How to Prevent Getting Lost at the Airport

Photo: Maridav, Shutterstock
Photo: Maridav, Shutterstock

After several months of historically low air travel, people are slowly starting to fly again. There are still many unknowns regarding the future of commercial airlines and the specifics about COVID-19 transmission in planes, but at this point it’s probably safe to say that no one wants to spend any extra time in the airport. (Though that’s definitely true in non-pandemic times, too.) Because airports can be tricky to navigate, here are a few tips to help prevent you from getting lost.

Why are airports so confusing?

Unfortunately, airports can be confusing places, even for seasoned travellers. And according to Dr. Janet Bednarek, an aviation historian from University of Dayton, that’s because they weren’t designed to accommodate so many passengers. “Often, even the best designs have either been overwhelmed by a growth in passenger numbers that far exceeded predictions or, more recently, changed security protocols,” she told USA Today. To fix this, airports try to make up for design and capacity problems by putting signs up all over the place.

And while those signs should help in theory, in practice it can be difficult to tell exactly which way they’re pointing. (Does that diagonal arrow pointing upwards and to the left mean to turn left at the upcoming fork in the hallway, or take the escalator ahead?) On top of all that, airports are a sensory overload for us, as we attempt to navigate terminals full of screaming children, competing Cinnabon and Panda Express aromas, and signs pointing in every direction — all while trying to get on a flight, or out of the airport.

Normally, this nonintuitive design is frustrating and can cause us to lose our patience. Throw in a pandemic — when everyone is trying to get in and out of the airport as quickly as possible without touching anything — and things could get ugly. While we’re waiting for much-needed improvements at airports, here are three strategies to help you avoid getting lost in there, courtesy of Christopher Elliot at USA Today.

Look at the airport floor plans ahead of time

If you’re trying to get around a place you’re unfamiliar with, you use a map. Most airports provide maps with terminals’ floor plans on their websites, so before you get to the airport, take a few minutes to get familiar with it. You don’t have to memorise it (though taking a screenshot is handy so you don’t have to keep pulling up the website), but knowing whether you have to make a left or right after going through security can help. Plus, you’ll get a look at your food options ahead of time, and can make a game plan for using the restroom.

Use TripIt or airline apps

The TripIt app, which provides interactive airport maps for 90 airports worldwide, has been a favourite of frequent flyers for years. In addition to the maps, it also shows you the fastest way to your gate or the exit — including an estimate of how long it will take. Some airline apps have similar features, which are particularly helpful when you have a short layover before a connecting flight. Because it already has all of your flight information, you don’t even have to plug any information in.

Don’t rush

While we all want to get through the airport as fast as possible, get there early enough to give yourself time to get to your gate without having to run through the terminal while fighting to keep your roller bag upright. Flying (especially right now) is stressful enough without adding time constraints.

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