Planning your next big trip abroad? Maybe you’ve never even been on a long-haul flight before. Flights upwards of 7 hours can be utterly exhausting, especially when jet lag starts to kick in at hour 14. Not to worry, I’ve got you covered with these top 10 airport hacks to make your travels smooth and comfortable all the way from take off to landing.
1. Check carry-on baggage for free
If you would like to take advantage of the possible opportunity of having your carry-on baggage checked for free, it’s best to board the plane with the last zone, even if you are in the first group.
Typically on smaller planes, the plane’s overhead bins can fill up quite quickly. For those who have not yet boarded, the airline may eventually ask for volunteers who wish to check their carry-on baggage for free and will often check-it through to your final destination (but it’s always best to check and make sure). Also, don’t forget to take out anything you may need before handing over your bag.
On the opposite hand, if you have anything of value in your carry-on, or necessities you cannot go without if your bag does not make it to your destination for some reason, it is best to board the plane as soon as your zone is called so that you can secure a place in the overhead bins. Otherwise, you may risk them filling up completely leaving unboarded passengers no choice but to check their carry-on bags.
2. Speed up the immigration process by looking for multiple immigration checkpoints
Airports often have many immigration checkpoints accessible in a single international arrivals terminal, such as the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok. The checkpoint closest to you may not always be the most efficient and if it’s absolutely packed beyond the queue-able capacity, it’s best to check the map for other checkpoints. The next one over may be another five-ten minute walk, but it might turn out to be unequivocally faster and save you 30 minutes in the end. A gamble, of course, but not much to lose!
Many airports have their own app that you can download and check how long the lines are at each checkpoint. Once in the airport, these often are accessible without special wifi or internet access, and can have helpful features such as maps, wifi kiosks/codes, arrival/departure times, transfer and travel information, and even options for speedier access at immigration checkpoints.
3. Not sure what to do on a long layover? Try visiting another city or explore a new country
Just because you have a long layover, doesn’t mean you have to stay in the airport terminal or continue through to transfers right away. Depending on how much time you have and proper planning in advance for the required visas, it’s a great opportunity to visit another city or country all together.
Just keep in mind that most airports are located several kilometers from the city centre, and while just stepping outside the airport is better than nothing, visiting the city itself does take some investigating and calculating.
The same goes for finding a place to secure your luggage (or carry it with you if you decide), proper attire for the weather, and accessing local currencies. The main terminal at Kuala Lumpur Airport, however, is connected to a massive shopping complex and can keep you occupied for a while without having to travel far at all.
4. Save money at the airport by packing your own snacks and bringing an empty water bottle
Skip paying the high service and convenience charges at the airport and on the airplane by packing your own snacks. Some of my favorite snacks of choice are granola bars, trail mix, and ramen cups. Many airports have free water refill stations which also include hot water dispensers, so by all means, you may as well pack your favorite green tea too!
If you forget to bring an empty water bottle with you from home and have to buy bottled water, make sure you keep it with you for your whole journey so you can refill it in the airport and on the plane later.
5. Pack a large scarf that doubles as a blanket
Airports are becoming more eco-friendly and efficient, which is amazing for the planet, but it also means that they are typically kept at a cooler temperature all-year round.
If you are trying to get some shut-eye between flights, as was my case in the Beijing International Airport, it can be uncomfortably chilly. Packing a large thick scarf in your carry on can also be utilized as a blanket – or even as a makeshift pillow – in these chilling times. I often travel with my large Tibetan wool scarf I bought in India.
6. ALWAYS dress in layers
Airports and planes can be chilly. I also suggest layering in jackets or sweaters with zippers, as they can easily be taken off and put back on at security checkpoints and once in your seat on the airplane.
You can even consider wearing your bulkiest shoes and jacket at check-in, then change prior to going through security. This can create more space in your luggage, and also decreases the weight; avoiding difficulty at check-in if your carry-on baggage is weighed and deemed overweight.
More airlines these days are becoming stricter with passengers not in accordance with their carry-on baggage limits. And let’s face it, you really don’t want to be that person at check-in rummaging around in their stuff determining how they can decrease the weight while everyone watches you. Nope.
7. Luggage getting lost among all the other black bags? Use bright tags and always take photos of your luggage
If you don’t have a brightly-colored bag already, make sure your bags are easily recognizable by placing a vibrant strap or tag on the outside – and don’t forget your contact details!
It’s always a good idea to take a photo of your baggage, because otherwise it’s almost impossible to relay distinguishable features about it to airport staff. It also means less headache for everyone, especially when your bag may be lost among a sea of hundreds of other black suitcases.
8. Not every airplane has a charging device, always bring an external battery charger
And don’t forget to charge it up before arriving at the airport! Doing so will allow you to watch all those movies you downloaded beforehand (hint hint) onto your phone or tablet without interruption. Many applications now offer a download feature, such as Spotify (only available on Premium), Netflix, Audible, e-Books, and Podcasts, leaving you with no shortfall of offline entertainment.
9. Download the airline’s app in advance for entertainment in flight
Look at downloading the airline’s app before flying, as many offer free in-flight entertainment. Even if you don’t have you own entertainment console in front of your seat, you can still watch free movies! Of course, don’t forget some good headphones.
10. Don’t bring it if you can’t carry it yourself
For me, this is more of a rule of thumb, but only bring luggage you can comfortably carry long distances – even when the wheels break just as you arrive to the airport.
If you’re thinking, “this will never happen to me”, luggage malfunctions happen more often than you think.
From my own experience, I can recall four occasions where I have had a wheel or handle break just as I am arriving at the airport or in transit. This means skipping the heavy duffle bags or the unstable suitcases pulled along by a single strap. And no matter if you are traveling in first class or economy, your bag shouldn’t be so heavy that you cannot carry it through the airport if necessary.
Got your own airport hack? Send me a comment, I’d love to hear about it!