Airline travel in today’s world is an exercise in patience to put it mildly. Personnel shortages, system wide outages, broken equipment, outdated technology, and of course inclement weather are disruptions travelers most likely will experience. Unfortunately, most of these problems are out of our control leaving us feeling frazzled and frustrated at the airport. Yet despite the headache we often feel when traveling, it certainly does not prevent us from traveling again. And it certainly doesn’t mean it always has to be an unpleasant experience.
There are still ways you can control your travel experience at the airport. Ways to bring a little more joy and ease to your travel days.
Helpful Airport Tips for Making Travel Easier
Check In For Your Flight On-Line Ahead of Time
Unless you’re checking a bag, there’s no reason to head to the check-in desk or kiosk when you arrive at the airport. Most airlines will send you an email 24 hours before your flight, allowing you to check-in on line. Or simply download your airline’s app ahead of time, have your record locater handy, and then use it to check-in. That way, you can head straight to security with your downloaded boarding pass when you arrive at the airport.
Checking in ahead of time also allows you to confirm or change your seats. Have a tight connection between flights? Spend the extra money to upgrade your seat closer to the front. Don’t want to board in a later group and run the risk of losing overhead space? Pay a little extra for priority boarding.
Allow Yourself Plenty of Time at the Airport
The standard goes, arrive at the airport two hours ahead of a domestic flight and three hours ahead of an international flight. I think if you do not have pre-check (see below) that seems about right. With pre-check I think 90 minutes for domestic and two and half hours for international is plenty. And for me, that means physically in the airport. Allow extra time for remote parking and rental car returns.
Avoid Checking a Bag
Becoming an efficient packer so you rarely have to check a bag is worthy of its own dedicated blog post! I am here to tell you that it is possible to travel abroad for a week with just a carry-on! Checking a bag adds time and risk to your travel experience. The time it takes to check and wait for your bag, and then of course, the risk of the airlines losing it. If you have to check a bag though, use curb side check in whenever available and consider investing in Apple AirTags to keep tabs on your luggage.
Enroll in TSA Pre-Check
There is nothing more daunting then arriving at the airport and seeing the security line extend back for what seems like miles. Immediately the stress kicks in. How long will this take? Am I going to make my flight? More often then not you are witnessing the line for regular screening. In order to get through security faster and more efficiently, enroll in TSA pre-check. It is a travel game changer. The application is super easy to fill out and then just requires one follow up appointment at an enrollment office in your area. Once approved, your membership is good for five years. No more long lines, taking off your shoes, going through a body scanner or removing your plastic bag of toiletries from your suitcase!
Align yourself with an airline and sign up for their frequent flyer program. Frequent flyer programs are airline loyalty programs that offer rewards to encourage customer loyalty. Rewards are issued in the form of redeemable miles and status (which qualify for upgrades and other perks).
How do you choose the best airline frequent flyer program for you? Choosing the right program comes down to which airline services your area and your travel and status goals.
Here are links to the major airline’s frequent flyer programs:
Join an Airline Lounge
Airports are more crowded then ever now! The lines are long to grab a coffee or food. It is a fight to get a seat outside your gate area. The corridors are filled with people. Want to escape the manic nature of the terminal? Become a member at an airport lounge!
Airport lounges often offer free food and drinks, ample seating, business cubicles, flight monitors, free Wi-Fi and additional amenities like showers and nap pods. Most also have their own booking agents who can help you with any of your travel needs! This comes especially convenient when you experience a disruption in your travel like a missed connection or cancellation.
Having an airline lounge access motivates me to get to the airport early as well! It is nice to take a pause in an idyllic setting while enjoying a cup of coffee or glass of wine!
Here are some of the most common ways you can access airport lounges around the world
How to Access Airport Lounges
- Sign up for a Credit Card-our family has the CITI® / AADVANTAGE® EXECUTIVE WORLD ELITE MASTERCARD The annual membership is less then an individual membership at the AA Admirals Club. Plus you can add up to eight authorized users per card. This gives our two college kids access to their airport lounges when they are traveling to and from school. It comes with loads of other benefits including earning airline miles of course!
- Purchase Membership Through Airline– generally more expensive then the annual credit card fee but still an easy option for individual and family memberships.
- Fly Internationally in a Premium Cabin. First class tickets automatically get lounge access on the day of travel.
- Buy a Day Pass A day pass can be bought right at the membership counter on your day of travel. It is a great way to get a sense of the airport lounges before fully committing. Plus, if you end up getting an annual membership, the credit for your day pass is often applied toward your application fee.
- Gain Free Access as a Member of the Military. Yep! Some airlines such as United and American allow active duty members of the military to access their lounges for free!
Become a Preferred Rental Car Member
If you need a rental car when you arrive at your destination, I cannot stress enough that booking the cheapest rental should not be your priority. I too have used Expedia to find the least expensive car rental without giving much thought to loyalty programs. There is nothing worse though, then arriving at the airport and heading to a long car rental line. I have sometimes clocked an hour or more waiting! And with car shortages still an issue at some of these companies, I do not want the added stress of worrying whether I will have a car by the time I get though the line! Loyalty programs can make a huge difference in securing your car quickly with other perks offered as well!
Similar to the airlines, joining a car rental loyalty program is free. While an express service is my number one priority, additional perks like free upgrades, free rental days and discounted rentals can come with your membership as well. My piece of advice is join several programs. That way you still can price compare!
Here are the car rental companies that allow you to bypass the rental counter:
*you can activate accelerated check-in at major airport locations. Check-in online and skip the counter. If you frequently fly into Charlotte (CLT) they are hands down the best rental car company here!
Get to Know Your Airport
If it is your first time flying into or out of an airport, head to their website to get the run down on terminal layouts, rental car facility and ride share locations and public transportation access.
Taking more control of your travel experience will ultimately result in a better travel experience even in the worst of situations!
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