Avoiding the bottlenecks can help you get to your destination quicker and with fewer headaches.
The only way you can guarantee fast air travel these days is to avoid bottlenecks. The problem is airports are all about bottlenecks. Long security lines, scant parking, long check-in lines. Taking into consideration that you'll be caught in any or all of these bottlenecks, budgeting your time appropriately can help you get to your destination, if not faster, at least with fewer headaches.
Here are a few things to remember to ensure you "fly smart."
Steer clear of peaks
The toughest bottleneck to beat is picking the best time of day to depart. Early morning and late afternoon are peak flight times. You'll find that if you can avoid the peaks, airport crowds that normally drive you nuts will have evaporated.
Make the right pick
Let's assume, though, that you can't avoid flying during peak times. In that case, the mere process of picking your airport can make all the difference.
For example, a friend of mine was flying to Richmond and wanted to depart from White Plains, N.Y., because the airport was closer to home. But it turned out that a flight from LaGuardia had fewer connections and was faster overall, even factoring in the extra drive time.
Get a spot
Once at the airport, the biggest bottleneck is parking. I fly out of Boston, so even before I leave home I check Massport.com to tell me if the main airport lot is filled. If so, I save time by going straight to a satellite parking lot. And, once at the airport, I make sure to check signage directing me to the closest unfilled lot.
Scan the screens
Check-in lines are the next bottleneck, but before I take another step into the airport, I check the screens for my flight. You always want to check your flight before you check your bag. Why? Because if you're flying to Miami, and there's another flight going there, you might choose to take a flight that has shorter lines. Once you check your bag, you lose control over your choices and have to go where your bag goes.
Some travelers avoid ticket kiosks because they're afraid of technology. Actually, if you use an ATM, you can use a kiosk. Just swipe a credit card and you're good to go. Now, you can do most seat changes right at the kiosk, complete with a view of the seat map. In fact, the only reason to not use a kiosk is if you have an oversize bag--you'll have to check it at the ticket counter--or if you are flying internationally--you'll need to show a passport. Sometimes you can change to an earlier flight using the kiosk, as well. If you are changing ticketing destination, however, you'll have to wait in a ticket line.
The passenger screening process continues to be a bottleneck. Before I get into any line, I first see which lines are moving. Don't assume that special flyer status will move you more quickly. At some airlines, the preferred passenger lines are actually slower because that's where they send the aircrews through.
Once in line, keep things simple. Weed out items that can set off a detector, like belts with big buckles, jewelry, and footwear with a metal shank. Personally, I wear easy-to-remove shoes. Beyond that, I get ready to go through security by grabbing a bin and emptying my pockets as soon as I reach checkpoint. Be prepared--shoes off, belt off, laptop out. Know the drill.
If you're like me, once you've cleared security, you may want to make a beeline to the refreshments. Because I fly a lot, I've taken to mapping in my mind where the food court is and, more important, the coffee counter. Experience may be the best teacher, but I learn better with a latte in hand.
One last piece of advice: When they announce at the gate that your flight is now boarding Rows X, Y, and Z, don't crowd the ticket agent like a cat about to pounce. Hovering delays boarding. Just sit back and wait for your row to be called -- and savor those last sips of coffee.