), swiping your passport, entering your confirmation code or flight number, or if you don’t have any of that information, you can enter the city that you’re traveling to and your last name.
- Once you find your reservation you can add your frequent flyer number (although if you buy your ticket online, you can add it before you get to the airport — you can also add it at your gate, where fewer people will be waiting behind you), choose your seat (which can usually also be done online or at your gate) and indicate the number of bags that you’re checking. Once you’ve printed your boarding pass, an airline representative will come by and label your bags. Make sure you have your ID ready because you’ll have to show it and your boarding pass to the airline representative when he or she takes your bags.
- Find your gate. If you printed your ticket at home or the airline representative didn’t tell you what your gate was at the ticket counter, you need to figure out where you’re going. Look for the TV screens with the “departure” information and find the city you’re flying to. Keep in mind that if you’re making a connection you’ll likely need to look for the city you’re connecting through, and not your final destination. When you’re viewing the departure screen, stand out of the walkway so people trying to get to their gate don’t have to maneuver around you and your luggage. Stand by the wall or directly in front of or under the TV screens.
- Stand in the security line…everyone’s favorite thing to do. You usually have a lot of time in the security line to prepare yourself for actually going through security. There are a few important things to consider.
- Have your ID ready. You’ll need to show your boarding pass and ID to a TSA agent before you enter the security screening area. Once your ID has been checked, you can put it away. You no longer need to show it at the gate when you’re boarding the plane. But keep your boarding pass out. You’ll probably need to show it as you walk through the metal detector.
- Shoes. You have to take them off. Even sandals and flip-flops. Untie your shoes while you’re waiting in line so that you can easily slip them off when you reach the x-ray machine.
- Laptop. Take your laptop out of it’s bag and put it in a plastic bin of its own. You can’t place jackets, shoes or any other items on top of your laptop.
- Larger bags and purses. These don’t need to go in a plastic bin if they’re big enough to go through the x-ray machine on their own. You should be fine with two bins: one for your laptop and one for any other loose items. Don’t get bin happy.
- Boarding pass. Make sure to hang on to your boarding pass. Don’t leave it in your wallet and send it though the x-ray machine. The TSA agent will most likely want to see it when you walk through the metal detector.
- Liquids and Gels. The latest TSA regulations stipulate that all of your liquids and gels must fit into a quart-size plastic, Ziploc bag. Each individual container must be 3 oz. or smaller and, when going through security, you’ll have to remove the Ziploc bag from your carry-on luggage so it can be inspected. Be aware that if the container your liquid is in does not indicate how many ounces it holds, you may be asked to throw it away.
- Retrieve your belongings. Once you’ve made it through security, grab your belongings, slip your shoes on and move away from the line. Don’t stand at the x-ray machine tying your shoes and re-packing your bag. There are usually chairs set up just beyond the security area where you can stop to sit down, tie your shoes and place your laptop back in its bag. There’s nothing worse than standing in line for 5 minutes, watching someone struggle to get his shoelaces tied back into the perfect knot.
- Buy a coffee or water. As long as you purchase liquids beyond the security checkpoint, you can bring them on the plane. So, if you’re thirsty or need a shot of caffeine, you don’t have to worry about throwing these liquids away. Or, if you don’t want to buy water, you can bring an empty bottle through security with you and fill it up at a drinking fountain on the other side.
- Boarding the plane. As mentioned earlier, you no longer need to present your ID when you’re boarding the plane, just your boarding pass. Double check your seat assignment so you don’t end up on the wrong side of the plane and head on down the jetway. Once you’re on the plane, step into your row so that the people behind you can pass. If your carry-on is small enough, place it under the seat in front of you. Don’t cram everything into an overhead bin if you can help it. If you have to get your carry-on up there, put it in as quickly as possible, with wheels facing out, then get into your row so that people can pass by. The longer you’re in the aisle, the more people are waiting on you and the longer it’ll take to get everyone settled and the plane off the ground.
Now you’re on the plane. Use this time to reflect on your airport experience and critique your actions. Were you as streamlined as you could have been? Did you trip over your shoelaces and fall into another passenger, causing a serious delay in the security line? Being aware of other passengers and making sure that you’re as efficient as possible will make everyone’s experience at the airport (including yours) much easier.