Until we have the ability to be “beamed up” like Capt. Kirk and his crew, air travel is the fastest method of travel around this planet of ours. And air travel means airports, lines, pricey food, and uncomfortable chairs.
I fly around 20 times per year on average. Being based in Europe has some privileges like cheap airfare and low-cost airlines. So I decided to list up some useful hacks for making what can be a frustrating and stressful experience a bit more bearable and, at times, even fun. Some of these you may already know – some, however, just might surprise you.
You can spend hours combing through travel sites looking for the best prices. Or you can do as suggested and book you flight on Tuesdays after 3:00 p.m. Smaller carriers, like Southwest, announce their sales on Tuesday mornings and other airlines follow suit during the day. By 3, you will have all the best prices. Also try to buy at least 21 days in advance, however for low cost carrier to popular destination (Paris, Rome, Barcelona etc), I’d suggest around 60 days advance.
Also, if possible avoid traveling around Europe in August (holiday season = twice higher prices to all destinations) and if booking during holidays (Easter, Christmas, New Year) book on the date of the holiday. You can fly dirty cheap to numerous destinations on Dec, the 31st. But not on Christmas Eve - tried and tested, very expensive and things get messy as everyone seem to be flying somewhere.
Airports are less crowded, security lines are shorter, and you can navigate through the airport much more serenely.
Lots that are right next to the airport are really pricey – as much as $35 a day in some cities. Check out the “park-and-ride” lots that are farther away. You can find some for as low as $8 a day, and their shuttles to the airport run every few minutes. The money you save can buy you a lavish dinner somewhere!
Another alternative for transportation to and from airports and your destination is Blacklane, available at 300 airports around the world, compared to about 50 for Uber. This great service provides professional drivers in over 180 cities worldwide, and you can see the full price for any ride on its website or app before you book. The price may be a bit higher than a taxi or Uber ride, but it won’t be affected by rush hour, the route your driver takes or surges.
Yes, this is not just for those Southwest fliers who are attempting to get in the “A” boarding group. Even if you already have your confirmation and your seat number, check in online! Sad story: once my SO didn’t check-in online. The flight was overbooked and he was re-scheduled on an indirect flight from Geneva to Madrid via London (!!!). He missed the first day of the conference.
If all of you luggage is carry-on, you can skip the check-in counter all together and go straight to security. Just don’t forget to pack all your liquids in 200 ml containers and a separate transparent bag.
Note: This may not always be possible if you are a first-time international traveler, but give it a try anyway.
Take a picture of everything in your wallet – credit cards, ID, etc. - and your passport. Put that in your hand luggage. Take a picture of your parking spot, so you can stop worrying about remembering your row number!
Also, have copies of your hotel reservations and return tickets as you may be asked to present them at the passport control. .
OK, admit it - sometimes you need to be less of a diva and more of a practical traveler. If you are going to the beach for a week, what do you really need? If you can get everything into two pieces, you can actually take it all on the plane with you. Use one carry-on piece that will go in the overhead bin, and then get a backpack that will fit under the seat in front of you. You will be amazed at how much that backpack will hold, and if you use it for underwear, PJ’s and other soft items, it will scrunch down to get under that seat.
Low-cost airlines will ask you to pay extra for checked-in bags and those extras can be more than your ticket price. Skopje-Paris - 11 euro. Checked-in baggage - 25 euro. Not cool.
Get a travel pouch that goes around your neck for your money, credit cards, ID, and passport. If you must check bags, weigh them before you go. There are some really cool new bags that actually have built-in cubicles for certain items, like underwear.
Most airports have bag check-ins outside at their drop-off locations. Checking bags there, at your airline kiosk, is usually faster. And, if you have already checked in online, you go straight to security.
Here’s a little hint: Once you are ready to get in the security line, go to the left. Most people go to the right, so the lines may be a bit shorter on the left side.
Frequent flyers: there are two programs you want to look into if you travel a lot.
TSA Pre-Check: You can fill out an application, visit and interview center, pay an $85 membership fee (5 years) and, once through the process, never have to go through security again. Sometimes pre-checks are given for free, so check your ticket and see.
TSA Global Entry: Again, complete the application, get the interview, pay a $100 membership fee (for 5 years), and get expedited through customs when you return from any overseas travel.
If you have to change planes or airlines, you can usually get your gate numbers a few hours before the flight. Once you have those, “Google” a map of the airport and see exactly where you deplane and the gate at which your next flight departs.
Also, you can check out where’s the smoking area, WC, snacks, drinking fountains (sometimes) and so on.
Find the best place for your trip - take a look at the interior cabin of most planes of most airlines. The seats are color coded for such things as more leg room. When you make a reservation, request a specific seat, based on your preferences.
You can take liquids on flights, and that includes unopened bottles of booze, as long as they are the small one-serving sizes and haven’t been opened. The “rule” is you can’t drink them on the plane, but what the attendant doesn’t see can’t be reported. Besides, I’ve never seen that happening even if they did. Also, you can smuggle soda, juice or water to the airport. Just pour them all in 200 ml transparent bottles and say that’s your shampoo.
Those airline clubs are reserved for VIP travelers, and you probably aren’t one of them. (I’m not). If you are facing a really long layover, however, go stand outside the door of one of them and wait. Chances are someone will arrive. Put on your best pitiful face, explain the long layover, and ask to go in as his/her guest. If that fails, buy a one-day pass. It will run you about $35-$50 dollars, but you get free food, drinks, Wi-Fi and even a hot shower sometimes. And if you have kids with you? There is TV and DVD’s for them! (Remember that money you saved with you parked your car for $8 a day? This is your reward).
Find the chapel – it’s quiet, safe, and more comfortable. Also, consult Sleeping in the Airports - they know the quietest and most comfortable snoozing spots in most hubs around the world.
If you have a layover and have thought ahead, find an empty gate and inflate a beach ball. This gets them off of their devices, saves their batteries, and gives them some physical exercise! Plus, they sleep better on board afterwards.
Here’s a nifty device. Purchase a Trakdot luggage tracker and place it in your suitcase. Download the app on your phone. If your luggage does not arrive with you, access the app and locate your luggage in a matter of minutes. Go to the airline rep and let him/her know exactly where it is and arrange for them to fly it in and deliver it to you!