Be An Airport Ace
Make sure to arrive at the airport at least 1.5 hours prior to any domestic flights, 2.5 to 3 hours for international flights. If you are not checking baggage, you can arrive 1 hour before a domestic flight and 2 hours before an international flight. Arriving early will ensure that the long the line at the bag check, security, or the airport Chili’s won’t put you in danger of missing your flight.
A note about layovers: Unfortunately, inexpensive supersonic planes to carry us across the Atlantic in 3 hours currently have not been invented yet (you will be missed, dear Concorde). That means that no nonstop flights exist between, say, Orlando and Sydney, Australia (I am waiting, though). Thus, long-distance (and even some domestic) routes require stops in airports on the way to your final destination. While equally inconvenient, some layovers are created better than others. When you’re booking your flight, essentially make sure that the layover is of optimal time. If your layover just a stop (without a plane change- consider yourself lucky), disregard the following and treat the two flights surrounding the stop as one single flight. Everyone else- keep reading:
- For domestic layovers: between 1 and 2 hours is the sweet spot, depending on the size/traffic of the connection airport (i.e. 2 hours is best for famously slow LAX while closer to 1 hour is suited for smaller Reagan National). As a general rule, airports typically experience delays during the afternoon/evening. So your layover might not need to be as long if your flight arrives at 3 in the morning.
- For international layovers: between 2 and 4 hours, as you’ll usually have to go through customs between flights. Longer than 4 hours is usually a red flag on Routehappy (and even Kayak), depending on the city. A seven hour layover in Singapore’s amusement park-like Changi Airport may not be as bad as it would be in Delhi’s less-enticing Indira Gandhi Airport. That will require research on specific cities and airports, with which Routehappy can also help. Remember: anything less than 1 hour and you’re dangerously close to missing your connection in any airport.
For the ultimate guide to the best airport layovers, head over to http://natgeotraveller.in/magazine/journeys/The-Perfect-Layover.html to see the best airports in the world for layovers- and what to do when you land there.
If you’re one of those people with an irrational fear of the TSA, you might want to think about enrolling in the TSA PreCheck system. Normal travelers are sometimes randomly selected for this program for one trip through security. As having been selected myself, let me tell you that it feels like you are the chosen savior of the universe. You don’t have to remove light outerwear, your belt, your toiletries, your laptop, or your SHOES. Plus it’s a really short line! If you enroll online at https://universalenroll.dhs.gov/workflows?workflow=precheck-pre-enroll, make an appointment, and pay an $85 fee, you’ll receive a Known Traveler Number. You input this number when checking in for a flight on most major US airlines, and you’ve got a pretty sweet chance of being selected for PreCheck.
Check with your airline in advance or your flight’s gate agents to see if they offer any priority boarding service for purchase, and consider springing for it if you absolutely have to have first pick of those coveted overhead bins. Gate agents are also your last chance to ask for upgrades. If you ask them nicely, they might have some available right before you board. Usually, the upgrades aren’t free and are most often for seats with extra legroom or (if you’re lucky) premium economy seats. But, even an inch of legroom can make a difference on a 14 hour flight.
Before boarding the plane, purchase a Chai Latte at the terminal’s coffee shop. While this sounds weirdly random and specific, Chai is a relaxing tea that will help you fall asleep onboard. When Chai is combined with warm milk, it’s a recipe for some killer z’s. Plus it tastes awesome. You might also want to pick up a turkey sandwich, a banana, and some almonds if you plan to doze off after a snack. And patiently wait until they call your boarding zone.
The next installment of “Your Guide to the Sky” will be all about surviving the flight itself (which is probably the only installment you were actually waiting for).