“A journey is like marriage,” John Steinbeck wrote in Travels with Charley: In Search of America. “The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.” Steinbeck’s book focused on a road trip with his dog, but he could easily have been referring to air travel, which is packed with factors outside your control, from the weather to other travelers and more, that too often turn short jaunts into lengthy waits. Nevertheless, there are a few tricks of the air-travel trade that can help you save time in airports:
- Get flight updates beforehand. Check your flight’s status before heading to the airport, either through text updates from the airline or via the carrier’s website. If your flight is delayed, adjust your departure from home accordingly.
- Watch the weather. Weather delays rarely come as a surprise anymore. Before leaving home, visit the Weather Channel, Accuweather.com, or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA, a.k.a. the government weather site) to see what’s predicted for your departure and arrival cities. Monitor local radar to gauge the impact of weather warnings in the forecast.
- Research your plane’s incoming route. Get the tail number of your flight’s assigned plane (you can do so four hours before your departure), and check the weather along that plane’s arrival path. If the plane is facing inclement conditions, prepare for delays, or reroute your trip.
- Pack light. You’re allowed one piece of carry-on luggage of no more than 45 linear inches (the total of the height, width, and depth of the bag). If you can fit everything you need into it, you’ll avoid the time-consuming baggage-claim process once you reach your destination. Follow the 3-1-1 rule if carrying liquids, and don’t pack prohibited items.
- Check in online. Print your boarding pass at home or download it to your mobile device so you can go straight to security at the airport. Just remember to check in at the gate.
- Prepare for security. Keep your boarding pass and proper identification handy, make sure your laptop and any video cameras are readily available, and wear easily-removable shoes. If you’re traveling with children, know what to expect during screening. (If you’re a frequent flyer, you may qualify for TSA Pre-Check, which expedites the screening process for eligible travelers.)
- Behave yourself. The Transportation Security Administration has been testing a behavioral screening program to speed up the security process (although it’s raised questions). For everyone’s sake, act civilly while in line; inappropriate behavior can cause delays and further screening.
Unfortunately, even if you do everything right, there’s no guarantee that you’ll save time at the airport; there are too many elements beyond your control. One factor you can control, though, is your ability to earn 5% cash back on reservations and get rebates on travel services through Travel Plus. Whether you reach your destination in record time or dawdle at the gate, savings like that can make your trip more enjoyable. Happy trails!