Flights Travel Planning

How to Get Through an Airport Quickly

Here is our checklist for speeding up time at the airport:

Get TSA Pre-checked: You’ll save time and typically have an entire line to yourself to check in. Go to TSA.com and see where your nearest pre-check sign up facility is. Sometimes you can pay a little more for your airfare and get TSA Pre-check. If you only travel a couple of times a year this can save you money.

Carry-On: Make sure your carry-on bag is the approved size, if it’s bigger or heavier than their guidelines it will have to be checked as a checked bag, and typically the airport counter will charge the highest rate to do that. Your other option is to attempt to get your carry-on through the airline check-in without them noticing its size or that it is heavy for you to handle, and then checking it at the gate (typically free). That last option is not guaranteed to work, but has worked for me.

Mobile Boarding Pass: Make sure you have your boarding pass either printed at home, or downloaded on your phone. Most hotels have a business center where you can print your boarding pass. Today you can show your mobile pass to the TSA and they will scan the QR code as if you had a printed pass. This could save you 10-20 minutes at the check-in counter.

Pre-Pay for Your Checked Bag: We always fly with carry-ons but occasionally we have to check a bag. Sometimes one free checked bag is included—check this before you buy a flight. If you have to pay for a checked bag, or extra bags, do it when you book your flight; most of the time it will be the cheapest rate. When you pay for luggage after you book, the price increases, and when you buy it at your check- in it’s typically the most expensive price. For Spirit Airlines, for example, it’s $19 when you book your flight, $25 after you purchase your ticket, and $60 if you buy it at the airport.

TSA Prepared: Make sure you are TSA ready before getting to the airport. If you are not prepared, it can take five minutes to unpack your bags at security and another five minutes to re-pack everything, while everyone in line stands there watching you. Make sure your water bottle is empty. TSA will take away soft drinks, juice, coffee and any other drinks at the TSA point.  If the TSA decides to look through your bag, you could lose 10-20 minutes. Typically they won’t look through your bag if it’s packed right. But if you have liquids, or anything that is not allowed to pass through, they will open your bags and check them, when they are ready and at their pace. They may even send your bag back through the xray machine a second time after inspecting it. You could lose a lot of time.

Airport Map: There have been quite a few times I had to get to a gate that was 30 minutes walking distance from the check-in. Whether it was a long walk or a shuttle away, it was a travel disruption I didn’t plan on. Go online and check the airport map. It will help you to get an understanding of what terminal you are going to and where your gate is ahead of time so you can better judge how much time you’ll need. And it never hurts to know where you can fill up your water bottle after going through the last TSA checkpoint.

Running Late: If you are running late and you have already checked in online, have a mobile boarding pass and no checked bags, you can head straight to the TSA check. If you’re not TSA pre-checked you can tell the security guard your flight is about to leave and sometimes they’ll put you ahead in the line. Always go to the left line, it typically has the least people on it (most people go to the right). If you are checking a bag and are very late, whether you are in business class or not, get in the business class line as usually it will be the shortest line.  You can say you are interested in an upgrade if there are any available, but stress that you are late for your flight and need to check your bag quickly. If you are polite and easy to work with, they will help you as much as possible, likely still get your bag on your flight, contact the gate to tell them to wait a little for you, and will help you get on your way and sometimes upgrade you to business class – but most of the time they’ll just hook you up with better seats (occasionally we’ll get an exit row and some extra leg room!). 

When it comes to speeding up time at the airport, there are a variety of things you can do to save time and get to your destination with ease. No matter how prepared you are, always give yourself enough time.  Flights start boarding 30 minutes prior to departure and gate doors close 10-15 minutes to departure; once the door is closed, you cannot get on that flight (we’ve tried!).  Larger planes may start boarding 45 minutes early, and some airlines, such as AeroMexico, close the door 30 minutes early. If you give yourself at least an hour and a half, you should have enough time for any domestic flight, and 2½ to 3 hours for international travel and 45 minutes to an hour for small regional airlines.

If you follow my guidelines, you can really speed up time at the airport and spend less time sitting at the gate waiting, or getting caught up at the front desk or held up by the TSA.

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