Tips & Tricks For Navigating an Airport Like a Pro

Tips & Tricks For Navigating an Airport Like a Pro

Airports can be big, daunting, and overwhelming at first. Once understood, however, they are logically organized and easy to navigate. If you're an infrequent traveler or if this is your first trip to the airport, just take it one step at a time so you can navigate the place like a pro.

Airport Tips

In this article, we'll walk you through all you need to know, with airport tips on everything from getting there to collecting your baggage after arrival.

How to Get to the Airport

Plan how you get to the airport based on your location, the airport, and your flight time.

  • Get a Ride – Getting dropped off by a friend may be the cheapest and least stressful route. 
  • Rideshare – Uber and Lyft have many options for getting to the airport. Order your ride with extra time for unforeseen delays.
  • Public Transit – Buses, shuttles, and trains publish regular schedules for planning ease.
  • Drive Yourself – You can also drive yourself if parking is available. Check fees to avoid surprises.

Parking at the Airport

If you plan to park at the airport, factor in an additional twenty minutes for navigating the airport parking lot. Airport parking shuttles can be delayed or filled with other passengers; it's best to add some wiggle room to your schedule so you're not pressed for time. Make sure you park in the long-term lot; parking at the airport in the short-term lot will run up a large bill.

Make sure you plan enough time for traffic, delays, and navigating unknown bus or subway routes so you arrive with plenty of time.

How Early Should I Get to the Airport?

Always arrive at the airport well ahead of your flight. You never know when there might be delays during check-in or at TSA security checkpoints. How much time you need depends on whether you’re traveling domestically or internationally.

Domestic Travel: Airport Arrival Time

For domestic flights arrive one or two hours before departure but at least two hours during peak seasons or long weekends.

International Travel: Airport Arrival Time

If you are flying internationally, arriving two to three hours in advance is best. This allows time to check baggage, confirm layovers, and handle any customs issues.

Checking In for Your Flight

You can wait to check-in at the airport, but checking in online is usually more convenient. You can print your boarding pass at home or have a virtual boarding pass sent to your phone.

Personal identification is required to check in at the airport. A driver’s license works for domestic flights, but you’ll need a passport for international flights. Your check-in luggage will be weighed and tagged, then you’ll receive your boarding pass and baggage claim tickets.

If your trip includes different airlines, you may have to collect your luggage and recheck it with the second airline. Plan ahead and make sure your layover gives you enough time to catch your connecting flight.

Arriving at the Right Terminal

While smaller airports are more walkable, larger airports have multiple terminals and may require taking trams or shuttles. Look for signs pointing to your terminal and enter through that terminal if possible. If nothing else, you won't have to haul your luggage as far!

A little preparation before your trip pays off. Before your flight date, find out where your terminal is located (a quick online search should show you this information). Planning out your route to the terminal will help you stay on schedule on your travel day.

Are You Checking a Bag?

Both carry-on and checked luggage have pros and cons, and depending on the nature of your trip, you may be traveling with one or both types of baggage. No matter what type of baggage you use, check the airline you're traveling with to understand their luggage weight or size restrictions. Trying to adjust your luggage to meet weight restrictions in the check-in line will slow you down and cause unnecessary stress.

Add some extra time to your schedule if you need to check in bags. Long, slow-moving check-in lines can eat into the time you allotted to get through TSA security checkpoints. On the other hand, if you whiz through check-in, the worst that happens is you have to wait at your departure gate for a little longer before boarding.

How to Navigate Through Airport Security Checkpoint

After check-in, you have to go through security screening. In the USA, this means going through TSA security. If you’re traveling to international countries, be sure to check which items are prohibited for your destination country as well as the USA.

Do You Have TSA Precheck or Global Entry?

You can get through security faster if you pre-register for TSA Precheck or Global Entry. Both make it faster to get through security at airports participating in the programs. TSA Precheck can shave several minutes off your time in security lines, especially during busy travel periods.

TSA Regulations

TSA regulations include a long list of prohibited items. Items such as firearms and sporting goods that could be used as weapons are banned for obvious reasons. Other items, such as liquids and gels, are only allowed in limited quantities.

All liquids and gels must be stored in 3.4-ounce or smaller containers and must fit into a single one-quart clear plastic bag. Pack this bag at the top of your carry-on so you can easily access it as you go through security. Larger containers, including water bottles, will not be confiscated if empty.

Can You Bring Food Through TSA?

All gel-like foods - including Jello, pumpkin pie, and peanut butter - that don't meet the 3-1-1 rule will be confiscated. Trying to bring such items through security just slows you down. Medically-necessary prescription liquids, including water, baby food, and liquid nutrition, can go through security. Be aware, however, that all such items will need screening, and the final judgment on what is or is not medically necessary rests with the TSA agent.

Going Through Security

Like check-in lines, security lines can be long and slow-moving. You’ll present your identification and boarding pass at the start of the queue, then move forward until just in front of the X-ray machines. Once there, be prepared to do the following:

  • Remove your jacket, belt, and shoes.
  • Empty your pockets.
  • If you travel with a drinking bottle, make sure it is empty.
  • Put all documents into your bag.
  • Place your jacket, belt, shoes, and carry-on bag into one of the trays provided. 
  • If you have any liquids, aerosols, gels, or electronic devices, place them into a second tray.
  • Proceed through the metal detector when instructed to do so.
  • Comply with all random searches, including body x-rays, bag searches, and pat-downs.

Wear as little metal as possible to prevent delays moving through security, and answer any questions politely. Once through security, retrieve your bags and items and move promptly away from the security gate to make room for other passengers.

How to find your way around an airport to your gate

Your gate number will be printed on your boarding pass, but double-check this information against the airport’s flight departure screens. Gate numbers and terminals may change depending on the airport’s operational needs. Remember to recheck your gate number if you printed your boarding pass at home or online.

As for how to navigate an airport, signs with arrows will provide directions to different gate numbers. Usually, these signs are for more than one gate number. For instance, you might see a sign for Gates 41-50 with a directional arrow. If in doubt, ask at one of the airport’s informational kiosks.

While navigating an airport, take the following steps:

  • Find your gate before visiting shops or restaurants.
  • Check the flight monitors regularly for changes.
  • Be at your gate for boarding time, not the flight’s departure time. 
  • Ask for directions if needed.

Tips for Boarding Your Plane

While waiting to board, organize your carry-on so you have everything you need for the flight in hand. This way, you can stow your luggage in the plane’s overhead compartment and not need to retrieve it until you land

Boarding is done in groups; your group is listed on your boarding pass. When your number is called, scan your pass as you enter the jetway, and proceed onto the plane. Locate your seat number, stow your luggage, and, as quickly as possible, settle into your seat so other passengers can get on board. If you have questions, ask the flight attendant; they are there to make your trip more comfortable.

Changing Flights for Layovers

As noted above, you may need to change flights to reach some destinations. The time between when your first flight lands and your following flight boards is known as a layover, and when layover times are short, making your connecting flight can be a rush.

Allow a minimum of ninety minutes of layover time. Busy queues, late arrivals, retrieving and rechecking baggage, and finding your next departure gate all take up valuable time

When you reach your connecting airport, take the following steps:

  • Follow the Flight Connections signs. You may need to retrieve your checked luggage.
  • If you haven’t got a boarding pass for the next flight, or need to check in your luggage with the new flight, go to the airline transfer desk. 
  • Depending on the airport, you may need to go through passport control, extra security checkpoints, or produce transit visas.
  • Go through security screening. 
  • Double-check the departure gate on the flight screens and go to the appropriate gate.

Baggage Claim: Finding Your Checked Luggage

At your final destination, disembark and follow the signs to the baggage claim area. Retrieve your baggage and, if you are in a different country, go through customs and passport control. Fill out any required arrival forms, declare any goods, and have your travel visa ready if needed. If you bought duty-free goods, pick them up on your way out of the airport. Browse high-quality checked luggage from Travelpro®.

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