This story originally appeared on BusinessInsider.com.
Whether it's to keep their jobs or to maintain the peace, there are some things that airline workers just can't tell travelers.
But sharing some of these things, while perhaps controversial, could be to their, your, and other passengers' benefit, if only someone would say something. So, aside from some vacation travel tips and a travel planner, let's take a look at the following...
So Business Insider asked more than 80 airline workers, including flight attendants, gate agents, ticket agents, and other airport customer service reps, to weigh in on what they'd love to tell passengers—but can't.
We've anonymously included some of the more constructive insights here:
"I'm tasked with carrying out the rules and regulations set forth by FAA. I risk a possible fine if I don't do what I am tasked to do. There is always a reason we say the things we say." — A flight attendant
"Different airlines have different rules, but a change or upgrade can get you fired these days. And it's not worth our jobs. The airline computer system tracks everything, and big brother can be watching us." — An airline customer service agent
"You're venting, which is fine. But it won't change anything. Speak to the folks who make the decisions and the big bucks. We didn't choose the Wi-Fi system. We didn't choose the leg room. We didn't choose to charge for certain things. I'd love to have it all free and roomy and completely reliable!" — A flight attendant
"Is your issue really as serious as the stress you are causing to yourself and others?" — An airline customer service agent
"You are sitting next to a Federal Air Marshal, so put away that tequila you bought in Duty Free." — A flight attendant
"Cutting your toenails, flossing your teeth, putting on nail polish, and talking loudly on your cell phone shouldn't be done in public in the gate areas while you're waiting for your flight." — An airline customer service agent
"If you show up to the airport with 20 minutes to spare, you might miss the flight. It is not like taking the bus. Plan ahead." — An airline customer service agent
That's not water you're stepping on in the bathroom." — A flight attendant
"If it seems like we are forgetting about you, we are not. We just have minimum crew. Usually we are staffed with one flight attendant for every 50 passengers. We need better staffing." — A flight attendant
"No, we don't have spare airplanes to use if there is a cancellation." — An airline customer service agent
"We are 30,000 feet in the air — we have what we have today." — A flight attendant
"Inexperienced international travelers don't realize the size of taxis and public transportation in the cities they are visiting. That extra-large suitcase is not going to fit in a trunk of a cab. And you might often have to walk a distance to your hotel, which means dragging all your luggage with you. You really can get by with less when you travel." — An airline customer service agent
"I'm afraid of turbulence, too." — A flight attendant.
"They are working with a time crunch, and all those extra questions are keeping them from doing their work." — An airline customer service agent
"U.S. law requires compliance with lighted and posted signs and crew member instructions." — A flight attendant
"I kid you not: I had someone tell me that we had technology to control fog. We don't." — An airline customer service agent
"It is never OK to tug on someone's clothes to get their attention, no matter how loud the environment may be." — A flight attendant
Travelers think we are being rude when we tell them no: they can't do what they want to. We tell them no because we are enforcing the rules that have been made up by our company—not by us personally. The rules are there for a reason, not to make traveling harder but to make it safer. — An airline customer service agent
"If you threaten us, you can be arrested. We will call the police, and you will not fly. The punishment for assaulting us is a fine of up to $250,000 and up to 10 years in prison." — An airline customer service agent
"The galley is our only work area, and we have nowhere else to go because our seats are in the galley by the doors." — A flight attendant
"Take a shower before you fly." — A flight attendant
"I'm not your maid or your waitress or your babysitter, either." — A flight attendant
"Treat me right, and you will get the best I can give you." — An airline customer service agent
"A lot of people just don't know. They think, 'I'll order a glass of ice, and a thing of tonic, and we'll just open up the bar.' It's a big no-no. That's just bad etiquette, and it's a huge Federal Aviation regulation and up to an $11,000 fine. It's a very expensive drink, so just don't do it." — A flight attendant
"You're not the only person here." — An airline customer service agent
"A little more patience and understanding on both ends will make for a better flying experience." — A flight attendant
You’ll never have to search for a laundromat during your travels again.
Doing laundry is annoying at best when you’re in the comfort of your own city. When you’re on vacation, however, it’s at least 10 times worse. Not only are you in a new place with no sense of where the nearest laundromat is (or how much it’ll cost), but you also have to take time out of your travels to sit and wait for a washing machine to finish cleaning your clothes.
That’s not exactly the stuff Instagram pics are made of. Even if you’re staying in a hotel with laundry services, these can often be extremely expensive, and not a helpful option if you’re sticking to a budget.
But there are other alternatives, thankfully. For instance, SinkSuds Travel Laundry Detergent, available on Amazon, promises to clean your clothes as any other laundry detergent would…but without a washing machine.
It sounds too good to be true, but it’s a real thing—SinkSuds doesn’t require a washing machine, just your clothes, water, and a sink or a bathtub. You can literally do your laundry from your hotel room if you want to, no frantic searching for a laundromat on Google Maps required.
They’re made to be used while traveling, so they come in small packets that are carry-on friendly. In the Amazon reviews section, customers rave about how easily totable SinkSuds are, with many saying that the packets take up little space in their bags.
Once you’re at your destination and actually want to use the product, it couldn’t be more simple: Just fill your sink or bathtub with some water, make sure the drain stopper is on, and empty a packet of SinkSuds into the water. Put your clothes into the sink (most customers say that eight items of clothing per packet is a good rule of thumb), and then twist around the clothes in the water a bit. After that, let everything sit for about 10 minutes, then rinse your clothes well. That’s seriously all.
To buy: $8, amazon.com
The detergent is gentle, as well, so you can use it on delicate items of clothing as well as your other, tougher items. Although doing laundry is never a particularly exciting thing, it can at least be a little easier while you’re on vacation.
This Story Originally Appeared On Real Simple
Travel is full of major decisions — like which country to visit, how much to spend, and when to stop waiting and finally make that all-important airfare purchase. But beyond the big picture, it’s the little things that can make a trip easier and less stressful. Following are 10 simple but clever tips to smooth the way on your next vacation.
In the rush to catch the parking lot bus, it’s easy to leave an interior light on; I’d guess that more travelers I know have had dead batteries at an airport than in any other situation.
If you return to your car to find a dead battery, broken windows due to thievery or any other potential problem, you’ll want your car to be parked nose out for easier access to the battery, or for an easier hook-up to a tow truck.
As airports expand, they need more parking spaces; those spaces are ever more frequently found in parking lots that are off-airport in every respect but name.
You’ll also find that these lots are often significantly lower-priced than other lots. As a result, they’re the best place for economy-minded travelers, especially for longer trips where you’re racking up several days’ worth of parking fees. Also, these are the last lots to fill up; if you’re flying during peak travel periods, you may have no choice but to use these distant lots.
I’ve found that buses and monorails run regularly to these lots, but I invariably need up to 20 to 30 minutes more than I might in less remote parking lots. If you’re looking to save money, or are traveling over a major holiday weekend, leave extra time to get from the lot to the terminal.
Recent stats indicate that, on average, at least one bag on every flight is lost or delayed. If there’s anything you can’t live without, pack it in your carry-on. This is especially true of items that are not easily or inexpensively replaced, such as running shoes or a lightweight raincoat.
And you’ll get through airport security faster if you pack your carry-on more efficiently. For example, have your quart-size plastic bag with liquids and gels packed in an outside pouch or right near the top of your bag so that you can easily pull it out for screening. See Packing Tips and What Not to Pack for more ideas.
If a) your baggage is lost or delayed; b) you miss your connection and will be late checking in; or c) you are going to a destination you’ve never visited before, you’ll want to have complete contact information for your hotel on your person. Before you leave home, print out the hotel’s name, address and phone number, and program the latter into your cell phone. It’s also a good idea to print out a map of the hotel’s neighborhood, whether for your own use or to show to a confused cab driver.
Exchanging foreign currency after you’ve returned home is a hassle, especially since almost no one spends any time in an actual bank these days. Why else do so many travelers have so much funny money lying around?
If you travel abroad with any frequency, and have any stray foreign currency laying around, take it with you the next time you cross international borders. Then, when you get some local currency, you can exchange the money from any other country at the same time.
Do you usually toss your boarding pass as soon as you step off the plane? You might want to reconsider. Your boarding pass can serve as proof of travel if your airline fails to give you the proper credit for frequent flier miles; this type of problem is particularly common if you’re flying on a codeshare partner of the airline in question. Your boarding pass can also be useful as a receipt for tax purposes, particularly if you’re self-employed.
Skycap upside: You check-in at the curb, lose the bulky luggage and head straight to your gate.
Skycap downside: They don’t give you a seat assignment, and they cost a few bucks. (Don’t forget to tip; skycaps often aren’t paid a full wage and depend on tips to make their living.)
So when is it best to use the skycaps, and when can you skip them?
First off, if you’re running late, the skycaps could get you onto a plane you’d miss otherwise. If it’s really tight, there’s no guarantee that your bags will make it onto the plane, but I’ve seen some skycaps work near-miracles in this department.
I do it this way: I walk inside the terminal and take a look at both the length of the line for check-in, and the clock. If the line isn’t too long, and I have enough time, I head for the check-in; I get your seat assignments, can make any special requests, get credit for frequent flier miles, and can best address any problems with the flight such as delays or cancellations.
If the line is long and time is tight, I walk back out to the skycaps, tip them well and sprint for the gate. As I mention above, your bags may not move as quickly as you do, but the skycaps will make the effort.
One other scenario: you have plenty of time, but know that your flight is nearly full, and the line is long. Every minute you spend in line is another minute that the window and aisle seats are given away. If you check in with the skycap, then sprint to the gate for your seat assignment, you’ll often find that the line at the gate is much shorter than at check-in, and you’ll actually get your seat assignment more quickly.
As I mention above, every minute you pass without a seat assignment is another minute that your aisle or window seat is given to someone else. Your best bet is to check in online, which can typically be done up to 24 hours before your flight. But note that not all flights, airlines or classes of travel permit advance check-in (or seating assignments).
The days of flower-pattern steamer trunks are long gone; now we all buy our bags at the same stores from the same manufacturers.
The result: an endless stream of nearly identical bags on the baggage carousel. The solution: mark your bags by tying a colorful ribbon, stitching a unique patch or putting a large sticker on your bags. You won’t see other passengers pulling your bags off the carousel to check for their tiny name tags, and you’ll be able to see your suitcases come out the door from miles away.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but knowing your flight number can make your life easier in small or foreign airports that do not list the full names of destination airports, or list by flight number alone.
Airfare, hotel accommodations, and rental cars may be the holy trinity of travel preparation, but nailing down these aspects of your vacation is only the beginning of the trip planning process. If you want to achieve a smooth, headache-free trip (and who doesn’t?), taking care of essential tasks like researching activities at your destination, managing your finances, and getting your home in order is key. Don’t leave home without accomplishing the following 10 tasks!
Once you have a travel date, your first move should be to contact your pet kennel or house sitter (or any other trustworthy service) to guarantee availability. You may even want to take care of this before booking; as reader E.B. Hughes writes, “I have had to pay change fees twice since we got our dog just because the local kennel was full for one night of my trip.”
Once your travel is booked, you should look into placing “stop” orders on any regularly occurring deliveries or services. These may include postal mail, newspapers, housecleaners and the like. If you want particular services to continue (such as landscaping), consider paying in advance if this is not your usual arrangement.
Many service providers allow you to place stop orders online; this is particularly the case for mail delivery and most newspapers. As many stop orders require one or two business days’ advance notice, make sure you take care of this at least three days before you travel.
If you’re traveling domestically, be sure to hit your own bank before leaving for your trip; that way you won’t arrive short on cash and have to immediately search for an ATM. Further, you will save on ATM fees at machines run by someone other than your own bank. Go to your bank’s website and map out any available ATM locations near your destination so you are not forced to use other banks’ machines.
If you’re traveling overseas, the most economical option is to visit an ATM as soon as you arrive in your destination and make a withdrawal in the local currency. Check the website of the airport where you’ll be arriving to make sure it has an ATM you can use. Most international airports have several, but if you’re flying to a smaller airport in a developing country, there’s no guarantee that there will be one (or that it will be working properly). In these cases, you may want to purchase some local currency ahead of time. For more details, see ATMs Abroad.
Call your bank or credit card company and let them know about your travel plans. Most banks and credit card companies keep track of spending patterns and may interpret an unexpected overseas purchase as credit card fraud. Your account could be locked if you use your card in another country without notifying your bank.
The first day of your trip is often lost to logistics and unfamiliar surroundings. First you have to haul yourself and your stuff to a resting place. Then you have to figure out exactly where you are, which attractions are nearby and how best to use your limited time. Planning ahead will help you make the most of that first confusing day.
You may want to sketch out a walk near your digs, which can help you get oriented as well as shake off travel fatigue and jet lag. Also, check out any nearby amenities — like a rooftop lounge nearby, a balcony with a choice view or a heated pool for maximum chill-out at the end of a harried travel day.
Reader Alan G. wrote in with the following recommendation: “Plan your LAST day (as well as your first)! Keep safely in a packet marked ‘GOING HOME’ your house keys, car keys, cash for taxi or tolls, phone chip and documents you’ll need when you arrive happy but exhausted at your home town airport. Unpacking your luggage at the arrivals area is no fun.”
There is one modern item that has become an essential packing item: the cell phone earpiece or any other Bluetooth device that allows you to keep both hands on the wheel (and without a phone wedged between your neck and your shoulder). Local laws governing cell phone use while driving vary considerably, sometimes from one municipality to the next. Pack your hands-free device in your carry-on bag and you will not find yourself on the side of the road with a red siren whirling in your rearview mirror.
The weather is the single factor most likely to affect your trip positively or negatively, and one of the things many people most take for granted. Of course it is going to be warm in Spain during the spring — right? But there are always exceptions to prevailing weather patterns, especially during transitional seasons. A weather forecast can guide your packing strategy, and failure to check the weather can result in unprepared, unhappy and very soggy travelers.
You never know where you will find the “best of” in any given endeavor; for example, one of the best guitar stores in the world can be found in Carlsbad, CA. Who knew? Melbourne, Australia, is renowned for its rich coffee culture, and Udaipur offers cycling enthusiasts spectacular paths for exploring rural India. Do a little research on your favorite hobbies, and you might be pleasantly surprised by what you find at your destination.
On a trip to Seattle a few years ago, a quick web search on public transit produced two very worthwhile pieces of information: 1) the public monorail system was not working, and 2) the downtown bus system was free for the entire length of downtown. Not surprisingly for Seattle, it rained all weekend, and those buses proved very useful in making short trips of a few blocks, for which you would not want to drive, but neither did you want to slog through in the rain. (Editor’s Note: Unfortunately, Seattle’s downtown buses are no longer free.)
A bit of research online before you leave will also allow you to check fares, print transit maps and plan your itinerary.
Most cities and even medium-sized towns have some kind of weekly entertainment rag such as Time Out, which covers dozens of destinations around the globe.
These are excellent sources for entertainment listings, reviews, city “best-of” lists and more. It is best to check these from home, as you can then purchase advance tickets where necessary, make restaurant reservations, etc. Another good source is the local tourist board; its website will often have an events calendar where you can check out what’s going on during your trip.
Bonus tip: This one applies to airlines and hotels, so I won’t count it against the 10 tips: The most important thing you can program into your cell phone is the phone number of your airline; the second-most important is the direct phone number of your hotel. Do it now!
Packing mishaps range from inconvenient (heading to the Caribbean without a swimsuit) to disastrous (discovering you left the country without your wallet), but most are preventable. We’ve created this ultimate packing list to help you pack well every time.
To see the ultimate packing list, scroll down the page or click here for a PDF version—now editable—that you can save or print out. To customize the list, simply download or print it, then edit for your specific needs. You can even use the packing list to help you decide what to separate into a carry-on.
When packing for a vacation the most important things to keep in mind are the length of your trip, the weather, and any non-standard clothing or gear you might need.
Your first step when packing is to decide if you’ll be checking a bag or only taking a carry-on and then curate the amount of clothing you’ll need based on that decision. Typically, you should avoid checking a bag in situations where you have a layover since the likelihood of your bag going missing goes up with every connection. You might also want to avoid checking a bag if you absolutely need items in your bag on arrival—for example, if you’re going on a cruise.
If you’re packing more minimally, focus on packing layering clothes in more neutral colors. That’s not because we don’t like fun colors and patterns; it just means that neutral-colored clothing is more versatile, so you can wear these items more than once when you’re tight on space.
Also invest in clothing that does double duty, like multi-use wraps, crushable hats, self-cooling and heating fabrics like merino wool layers, bug-repellent clothing, wrinkle-resistant shirts, quick-drying activewear and undergarments, casual sneakers, UPF-proof clothing, and compressible jackets … just to name a few. Look toward popular athleisure brands like Lululemon, prAna, and Athleta for comfortable yet stylish travel clothing.
When curating your packing list, you should keep in mind the length of your trip and decide on quantities from there. For a shorter trip (three to five days), you can probably manage with the following: one pair of underwear and socks per day, one pair of pajamas, one to two dressier outfits, one to two activewear or athleisure outfits, one to two casual outfits, and one to two pairs of shoes. For a longer trip (over a week), you can manage with one pair of underwear and socks per day, two pairs of pajamas, three dressier outfits, three to four casual outfits, two pairs of shoes, and two activewear or athleisure outfits.
And if you’re able to do laundry on your vacation, you can probably manage with even fewer items. Just don’t forget to pack a travel laundry kit.
Also make sure to bring along accessories like a money belt, scarf or sarong (can be used for things like an airplane blanket, coverup at the beach, or to throw over your dress on a cool evening), and a collapsible tote or day bag for any extra items you might acquire on your travels. If traveling to a city or destination that is prone to pickpocketing, make sure to pack some pickpocket-proof clothing and gear.
Depending on the type of trip you’re going on, you may need to invest in some special travel gear. We’ve tested out everything from a headlamp to interchangeable heels, so you can trust our recommendations. If you’re headed out on an organized group tour, you’ll most likely get a packing list from the tour provider, which should make your trip planning easier. If not, do your research online (one tip is to look at locations on Instagram and see what people are wearing) and consult this story for other handy lists of tips.
For more active trips, make sure you have a sturdy pair of hiking boots, quick-drying clothing, a day pack, snacks, and any necessary equipment. Check out our specific packing lists for hiking trips and camping trips.
Another type of trip that you may need to pack slightly specific items for is a cruise. Make sure you pack non-standard items like seasickness remedies, formal wear, dress shoes, and your bathing suit. Beach vacations also require different items like water shoes, towels, sunscreen, and maybe even snorkel gear. Luckily for you, we also have a specific cruise packing list and a beach vacation packing list.
Lastly, you need to consider the weather. For warm-weather destinations like jungles and Caribbean islands, you can obviously skip the coats and gloves, but if you’re headed out on a ski vacation then you’ll need a whole slew of things like goggles, a neck gaiter, snow boots, and more. But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered with a specific Caribbean vacation packing list, a Mexico vacation packing list, and even a ski trip packing list.
To help keep things organized, we love using packing cubes and/or compression sacks. They’re especially useful for when you’re traveling to multiple destinations in one trip.
Whether it’s important medication or your favorite lipstick, forgetting any type of toiletry can range from being mildly inconvenient to becoming a serious problem. For toiletries, make sure to pack your essentials, like medication, contacts, and any other items that you might not be able to purchase or replace during your travels. (Put them in your carry-on bag, not your checked suitcase.) However, if you forget items like a toothbrush or razor, you can typically call the front desk at the hotel for a spare.
We also recommend traveling with some type of a travel first-aid kit, which includes items like tweezers, first-aid ointment, bandages, travel-sized hand sanitizer, sunscreen, and insect repellent.
Traveling without tech items like your phone, laptop, tablet, or camera can be a major bummer. For those traveling abroad, you’ll also want to remember to pack electronic adapters and converters. Other tech-related items for photographers to pack are a sturdy camera bag, backup batteries, and memory cards, as well as lens cleaner. And don’t forget smartphone essentials like a backup charger, waterproof case if you’re headed out on the water, and a phone stand or tripod for photos.
A travel packing tip we’ve learned the hard way? Travel with a copy of your passport, credit card, and bank contacts, as well as a list of medications and your emergency contacts.
If you are traveling abroad, we have an entire checklist for you, but the most important thing to note here is your passport and visas. Make sure that your passport is up to date, has as least six months of validity, and has enough blank pages for any stamps. Another tip for international travel? Give yourself plenty of time to apply for any visas that you might need (we have a handy list of visa requirements here) and arrange for a visit to a travel clinic if any special medications or vaccines are needed.
There are also some items that you may not think to pack, but should, like an electronic tracker, duct tape, toilet paper, a decoy wallet, or a whistle.
On a recent trip to North Carolina, a staffer found herself circling LaGuardia Airport — but she wasn’t on a plane. Instead, she was driving her car with growing irritation from one airport parking lot to another, searching for an empty space to leave her vehicle while she was gone.
With no prior reservation, she came up short at both LaGuardia’s long-term lot and several off-airport locations. Finally, desperate and in danger of missing her plane, she found an attendant willing to accept a hefty bribe and landed a space at an off-airport lot.
Anyone who’s had a similar experience knows that the hassle of flying can start well before you arrive at the terminal. If you know you’ll need long-term parking — especially at busy travel times like holiday weekends and Monday mornings — then it’s best to plan ahead. How can you ensure your spot in a crowded lot? Read on for our tips.
Your closest, most convenient parking options are usually the airport’s own lots and garages. Unfortunately, you often pay more for that convenience, even when you park in the more economical long-term lots. We’ve put together a sampler of the lowest available long-term parking rates at major airports around the country. If yours isn’t listed, check your airport’s website for up-to-date parking prices.
Atlanta (ATL): $9/day
Boston (BOS): $30/day (plus up to six hours extra), $40/day (plus up to 24 hours extra), $20 for each additional day up to six days (plus $10 for up to an extra six hours on sixth day) or $120/week (seven days + $20/each additional day)
Chicago (ORD): $9/day
Los Angeles (LAX): $12/day
Miami (MIA): $17/day
Newark (EWR): $18/day for first day, $6 for each eight-hour period thereafter
New York (JFK): $18/day for first day, $6 for each eight-hour period thereafter
New York (LGA): $39/day for first 48 hours, $6 for each eight-hour period thereafter
Philadelphia (PHL): $11/day
Portland, OR (PDX): $10/day
San Francisco (SFO): $18/day
Seattle-Tacoma (SEA): $28/day or $130/week (five to seven days)
And these are “economy” lots! Shorter-term parking at the airport can cost you well over $30 to $50 a day and are a rather exorbitant option for trips longer than a couple of days.
Unfortunately, in high travel seasons the economy lots fill up quickly, and most airports won’t let you reserve a space there ahead of time. Some airport websites do let you check the current status of their parking lots before you leave for your flight — so if the lot you want is nearly full, you’ll have time to consider public transportation or call a few off-site lots.
If you’re willing to travel a bit farther from your car to the terminal, you can often save money by parking at an off-airport lot. Run by private companies, many of these lots offer perks like valet parking, car washes and even oil changes (extra fees may apply). Even when their rates are higher than those at the airport, one major advantage of the off-site lots is that you can reserve your space ahead of time — a good idea during peak travel times.
Private lots may be farther from the airport, but they often offer a more pleasant experience than lugging your bags across an enormous economy lot and crowding into a shuttle bus to get to your terminal. Frequent flier Andrew Bartels, who regularly travels out of Newark for business, has used both the airport’s economy lot and private off-site parking — and got far better service at the latter on his last trip.
“The experience was great,” said Bartels. “You pull in, leave your keys in the ignition, someone grabs your bags out of the car and puts them on a small shuttle. They give you a ticket and off you go to the airport, normally within five minutes. When you come back home, you call an 800 number and they send a shuttle for you. When you arrive, your car is running with the heat on. You pay via credit card and you are on your way.”
You can find lots near your airport with a simple Internet search or a flip through your local phone book. One useful site is LongTermParking.com, which offers coupons from its affiliate parking lots around the country. Typical offers include free nights and discounted rates. In a test of several airport locations, the coupons provided by this site yielded lower total prices than those at the airport’s own lots.
AirportParkingReservations.com lists independent airport parking lots around the U.S. and Canada (including user reviews and ratings), and is offering a special discount for IndependentTraveler.com readers. When you make a booking on the site, enter coupon code INDTRAVEL to get $5 off your reservation.
Airparks.co.uk is a good source for parking in the U.K. and Ireland.
Many travelers stay at airport hotels the night before a trip, usually to avoid getting up at 4 a.m. for an early flight. While that hotel stay is typically thought of as an extra expense, it doesn’t need to be — particularly if you’re going on a long trip and the hotel offers parking while you’re gone. In fact, staying at a hotel could even save you money.
We tested a few different cities on the most popular site for hotel parking packages, ParkSleepFly.com. In Chicago, the lowest hotel rate we found near O’Hare was $89.00 a night at the Quality Inn O’Hare with up to seven days of parking. Say we spent one night at the hotel and then traveled for a week; since seven days of parking at the airport alone would cost $63, combining the two meant we were essentially paying only $26 (plus tax) for that hotel room — not a bad deal.
We did even better in Seattle, where a one-night stay at the Knights Inn Sea Tac Airport started at $99.99 plus taxes (total $123.88) with up to seven days of parking. The weekly parking rate at Seattle is $130, so staying in a hotel the night before would actually save you about $6.
With airports busier than ever, airline staffing reductions creating longer lines at check-in, and airport security wait times that can be entirely unpredictable, the old airport “two-hour” rule often leaves just minutes to spare to buy a magazine, grab a snack, or hustle your kids into the bathroom. But there are still ways to get through the airport faster.
Saving a few extra minutes here and there along the way can add up in your favor; here are 16 airport tips to get you from your front door to your seat on the plane as quickly and painlessly as possible—as well as some ideas to keep you moving no matter what is going on with your flight.
Take these actions well in advance of your trip.
The TSA’s PreCheck program has spread to numerous cities across the U.S. and is now available at more than 200 airports. Members of the program are prescreened and can whiz through security without having to take off their shoes or remove laptops from cases.
The U.S. Customs Department’s Global Entry program is another shortcut for frequent international travelers, especially as the federal government immigration and customs lines get longer. It entitles you to skip long customs lines when returning from overseas and includes PreCheck membership.
Personally, I have found that buying more stuff is not always the best solution to travel problems, as one of the most serious travel problems for many people is having too much stuff in the first place. But there are a few items that are useful enough away from the airport to justify buying mostly for the airport, including slip-on shoes, reusable TSA-approved toiletry bags, and TSA-friendly laptop cases to help speed you through security.
Once your flight is within 24 hours, these are the most important steps to take.
This tip is almost so obvious that I shouldn’t even include it, but I find that even in my own travels, I often fail to do this one simple but critical thing. Then this summer, I almost got burned. A very early morning flight for my son and me was canceled; luckily, I have a TripIt account and found out about the cancellation before anyone else in the house was even awake.
Had that not been the case, I am certain that in the rush to leave before dawn, I would not have checked flight status, and would have gotten a ride to the airport with all our stuff, waved goodbye, headed into the terminal, stood in line, and only then discovered the cancellation. So—check flight status early and often.
Most airlines will text you flight status updates if you sign up on their websites.
Especially if you are not checking bags, this can save you a heap of time. I have found that when checking bags, having a preprinted boarding pass in your hand doesn’t help all that much, and check-in agents often end up reissuing another boarding pass when you check your bags—but it sure doesn’t hurt. Plus, it’s the best way to secure the seat you want aboard the plane. Learn more about online check-in.
Before you leave for the airport, put your ID, credit card, and boarding pass in an easily accessible part of your wallet or bag. There are two reasons for this: First, by going through this exercise, you make sure that you don’t leave home without these crucial items. Second, you don’t waste your (and other people’s) time fumbling around for them at the moment you need them.
Clutter is the enemy of smooth passage through the airport; pack out of reach and sight anything that you will not need between your front door and your airplane seat.
Knowing ahead of time where to park, which lots are open, and how far they are from the terminal can save you a lot of anxiety on your drive in, as well as keep you safer as you navigate torturous and almost always poorly marked airport ring roads. During peak travel periods, lots fill up quickly, so you will want an alternate parking plan.
Many airports are adding parking lot status updates to their websites, while others have automated telephone information. As a side benefit, parking prices are usually displayed, so you can save money as well. At the very least, check the maps so you know where you are going; these also typically show the location of cell phone waiting lots, which can be useful to folks picking you up.
Off-airport lots are also worth considering, both for the ability to reserve a spot in advance and for price savings in many cases.
Check the airport maps, hotel shuttle info, and rental car counter details for your destination airport. Check to see if the airport has an app that puts all this information at your fingertips. Flight status updates frequently include the likely arrival gate, so checking the maps at your destination airport can help you get through the baggage pickup, find the rental car counters or shuttle pickup locations, and find rendezvous spots for shuttles to your airport as available. If someone is picking you up, you can also pre-arrange a pickup location so he or
she can find you without too much hassle.
Once you arrive at the airport, use these time-saving techniques.
Haven’t already checked in online? Before you get in line to check in, or at least before you get to the front of the line, have in hand all the items and documentation you will need to show the agent. This makes everyone happy—you, airline agents, and the people behind you in line who appreciate your efficiency.
Many airports are installing scales in front of the check-in areas; if you suspect your checked bag might be overweight, weigh it before you get in line, and do any swapping between your bags before you reach the check-in counter. This also avoids any scrutiny from the check-in agents about your carry-on bag starting to swell.
If you are concerned about baggage weight, your best bet is to weigh bags at home—buying your own luggage scale is inexpensive and will prevent surprises at the airport.
Stow everything except your ID and boarding pass in your carry-on bag. This way, when you get to the front of the security line, you are not finding stuff in random pockets, messing with your phone, dropping credit cards and keys, spilling crumpled cash all over the place, and generally ticking off everyone behind you. By the time you get in the security line, you should be as close to ready to go through the actual security machine as possible.
Take inventory of what you will need to do when you get to the front of the security line. Do a quick mental review of everything you are wearing that you will need to remove (shoes, large jewelry, watch, jacket), and what you have inside your carry-on bag that might need to be taken out (liquids, electronics larger than a cell phone). When you get to the front of the line, blast through your mental inventory and make it happen.
Unless you are really early, your actual flight time is getting close, and this is when you will start to see gate changes and more reliable departure time estimates.
With that said, though flight status boards are your first stop for directions, go directly to your gate for any breaking information. The official system updates sometimes lag behind reality, so you want to check in at your gate to make sure nothing has changed. Beyond finding out your flight status, by showing up at the gate you will get a sense of how crowded the flight is and figure out which terminal amenities (restaurants, bathrooms) are nearby.
Take these steps to prevent problems before they start.
If you get stuck due to a delayed or canceled flight, you’ll want to be proactive in figuring out your options, as airline folks are typically understaffed and under siege in these situations. If you have the phone numbers of airlines that fly your preferred route programmed into your phone, you will get a lot farther a lot faster than if you don’t.
When the previously mentioned flight with my son was canceled, TripIt notified me very early on and gave me access to a list of other flights on the route for that day, on both my original airline and other airlines. When I called my airline armed with this info, I was rebooked in minutes, and we went to the zoo for the morning. See this list of airport apps for other ideas that can help.
If you’ve ever been stuck in a long security line at the airport, TSA PreCheck—the paid program that gives passengers a fast track through security—looks like an increasingly wise investment. But before you plunk down the $85 application fee, keep in mind that there’s another expedited entry program that might be an even better deal for speeding through airport security.
Enrolling in TSA PreCheck might be wise if you’re not much of an international traveler, but for anyone leaving the country more than once a year, Customs and Border Protection’s Global Entry program is likely a better investment. For just $15 more (and a brief interview at the enrollment center TSA PreCheck already requires a visit to), Global Entry grants you all the privileges of TSA PreCheck (expedited screening, no lines or removing your shoes) plus expedited screening at Customs and Border Protection checkpoints when entering the U.S., allowing you to skip long reentry lines.
Both services are five-year memberships that require ID verification and fingerprinting for approval. Global Entry is slightly pricier at $100, but it’s likely worth it for many international travelers. Keep in mind that these programs are not available at all U.S. airports; TSA PreCheck works with more than 70 airlines at 200+ airports, while Global Entry is available at about 75 airports.
There are a few other Trusted Traveler Programs that might be worth considering, including NEXUS (expedited entries between the U.S. and Canada), SENTRI (expedited entries between the U.S. and both Canada and Mexico), and FAST (designed for truck drivers traveling between Mexico, the U.S., and Canada); you can take a questionnaire to determine the best fit for you here.
If your airport is one of the 27 that support Mobile Passport Control, you might want to consider that in lieu of Global Entry; it offers similar expedited reentry to the U.S. after international trips as Global Entry, but it works via a free app. Note that it does not include PreCheck privileges, so you’ll have to apply for those separately.
I’ve never applied for or enrolled in an expedited security program, but on a recent airport security check at Boston Logan Airport, I looked down at my digital boarding pass and noticed a TSA PreCheck badge near the top of my phone. The agent ushered me to a PreCheck line where I wasn’t required to remove my shoes or jacket, and skipped the body scanners I’ve come to expect at every journey through this airport.
“Is this right?” I kept thinking. “Do they think I’m enrolled?”
As it turns out, the TSA has been known to randomly select PreCheck passengers for expedited screening as a way to increase the program’s visibility and attract new customers. The problem I have with random PreCheck selection by the TSA is not only that it could be a security issue, but also that people have spent good money and time enrolling in a privilege that the TSA is apparently giving away. Why spend $85 and the time getting verified on a service that is at times completely free to certain passengers?
In the battle of Global Entry vs. TSA PreCheck, the $15 and broadened privileges of Global Entry are certainly the smarter investment for a five-year screening plan that will save you hours of security wait time. Plus, who wants to take off their shoes in the dirty airport?
If you don’t have a passport, however, Global Entry may not be for you. You’ll need one to apply, and if you don’t already have one then you’re probably not planning on leaving the country any time soon—that’s the only time you’d use Global Entry.
If you are interested in TSA PreCheck enrollment, consider how often you travel and which airports you use—if you rarely face much of a line at security, PreCheck is more of a novelty service than a time-saver at those airports. I’d recommend holding off until you have a need for Global Entry.
Access to both services is the only time-saving option worth spending upwards of $85 on.
That sinking feeling sets in just as you reach the front of the TSA security line. You’re not worried about having done something wrong—you just realized that you forgot socks and now nothing will stand between you and that gross, cold airport floor.
I’ve been there. I have TSA PreCheck, so in theory I shouldn’t have to take my shoes off. But on occasion, I’ve worn shoes that are too bulky to be allowed through the metal detector. Or random screening kicks in and I have to take my shoes off—only to remember that I’m not wearing socks.
So is it really that bad to go barefoot at airport security? Expert opinions vary, but after reading this quote from podiatrist Dr. Michael Nirenberg, I’m firmly in the “keeping a barrier between my feet and the floor” camp. Nirenberg says, “The risk is raised in cases of open sores or wounds, cuts, abrasions, dry, fissured skin, or poor circulation, diabetes … children are more susceptible to catching warts because their immune system is not fully developed.”
Or, if you turn to WebMD (as I always do when I want to confirm my very worst health fears), you’ll find alarming quotes, including this one from Dr. Rami Calis, DPM: “Athlete’s foot is not the only issue. … Think of all the things that fall off people’s shoes. Also, there might be small tacks or sharp pebbles that could cut you—and if you have an opening in the skin, that is asking for infection. Even a sock won’t protect your foot. If you do step on a tack, then we’re talking about [possibly] having to get a tetanus shot, and possible infections.”
The TSA, of course, disagrees. According to its blog, the TSA actually commissioned a 2003 study on this issue with the Department of Health and Human Services. The study found that as long as the floor wasn’t moist, the possibility of contracting a foot fungus while walking through barefoot was “extremely small to remote.”
Infectious disease specialist William Schaffner agrees that the risk of infection is low for most healthy travelers. In a Wall Street Journal story, he advised, “It’s in prolonged dampness that a toe fungus can get a foothold, so to speak. So unless you’re in the middle of a monsoon and the airport has flooded, you’re not going to be sloshing through a sea of water and spreading foot germs.” He tells travelers who are still worried to either wear socks or to wipe their feet with disinfecting cloths after getting through security.
I’ll feel a little bit better next time I wind up barefoot at airport security, but I’m definitely keeping my shoes and socks on whenever possible. How about you?
The best way to ease through airport security is to dress for success. Certain garments and accessories could get you flagged for extra screening, slowing down your progression through the airport.
Want to roll through the security line like a pro? Avoid wearing the following attire.
It’s best to wear slip-on shoes in the airport security line. You’ll have to take your shoes off and put them in the screening bin before walking through the metal detector, and flyers fumbling with tangled laces or strappy sandals could hold up the line. Plus, if you’re in a hurry to catch your flight, slip-on shoes will be easy to put back on and thus hasten your transit from the end of security to your gate.
Note that travelers aged 75+ or under 13 may leave their shoes on during screening.
If you set off the metal detector, you’re in for additional screening—or at least a little extra attention while other travelers stream past you. Everything from metal clothing fasteners and body piercings to keys in your pocket could cause an alarm in the security line.
If you are wearing metal body piercings that cannot be removed, you may request a private screening in lieu of a patdown. (Note: Most wedding rings get through the scanners without setting off alarms.)
If your pants fall down the moment your belt comes off, don’t wear them to the airport. You can probably imagine why. Flyers must remove belts before walking through metal detectors, so choose a belt-free outfit, or at least be prepared to remove your belt if you want to wear one.
Belts aren’t permitted through airport security because their metal clasps set off the metal detector. However, even if you are wearing a belt without a metal clasp, an agent might request that you remove it anyway. It’s standard procedure.
It’s airport screening 101: Travelers must remove coats and jackets—this includes outerwear like hooded sweatshirts, vests, and such—before going through the metal detector. It’s perfectly fine to sport a jacket in a chilly airport. Just remember to take your outerwear off and put it in a screening bin before proceeding through the checkpoint.
Offensive clothing may get you kicked off a plane, but it could also draw extra attention from TSA agents (though it’s more likely that airline staff, rather than an airport security agent, will ban you from flying due to inappropriate or offensive clothing). Stories of flyers prohibited from planes due to poor wardrobe choices abound, and, for most of them, the trouble occurred after they made it through the screening process. Still, agents may pull you aside for additional screening if they perceive a threatening or questionable message on your T-shirt. Bottom line: If you wouldn’t wear it to a family-friendly restaurant or even to church, don’t wear it for air travel.
Loose clothes aren’t prohibited. But travelers sporting baggy apparel, such as droopy pants, flowy skirts, bulky sweatshirts, or even loose garments worn for religious purposes, may be subject to a pat-down inspection if the agent thinks your clothing might be concealing prohibited items.
If you haven’t flown in a while, you may not be up on the latest airport security changes from the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Most travelers are aware that the TSA has instituted strict regulations about the amount of toothpaste, bottled water, and other liquid and gel items that travelers are permitted to bring in carry-on luggage. But what exactly are the rules? Just how much of your favorite shampoo can you bring? Are the rules different if you’re flying overseas? And what about powders?
I’ve gathered answers to these and other common airport security questions to help you figure out your packing strategy under the TSA’s carry-on rules. With air traffic soaring, it’s more important than ever to follow the guidelines—that way you won’t be the fool holding up your entire security line.
A. Yes. The liquid/gel restrictions only apply to carry-on baggage.
A. Yes, but only in limited amounts. Liquids and gels must be in individual containers of 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) or less and placed inside one clear, quart-size, plastic, zip-top bag (such as this option from Ziploc). The TSA emphasizes that containers should fit comfortably into your bag and that only one bag is permitted per passenger. If you need to bring more than 3.4 ounces of any liquid or gel substance, it should go into your checked luggage or be shipped ahead.
A. These substances are exempt from the rules above. As long as you declare them at the security checkpoint, you may carry more than 3.4 ounces, and they do not need to be placed in a plastic bag. The TSA recommends but does not require that prescription medications be in their original labeled containers to expedite the screening process. The TSA also makes exceptions for other medical necessities such as insulin, eye drops, or syringes. Just make sure to present these items to the security officer when you reach the checkpoint. (You may even want to consider printing out the TSA’s medical notification cards.)
A. Yes, refillable travel-size containers are acceptable.
A. As of June 2018, powdered items such as coffee, spices, and baby powder in excess of 12 ounces will be subject to additional screening. You may be asked to remove them if they’re judged dangerous or unidentifiable. Learn more here.
A. While keeping medications and vitamins in their original labeled containers may expedite the screening process, it’s fine to transfer them into more convenient smaller containers such as daily pill minders.
Consider slip-on shoes that can easily be removed at the checkpoint.
A. Makeup is subject to the same liquid and gel rules as all other substances—so if you’re bringing liquid mascara, lip gels (such as Blistex ointment), or other liquid- or gel-like items, they will need to be placed in your quart-size plastic bag in 3.4-ounce or smaller containers. Lipstick, solid lip balms (such as ChapStick), and other solid beauty products are not subject to the rules and may be carried in your hand luggage without restriction. Powders are subject to the rules noted above.
A. Standard stick deodorant is fine to bring on a plane in either your checked or carry-on bag. Gel or spray deodorant is subject to the liquid/gel restrictions and may not be carried on in excess of 3.4 ounces.
A. The same liquid and gel restrictions apply when you want to bring food through airport security. Even though a TSA representative once told me to “try not to over-think” the guidelines, that can be tricky when it comes to food. Does a cheesecake count as a gel or a solid? What about pecan pie? And can you bring your holiday leftovers like turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes?
A TSA rep told me that turkey and stuffing should be solid enough to pass muster, but mashed potatoes are a bit too gel-like. As for baked goods, the latest word from the TSA is that travelers can take pies, cakes, and other bakery products through security—but be prepared for additional screening.
You may bring solid snack foods such as pretzels, potato chips, or carrot sticks for the plane, but you might want to hold the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Single-serving packages of condiments are permitted as long as they fit within your single zip-top bag. All food must be securely wrapped or in a spill-proof container.
Gel packs to refrigerate food are permitted for medication, but otherwise must be completely solid when you go through the checkpoint. If your freezer pack is partially defrosted and there’s any water in your container, the TSA may confiscate the item.
My advice? If you have any doubts about a particular food, either check it or leave it at home. After all, you can always buy food or drinks after you pass through the security checkpoint if you need some munchies for the plane.
A. In most cases, yes. However, there are some airports (particularly overseas) where you may face additional screening at the gate before boarding, so you may occasionally have to give up larger bottles.
A. Children 12 and under do not need to remove shoes, light jackets, or headwear before going through the checkpoint. If the metal detector or full-body scanner finds anomalies, the screener may choose to let the child go through again and/or swab the child’s hands for explosives in lieu of a pat-down. Children age 13 and up are subject to the same screening processes as adults.
A. Yes. Seniors 75 and older can leave their shoes and light jackets on during screening (although they may have to remove them if the screener finds any anomalies).
A. Common lighters without fuel are permitted in carry-on or checked baggage, while torch lighters (which are typically used to light pipes and cigars) are prohibited in either type of baggage. E-cigarettes are only permitted in carry-on luggage, not in your checked bag.
A. Tweezers are permitted, as are electric razors, disposable razors, and their cartridges. Straight razors are only permitted in your carry-on as long as the blades are packed in your checked baggage. Scissors are allowed on a plane in your carry-on bag as long as the blades do not exceed four inches; otherwise, they should go in your checked bag. (For travel, consider small folding safety scissors such as these.)
A. Yes. However, circular thread cutters, scissors longer than four inches, and other needlepoint tools with blades must be packed in checked luggage.
A. That depends. If you’re flying within the United States, it is legal to travel with products that contain no more than 0.3 percent THC. If you’re traveling internationally, you may be better off leaving these products at home unless you’ve thoroughly researched your destination’s laws and know that what you’re bringing is legal. The TSA does not specifically screen for illegal drugs but will report them to law enforcement if found. To learn more, see Can You Travel with CBD Oil?
A. The European Union (E.U.), Australia, Japan, Singapore, New Zealand, Norway, and numerous other countries have adopted similar security restrictions to those in the U.S. You are permitted 100-milliliter containers of liquid and gel substances, packed within a clear, resealable, one-liter plastic bag.
If you’re not sure which airport security rules will apply in the country you’re visiting, contact your airline or the local tourist board for advice.
A. Duty-free liquids, such as perfume or alcohol, are permitted in excess of 3.4 ounces as long as they were purchased at a duty-free shop and placed in special tamper-evident bags. Liquids not in these bags must be stowed in your checked suitcase if you have more than 3.4 ounces. Be sure to retain your receipt for the item, as you must be able to prove that you purchased it within the previous 48 hours.
A. Passengers may bring up to 5.5 pounds of dry ice in either their carry-on or checked bag as long as it’s stored in a package that allows the venting of carbon dioxide gas. Airline approval is required. Ice in your carry-on must be in a solid state when going through the security checkpoint. That said, a DOT spokesperson recommends that travelers avoid packing dry ice in carry-on luggage, as individual TSA agents unfamiliar with the regulations may confiscate the substance.
A. Although there have been horror stories about the TSA’s treatment of flyers with disabilities and medical conditions, most security officers are discreet and professional. As soon as you approach the TSA agent, disclose your medical issue so that he or she can determine the best way to screen you and any equipment you may be carrying. The TSA does not require travelers to carry a doctor’s note describing their condition, but having this written description may help expedite the screening process. Again, consider carrying the TSA’s medication notification cards.
A. It’s best to arrive at the airport two hours before a domestic flight, especially if you’re traveling during the summer, the holidays, or another particularly busy time of year. If you’re flying internationally, you should allow yourself even more time. For more information, see How Early Should I Get to the Airport?
A. You will have to put your shoes, clear plastic bag of liquids, jacket, jewelry, cell phone, keys, and metal items into a bin for screening before you step through the metal detector or the full-body scanning machine. (If you opt out of the full-body scan, you will face an “enhanced” pat-down, which is performed by a security officer of your gender and covers all areas of the body, including the groin, buttocks, and breasts.) You might also need to remove your belt if it has any metal parts. (Consider a belt with a plastic buckle to avoid this.) Laptops, tablets, and other electronics larger than a cell phone should be removed from their cases and screened individually.
Save time by putting metal items into your carry-on before you get to the checkpoint, taking your electronic items out of their cases, and wearing easily removable footwear.
A. According to a TSA representative, you may request to be rescanned before submitting to a pat-down, but it’s up to the individual TSA officer to decide whether to grant that request, based on whether the situation meets security protocols.
A. Do not pack wrapped gifts in either your carry-on or checked baggage, as the TSA may unwrap them for inspection. Your best bet is to wrap your gifts once you arrive at your destination, or ship them ahead of time. You can also put items in gift bags that are easy for the TSA to examine.
A. Laptops, cameras, tablets, hand-held video game consoles, e-readers, and most other standard electronic devices are permitted in both checked and carry-on luggage. (It’s best to keep them in your carry-on to reduce the risk of loss or theft.) As noted above, you should be prepared to remove most of these devices from their cases at the security checkpoint. Because electronic items tend to be frequent targets for security screening, you might want to pack these near the top of your bag so that inspectors don’t need to unpack your whole suitcase to get to them.
A. Yes, but you’ll need to use a TSA-approved lock so that screeners can open it if your bag is selected for inspection. TSA screeners will simply cut off non-approved locks if they need to get into your bag. For more information, see Luggage Locks: Should I Lock My Suitcase When I Fly?
A. Yes. Consider signing up for TSA’s PreCheck program, which offers access to expedited security lines. To learn more, see TSA PreCheck: 10 Things You Need to Know. If you frequently travel internationally, consider getting Global Entry instead, which includes PreCheck membership.
A. Check TSA.gov for packing tips, a searchable list of permitted and prohibited items, and information for travelers with special needs.