It's well-known that the most stressful part of a holiday or business travel for most people is the time spent getting to the airport then dawdling in lengthy queues for check-in and security, whilst we wonder if we will ever actually get on the plane. Here are a few simple tips for a stress-free airport experience.
1. Check in online
These days some airlines insist you check in online and nearly all offer the option. If you don't travel independently very often you may not have done this before. It is relatively easy and ensures you get not only a guaranteed seat but also save (a bit) of time at the airport. Do look at the requirements on your airline ticket as there are sometimes specific times when you can/can’t book.
2. Organise your luggage before you go
Get the lightest luggage you can, label it clearly and make sure you have a padlock. If it’s black or other popular colour tie a red ribbon or other marker on it so you can find it easily on the luggage carousel. With so many restrictions on what you can and can't take on board it pays to sort out hand luggage out before you leave home. Put liquids (100ml and under), make-up etc into a small, transparent bag; I use a ziploc sandwich bag. Put it at the top of your hand luggage, easy to get at when you need to show it. Keep passport and tickets together in a safe compartment. A Kindle or other electronic reading device (plus charger) might be useful. Wet wipes, tissues, pen, perfume, mints, camera, phone … Organise your bag so you know where everything is. You don't have to take a proper flight case but a big handbag/bag means you've got plenty of space for last-minute purchases from Duty Free.
3. Leave home early
Yes, it's blindingly obvious but we all know about best laid plans, mice and men. It really does pay dividends to leave home early and make sure you get to the airport on time (usually 2 hours before) if not earlier. If you're travelling by public transport get the earlier train/bus/coach for peace of mind. If you're travelling by car there are plenty of things that can go wrong, from breakdown to traffic jams. I remember a nightmare drive to Gatwick for a flight to Greece. We had a puncture on the dual carriageway and spent about an hour changing a tyre on the hard shoulder whilst cars whizzed past dangerously close. We missed our flight and had to pay for another one the next day. Lesson learnt!
4. Stay in an airport hotel the night before
Even better than having to rush to the airport, this really is one of the best ways to avoid travel-related stress. Book into a hotel on, or very near the airport and you will be able to enjoy the whole experience much more. Yes, it will cost more money but there are some really good deals and they usually include free parking so it could actually save you money. Plus you’ll get a good night’s sleep and wake refreshed, however early your flight. You can read about my airport hotel stay here.
5. Keep calm whilst you queue
If you're lucky enough to have Priority Boarding or are travelling First Class, you may avoid some of the hassle of check-in security. However, unless you're very rich, famous or a member of the royal family, the chances are you will have to stand in line and submit to being made to feel like a petty criminal. Don't stress. You know it's going to happen so accept it as part of the trip – hopefully the worst part. Chat to others, think about your holiday, plan your business meeting, text/email friends, read a book – anything to pass the time whilst you shuffle your way into the Departure Lounge.
6. Use the VIP Airport Lounge
You can get various special offers on Airport Lounge passes either for one-off or annual trips. They usually have comfortable seating, daily newspapers, places to work, free wifi and complimentary refreshments and are a really great way to relax before your flight. If you have children, some have an age restriction so do check that beforehand.
7. Go shopping
The days of really great prices in airport shopping may be over but you can still enjoy a bit of retail therapy whilst you're waiting for your flight. If you're flying outside the EU you DO get Duty Free rates and you can also claim back tax in some countries. Electronics and camera equipment may be better value. If you know what you want, you can always look up the price online before you buy. For lots more useful and fun ideas check out cheapflights 52 Things to do at the Airport infographic.
8. Leave plenty of time to get to the Departure Gate
If you're flying from an international airport the Departure Gate may be a long way from the main lounges and shops. Do keep an eye on the Announcement Board and give yourself plenty of time to get to your Gate. I well remember running like mad along seemingly endless corridors and slow travelators with a 5 year old in tow at Palma airport, only just boarding in time.
9. Don’t rush to board the plane
If you’ve already booked your plane seat, you don’t need to leap up as soon as your flight is called. The chances are they will call families first so if you have children you’ll be able to board early anyway. If not, then avoid standing for ages whilst hundreds of people jostle and push to get into their seats. As long as you’re at the (correct) Departure Gate the plane won’t be taking off without you so make the most of your seat, assuming you have one, and join the queue as it gets close to the desk.
This article was written in association with cheapflights. Hopefully these top tips will help you to enjoy your airport experience stress-free!