Busy airports are not fun.
But if you plan well, you can make the experience easier. You can navigate an airport, through checkin and security, and get right to your gate with ease.
Before we get into the tips, let’s start with a truism. With airports, you can’t assume anything.
You can’t assume that it will be logical. Passing through immigration and security can happen in odd sequences – especially when in transit between flights.
You can’t assume that you can navigate with your sense of direction. Airports often operate beyond capacity forcing them to use space in ways for which it was not designed. It’s best to trust and follow the signs.
And you can’t assume that the guy in the CBC t-shirt is from Canada and speaks English. As I transited through Taipai airport a little lost the guy in the CBC t-shirt I asked for help was just some guy from somewhere. Not an English-speaker. He couldn’t help all.
Fortunately there are some things that you can know for sure. There will be lines! The most complicated of which is the security screening line that every country manages differently. Some require you to take off your shoes, others don’t. Some take your passport while you go through security. Fortunately, most don’t. Everything into a bin. Only a few things into a bin. You really have to watch and listen for the details.
Regardless of the security process, preparing for them is typically the same. For those who are flying this holiday season, when the lines tend to be particularly long, I have some tips to reduce the annoyances of busy airports for travelers – wherever you are in the world.
Tips to Get Through an Airport Fast
Packing to get through security with ease.
First things first, let’s start with packing. The following are important. Use this information in conjunction with the Bare Minimum Packing post.
- Liquids are a big issue. The most common mistake that travelers still make is with liquids, aerosols and gels (LAGs) exceeding the 100 mL limit in their carry-on baggage. That includes sunscreen, tanning lotion or hand cream, alcohol, maple syrup, etc. To go in your carry-on LAGs must be in containers of 100 mL (3 ounces) or less and all these containers must fit into a 1 litre or 1 quart baggie that can be closed. If it can’t be closed you’re packing more than the allowed amount.
- If you check a bag, place all your liquids in your checked baggage in which case you don’t have to worry about the 100 ml limitation.
- Pack so that required items can be removed easily at security. If you travel with only a carry-on as I do, pack your liquids at the top of your bag so that they can be taken out easily. Have your computer or tablet easily accessible as well.
- Leave gifts unwrapped. The security team may want to inspect what you’re traveling with so plan to wrap any gifts after security.
- Don’t play games. Take note of items that are not allowed on a plane. You can check the list here. Also…
- Don’t take toys that happen to look like any forbidden items.
- Don’t joke around and use words like bomb or terrorist when going through any official border process.
- Limits on sharp objects. Make sure that sharp tools are 6 cm or less if you’re going to take them through security. Longer and they must go in checked baggage.
- Electronic devices go in various places. It all depends on the size of the device. Tablets, ebooks, cameras can stay in your bag in their individual cases. Laptops, notebooks and game consoles need to be taken out of your carry-on and placed in a separate bin for screening.
- Dress appropriately. Dress comfortably with easy-to-remove outerwear, belts and shoes. The latter is particularly helpful if you’re flying to or through the US as you’ll have to remove your shoes at security. Avoid wearing clothing with metal buttons and snaps that will sound the metal-detector alarm. Bras with underwire frequently set off the alarm. Wear a sports bra on travel days.
Check in made easy.
- Check in before you go to the airport. Check in 24 hours before your flight leaves. This process also allows you to purchase a number of flight options. Then either:
- Print your boarding pass
- Have your boarding pass sent to your phone. This is what I do and then I take a screenshot of my pass so that it’s easily accessed from my photo app. To take a screenshot on an iphone simply hold the on/off button, then press the home button, then release both.
- Arrive at the airport early. Allow ample time in case there are hold-ups you can’t anticipate. If you want you can check the security wait times online.
- Take care of your passport. Have a specific place on your person for your passport that is easy and accessible. You will have to show it many times but you don’t want to put it down so that it gets lost. Always return it to the same place.
- Sail past baggage check. If you only have a carry-on you can go past checkin and past the baggage check and go directly to the security line for your gate. If you have to check a bag, look for the baggage check line.
Move through airport security like a pro.
- Prepare for security. Before you enter the security line, unlock your carry-on and empty your water bottle. You can refill your it on the other side of security. Have your boarding pass ready.
- Once you get to security…
- Remove everything from your pockets and put the contents in a bin.
- Remove your computer and plastic bag of liquids and put it in a bin – it can be the same bin.
- Place your purse, hat, scarf and jacket in a bin. You may have to put a sweater in the bin as well so dress appropriately.
- Place your day-pack and/or carry-on its own bin.
- Stand in line in front of the metal detector and wait to be waved through.
- Pick up your things at the other end. And make sure you have everything before you leave the area.
- If your bags must be checked further. If they have questions about what is in your bag…
- Allow the officer to open your bag themselves. They don’t want you to do it for them.
- And, of course, be patient and cooperate, even if you’re in a rush. Hurrying them will only slow things down more.
- In the case of additional screening. If you don’t pass through the metal detector with success…
- You have the option of a full-body scan or a physical search.
- You can always request a search in private and can also request that a witness observe the search.
- You have the right to refuse to be screened, but you will not be allowed past the security checkpoint if you do so.
Last updated: 12th December, 2017