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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.