As a frequent business traveler, I’m often asked, “How do you get through an airport efficiently?” Truth be told, there is no one answer. As everyone who travels knows, each airport is different. Even Transportation Security Administration (TSA) rules vary from airport to airport, so there is no single way to do things best. But I can offer a few ideas to make it as stress free as possible.
Tip 1: Join TSA PreCheck. Although TSA has done a masterful job of marketing the program, which means that there are too many people who really shouldn’t be using the special lines, it still is the best way to get through security. The advantage is that you do not have to strip, nor remove your computer from its bag, even if you haven’t purchased the special laptop bag that TSA permits. If you have status with any airline except Southwest, you may have your application fee covered. Even if you don’t, pay the money and enjoy the trip that much more.
Tip 1a (corollary to Tip 1): If you travel internationally, join Global Entry. Just one opportunity to go straight to the computer terminals while hundreds of people are standing in line for immigration will show you the value of joining. It is the best $100 you will ever spend if you travel overseas. Also, if you join Global Entry you can get PreCheck.
Tip 2: Don’t cut your airport time to the bone. Many business travelers arrive a few moments before their flights leave. Give yourself more time. Take advantage of clubs and lounges to get work done. If you miss your flight to get five extra minutes at the office, you really haven’t made your life any easier.
Tip 3: Don’t check a bag. On this front, do as I say, not as I do. I almost always check a bag if I’m traveling for more than three days. It’s probably not the brightest idea, but because I get a free checked bag as a United flyer, I don’t have to pay for it. Airports have responsibilities for many aspects of your trip, but moving bags is generally not one of them. If you can get away with a carry-on, do it.
Tip 3a (corollary to Tip 3): Don’t do to your fellow passengers what you wouldn’t want done to you. What does this mean? It means, please don’t bring a 25-inch suitcase onboard. It doesn’t usually fit, especially if you’re flying on a small aircraft. Also, don’t try to bring four bags on board as carry-ons. It’s not fair to other travelers.
Tip 4: Take advantage of what’s at your fingertips. Use the airport. Many airports are investing in improved concession programs. This means better dining and shopping opportunities. This can save you time. Instead of spending your weekends shopping, you can do it before you board or even when you arrive at your destination. If you go through Pittsburgh, Pa.; Portland, Ore.; or Baltimore, Md., for example, you should save yourself some time on Saturday by shopping on Wednesday instead.
Tip 5: Consider a great dining experience—while you wait for your flight. Those great restaurants and restaurateurs you’ve heard of on Food Network or read about—they’re at the airport. More name chefs are bringing their brands to the airport. BarSymon in Pittsburgh is a great example. The chef is a frequent visitor and makes sure that the restaurant meets his standards. San Diego International has a number of local restaurateurs represented. More and more, the people who own restaurants are bringing their brands and names to their local airports.
Travel is stressful. You’re often running from one place to the other, concerned about unexpected security delays, boarding times, work deadlines and getting home to loved ones. Take advantage of these tips, and they might alleviate some of that stress. You might even find yourself at the gate with time for a good cup of coffee, an authentic meal or a fun shopping experience.