For some people arriving at the airport is the start of their holiday and they have all the time in the world. Lucky them. For others (like me) it might be the start (or end) of a busy work day. Which is why I like things to run smoothly and efficiently… and why I totally loath those people with absolutely no clue what to do.
OK, I grant you, if you are 85 and flying for the very first time, this might all be a little confusing and you need some time to adjust… fair enough.
For everyone else, here is a handy list of what to do to speed things up at the airport.
Step 1: Check In
I would always recommend checking in at home. Not only does it save you time, it also means you more chance of getting a decent seat.
What time check in opens varies from airline to airline, for British Airways it is 24 hours before departure, Lufthansa has 23 hours, Flybe 48 hours, Germanwings 72 hours, Easyjet and Ryanair allow online check in up to 30 days in advance (well Ryanair pretty much forces you to use online check in, as they will charge if you decide to check in at the airport). So certainly worth checking when the online check in opens for your specific airline.
Whether you can choose a seat or one is allocated to you usually depends on the airline, type / class of ticket booked and your frequent flyer status.
If you have a smart phone (and know how to use it), I would recommend using the mobile boarding pass, rather than printing (especially since printers around me always seemed to have the habit of running out of paper and/or ink the minute I needed to print a boarding pass, so one less thing to worry about). And relax… if your phone really runs out of juice whilst you are boarding, the airline staff will simply print your boarding pass at the gate, easy peasy (at least if you are flying with a regular airline… not holding my breath for low cost airlines, there might be a cost involved here).
Step 2: Arriving at the airport
Upon arrival at the airport, there are two possible scenarios:
Either you have luggage to check in or you travel hand luggage only.
If you have luggage to check in, check the departure board to work out which bag drop is yours. If you have decided to check in at the airport (rather than at home) there is a high chance you will have to go to one of the check in machines first before going to bag drop.
Before you say good bye to your luggage, ensure you have taken everything out of your suitcase that you might need during your flight and at the same time that you have put everything into the suitcase that is not needed during the flight or even forbidden in hand luggage.
Once you have dropped your luggage (or if flying hand luggage only), you can head to security. This is where it gets really difficult for a lot of people. So let’s take things slowly…
Step 3: Go through security
Whether you go through security or passport control first varies from airport to airport. If you travel within the Schengen area (so pretty much any European country apart from the UK) you might not need to go through passport control at all.
At most UK airports your passport will only be checked at the gate upon departure and you only need to go through passport control when arriving in the UK, but for example in Germany you will have to go through passport control when leaving or arriving on a UK flight (and passport control is usually situated before security).
First up check if you have any liquids in your bag. If so, either place them in a clear, airport approved sealable plastic bag (provided the individual container is a maximum of 100ml) or get rid of it (if it is more than 100ml). No point in even trying to take it, it will go in the bin at security. No if and but. If you carry a bottle of water, you might decide to quickly drink the water and keep the empty bottle, to re-fill after security (read my post of how to stay hydrated when flying). This is absolutely legit, but you won’t be able to take the bottle through security if it is still filled with water (even if it is only half full), so better ensure you are thirsty.
Most major airports will hand out plastic bags for free, however a few might charge. So it is worth being prepared and bringing your own plastic bag, just in case (or bagging a few extras if and when they are handed out for free, so that you can use them during your next flights).
Now take out your boarding pass. You will need to scan it (or hand it to staff) to gain access to the security area. Only your boarding pass, you won’t need your passport at this point.
Whilst waiting in line, it is worth starting your preparations:
- Empty your pockets: I find it a lot easier to put my stuff into my bag (or coat pocket) rather than spilling it into the tray at security. Much quicker that way.
- Take off your watch and possibly belt: You will have to do it anyway, so why not get a head start and take them off whilst queuing. If you are wearing a thin belt you might not be required to take it off, but anything bulky or with a lot of metal will set off the alarm, so take it off.
- Have your plastic bag ready: Your liquids (sealed in that already mentioned plastic bag) will need to be scanned separately, so they will have to be taken out of your hand luggage. I usually prepare for this by ensuring I carry my plastic bag in my handbag (for quick and easy access) rather than in my hand luggage trolley. Saves me opening up the suitcase at security.
- Get your laptop, iPad, Kindle etc out: all larger electronic devices will have to be scanned outside your bag, so get them out whilst you wait (obviously ensure you hold everything secure and tight, no point in being prepared and then dropping everything just before security). Usually your mobile can stay in your bag or coat pocket, however a few airports have a silly rule about the mobiles also being scanned separately.
- Take off scarves, coats, cardigans and large pieces of jewellery: Whether it is your statement necklace or your gold bangles, unfortunately all bulky items will have to come off before going through security. I tend to take them off early and stuff them into my bag instead of having them all out in the open in the security tray (also minimises the risk of leaving anything behind).
- Be prepared to take off your shoes: this varies a little depending on airport. Some will require you to take your shoes off, regardless. Others will ask you to take them off if you wear boots or high heals. If you don’t take them off and you set off the alarm you will then have to take them off and have them scanned separately, which takes extra time. So usually I just take them off straight away to save myself the hassle.
- Don’t keep anything in your hands: everything will have to go through the scanner, so there is no point of you holding on to your boarding pass, passport or mobile phone. Put it in your bag or in your tray.
Step 4: Grab your stuff and go
If you have followed my advice in step 3, this should be an easy one, as the number of individual bits and bops within the trays is limited. So get on with it. Grab your tray and move to the packing table. Don’t stand at the conveyor belt for days, whilst putting your shoes back on in slow motion. The longer your trays stays there, the longer it takes for the following trays to move through the scanner, as the conveyor is clocked up.
Step 5: Check the departure board
I don’t know if you are one of those last minute people (in which case you better hurry up) or if you allowed yourself sufficient time, but just in case, it might be worth checking the departure board, to see if there is a gate assigned to your flight yet and / or if it tells you how long you have until your gate is called. Obviously calling the gate is not the same as actually starting the boarding, so unless it says final call you don’t have to start your sprint just yet. For most short-haul flights boarding will commence 30 minutes before the scheduled departure, with the gate being called between 15 and 30 minutes prior to that.
So once you’ve worked out how much time is left, feel free to rummage around for a spot of shopping and /or a quick bite to eat.
Whilst I am all for a proper shopping spree, please bear in mind that anything you buy now will form part of your hand luggage and might therefore be subject to weight and size restrictions. So as tempting as it looks, it might be best to keep it small(ish). Nothing is worse than bagging yourself a duty free bargain and then being charged an exorbitant fee for exceeding your hand luggage allowance.
Step 6: Go to the gate
As mentioned above, your gate being called doesn’t mean boarding has started, so no immediate rush just yet. But at the same time it is worth having a quick check where the gate is located. Depending on the airport it can take quite a while to get to certain gates, especially if they are located in satellite buildings and require you to take a shuttle. In which case you don’t want to wait for final boarding… EVER.
So if in doubt, rather head to the gate early than risk the entire plane wait for you.
When arriving at the gate, ensure you have your boarding pass ready. And your passport. If flying to and from the UK you will need both when boarding. If flying within Schengen area the boarding pass will suffice on its own.
In which order boarding starts will vary. Usually parents travelling with small children and elderly people in need of assistance will be allowed to board first (to give them enough time to get on board and get settled before everyone else boards). After that it usually is priority boarding first (this might vary depending on airline. For some you can simply pay extra to have priority boarding (low cost airlines usually offer this extra ‘service’), for others it depends on the cabin class booked and/or on your frequent flyer status). Lastly economy class will be boarded, either on a first come first serve basis or called out per row numbers (so back of the cabin first, then middle, then front, to allow for a speedy boarding).
It goes without saying that boarding takes as long as it takes. Obviously they will not slam the door in your face, just because boarding overran a little. But at the same time, having a slow boarding might result in missing the plane’s allocated departure slot and therefore a lengthy wait for another slot to become available. So let’s not risk it. Be organised, on time and quick.
If you only travel with a small handbag, laptop bag or backpack, take it to your seat with you and stuff it underneath the seat in front of you. This means you leave the overhead locker free for larger items. It also means you have quick access to all your things throughout the flight, without having to get up three times.
If you travel with a larger item (a hand luggage trolley for example) this will have to go in the overhead locker, so in this case it’s best to think ahead what one might need during your flight. Ensure it is in easy reach and quickly take it out and store it in your seat pocket when you get to your seat… nothing more disturbing than someone that needs to rummage through their trolley the minute the plane is airborne (or blocks the aisle forever when everyone else wants to get on board behind them).
Follow these easy steps and you will have a smooth and relaxing experience at the airport (and so will everyone else).
Sit back and enjoy