How to conquer airport wait times

Ever wished you could just teleport straight to your destination? Since that technology isn’t a reality yet — if you’re reading this Elon Musk, get cracking — these are real-life tips and tools that will help you conquer those tedious airport wait times.

Don't waste precious time waiting at the airport. Image credit: kupicoo/iStock
Don’t waste precious time waiting at the airport. Image credit: kupicoo/iStock

Getting on a flight is one of the most exciting experiences you can have, and yet the process can feel so tedious and lengthy. In 2016, the average time spent in the airport from arrival to boarding the plane was a whopping 133 minutes. Here’s how to tackle airport wait times head-on so you can get to your destination quicker, minimize time spent in airport lines, and truly enjoy your trip.

Know before you go: Have airport wait times at your fingertips

The first step to conquering airport wait times is to know what exactly you’re getting yourself into. Many major airports actually list estimated wait times on their websites.

If you’re traveling in the U.S., download the MyTSA app. You can use it to see the estimated wait times at airports across the country, based on a combination of crowdsourcing and historical data. The crowdsourcing element is extremely important, and it’s how the app stayed fairly accurate even during the government shutdown, which could happen again.

To add a little more backstory in case you aren’t already familiar, the U.S. government was partially shut down from December 22, 2018 until January 25, 2019, making it the longest shutdown in the country’s history. During those 35 days in between, air traffic controllers, border control, and security screeners were all working without pay, while other government employees deemed non-essential being put on leave, including Federal Aviation Administration workers who would normally conduct aircraft inspections or repairs.

What all this means for travelers are much longer lines and slower processing. Luckily, the crowdsourcing feature of the MYTSA app helped to reflect this and didn’t just rely on historical wait time trends. You can also search by item and see if there are any restrictions or processes you need to follow to bring something along, which will save you a lot of time and hassle at the security check.

However, In a recent Eye on Travel broadcast, radio host Peter Greenberg recommended taking the TSA’s recommendations with a (large) grain of salt.

“Whatever estimate they give you, you’ve got to double it. And then add another four minutes,” said Greenberg.

You can listen to the radio show here to hear Greenberg discuss how the TSA skews airport wait time numbers, the effects of the shutdown, and more with The Wall Street Journal’s Scott McCartney, USA Today’s George Hobica, and a variety of other guests.

App in the Air is another great app which provides wait time information, but you can also store and manage all your flight info, including boarding passes and expense reports. It also uses leaderboards and achievements to gamify your travel.

If you’re not bothered about all the extras, MiFlight is a no-frills app whose wait times aren’t based on what the airlines say, but the flyers. Its data is completely crowdsourced from travelers, so be sure to share how long your experience was to pay it forward to the other app users.

Don't rush through the airport, be prepared. Image credit: Ridofranz/iStock
Don’t rush through the airport, be prepared. Image credit: Ridofranz/iStock

Master the art of the arrival: Know what time to arrive at the airport

If you’ve already completed step one and checked the wait time data, you’re already ahead. Most airports recommend arriving somewhere around an hour and half to two hours for an international flight, and depending on the size of the airport, thirty minutes to an hour for a domestic one.

Of course, this is highly dependent on the capacity, traffic, and the size of the airports you’ll be traveling through, so before every trip to an unfamiliar airport, you should check its website or the information accompanying your boarding pass to see up-to-date recommendations.

If you’re a citizen of the European Union or one of the countries in the Schengen Agreement, keep in mind you will likely get through passport checks much faster in participating countries.

If you’ll be traveling through a new airport, for example, the Istanbul Airport which only just opened for business recently, add a little more buffer time. If you’ve ever launched a new business or product, you’re already familiar with how it’s usually followed by a period of ironing-out issues. As necessary as this problem-solving is, for travelers it often means more time waiting.

Hit fast-forward: Biometric ID system

We’re letting you in on a not-so-secret secret — you don’t actually have to wait in line. There are plenty of services you can use to vastly cut down in the time you spend standing in line at airports.

You know how every sci-fi movie has some kind of retina or palm-scanning door technology? The future is now, people. CLEAR is a biometric identification system, so instead of waiting for someone to check your passport, you can simply scan your fingerprints and eyes at one of their kiosks, and proceed right on through to security.

So far, CLEAR is only available at 40 locations across the U.S., but they’re setting their sights further than just airport ID checks and lounges. They also have kiosks at several major stadiums, and only time will tell what other venues will start using this technology.

Plan your escape: Book your airport transfers ahead of time

Airport wait time isn’t limited to the security and immigration lines. Even after you’ve taken all of the above into account, you still have to make your way from the airport to your destination. Waiting in the taxi line can be the most excruciating wait of them all because you’re so close to freedom. Luckily, you can easily avoid this last test of patience by booking your airport transfers before you even board the flight, so your ride is ready when you are.

Blacklane offers chauffeur service via their website or the Blacklane mobile app. With Meet & Greets, personalized pickup signs, and a whole hour of complimentary wait time in case it takes longer than expected to make it out of the airport, Blacklane is optimized for airport transfers. Plus, if you enter your flight number, Blacklane’s chauffeurs will event track your flight to make sure they are waiting at the right arrivals gate and automatically adjust your pickup time if your flight is delayed. Whether it’s for months down the line or down to an hour before you need them, book your airport transfers now.