Do you know people that refuse to travel because of the perceived and real challenges of navigating the airports? This is especially true for travel to foreign countries where multiple connections may result in missed flights, long layovers, terminal changes, extra screenings, and all manner of stressful situations. Having travelled to over 30 countries in several continents I have a few suggestions to make this part of your journey more enjoyable.
1) Know the Layout of the Airport Before you Land
As with most things in life, pre-planning always helps. One of the most common reasons for a missed connection is not knowing the layout of the airport and the quickest way to get between gates and terminals. Here is a one stop website for looking at the majority of airports -- http://www.airportterminalmaps.com/. In addition, make sure you have enough time between connections. Many airlines will book close connections of one hour or less if the gates are in close proximity. Sometimes gates change and you may not have enough time to connect. I always advise checking the gate assignments prior to check in so you can address any connection issues prior to boarding and get the situation remedied. This can save you long lines and frustration at your connection destination.
2) Call Airlines Directly Rather than Wait in Lines
If you miss a connection and find yourself in what seems like a never-ending que, there are a few ways to avoid the lines. If you are on a frequent flyer ticket call the customer service number for the airline and 9 out of 10 times they can rebook your flight without having to stand in the long line. I have even experienced getting overnight accommodations for missed flights due to weather because I was booked on a frequent flyer ticket through a loyalty program. Also consider applying for a premium credit card that offers lounge access and free drinks and snacks that make for a more relaxing wait. These cards come with hefty fees, but they are often offset with freebies such as $15 a month Uber Credit on American Express Platinum as well $200 airline credit and $100 towards TSA pre-check and of course the lounge access.
3) Get Priority Check-In
One of the most stressful areas of the airport is security so consider taking the steps to get priority check-in. These steps include registering for TSA pre-check, flying premium class, and having elite status with an airline. A new innovation is CLEAR and is the leading biometric identification process. Currently CLEAR is available at 13 airports that include Austin, Baltimore, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Las Vegas, Miami, Orlando, San Antonio, San Francisco, San Jose and Westchester County. Membership in the service is $179 annually and each family member is $50 extra. Dress for easy screening, a big pocket in your jacket or travel vest is great for stuffing your passport and phone. Wear slipper style shoes that are easy to get on and off. You can also monitor wait times at the airport with an App such as GateGuru that will keep you updated on real-time estimated security waits.
4) Download a Translation App
If flying into or through international airports where language can be an issue, download a translation app. Once while flying out of Rio de Janeiro, we somehow bypassed check-in and found ourselves through security with large suitcases that would not be considered carryon. It was late and very few people around and no one that spoke English. Finally, I downloaded a Portuguese translation app and found a vendor that directed us to the airline lounge that helped get our luggage checked in.
5) Find the Best Connections through Helpful Websites
Utilize google trips and Skyscanner apps to help plan your trips. These apps will let you do broad searches to get the best deal with the least connections. For instance flying to Brazil can be very challenging depending on where you live as direct flights to Rio are limited to four cities – Atlanta, New York, Houston and Miami. By using Skyscanner, you can enter United States and it will show you all the cities that offer direct flights as well as the prices for each city and the dates that offer the best deals.
6) Travel Light and Know Baggage Restrictions
Travel light and know the carryon size requirements for the airlines you are flying. Nothing is more exhausting than lugging heavy luggage through an unfamiliar airport. My husband and I have decided it is easier to utilize one large suitcase and each have a four-wheel carryon. Samsonite makes a fabulous 17” spinner that accommodates everything you would need for a day or two in case the large suitcase is lost.
7) Be Flexible, Be Friendly!
Finally, be flexible and be friendly to all the airport staff – this goes a long way in getting extra help when problems arise. In fact, this method sometimes gets you more than you expect. We were once bumped off a flight from Hawaii to San Francisco and then offered a new flight the next day, frequent flyer points and a stay with transportation in a 4 star beach hotel for the extra night plus vouchers for meals. Many International flights on each airlines have only one flight a day and you may find yourself spending a night in the connecting city. There is not much you can do, but make the most of the situation and not let it put a shadow over your trip. Always ask for overnight accommodations even if weather related.
With a little pre-planning, TSA pre-check, the right luggage and a little knowledge about the airports you are flying into, you can eliminate some of the stresses that take away the fun of travel. Bon Voyage!