How to Get Through the Airport Faster

By Nora Dunn on 26 November 2013 (Updated 16 September 2014) 3 comments

Sometimes, the time and process of just getting to — and through — the airport makes flying an agonizing experience. It doesn't have to be! Use these tips to get through the airport faster and join the ranks of savvy frequent flyers.

I recently a completed a three-week, eight-country whirlwind trip through Europe. By using these tips, flying was a breeze — surprisingly so at times. (See also: Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards)

Before Check-In

Preparation is key to getting through the airport faster. Here's your checklist.

Book Friendly Connections

If you miss your connection due to a delayed initial flight, you won't be getting through any airports quickly. Give yourself the best chances of having smooth connections by allowing at least 90 minutes between international flights. In cases of smaller airports or easy domestic flights, you can get away with 60 minutes. (See also: What to Do When Your Flight is Delayed)

Check In Online

You can usually check in online up to 24 hours before the flight; check in as early as possible for the best choice of seats (see below). Don't worry about printing your boarding pass if you don't have easy access to a printer; you can pick up your boarding pass at the airport, and in some cases a bar code on your smartphone will suffice.

Pick Your Seat Wisely

Checking in online usually allows you to choose or change your seat. Keep SeatGuru open on another tab, so you can look at their seating plans for your flight showing the best and worst seats. (See also: Everything You Need to Know About Frequent Flyer Miles)

In choosing your seat, the closer to the front of the plane you can sit, the faster you'll get through the airport on the other side. This is paramount!

Go With Carry-On Only

This is another crucial element to getting through the airport quickly. You'll contend with having to lug around your bags after check-in, but you save time having to line up to check your bag, and more time yet when you cruise out of the airport on the other side while people are still waiting for their checked bags. (See also: 7 Tips for Single Bag Travel)

Traveling with carry-on only isn't that difficult. I can easily travel with this carry-on packing list for up to (and beyond) three months at a time in varying climates.

For Checked Bags: Pack Your Liquids

If you must check a bag, then put all your liquids and toiletries in the checked bag. Not having liquids in your carry-ons increases your chances of getting through security quicker. (See also: 5 Ways to Minimize Baggage Fees)

For Carry-On: Bag Liquids and Keep Ready

It's always best to seal liquids in a bag to prevent "shampoo disasters" on arrival. With carry-on luggage, seal your liquids in a quart-sized or liter-sized bag, and leave it at the top of your case. (You'll see why when clearing security).

Wear the Right Shoes

Easily removable shoes make the security process much smoother. They also give you more freedom to get comfortable on long flights.

Skip the Belt, Keep Pockets Empty

These are just more things to remove and replace while shuffling your belongings on and off conveyor belts at security. Save yourself the hassle.

Bring a Pen

You just never know when you need a pen. For international travel, you'll need one to fill out departure/arrival cards and other miscellaneous tasks; don't get stuck waiting to borrow somebody else's pen.

When You Arrive at the Airport

Depending on where in the world I am, I tend to arrive at the airport about 90 minutes in advance of the flight (for easy domestic flights I might reduce that to 60 minutes). Although this may be longer than necessary to get in and out as quickly as possible, it allows time for things to go wrong — as they often can — with unpredictable problems or delays.

Keep Your Passport Handy

Dorky as it may sound, I keep my passport and boarding pass in a small pouch hanging around my neck from the time I check in until I've cleared customs and immigration at my destination. It's always close at hand, in one place, and it's easily accessible to flash or reference my passport and boarding pass — as is required a few times throughout the process.

Head for the Kiosk

Print out your boarding pass at a self-service kiosk to avoid the check-in line. This is especially handy if you're traveling with carry-on bags only.

Check-In Line Options

If you're checking luggage: Print out your boarding pass at the kiosk, and head for the baggage drop-off line, which is usually shorter and moves quicker.

If you must line up for whatever reason: Hopefully you're a frequent flyer mile superstar and you're flying in business class or with membership privileges, so you can use the special reserved lines. If not, allow extra time for this process.

Go Straight for Security

Don't dally between checking in and clearing security. If there's a delay or problem (which hopefully there won't be if you follow the tips below), you want to allow time for it without missing your flight.

Getting Through Security

If you've used this checklist thus far, your security line experience should be a relative breeze. Make it even quicker with these tricks.

Get Behind Business Travelers

Business travelers are usually frequent flyers who know how to not only choose fast lines, but how to move through them quickly: win win.

Look for Lone Agents

According to Lifehacker, if there are two agents standing at the x-ray monitor, one is usually a trainee, which means the line will move slower. Lone agents manning the monitors will usually keep the process moving.

Have Everything Ready

Pack all electronics (laptops, e-readers, etc), so they can be taken out and put in the security trays. The same applies to your liquids (the ones you made easily accessible while packing, as per above). Scarves, jackets, belts, pocket contents, and often shoes need to come off. (Hint: Put anything that would go in your pockets into your jacket to limit the number of things you need to manage). While waiting in the security lineup, I usually start this process by pulling out my laptop and liquids so I can just chuck everything in the trays.

On Landing

If you've applied the tips above, you'll be (close to) first off the plane, with your passport at the ready and forms filled to clear customs and immigration quickly. And if you're traveling with carry-on bags only, you'll be cruising out of the airport in no time flat!

Here are some additional tips to keep your momentum up.

Know Where You're Going

Hopefully you have accommodations booked and some sense of how to get there. Even if you're planning on heading into town to sniff out a place to stay, research the airport online, so you know the best way to get to wherever you're going. Getting stuck in lineups for information or to book tickets will delay your airport departure.

Pre-Book Transportation

If you're renting a car, march up to the rental desk with the confirmation number from your earlier online reservation. You can often book bus and train tickets online as well; other times you can use kiosks in the airport to buy tickets quickly.

What is your best tip for getting through the airport faster?

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Guest's picture

Great tips. There is nothing more frustrating than waiting in lines at the airport when you could have checked in online. Doing as much as you can before getting to the airport is the key to getting through the airport faster.

Guest's picture

I hate the airport so I try to get through it as quickly as possible. Having a plan and getting everything ready ahead of time is key to a good experience. Thanks for all the great tips!

Guest's picture
joy

Mobile boarding passes! It just comes up on your screen and scans from the phone itself at security and at the gate.