How to travel through any airport comfortably

If you ask any traveler what they hate most about traveling, they’re likely to tell you it’s the airport experience.

Make the most of your airport experience with these simple tips. Image credit: anyaberku/iStock
Make the most of your airport experience with these simple tips. Image credit: anyaberku/iStock

No one likes to deal with heavy traffic, long lines, extra fees, security, delays, overpriced food and drink, just to name a few. These are all travel peeves that contribute to a less-than-fun experience.  Since I fly on average a few times a week I’ve really learned how to deal with all of the above and then some, so much so that when my mother-in-law travels with me, I hear her tell her friends the next day that traveling with Johnny Jet is a joy, everything is so seamless and comfortable. Nothing like brownie points, eh?

Here’s how I do it.

It’s all about time

The most important advice I can give is also the simplest: Allow extra time. Show up to the airport earlier than you think you should. You would be surprised how many people don’t follow this advice, which is why you see so many frustrated and aggravated travelers. When you rush, that’s also when you forget things at security.

For a really smooth experience, I almost always book a reliable, luxury car service like Blacklane. Otherwise, if I rent a car I return it the night before off airport property so it’s cheaper and more importantly, so I don’t have to deal with airport shuttles if it’s a large airport like San Francisco, Denver or Honolulu.  Miami Airport is one of the few exceptions since it’s easy to return a car there.

I don’t check bags when I travel alone for a number of reasons but most importantly so I don’t have to show up early to check them or stand around waiting for them, which often seems like an eternity, or risk having them go missing. Also, if there’s a delay or cancelation, I can quickly make alternative plans. If you check bags, see if there’s curbside check-in. Usually, the wait to use curbside check-in is so much shorter than the airport counter and is well worth the small fee or tip you should give them.

Clear airport security lines like a pro

Security can often be time-consuming and arduous. Image credit:  AzmanJaka/iStock
Security can often be time-consuming and arduous. Image credit: AzmanJaka/iStock

Clearing security in the United States is almost everyone’s sore spot; that’s why my whole family has TSA Pre and Clear. TSA Pre lines are generally much shorter and quicker because travelers don’t have to take their liquids or laptops out, jackets or shoes off. Tip: If you travel internationally, get Global Entry as it comes with TSA Pre and costs just 15 USD more (100 USD total and some of the best travel credit cards cover the once-in-every-five-year enrollment fee). Clear is TSA Pre on steroids. It costs 15 USD a month and members get escorted to the front of the security lines at participating airports. You don’t even have to show ID, just scan your fingers and boarding pass and you’re good to go.

Another way to cruise through airport security is to book an airport concierge service as you will be escorted to the front of the lines making the airport experience painless.

I almost always wear the same clothes (nothing with metal, boots or bulky belts) and carry the same contents since I know they won’t trigger the metal detectors and I won’t be held up for secondary screening.  Some airports like London’s Heathrow, I know to take all my electronics out of my carry-on and lay them out on the security tray and make sure I don’t even have one little tube of liquid hiding in my bag because the screeners there can hold you up to 30 minutes.

Since most of the airports I travel to are huge, I always wear comfortable shoes as I know I’m going to be walking a ton and I dress in layers since airports (and airplanes) can be inconsistent temperature-wise. Some airports that you think will be warm, like Miami Airport, often aren’t. In fact, Miami Airport has to be the coldest airport around. One airport staff member told me they call it “The Arctic Zone”. It’s so cold that they have a stack of blankets in a closet for guests to use.

Make the most of the lounges on offer

I spend a lot of money on annual credit card fees because I travel with multiple airlines and want to make sure my family and I can pass the time in a plush airport lounge, that’s saner, has food and drink, a quiet place to work and agents to help change our tickets if there’s a delay or cancelation. I use the American Express Platinum Card to get into the Centurion Lounges and Delta’s. I have the Chase Sapphire Reserve for the Priority Pass lounges and the Citi/AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard to get in American Airlines lounges.

Enjoy the benefits of an airport lounge during your next stopover. Image credit: simonkr/iStock
Enjoy the benefits of an airport lounge during your next stopover. Image credit: simonkr/iStock

If the airport is small and doesn’t have a lounge, I walk around to discover if they offer anything unique. If the airport is crowded, I will walk to a gate that’s vacant to work but I always set my phone alarm to make sure I don’t miss my flight. If I’m traveling with my son, I look for kids’ areas. Some airport terminals like T5 at New York’s JFK or Miami Airport’s “Plane Fun” Children’s Play Area have amazing spots where they can run off their energy.

I try to avoid connections since there’s double the chance of getting delayed. But if I have to make a connection, I leave plenty of time in between flights so I’m not stressed; planes are flying at capacity so there’s a good chance there won’t be a vacant seat on the next flight. I also make sure it’s not the last flight of the day so I’m not stranded. Tip: Early morning flights have the lowest chance of being delayed since those aircraft tend to be parked overnight.

If I do have a really long connection, instead of hanging out in the airport, I often explore nearby cities or areas. Some airports like Singapore and Amsterdam even offer city tours for travelers with long connections, so always inquire.

As you can see, it takes a lot of pre-planning to have a comfortable experience. Obviously, you also need Mother Nature to cooperate and if she doesn’t, it might be worth it to see if the airline is offering a waiver so you can fly a day later or before.

Here’s to a smooth travel experience!


Johnny Jet

Johnny Jet has traveled over 100,000 miles a year since starting his newsletter in 1995 and has visited close to 100 countries. On his website, he writes about how to maximize your credit card points, how to find travel deals, cheap flights, and how to benefit from insightful travel tips. He has hosted a television special on The Travel Channel and was named one of Forbes’ Top 10 Travel Influencers.