Frequent fliers have plenty of hard-earned tips and tricks to make their lives easier. They’ve memorized everything from the fastest route to the airport, to knowing which terminals have the best food options. While every airport is different, there are some universal ways to make your life easier that the most seasoned travelers swear by.
- Getting there
Obviously, you should leave enough time for unexpected delays like traffic on your route or long security lines. Congestion on the airport grounds can also be a drag. To avoid it, use the arrivals ramp or lanes instead of departures. I can’t count how often we’ve made good time getting to the airport only to be frustrated with a slow moving drop off line for departures. In most airports the only difference between arrivals and departures is an escalator ride up or down a level. It’s most convenient if you only have carry on bags, but in a pinch you can load your luggage onto a wheeled cart and find the nearest elevator. It’ll be faster than inching along in airport traffic. Taxi, Uber and Lyft drivers don’t always think to try the arrivals lane, so you may have to do a little backseat driving to speed your departure.
2. Breeze through airport security
Security lines at the airport can be monstrous, especially when you’re in a hurry. It’s better to spend your time relaxing at the gate than meandering your way through a ridiculously long queue. Get TSA PreCheck or CLEAR expedited clearance to make security a snap. They aren’t free, but you will find shorter lines and you won’t have to take your shoes and coats off or remove your electronics from your bag. To get TSA PreCheck you’ll have to fill out an application and schedule a brief interview with TSA at your nearest airport. It usually takes at least a month to complete the process and costs $85 for five years.
International travelers should get the Global Entry option for $100. You’ll thank me when you don’t have to wait in an hour long customs line when arriving back into the states. You might even be able to get PreCheck for free. There are plenty of credit cards and loyalty programs that will reimburse you for the membership fee. For a list click here.
CLEAR is another option to get you through security quicker. It’s not in every airport so you should make sure it works for your typical travels. The CLEAR system uses fingerprint or eye scanning kiosks to verify your identity rather than having to wait for a TSA agent to check your ID. It’s a great option in busy airports like Atlanta’s Hartsfield Jackson– which often manages to have long lines even for TSA PreCheck. The program costs $179 per year, although various credit cards and frequent flier programs offer discounts as low as $149. CLEAR is currently available in about 28 airports in the US.
3. Go digital
If you’re traveling, it’s likely you have a smartphone. Put it to good use by downloading the Android or iOS App for the airline you’re flying. Having your ticket on your phone is just one convenience. Airlines have been removing entertainment screens from their planes and often the only option for in-flight entertainment is your personal device. You’ll at least want the option to watch a movie or two. Also, your app will automatically give you flight updates such as flight delays and changing gate assignments. Just make sure you update to the latest version before you board your flight.
4. What to do if your flight is canceled
Unfortunately, flight cancellations happen. Fly often enough and it’ll likely happen to you. If it does, do not head to the customer service desk like all of the other frustrated passengers on your flight. Instead, find a chill spot and call airline customer service. Explain the situation and they can help you just as well as the frazzled agent behind the desk at the airport. And they’ll likely do it faster and easier since they’ll be working with much less stress.
5. Turn getting bumped into a bonanza
Airlines routinely overbook flights to account for passenger cancellations and no-shows. Sometimes they get the math wrong or they have to change planes and have fewer seats than anticipated on a given flight. When this happens some folks are getting bumped– whether voluntarily or involuntarily. Either way, if it happens to you don’t take the first offer of a few hundred dollars. Everything is negotiable. If your travel plans are flexible, don’t be afraid to raise your hand when they ask for volunteers. Agents have broad discretion in how much compensation to offer when they have to bump you from a flight or even out of first class into economy. Ask for more. You can get a class upgrade, money, miles, food vouchers or even access to their airport lounge if you ask for it. You don’t have to play hardball, just ask if they can do better and offer a couple of suggestions. You’ll be surprised at what a good attitude and a little negotiating can get you.