No one likes to wait in airports. Whether you're traveling for business or pleasure—or somewhere in between—you're going to want to travel efficiently. December can be the busiest time of year to travel, so to make your trip go as fast as possible, you'll need to have a few tricks up your sleeve.
Before you head to the airport, equip yourself with the best travel apps, like TripIt, to manage your trip. Set an RSS feed on your smartphone that will give you weather updates, as well as any alerts from your airline. And before you head to the airport, read these five tips from travel consultants who make their living on getting their clients through airports quickly, as well as saving them from the stress of holiday travel.
1. Be Smart About Checking In
"Rule No. 1: Don't check luggage," says Roy Ramsey, director of operations of Betty Maclean Travel based in Naples, Florida, which services the luxury travel market.
Checking luggage is bad for two reasons, according to Ramsey. First, a lot of the airlines now charge for a bag, let alone two. "Second, you're delayed leaving the airport [because you have to wait for your bag at baggage claim], and it can get really busy with a lot of other bags, and that delay can be quite long."
Also, don't make the mistake of trying to bring your holiday present with you on the plane. You may have to unwrap them for security, which wastes time and money. Better to ship all your gifts and presents by UPS than try to bring them on board, says Ramsey. You'll be sorry if you do.
And, if you must travel with a bag that needs to be checked, take Ramsey's advice. "If you're staying at a hotel, they have shampoo, conditioner, and hand creams," he says. "Plus, there are laundries all over the world. Minimize the amount of things you bring with you."
If you must check bags, says David Ourisman, an independent travel consultant based in San Francisco, California, check in online from home. It's easy, too, he says. "Say how many bags you're going to check and just drop it off at the kiosk after printing the labels," he explains. "If you're checking bags and the lines inside are especially long, check your bags with the skycap out front."
By doing so, you avoid the line at the kiosks. Most airlines allow you to print the boarding pass generally 24 hours in advance of your flight. Checking in online is just another way to skip a step before encountering airport security.
2. Organization Will Save You Time
If you've seen Up in the Air, you know how the road warriors do it. It's all about organization and careful calculation.
"When you get to the security line, be organized," says Ourisman. "Wristwatch, wallet, cell phone—stick it in your carry-on. Put any toiletries into a bag next to your laptop so you're not bumbling for stuff."
All you're trying to do in the process of getting through an airport fast is minimize the risk of the unexpected. That means you should be aware of all airport policies and regulations before you head to the airport.
"Make sure if you're doing a carry-on, you go to the website of your airline to make sure everything is compliant with security (regulations)," says Leslie Erickson, a travel consultant based in the Atlanta metro area, who focuses on international european travel. "You do not want to be screened out; that will take a while."
3. Book the Premium Tickets
Perks matter. Ellen Craig, a software consultant based in San Francisco, recently booked a trip to London. For business? No. For pleasure? Sort of. She did it to retain her elite status.
"I don't have a meeting in London, I'm just going to get my miles so I can get over that 50,000 miles for 2010," she says. "The perks are amazing. Get your premier or elite status because it just makes the entire airport process immensely more pleasurable—or less painful," she says.
If you book tickets in the premium cabin, says Ourisman, you get dedicated check-in and security lines. "It could save a lot of time by being in a line of five people instead of a line that stretches down the length of the terminal," he says.
Ramsey agrees. "If you're in business class, when they make the boarding announcement, the first and business go on a different line, and that means there's more room for your carry-on luggage." Often, the bins fill up quickly, and then you're stuck and have to check your carry-on. If you need to get off the plane really fast, it pays to have the luggage right above you. "It's worth the money," Ramsey says. "Trust me."
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4. An Airport is Not a Fashion Runway
"Haven't you ever stood in line behind a woman trying to get her $600 Ferragamo boots off?" says Ramsey. "Trying to be stylish on an aircraft this time of year is a serious mistake."
Ourisman agrees. He doesn't even wear his belt to the airport. He just packs it in his bag.
"Take off any type of jewelry," advises Erickson. Also, if women are wearing an underwire in their bra, it could set off the metal detector. "You will be searched," she says. "Who would think a little piece of wire in an undergarment could set off the detector?"
Most of all, wear the right footwear, says Craig. "You want shoes that you can flip off easily. Where you're getting your bucket out at the security line, there's this sense that everyone is getting stressed out," she says. "Don't go barefoot either, [wear socks]," she warns.
5. Travel When It's Quiet
"Here's my philosophy," Ramsey says. "You never fly on Friday afternoon from one of the major metropolitan airports." That's when all the road warriors are trying to get home for the weekend, he explains. They also have probably maxed out their mileage and upgraded their tickets to business and first class, which dimishes your chances for doing the same.
Also, he notes, Friday afternoon and evening seem to be the worst time to fly, especially to the south and warm weather states. "You'll have to share space with children who already have their Mickey Mouse hats on."
In Erickson's experience, Sunday evenings are one of the better times to fly. Monday and Tuesday during the day. "Anything besides Friday," she says.