How To Make The Airport Less Crappy (And More Fun)

How To Make The Airport Less Crappy (And More Fun)

In the era of budget airlines, flying no longer seems glamorous; often it seems more like a downright pain. Queues, outrageous parking fees, delayed flights . . . where’s the fun in that? But with a little planning and some smart choices, you can improve your airport experience. Here’s how.

Photos by phipatbig (Shutterstock) and Anton Gvozdikov (Shutterstock), Matthew Baron, MiNe, Nick Richards, Miki Yoshihito, Lisa T41, and Miki Yoshihito

In this post, we’ll concentrate on the airport experience in Australia, but the same principles apply all over the world. You can’t control flights being delayed or other passengers, but you can maximise your chances of enjoying the experience.

Give Yourself Plenty Of Time

How to Make the Airport Less Crappy (and More Fun)

Nothing kills the airport experience faster than not having enough time to get everything done. Make sure you give yourself enough time to check in, clear security and get to your gate. When planning your trip to the airport, ask yourself: “What would happen if there was a traffic jam and I arrived 30 minutes late?” Unless you’re on a flexible ticket, switching flights will cost you a fortune. Allow extra time for disasters.

Qantas, Virgin and Jetstar all offer online check-in, so you can speed up the process of actually going through the airport. (For Tiger, you have no choice but to queue.) That also means you won’t be stressing over your seat assignment.

More generally: if you think something is going to suck, guess what? It probably will. Don’t travel with the mindset that the airport is a terrible, horrible place. Think of it as a great place for people watching, somewhere to try a new restaurant, or the first stage in that long-awaited holiday.

Learn the Layout Of Your Airport

How to Make the Airport Less Crappy (and More Fun)

Part of the secret is to plan your trip to the airport a little like a bank heist. You want to know the layouts of your departure and destination airports like the back of your hand. You’ll potentially have a lot of distance to cover between where you park, your airline’s check-in, security, and your gate. So head online and check out the official airport site and/or app.

By international standards, Australian airports are relatively uncomplicated. In most major cities, the only distinction you’ll have to deal with is between the international and domestic terminals. (And not always that: In Melbourne and Adelaide, the terminals are on the same site.) In Sydney, Qantas occupies T3, while other domestic airlines are in T2. In Melbourne, Tiger is in a physically separate terminal (that’s a generous description; it’s a shed with aspirations).

Power Through Check-In And Security

How to Make the Airport Less Crappy (and More Fun)

If you ask most people what they hate most about going to the airport, it’s usually check-in and security. However, with the right approach, they can be relatively hassle-freee. Here’s how you can get through with minimum fuss:

  • Understand your airline’s baggage/fees/check-in policies before you leave the house. And plan for the worst case scenario. Seriously — don’t look at your bag and think “I’m sure they’ll let me carry it on” — measure it and check. Our usual warning: online check-in can mean you dodge being checked by staff and can get away with more weight, but don’t try that trick with Tiger. All hand luggage gets weighed, and if it’s over, you’ll be paying through the roof for the excess.
  • Check in before you leave for the airport. As we’ve already suggested, whether you do it from your phone or your computer, check in to your flight before you even leave for the airport. It’s just one less thing to do at the airport, and you can print your boarding pass before you leave, get an electronic boarding pass for your phone, or make any seat or cabin changes long before your flight departure time.
  • Be ready for the security checkpoint. Australian security is much easier than international flights, since rules restricting liquids don’t apply to domestic flights. However, there are other steps you can take. If you’re queuing, prepare by emptying your pockets and removing your laptop, plus any aerosols or umbrellas. That way, you’ll be ready to move forward quickly.

Go Ahead, Relax A Little

How to Make the Airport Less Crappy (and More Fun)

One of the big differences between people who fly often and people who fly infrequently is that the people who fly often quickly learn that the airport isn’t their enemy — the clock is. With enough time up your sleeve, your trip doesn’t have to be stressful at all, and the airport itself is packed with perks and businesses that all want to make your trip easier.

We’ve shown you how airport lounges can offer an oasis from your travel woes. Beyond lounges, there’s a lot to enjoy in the terminal as well. Most airports have full-service bars and restaurants inside security checkpoints. It won’t be the cheapest lunch you’ve had, but it’s much nicer to catch a plane after a nice cold beer and a hot meal.

Oh, and one more tip: Stay hydrated. Deep breaths and a bottle of water do wonders for even stressful situations.

Make A Graceful (But Unhurried) Exit

How to Make the Airport Less Crappy (and More Fun)

Whether you’re landing at a foreign destination or you’re back home after a long trip, use your knowledge of the airport layout to save time heading to the exit. If you need a refresher, use those last few minutes when your plane is on the ground and taxiing to work out your strategy.

When it is time to leave, make your exit gracefully and efficiently. There are some things you just can’t control about air travel — the size of the aeroplane seats, playing armrest hockey with the guy next to you, high ticket prices — but there are other things you can control, namely your mindset, the amount of time you give yourself to get to where you’re going, and your attitude about the whole affair. It doesn’t have to be a serious, stoic, irritating annoyance if you don’t want it to be. Relax, take your time, plan ahead, and live a little.

The Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.


  • Pro Tips:
    1. Carry on only if possible. (No stress of lost luggage, streamlined exit).
    2. Plan to not drive at the other end.
    2a. Be a member of your airline’s lounge program. Leave time to use the lounge facilities and enjoy the ‘free beer’.
    2b. Alternatively, check the price of the lounge program before leaving home. Decide it’s ludicrously expensive for what it is. Set yourself a far more reasonable budget of $100 for alcohol and food at the airport, tell yourself that you saved $200 by not being a lounge member. Enjoy the ‘free beer’.
    3. Here’s how domestic scanning works. Seriously it ain’t hard:
    * Before you get near the end of the line, put your belt, watch, wallet, & phone in your handbag/carry-on bag.
    * Get your Laptop and aerosols out of their respective bags.
    * Get all the crap out of the pram or baby carrier and put it in your handbag / carry on bag.
    * At the security counter: Put the laptop & aerosols in a separate tray. Hold your baby. Put your bags on the conveyer.
    * Walk through, smile. Be nice.
    * If you look the bomb checking people in the eye, they will scan you. Open your bag so they can swab it. Use this as an opportunity to get your baby back in the carrier, your phone and wallet out, and look around to find the nearest bar or signs to the lounge to embark on point 2.
    * Clear the security scanning area quickly. Re-acquire your family not less than 20 feet from the scanners. Seriously, they’ll be fine. Get out of the way.
    4. If you web check in, your chances of having your carry-on weighed is far lower. If that’s not an option and you have only carry-on, you can check in at a service desk past security (not a check in counter). If you’re a lounge member and you have carry on only, you can check in in the lounge.
    5. Be at the airport for an on-time take off, but expect the plane to be running 1 hour late.
    6. Noise cancelling headphones + iPod with music. Paper book (no electronics for take off and landing). Screaming kids won’t bother you any more.
    7. If you’re flying in to Brisbane, expect to be in a holding pattern for an hour. Don’t worry, there will be another runway completed in 7 years or so that will fix the air traffic control problems that plague that airport.
    8. Fly Business Class when you’re on holidays.

    • The longe service doesn’t just get you “free beer”. There’s food, other drinks, much more comfortable chairs than the gate ones, powerpoints for charging your devices (haven’t seen many of them in the gates), wifi that’s less crowded, and a computer with internet access in case you’re not taking any devices. It might not be for everyone, but if you fly with that airline a lot, and you like the comfort their lounge provides, it can be good.

      • @jajabinks2 – Couldn’t agree more. Though, I recon the Qantas lounge has gone downhill at most of the big airports – at commuter times it’s just as crowded as the airport making it hard to get a desk or comfortable seat, and the lines in the qantas lounge service desk are as long as at a normal check-in counter. I much prefer the Virgin lounge – it’s almost always newer, less crowded, and while the food is sometimes pretty basic the barista coffee, soft drink & beer selection is always excellent.

        That said – After consuming about $80 of beer at an airport without a lounge (eg. newcastle or sunshine coast) – the lack of comfortable seats, wifi access and charging facilities never seems to be an issue 🙂

        (I do wish they’d install a priority security screening line at these little airports though, or put a big “how to get your sh*t together prior to screening” guide above the scanners.)

    • THIS! * Before you get near the end of the line, put your belt, watch, wallet, & phone in your handbag/carry-on bag.
      * Get your Laptop and aerosols out of their respective bags.
      * Get all the crap out of the pram or baby carrier and put it in your handbag / carry on bag.
      * At the security counter: Put the laptop & aerosols in a separate tray. Hold your baby. Put your bags on the conveyer.
      * Walk through, smile. Be nice.

      I always empty my pockets and chuck the belt in the front compartment of the bag while the line slowly moves forward. That way i can usually jump ahead of the noob removing his belt while standing in front of the scanner.

  • “In Melbourne, Tiger is in a physically separate terminal (that’s a generous description; it’s a shed with aspirations).” <– Love this.

    • Tiger is excellent for what it is; a budget airline with lots of rules. As someone who lives in Canberra and pays an absurd amount to fly to Melbourne and Sydney, I really wish Tiger would come back because I am apparently a genius who handles their rules with ease.

      • Rules I found = try and guess if your flight is on time as you wont get any updates from probably the most rude ground staff I’ve ever come across (Sydney and Brisbane).
        I or one am with fairywren

  • My one tip to add is that a lot of people queue up at the security point just before the scanner and sort their crap out there. As xqx was saying, sort all your stuff out, walk pass the people faffing at the conveyer ‘line’ put your bag and laptop through and walk through the metal detector. Otherwise you’re just standing around waiting for people to sort their sht out when nobody is going through the scanner or putting bags through.

  • Pro tip for parents with oversize baggage.
    Do ALL of your checking in at the oversize desk.
    You do not need to check you regular bags in the long line then drop off your pram at the oversize belt.
    Also prams can be taken to the gate although they need to be xray’d. If yours is small enough take it to the gate. If like me you have twins check your mountain buggy at oversize and borrow an airline umbrella stroller or 2 usually found on arrivals at the carousels or problem bag desk. You will skip the xray queue 90% of the time on direction from security handling the line, leave the pram at the gate.
    Oh and ladies be prepared to take off your 6 inch heels or boots. They are steel reinforced most of the time. Just wear thongs or uggies, you’re flying tiger to Adelaide anyway lol.

  • When passengers travelling in rows n-nn are called to board first, check your pass to see if you are in these rows. If you are not, get out of the line and wait until your boarding is called, rather then increase the length of the line, only to be told to step aside when you get to the front.

    Not that it bothers me or anything…

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