By Randee Dawn
We spend hours, if not days planning out and dreaming of our getaway vacations – but there’s one aspect we often forget about entirely: How to best navigate the dreaded visit to the airport.
Most of us have Airport 101 down pat after a couple of flights. But even if you don’t realize it, you’re probably making your trips a lot harder, more expensive, or unnecessarily complicated by ignoring the higher levels of airport mastery. So here’s how to earn your Airport PhD in five short steps – by just stopping doing some of the things you’re already doing.
Stop: Assuming you need to use an airport-based car rental
Car rental services at the airport know they have a captive audience. What are you going to do, hail a cab to go pick up your car?
Well, maybe you should. But if you can book your car rental somewhere other than at the airport, you’re doing yourself a financial favor. Picking up and dropping off your rental at a non-airport location has significant savings. But here’s another consideration: See if you can find a Zipcar location near your hotel, or near your airport. With Zipcar, your gas and insurance is included, you don’t have to wait in line (you can make your booking from a smart phone and go to the car that’s waiting when you land).
Stop: Chowing down at the airport
Again, we understand. You have an hour to kill before your plane boards and you’re hungry. But you’ll be overpaying for food that generally isn’t very healthy or superior in quality, because the added expense of operating a restaurant in an airport is factored in to your charges. If you must eat at the airport, try to limit your selections to snacks. Or even better: Bring your own.
Stop: Fighting airport security
Not literally: We know you’re not getting aggressive with TSA (if you are, please go back to Airport 101 for a refresher course). What we mean is that you need to accept that TSA is with us for good or for ill, and go with the flow. First, sign up for TSA Pre. The speed with which you will go through the line, in addition to not having to remove your shoes or take out your laptop, will make up for the cost of getting registered. You’ll just be a happier traveler.
Until you are approved for Pre, however, prepare yourself for the TSA experience. Use slip on/slip off shoes, with socks (nobody wants to stand on questionably-clean, cold linoleum floors). Pack rather than wear your excess metal jewelry and exercise gizmos so you don’t have to get checked twice. And don’t wrap your gifts until you arrive; if a box has to be inspected your hard work will simply be torn apart. Know what foods will and will not go through security (pack and check the jams and pies).
Stop: Being lazy about your passport and ticket information
What could be worse than booking an international vacation, then getting to the airport and discovering your passport has expired? Also note that some countries won’t admit you if your passport expires up to six months before you return. So do some research on entry requirements for your destination, and get the darned thing renewed way, way in advance.
Additionally, when you buy your ticket use your full, legal name. If everybody calls you “Honey Bear” but that’s not legally part of your name, it shouldn’t be on your ticket – it can lead to real problems checking in at the airport. This goes for middle initials and names. Try to get that name on the ticket to match your passport or enhanced driver’s license information.
Stop: Being a troublemaker at the bag reclaim
First off, don’t hog a space directly in front of the carousel. We know everyone does this, but it makes the whole process much slower. Stand back and keep an eye out for your bag, and your bag only. Speaking of which, if you’ve got a bag that looks a lot like the other 200 or so bags about to roll out on the carousel, think about ways to make it stand out so you don’t grab the wrong thing. ID your bag with your work (not home) address (a business card works well), and then flag it with some unique identifier – a ribbon, a decorative strap, stickers or colorful duct tape.
If you’ve managed to avoid all of these self-made hurdles at the airport, congratulations! Your airport-fu is strong, and you are a wise and welcome traveler.