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- Arriving at the Wrong Time.
- Arriving at the Wrong Airport.
- Not Paying Attention to Airport Codes.
- Not Factoring in Time to Park and Walk to the Gate.
- Not Buying Travel Insurance.
- Not Reserving Parking.
- Not Remembering Where You Parked.
- Not Bringing a Water Bottle.
- Not Printing a Boarding Pass.
- Not Taking Advantage of Lounge Access.
- Major Airport Mistake: Not Planning for TSA.
- Not Packing Snacks.
- Thinking a Delay is Written in Stone.
- Not Taking Advantage of Unique Airport Entertainment.
- Not Bringing Proper ID or Paperwork.
- Not Checking Your Carry-on Bag Size Before Heading to the Airport.
- Not Packing an Emergency Bag.
- Packing Essential Items in a Checked Bag.
- Not Knowing Your Rights.
- Not Downloading Airline Apps Ahead of Time.
- Not Asking for Help When You Need It.
- Not Planning Ground Transportation.
The friendly skies can be, well not so friendly. Questions are running through your mind: Do I really have to get to the airport two hours early? Is that a long enough connection? How will I spend a five hour layover? We run through all of the airport mistakes that you didn’t even know you were making and walk you through the airport tips you need for stress-free air travel.
Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Allianz Global Assistance (AGA Service Company) because the company knows that airport tips and airport mistakes are valuable discussion topics for family travelers. Check out Allianz’s SmartBenefits plans here. Also, TravelingMom uses affiliate links. If you click through and buy, TravelingMom gets a small commission at no additional charge to you.
Arriving at the Wrong Time.
The common rule is to arrive to the airport two hours before a domestic flight and three hours before an international flight. This is a good general guideline. However, we recommend looking at historical data for your airport before deciding how early you actually need to arrive. It’s also not a bad idea to check flight schedules before you head to the airport. Are there 12 flights leaving within 20 minutes of one another at 8am? If so, security lines will be loooooong at 7am. Don’t make the airport mistake of arriving at the busiest times and being surprised it’s so busy.
TravelingMom Airport Tip: Did you know that arriving too early can actually be a problem if you want to check your suitcase? You cannot check luggage more than 4 hours in advance on many flights.
Arriving at the Wrong Airport.
While you may be asking who does this, it happens more than you think! I’d shamefully raise my hand. With three airports to choose from, I have set off to the wrong one. Always double check (triple check, quadruple check) flight times and airports.
Not Paying Attention to Airport Codes.
This goes hand in hand with driving to the wrong airport. Many budget airlines fly in and out of secondary airports. For example, flying Allegiant Airlines to Walt Disney World means arriving at Orlando’s Sanford Airport (SFB) rather than Orlando International Airport (MCO). You could end up spending everything (and more) you saved on the bargain-basement flight to get an Uber to your Disney resort hotel because Disney’s Magical Express transportation doesn’t run from Sanford. Likewise, when you search for flights into New York City, Newark International often pops up. But it’s in New Jersey. (That means taking the train into Manhattan from EWR.)
Not Factoring in Time to Park and Walk to the Gate.
You planned backwards from flight time. Being at the airport two hours early for your 9am flight meant you needed to leave your house at 6am for the 45 minute drive (15 minute buffer for traffic). What you didn’t count on? The 15 minutes you spent circling to find a parking spot and the 20 minute walk from your car to Ticketing. Rookie mistake.
Not Buying Travel Insurance.
We are travel insurance super fans. There are so many scenarios when it comes in handy that we wholeheartedly recommend either an annual policy that covers your whole family (for frequent travelers) or per-trip coverage (for infrequent travelers).
Allianz has made travel insurance even easier with SmartBenefits coverage. Available with eligible plans, you register your trip with the company and Allianz keeps tabs on your flight status. If your flight has a covered delay, the company automatically sends you $100 for each person on your plan. You don’t need to do a single thing! If I had $100 for every flight that was delayed during my multi-year stint as a traveling account manager, I would be relaxing at an all-inclusive resort poolside with a drink in my hand right now.
TravelingMom Airport Tip: With SmartBenefits you don’t even have to submit receipts for covered baggage delays (although you still can if you need to spend more than the automatic payout covers).
Not Reserving Parking.
Usually, there are many parking choices near an airport. Airport-run garages are the most centrally located and usually the most expensive. Economy lots will involve time on a shuttle or bus. But there are all sorts of other options – Park N’ Fly, The Parking Spot, SpotHero, nearby hotels and more. What do you need to know here? Some parking lots require a reservation and do not take same-day drive-ups. Figure out your parking ahead of time!
Airport Mistake: Some off-site lots run shuttles every few minutes, but some have specific shuttle times. Always ask! On my last flight out of Houston Hobby Airport I found parking for $2.99 a day at the nearby Marriott. Score! One thing I didn’t realize? The hotel shuttle only ran every half hour to the airport. Luckily, I had enough time and didn’t miss my flight. But I should have asked the question.
Not Remembering Where You Parked.
It happens. You’re rushing because you didn’t leave enough time (tsk tsk) or you’re trying to get 3 kids and luggage into the airport. When you return from your trip, you realize you have no clue where you parked. Maybe it was the 8th floor? The “buggy of shame” picks you up and drives you around the garage as you push your key fob lock button hoping to hear a faint “beep beep” in the distance. Next time, take a picture of where your car is parked or add a note onto your calendar app so that you can find it easily.
TravelingMom Airport Tip: Frequent flier? I highly recommend always parking in the same area of the same lot. Walking to your car becomes a muscle memory activity.
Not Bringing a Water Bottle.
Yes, we know you can’t bring liquids through security, but that doesn’t mean you have to pay $4.99 for a 16.9 oz bottle of Dasani after security. Carry an empty water bottle with you. Most airports have water filling stations, so you’ll save money and the environment. We do recommend placing the empty water bottle in your bin next to your bag so that the TSA security agents can easily see that it’s empty.
Not Printing a Boarding Pass.
While many of us elect to use mobile boarding passes on our phones, it’s still a good idea to have a printed copy. Maybe it will be the day you forget your phone charger. Maybe the airline has technology issues. Stuff happens. It’s always better to have a paper copy than to be muttering silent affirmations to your phone as the battery hovers at 2% while you stand in the C boarding group for your Southwest flight.
Not Taking Advantage of Lounge Access.
If you have a credit card or frequent flier status on any airline, you may have access to airport lounges. Before your flight, look into what credit card perks you may have. The airport experience will be much more pleasant from the comfort of a lounge, especially during busy travel periods. You’ll get free snacks and wifi along with comfy chairs.
Major Airport Mistake: Not Planning for TSA.
Ahh, airport security. Unfortunately a lot of airport mistakes center around your time at the security checkpoint so we’re going to sum them up for you here.
- Wear shoes that are easy to take off and put back on.
- Bring or wear socks to avoid gallivanting around on the (usually filthy) floor barefoot during your security screening.
- Leave the studded tank tops, elaborate underwires, bangle bracelets and anything else that might set off the metal detector at home (or in your suitcase).
- You may be asked to remove sweatshirts or anything considered a “jacket.” So unless you want to parade around in that lacy see-through camisole, plan ahead.
- Liquids and toiletries should be packed in a one-quart zip-top plastic bag. All liquids, gels and aerosols should be smaller than 3.4 ounces.
- Electronics larger than a cell phone should be easily accessible and able to come out of your bag. Listen carefully to the instructions from the TSA agent. Some airports want Kindles and iPads to be sent through in a bin just like a laptop.
- Know where your snacks are. While you may not need to take them out, some airports require passengers remove food items to be swabbed. I’ve run into this twice recently at Boston’s Logan Airport. Keep them together.
Not Packing Snacks.
Here’s the deal: Flight delays sometimes happen while you’re sitting on a tarmac strapped into your seat with no way out. Travel always brings the unexpected. Pack some snacks so that no matter what happens your stomach isn’t grumbling. Plus you’ll save some dough on super-expensive airport food prices.
TravelingMom Airport Tip: Traveling with kids? Check out this list of healthy (but yummy) snacks to pack.
Thinking a Delay is Written in Stone.
When a delay pops up on the board, remember this: It’s just an estimate. The airline is notifying you that you may be delayed. But things change. If you plan to still take the flight, you should continue your drive to the airport. If you’re already in the airport, pay attention to the announcements. Sign up for text notifications on your phone. Delays can and do change. And sometimes the delay means a gate change. You don’t want to sitting at Gate 36 happily binge-watching old episodes of “Friends” only to find out your flight left 10 minutes ago from Gate 31.
Not Taking Advantage of Unique Airport Entertainment.
So you got to the airport early and have plenty of time before your flight. You sit down near your gate and wait and wait. You read a bit, then do some people watching. But it’s all getting boring. See what else there is to do. From art displays to yoga rooms to live music to movies, airports are providing more entertainment than ever.
Not Bringing Proper ID or Paperwork.
You know what makes a trip much less fun? Not being able to go because your passport is too close to expiration. Research what type of ID you need and check to make sure yours is compliant — before you book the trip. Starting in October 2020, all domestic US flights will require REAL ID.
TravelingMom Airport Tip: Is your drivers license REAL ID compliant?
Traveling solo with your kids out of the country? A common mistake is not bringing proof of consent from the child’s other parent. Even if you’re married, they’ll look for it. We recommend a notarized consent letter. You can find notaries at most UPS stores, some pharmacies, travel agencies, banks and city offices. We’ve got one for you that is free to download.
Not Checking Your Carry-on Bag Size Before Heading to the Airport.
These days it seems like every airline has a different size limit for carry-on baggage. Make sure yours measures up BEFORE going to the airport. Remember that rules are different for many international flights. Having to check a too-big bag last minute will put a damper on your trip. It could cost you time if you end up standing in line for a bag that you can’t bring through security. Or it could cost you big money if you’re flying a low cost carrier. Flying Spirit? It will cost a whopping $55 to check at the airport or $65 if you make it to the gate and the gate attendant determines it’s too big!
Not Packing an Emergency Bag.
Planes often run out of overhead bin space before everyone boards. If you’re among the last to board, chances are you’ll have to turn over your carry-on to the gate attendant so it can be checked and stored underneath the plane with all of the other checked baggage. Pack an “emergency bag” in your carry-on. It can be as simple as a reusable tote bag. That way, if your carry-on gets checked, you can quickly pull out the essentials — medications, bathing suits, a spare pair of underwear — that you will want to have just in case your bag gets lost.
Packing Essential Items in a Checked Bag.
While you always hope that luggage won’t go missing, suitcases sometimes get lost or delayed. Always pack your keys, medications and valuables in a bag that fits under your seat. (This is another good reason to buy travel insurance. It can cover the cost of replacing your lost luggage and its contents!)
Not Knowing Your Rights.
What you don’t know can hurt you in an airport — from not knowing your right to bring breast milk through the security checkpoint as a nursing mother to not knowing what rights you have if your flight is delayed. There are a myriad of rules surrounding what an airline needs to provide to you in case of a delay or cancellation. You have the right to ask for cash instead of vouchers. Don’t agree to anything without looking up what that airline’s Contract of Carriage lays out.
TravelingMom Airport Tip: Learn what your rights are according to the Contracts of Carriage from major airlines.
Not Downloading Airline Apps Ahead of Time.
More and more airlines are putting free onboard entertainment into their apps. If you’re in the air when you learn that- well sucks to be you. Be sure to check ahead of time to see what you’ll need on your phone or device if you plan to watch live TV or movies.
Not Asking for Help When You Need It.
Whether you’re traveling solo or dragging a small posse of your offspring with you, flying can be a hassle. Many folks try to tough it out. Don’t! Ask for help! Gate agents can direct you to the nearest restrooms. Hands full? There’s a good chance a fellow passenger will earn their good human certificate for the day by holding something for a second. Flight attendants are there for your safety, but also to make sure you have a pleasant flight. Don’t wallow through your travels alone. Ask questions as needed. People are generally willing to assist if you give them the chance. Heck, we’re even here to help at TravelingMom. From numerous family travel stories to a Facebook page to our Ask a TravelingMom page please let us know how we can help with airport tips or any other questions you might have!
Read More: Tips for Flying with a Toddler.
Not Planning Ground Transportation.
You may gasp, but not every city has Uber. Also, rental car sites aren’t always open during the posted hours. Research transportation options and call locations to confirm or if the information is confusing. No one wants to be stranded at an airport at 1am.