This morning I flew from Houston to Billings, Montana. As I sat in my window seat and looked out over the incredible Wyoming terrain below, I reflected on how easy my trip had been so far. Even though it had been an early morning (pre-5am alarm) and I was half asleep through it all, none of the morning had been memorable and, when dealing with airports and flights, that’s a great thing.
In my state of bliss, I thought through why the morning had been so easy. I realized that, unbeknownst to me, I’d paved my own way for an easier trip by taking a few key steps months and days prior to my departure.
While air travel shenanigans can’t and won’t always be avoided, below are six ways to make the process a bit easier:
1. Be completely packed the night before (with the exception of your final items list, which I discuss in more detail here). You may be up late, and you may have to get out of bed five times to wrap it all up, but you’ll be ready to go the next morning. All you’ll need to focus on is getting up and getting out of the house.
2. Leave your house/hotel early. I’m too old and tired to run through the airport. It’s worth getting up early and losing thirty minutes of sleep to end up at your gate with a normal heart rate and all your belongings. Just get up and get there.
If you’re up and on the road early, you can avoid any unexpected traffic issues. Even though I left early this morning, I was surprised to find all of the lane stripes removed on the 4-lane tollway that I travel to get to the airport. I was forced to merge into a single lane of traffic in a “non” lane and, had I not been one of the only people on the road, this traffic snafu could have cost me my flight.
3. Consider TSA Precheck or Global Entry. Both of these TSA-governed Trusted Traveler programs allow you to zip through security lines without removing your belongings from your bag or removing your shoes. You also get access to your own security lane, so you’ll fly right by all the throngs of people waiting to go through the normal, often stressful, drill.
I applied for the Global Entry program a few months ago. It took about 30 minutes to complete the online application and three months or so to finalize the process (interview was required). It also cost $100 for a 5-year membership (Precheck costs $85 for a five-year membership). Breezing past everyone else was completely worth it.
Side note and bonus tip: I was thrilled when I paid for Global Entry online and, about a week or so later, I saw the fee reversed by my credit card company. That’s right…you know those fancy selling points that we rarely pay attention to when signing up for a credit card? Well, apparently free, approved Trusted Traveler applications is one of mine. Way to go, Capital One Venture card. You continue to impress me.
4. Travel lightly. If you can check a bag, do it. Hauling a full-size carry-on bag and a personal item (purse, backpack, etc.), along with a cup of coffee, small kids, or elderly parents is enough to wear you and your nerves out before you’ve even landed in your seat. Make your life easier and carry as little as possible (think backpacks and free hands). Your mind and body will thank you, too. Oh, and pack a light sweater or scarf (or both) for cold planes. If you’re prone to freezing on flights like I am, these can save your life.
5. Download your airline’s app and/or sign up for text notifications. Communication from airlines has come a long way with today’s technology. If you download your carrier’s app and/or sign up for text notifications, they will almost walk you through the entire travel process. From text reminders to check-in to your flight to notifications containing connecting gate departures and locations to using your phone as your boarding pass, these features are invaluable in today’s bustling travel scene. Allow the airlines to help make your life easier.
6. Stay calm and enjoy the process. Remember, when traveling by plane, there are plenty of opportunities to lose your cool. Instead, practice keeping your cool and allow your plan-ahead routine to see you through. It’s so much easier to not sweat the small stuff if you’re calm and ready for the storm.
Do you have any tips for making air travel easier? I’d love to hear them!
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Hi, I'm Brooke. I travel the world at every opportunity, and I hope to help you do the same. I offer travel tips and insights from a real world, every day perspective. Read more about me and my vision for Happy Tracks here.