January 28, 2023 | Casey Fletcher

Frequent Flyers Reveal Their Top Airport Travel Hacks


As epic as traveling can be, there's one part of every person's trip that can make them feel like they need a holiday from their holiday: the airport. Between long lines, crowded wait areas, screaming children, and grumpy staff, it's easy to get overwhelmed while you wait for your next flight. But long layovers and airport lobbies don't have to be a drag—if you know how to work the system. Here's what you need to know to fly like a pro.

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#1 Pilot's Tips

Pilot here, Here's some insider tips:

- This website lists the airport and airline lounge Wi-Fi passwords for most airports around the world.

- There are two kinds of bags: those that get destroyed in cargo bins and those that destroy other bags in cargo bins. Get the second kind of bag. Buy an aluminum-frame Luggage Works Stealth bag, or a Travel Pro. It's what all crewmembers use for a reason.

- The flight attendants have heard every single attempt from passengers to lie and cajole their way into first class. If you want better treatment and maybe an upgrade, bring a box full of truffles or chocolates, treat them like people, and be very nice to them. If there is any opening in a nicer seat, they just might hook it up. IF YOU DO get an upgrade, don't boast about it to anyone . You could get the crew in trouble and they'll never do that again.

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#2 Delta Bags

If it takes more than twenty minutes for you to get your bag when you fly with Delta, you can get 2500 Skymiles by putting in a request here: www.delta.com/bagsontime

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#3 Download Netflix Episodes

You will lose luggage eventually. Be ready for that by having cash and essentials for overnight on your person. Also, if the overhead bins are completely full, they'll usually check your bag free. So no need to worry about rushing the door before your group is called. Chill out. Wait for your group. You'll be fine. Finally, Netflix episodes can be downloaded to watch offline. They're great for when there's no in-flight Wi-Fi.

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#4 Nice Plane

Make sure to pet the plane right before you get on and tell it that it is a good plane. I do that every time and the plane never crashes.

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#5 Wi-Fi Hacks

Hotel tip: Buy a little portable Wi-Fi router. Most TVs are fed content via an Ethernet cable on DHCP. Unplug it from the TV, plug your pre-configured router in and connect the TV into the router. Enjoy high speed, free internet. I'm currently getting 30mbps in my hotel room where the free Wi-Fi gets me about 1.2mpbs.

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#6 Adorable Pets

If you have a lot of time to waste, find the area in baggage claim where pets are reunited with their owners. It's a blast watching those dogs get out of their carriers, and they all behave differently.

#7 Be Carousel Courteous

- This isn't a hack but more a tip to other travelers because it's my pet peeve: STAND BACK FROM THE BAGGAGE CLAIM CAROUSEL. When everyone stands right next to it, it's difficult to see ahead to find your bag and also provides limited space and time once your bag is near you to pull it off the carousel without hitting someone else. If everyone stands back a few feet, it's much easier to see when your bag arrives and you'll have space should it be a little bit of a struggle to get the bag off the carousel.

- Wash your hands more than usual. Airports have tons of people going through them and a lot of ways to come into contact with germs.

- If you fly a lot, don't buy cheap luggage. I also recommend four-wheeled bags because it's nice to be able to wheel them flat to maneuver or when your arms get tired.

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#8 Sleep Well

Get to the airport tired so that it's easier to sleep on the flight. Sleeping on an airplane can be wonderful—the ambient white noise and gentle motion are very soothing.

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#9 Screenshot Your Pass

Screenshot your boarding pass and keep your ID in your front pocket. It makes security as simple as possible. To do this, lock the orientation on your phone, with the QR code open, and place your phone about a foot above the scanner. Push the phone down onto the glass scanner, and then raise it back up. This is the best way to scan that QR code... those scanners can be finicky. Also, put everything in your bag before you even get in line (wallet, keys, belt, shoes).

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#10 Lounges For Life

- Get Clear/Global Entry/TSA

- Go on eBay/Craigslist. There are always people selling airport lounge passes. If you travel frequently, either get one or get a credit card that gives you free access. Lounges have free food and drinks.

- If you're a frequent flyer and have a higher status, some international lounges are free. Delta's codeshare KLM has always let my platinum-level husband in for free and if I'm flying with him, my silver-level too.

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#11 Don't Check

I’m on flights eight to 10 times per month, generally across the U.S. but sometimes international. Here are some things that I have learned over the years of being a frequent flier: Never check a bag. Packing lighter is almost always possible. Choose clothes that can be mixed/matched to give more combinations for a longer trip.

Expect problems, delays, cancellations, etc. It’s generally not the gate agent’s fault so don’t be an aggressive jerk to him or her. They want to help and will usually be far less helpful to those that are being rude or shouting about how they are diamond status.

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#12 Give Your Feet a Rest

Want to know the secret to surviving air travel? After you get where you're going, take off your shoes and your socks then walk around on the rug barefoot and make fists with your toes.

#13 Drink Up

I learned this the hard way my first time flying overseas. Drink a shit ton of water while you're waiting on your layover. Just bring an empty canteen or aluminum water bottle to fill up at fountains. I know you don't want to get up to go to the washroom all the time, but on a long haul flight you'll get sick, bloated, headachey, and dried out if you don't hydrate. Drink up. You'll thank me later.

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#14 Walkway Etiquette

Don't use the moving walkway if you're just going to stand there. Some people have tough connecting flights on the opposite side of the airport, and those walkways can make a huge difference for them. Plus, it's fun to walk on those things. Why people will just stand there dumbfounds me.

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#15 Make Security Faster

Carry a back-up battery for your phone. You never know when your flight may be cancelled or delayed. And know what to do before you get to the TSA line. Like, have your ID and boarding pass out ready to go, take off your shoes, remove your laptop, etc. Watch those ahead of you and see what they do if you don't know. On that note, wear shoes that you can quickly slip off and on.

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#16 Be Kind to All

Bring a surge protector to plug into a wall outlet on layovers so more people can charge their stuff.

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#17 Invisible Illness Tips

I've been flying for a long time. Here's something a little different but useful to some: tips for traveling when you have an illness. I have an invisible disability. You would never know anything is wrong with me by looking at me. When I fly alone, I always talk to the check-in desk about whom I should speak with about my illness before boarding, in case anything should happen. Sometimes, they will preboard you so you have more time to sort it out with flight crew.

Also, a flight attendant friend said crew always appreciate a treat if you are asking for something "extra" of them, so I always bring a little bag of chocolates for the flight attendants; you have no idea the grateful responses I have gotten for this small gesture, and it helps me that they know where I am sitting in case of a problem.

I wear a medical alert bracelet and keep a list of my meds/amounts/time of day I take in case there's a problem. Also, keep meds in their original pharmacy bottles with your name on them in your carry on luggage. It's helpful to think ahead, and I have luckily never had a major problem when flying alone thanks to being prepared.

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#18 Early Morning Flights

Early morning flights FTW! A lot less can go wrong with the first flight of the day. That plane is typically there overnight so you aren’t waiting on crew or equipment. Security lines are shorter. Traffic to the airport sucks less. Reclining, especially in steerage, is a moral failing and should be avoided at all costs.

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#19 Upgrades

When you get to your gate, check with the agent to see if you can get into an exit row or medium-level upgrade. Sometimes, they'll give it to you for free and sometimes they'll tell you no. The worst-case scenario is you're still in exactly the same seat you paid for.

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#20 Listen to Announcements

Consider leaving one ear open when wearing headphones at the airport, or turning down the volume considerably. People have missed their flights because they had their music turned up too high to hear the boarding announcements. And bring Imodium with you in case of an emergency. Seriously.

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#21 Study the Terminal

Study the terminal maps before you get to a connecting airport. Knowing where you're going, especially with limited time to make a connecting flight, is a godsend.

#22 Avoid Overbooking Nightmares

Always check-in online as soon as your flight opens (usually 23 hours before, depending on the airline) if possible. Not only does this allow you to choose your seat, it also ensures that you actually get the seat that you paid for in case of overbooking. It ensures there are no problems with your reservation (it does happen!) and it's just more convenient.

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#23 Never Do This

Do not, under any circumstances, get the one pound burrito with extra queso before boarding your flight.

#24 Fly Sunday through Wednesday

This is my experience on my international flying:

- Fly out and arrive between Sunday and Wednesday. Airfare rates are cheaper.

- Scout your layover airports for lounges or dayrooms if you have a long layover, or incase of delayed or cancelled flights. Most international airports have pod hotels you can book between one to six hours and they come complete with a private shower.

- Always have a small bottle of hand sanitizer in handy and a pack of travel size wet wipes. In long haul flights, I wipe down my seat and tray and boy does it have gunk. If you don't like the smell of the Purell hand sanitizer, buy the ones from Bath and Body works.

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#25 Book Direct

Book direct with the airline you want to fly. Research your destination on however many travel websites you like and record the flight details. Then, go find that same flight on the airline's website. The price will almost always be close to the discounter and you're not bound by the discounter's policies because they own your ticket. Trust me, it's worth the few $ to be able to extend a stay or get home in a pinch without any grief. I learned the hard way.

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#26 Compression Socks

Compression socks! Especially if you are traveling for a long period of time. I walked my daarn feet off on a week-long study abroad trip to Dubai and wore slip-on shoes on the plane. Every single one of us (15+ people) couldn't wear our shoes after the first flight as our feet and calves had swelled up so much. Being unable to raise your legs to rest them while on a 12-hour flight is unbelievably painful. No sleep makes connecting flights and that whole process such a literal pain. Worst travel experience of my life.

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#27 Carry On Hacks

I carry one of those neck pillows in its neck pillow bag clipped on to my carry on. I put everything in there that I want to have quick access to in the flight. My tablet, headphones, cables, and a pen if I'm flying internationally. That way, I don't have to get up and try digging through my carry on after I'm already seated.

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#28 Treat Your Attendants

Save your airline's customer support number in your phone in case of issues. Also, look for a local office number in the country of destination. And a tip from an actual flight attendant: Do give gifts to your flight attendant and gate attendants. Chocolates, mints and small snacks are appreciated. They will remember you and will treat you with extra care. And who knows, maybe even a free upgrade.

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#29 Take Pictures

Take a picture of your passport. Keep a copy on your phone and a hardcopy in your luggage. And take a picture of your luggage. If it is lost, showing the picture to the lost luggage person helps a lot.

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#30 Get the Airline App

Get the app for whatever airline you're flying. If they don't have an app, try not to use them. The features can sometimes be worthless and not very helpful but having a duplicate boarding pass with constant updates on your flights status can make or break an experience.

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#31 Sign Up for Global Entry

If you are traveling internationally, sign up for Global Entry. It takes about an hour to fill out all the forms and you schedule a brief interview with a TSA representative who makes sure you aren't a crazy person, but after that, you essentially get to skip all the customs lines after returning to the U.S. from an international trip. Trust me, it's worth it. Use TSA Pre-Check when traveling domestically as well. Also, take a picture of where you park so that when you return from a long trip, you remember. The employee parking lot at LAX is huge and I hate wandering around looking for my car.

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#32 Seat Picker

Air traffic controller, GA pilot, former flight attendant, and frequent flier here. Before the airport: Get best rates using "broker" style websites and apps. Some of my favorites are Skiplagged and Momondo.com. When picking your seat, you can find out how best to pick through Seatguru.com. They'll ask you when you're flying and what your flight number is and show you an interior map of your airplane detailing the best seats in the house and those to avoid (such as seats near the lavatories).

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#33 Noise-Cancelling Headphones

Get a pair of noise-cancelling wireless headphones. I have Bose and I like their headsets the best (I also use their Aviation headset for flying small planes). They’re not cheap but they make a big difference in the overall experience. Secondly, drink a lot of water. Planes are pressurized to a higher altitude than sea level, you can get dehydrated faster. Also, careful with booze.

And finally, when exiting the plane, it isn’t a race from the back of the plane through the people that were sitting in front of you. You’ll get a chance to exit, I promise. Just wait and allow those in front of you to exit first. Have your bags as ready to go as soon as possible but if they are out of reach, just wait.

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#34 Protect Your Legs

If you get stuck in a middle seat, you can put a coat or blanket over your legs and tuck it under you to hold your legs relatively close together. This will allow you to fully relax your leg muscles without bumping into your neighbors.

#35 Act Professional

Dress professionally but comfortably. Insiders repeatedly point out that those dressed nicely are most likely to get upgrades but people also just take professionally dressed people more seriously. Things go wrong, that's life, but if you have to talk to someone in a position of authority for any reason, you're better off wearing a nice button-up shirt and dress pants as opposed to pyjama pants and that stain covered sweatshirt you've had since high school. And for goodness sakes groom yourself! People show up to airports looking worse than homeless people.

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#36 Mints, Cash and Rewards

Always carry mints with you, especially for long-haul flights. Always have cash with you. And sign up for your airline's travel rewards membership by signing up for an online or mobile account. Being a member will give you access to their lounges and give real-time flight updates.

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#37 Google Everything

If you have a connecting flight, Google what airport you're going to before you take off from your first flight and map out where you need to go once you land. On rare occasions and depending on gate location, walking to the next terminal can actually be faster than taking the rail.

Check for flight updates when you land and every half hour or so when you aren't near your gate. You can Google your flight number and get a plethora of information that usually updates every 20 minutes or so.

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#38 Being Bored is For Suckers

After traveling to the same cities multiple times, I make sure to know what each airport has to offer in case I have extra time there. For instance, Portland has a great little free theater with local short films. Many airports have massage places. Midway has a free use yoga studio. Sitting around being bored is for suckers.

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#39 Pre-Register with the TSA

Pre-register with the TSA for precheck or if you fly a lot sign up for global entry. It's $99 and good for five years. This gets you expedited entry into the U.S. at most of the major airports and automatically registers you for TSA pre-check.

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#40 Lounges Make Everything Better

If you've got a long layover, especially if you're on your own, book yourself into the lounge. The time absolutely flies by, there is free drinks and food, and you can chill out on the Wi-Fi in a comfortable seat. Most places will give you three hours, but I've never been anywhere that actually checks and it costs about $40, but it makes an arduous journey a lot less of a pain.

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#41 Up In The Air

There's a clip in the film Up In The Air where George Clooney basically profiles the respective people in the security line. Watch it. Everything he touches on is correct. Then choose your line accordingly.

#42 Rack Up Points

If you fly a lot, get a rewards credit card with that airline. After flying frequently for work for a couple years, I now have platinum memberships with different airlines. Which means I get free checked bags, priority boarding, access to the lounge in airports that has free food and drinks, and best of all, free upgrades to first-class if there are open seats! Not to mention all the free flights I've received from racking up points on the card. My company reimburses my flights, so I charge them to the card, but I get to keep all the points for personal use.

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#43 In-Flight Entertainment

If it's a domestic flight where you won't get your own screen, download the airline's entertainment app beforehand so you can access their entertainment on your device during the flight. You also might want to bring your own earphones, but the airline will supply some if they also supply entertainment. If it's an international flight, bring a USB cable for your phone, there will probably be an outlet for you to charge it at your seat.

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#44 Don't Miss Your Flight

It doesn't matter how much time you think you have before your flight. Find your gate first and confirm it is the right one for your flight. Then, set an an alarm on your phone to give you plenty of time to get back in time to board. Missing your flight because you don't realize how far away your gate is will be a mistake you only make once, but it's better to not make it at all.

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#45

Bring food with you. Beverages can't get past security check points, but food (non-produce) usually can. Also, don't wear shoes with laces if you can help it, but definitely wear socks if traveling in the U.S. Having to remove shoes for security is kinda gross and I've never seen anyone mopping between passengers. Don't wear a belt or watch until after you've gone through security. Then, you don't have to remember to take it off. Put it in an accessible part of your carry-on.

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