You’ve already found your cheap tickets and followed every other step of our Power Traveler’s Pre-Flight Checklist, and now the day is here. You should already have yourself set up for a relatively stress-free trip if you followed part one of our checklist, but now that travel day is upon you, here’s our suggested rundown of to-dos to make sure your travel day goes smoothly, you catch your flight on time and you get there in comfort and style.
Before You Leave the House
Before you even head out of your home or office, be sure you’ve done a few things:
- Check In Online and Print Boarding Passes: You can and will save tonnes of time if you check in and print your boarding passes before you leave for the airport. Not only is this a good opportunity to see if any of your flight’s details have changed, but it’s also going to shave significant minutes off your wait time at the airport, especially if you aren’t checking luggage.
- Know How Long It Will Take: First things first: When you’re heading to the airport over the holidays, expect unexpected delays and plan for them. If you’re organised before you leave for the airport, you’ll be through the gates before you can say Santa Claus. Nobody wants to wait at the terminal for two hours before the plane boards, but get there too late and you’re in for a world of stress. To plan your arrival at the airport appropriately, check the TSA’s Wait Time Calculator, which provides a per-airport, per-hour historical average of security checkpoint wait times. You shouldn’t consider these times gospel, but they should give you a better estimation of the extra time you’ll need.
- Be Aware of and Plan for Delays and Status Changes: You can track delays for your flight via email or SMS with previously mentioned web site FlightStats, which is the flight status tracking web site, according to the Wall Street Journal. Sign up for SMS or email alerts of delays or departure and gate changes to ensure you’re on top of every piece of information pertinent to your flight and your ability to catch it. If you’ve got a data plan on your phone, you should also bookmark their mobile site. Since you also followed the Pre-Flight Checklist, you’ve already got your airline’s phone number ready in your cell phone should any unexpected delays or cancellations pop up so you can be the first to contact your airline and avoid being bumped around.
- Pack Snacks: Liquids are out, but airport food is expensive and generally unhealthy, meaning you can still save yourself a lot of money and guilt by packing a few snacks for the trip ahead.
Dress Comfortably and Plan for the Security Check
Although what you wear is sometimes determined by where you’re going, you can still be smart about what you wear on your trip. On the day of a trip, you want to dress smart so that you’re comfortable on your flight and you get through security with minimal hassle. These are pretty simple tips, but worth keeping in mind, nonetheless:
- Wear Layers: I’ve never been on a flight with anything close to consistency in the temperature, which is why you should always dress in layers you can peel when it gets hot and throw back on when it cools down.
- Lose the Belt: Getting through the security checkpoint can be a pain, especially if you’ve got to give your fellow passengers a striptease to get through—and if you’re wearing a belt with a metal clasp or big, stylish spikes, get ready to undress.
- Wear Comfortable, Easy-to-Remove Shoes: Like the belt, you’re going to have to remove your shoes to go through security, so the easier your shoes are to slip on and off, the easier your life will be.
- Streamline Your Pockets: Rather than emptying the contents of your pockets into the grey basket while you’re juggling your carry-on, removing your laptop, and standing there shoeless, you’ll find it much more convenient to streamline the contents of your pockets to only your non-metal essentials: Namely your boarding pass and identification. Empty the rest of your pocket contents into a go bag or—dare I say it—fanny pack—before you get to the security checkpoint (ideally before you leave the house).
- Be Aware of Your Metal: Got any other metal you consistently carry but don’t normally think about it? Make sure you’ve taken care of it, and if you realise you’ve got a big chunk of metal in your pocket at the last minute, just toss it in your go bag or fanny pack.
Make Good Use of Your Wait Time
Now that you’ve smoothly moved through your check-in, you should be at your gate with a bit of time on your hands. (Hey, no matter how well you’ve planned, you should never plan on getting to your gate with much less than an hour before take-off. If you are, you’re cutting things too close. A little time on your hands means you’ve planned responsibly.) Put that time to good use and:
- Get an Upgrade to First Class: If you’re the type that likes haggling, you can try getting an upgrade to first class. Some methods are safer than others, while some—like getting there as late as possible—aren’t exactly the territory of the responsible traveler that you are.
- Surf Some Free Wi-Fi: If you’ve brought a laptop or other Wi-Fi-enabled device, here’s a list of airports with free Wi-Fi. Just be sure to keep an eye out for rogue Wi-Fi networks. If your airport doesn’t offer free Wi-Fi and you’ve got a good data plan on your cell phone, you might also try using your cell phone as a wireless modem.
- Tackle Offline Computer Tasks: Just because you’re not wired to the nets doesn’t mean there’s nothing worthwhile you can do on your computer—for example, you could try out one of these five things to do on your PC when you can’t connect to the internet.
- Use the Can: This is a matter of preference, but I prefer to use the restroom before I get on the plane. No straddling people you’ve just met to get to the aisle, shorter lines, and no fear of being sucked into the noisy vortex of waste removal. For some people this choice is a little like choosing between being punched in the face or getting kicked in the groin (i.e., neither option is all that appealing), but I’ll take the terminal toilets any day.
Enjoy Your Flight
Okay, the hard part’s over—you’re in your seat and ready for your pretzels and Coke. Here are a few tips to make your in-flight experience a good one:
- Catch Some Zzzzs: Nothing makes a trip go faster than a good nap, and we’ve covered how to get good sleep on a flight not once, but twice.
- Entertain Yourself: Everyone knows a flight is the ideal time to catch a flick on your laptop, get nose deep in a book, listen to some music, or do a little portable gaming. Pick what you like and go for it.
- Power Your Gadgets: If you weren’t able to secure a seat near a power outlet despite our tips in part one of the Power Traveler’s Checklist, you can still power your gadgets from the plane’s headphone jack.
- Capture the Armrest: Nothing’s worse than being overcrowded in your seat, so if you’re in the middle seat and your fellow passengers are closing in on all sides, here’s how to capture the armrest.
Other Travel Day Suggestions
This checklist mostly addresses travelling alone or with other adults, but travelling with kids is another story altogether. If you’re a parent, check out these tips for how to survive an airport trip with the kids.
Likewise, everyone’s needs vary and I’m sure you’ve got methods of your own that work for you, so share your travel day checklist in the comments.
Adam Pash is a senior editor for Lifehacker who enjoys a good holiday flight. His special feature Hack Attack appears every Wednesday on Lifehacker AU.