Your guide to flying chaos
That means the next time you walk through an airport, expect lots of people and construction, long lines, packed lounges and lack of open power outlets. In some cases, extreme weather and labor issues have exacerbated the strain on airports, leading to cancellations with little warning and adding thousands of dollars in unplanned costs.
All of this is a recipe for stress and distraction. But swarmed airports don’t have to ruin your trip. Here are six tips to make the experience smoother.
Pack with the airport in mind
As you pack for your trip, don’t just think about what you’ll need at your destination. Think about how each item could cost you time getting to the airport. Ferrara recommends packing light so you can take a carry-on, allowing you to skip waiting at check-in and baggage claim. “You can get off the plane and jump into vacation mode,” he says.
Start with a completely empty bag, check each little pocket to make sure there is nothing in there. You don’t want to get held up by security because you forgot you had a wine opener in your backpack.
Then make sure what you pack is TSA-approved for checked or carry-on luggage. Remember the “3-1-1” rule: Each passenger may carry liquids, gels and aerosols in travel-sized containers of 3.4 ounces or 100 milliliters in a one-quart bag. TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein encourages travelers to consult the “What Can I Bring?” TSA’s page website o the MyTSA app. This is a useful resource to check if you are trying to pack a liquid or a solid (in case you missed it: peanut butter is a liquid).
Beyond your usual necessities, consider packing items that can save you money or make the airport less miserable. Think snacks, a reusable water bottle, something to read and portable power banks so you don’t have to fight over outlets.
If you’re really anxious about going to a crowded airport, mental exercises can help you relax. Mark Debus, manager of the behavioral health team at Sedgwickprepares clients to return to the workforce — including returning to business travel — using visualization techniques.
Debus recommends describing what the scene will be like in advance. Expect long lines, angry travelers, the process of taking off your shoes and putting your things on the conveyor belt. Exercise can help you feel better prepared for potential upsets.
Create extra time for each task
Even if you’re someone who lives for the thrill of cutting your arrival time dangerously close, consider giving yourself more time than usual to get to (and get through) the airport.
Travelers planning to park at the airport should expect to spend more time searching for a spot. If you rented a car, you should wait longer during pick-up and drop-off. You’ll likely encounter lines every step of the way, from check-in to Starbucks at your gate.
“We have already seen some days with more than 2.6 million travelers pass through our security checkpoints and more of those are on the way. So when we advise people to get to the airport early, we’re not kidding,” Farbstein said.
Expect long lines for sit-down and takeaway restaurants, and consider downloading apps for your destinations. Big chains like Starbucks, Dunkin’ and Chick-fil-A have mobile ordering apps for a faster pickup experience. There are also airport-specific apps like Grab.
The best equipment to make long flights less miserable
Invest in line cutting services and loyalty programs
Holiday travel brings many families to the airport, and people trying to wrangle strollers, car seats and lost toys are bound to slow down security checkpoints.
Ferrara says that aside from getting to the airport early, getting a line-cutting service like Clear or TSA PreCheck (or both!) is her best tip for travelers to survive busy airports.
“Clear speeds up the travel-document review process, while TSA PreCheck speeds up the physical screening process,” Ferrara said. “But having both services complement each other perfectly, providing the fastest, most reliable route to the entire airport security and screening experience.”
Good news for traveling families: TSA announced that passengers ages 13 to 17 can accompany their parents or guardians through the PreCheck line, as long as family members are traveling with the same reservation. That means youth can wear shoes, belts and light jackets through the security checkpoint and can leave their laptops and travel-sized liquids in their carry-on.
Ferrara also recommends you start building status with your favorite airline’s frequent-flier membership. Loyalty programs can give you priority boarding, access to private lounges, upgraded seats and sometimes security benefits similar to Clear.
‘Two seats left’ and other flight-booking conspiracy theories, debunked
Use mobile apps to stay informed
Download your airline’s app to easily track your flight status and simplify check-in.
Drake Castañeda, a Delta Air Lines spokesman, said the Fly Delta app can alert you to flight changes in real-time, let you change your assigned seat, provide airport maps, display information on airport lounges, help you access in-flight WiFi and send a push notification when it’s time to board.
You can also download the MyTSA app to check security wait times and airport delay information.
Take a deep breath — or 10
Debus recommends adding extra time to your usual airport arrival time for your mental health. “That way, you have enough of a buffer after the checkpoint to focus on relaxing before your flight,” he says.
When you get there, find a gate near you that is less crowded and try Debus’s “10 breaths” technique. Start by finding a quiet place where you can sit up straight. Place one hand on your belly button, close your eyes and breathe for three seconds as you focus on pushing your belly out. Hold your breath for three seconds. Breathe for three seconds. Repeat the exercise for 10 rounds.
“You’re doing diaphragm breathing rather than chest breathing,” says Debus. “Chest breathing often increases anxiety. Diaphragm breathing often releases anxiety.”
Stay calm when things go wrong
Flight canceled due to weather? The airline gave up your seat? Lost your luggage at the airport? All kinds of incidents can derail your travel plans and leave you stranded at the airport.
It’s best to act quickly when something goes wrong, whether that’s asking for a backup flight that fits your schedule better than your automatic reassignment or queuing up at the customer service desk to get help faster.
However you want to fix the day of your travel (or just get a refund and go home), here are our best tips for managing airport hassles.