It may sound weird, but Clive and I don’t mind airports.
A lot of people whinge and moan about how terrible they are, and we wouldn’t exactly say they’re fun. Most are pretty boring. Some are better than others, and the best, especially in Asia, are quite civilised. I wrote about Singapore’s Changi Airport in ‘Asia 101: How Not to Get to Paris’.
Clive wants nothing more than a good observation deck from which to watch planes taking off and landing. They’re hard to find these days. He’s always on the lookout for a good viewing area, even if it’s only a large window.
We’ve developed a few strategies to make our time in airports as painless as possible.
Allow Extra Time
One rule of travel, and I suppose of life, is to expect the unexpected.
I’m not advocating pessimism; unexpected events are positive as well as negative.
It’s just that when we set out on a trip, I feel I already have enough to think about. I can’t stand worrying about whether we’ll get to the airport on time, or have enough time there to check our bags and get through Security.
Experience has taught us it’s wise to build a couple extra hours into our schedule. Our motto is: we’d rather read at the airport than stress about getting there.
The Vagaries of Traffic
When you live in or near a large city, traffic chaos is the major risk. On the day I moved to Sydney with my late husband and son, our Connecticut shuttle bus had a fender bender with a New York taxi on the Whitestone Bridge. The drivers had a lengthy argument, there were no empty taxis cruising by, and if we hadn’t left home with time to spare, we would have missed our flight.
Last September, Clive and I awoke on trip day to news that the Sydney Harbour Bridge was closed due to an accident, the Harbour Tunnel was backed up for hours, and our shuttle service wanted to know if we’d rather take a ferry and train. Thanks to having extra time available, we made it to the airport with no drama.
I read an article by a woman who said she spent years becoming stressed and angry at departure time because her husband never wanted to leave home until the last possible minute. He enjoyed making a mad dash to the departure gate and boasted of his ability to avoid wasting time in airports.
His wife decided it was worth the expense of two taxis for her to leave an hour before he did and meet later at the airport. She relaxed and stopped worrying, and wondered why she hadn’t thought of it years earlier.
I’m glad Clive and I like to leave home at the same time, but I thought this woman’s solution, obvious as it may be, was brilliant for couples who struggle with one being an early bird and the other a last-minute person.
Check-in before Security
When I walk through the doors of an airport, I feel we’re almost on our way. I’m constantly amazed at how many thousands of people are coming and going around the world. Airports are definitely great for people-watching.
Even with online check-in, which I wrote about in ‘A Passion for Travel, Part 6: Departure Checklist’, passengers still need to queue to check bags. We’ve found it impossible to predict how long this will take or how long the lines will be for any given airline in any particular airport.
If for some reason we haven’t been able to do online check-in, we’ve more or less figured out how use self-service terminals, which are becoming more and more prevalent, and often mandatory. (I’ll spare you a digression into my pet peeve of businesses making customers do the work.)
Then there’s that little sigh-of-relief moment, when bags are checked, seating is confirmed, boarding pass is in hand, and all you have to handle is the carry-on bag.
After check-in, we find a place to sit down and fill out our departure cards. We’ve also started taking a bottle of water and snack from home, usually a couple pieces of fruit, to eat before we go through Security. This avoids paying outrageous airport prices for fast food like Krispy Kreme (always hard to resist) and Subway, which seem to be almost as global as McDonald’s.
Since it’s no longer possible to take a standard bottle of water through Security, we throw our old one away and buy a new one on the other side.
We’re never sure about taking food through, so we don’t. At Newark Airport last year, the apple in Clive’s carry-on was confiscated as ‘organic matter’.
Many airports have shops before and after Security. We usually save getting a coffee, browsing, and doing any last-minute shopping as a reward for getting through Security. Some airports, like Charles de Gaulle in Paris, have almost nothing after Security, and not much before. In those cases, the reward for getting through is having nothing more to do but sit, talk, and read.
The Security Hurdle
Security is the final departure hurdle these days. Almost all airports require you to remove your laptop and put it through separately. Shoes on or off is always a question, so we don’t remove ours until it’s clear it’s required.
The easiest times we ever had going through Security were a few years ago, when for a short time each passenger was allowed one and only one carry-on bag. We couldn’t believe how much faster it made the process. Now we’re back to people carrying on everything but the kitchen sink, all of which can cause inordinate delays on the Security line.
Clive was less than impressed on his first few trips to the U.S. with me, when his boarding pass for every flight came up with ‘SSSS’, for special security line. He was photographed, fingerprinted, and patted down every time, and his wallet and camera were put through extra X-ray checks. I’m happy (and so is he) this hasn’t happened in the past year or two.
Lines for passport control and Security are as unpredictable as those for check-in, so we always go through sooner rather than later.
After Security – Aaahhh, the Trip Has Really Begun
For us and I’m sure for many travellers, there’s something psychological that happens when we get through Security.
It’s the big sigh-of-relief moment, when the formalities are over (notwithstanding occasional final gate security with United Airlines), that we really feel the trip has started. Australia is still there, outside the windows, but mentally we’re now in transit and on our way.
The first thing we do is find a place to sit and have a coffee, and send final text messages to our families in Australia and the U.S. Then it’s time to browse and maybe buy a few last-minute items. My favourite browsing is for books. Clive says, “Really? I never would have guessed.” I often find them at airports, which I wrote about in ‘Travel and Books, Part 3: Always Room for Another Book’.
I also think books are the perfect entertainment for children on airplanes.
I’ll write more about this in my next post.
At overseas airports, Clive usually looks at local newspapers and computer magazines. In addition to books, I sometimes buy a fridge magnet.
Our biggest shopping decadence occurs at London’s Heathrow, where we buy too many of Clive’s favourite childhood lollies (sweets): Rowntree’s Fruit Gums and Fruit Pastilles, Maynard’s Wine Gums, and my favourite, Bassett’s Liquorice Allsorts.
We always say we won’t open these on the plane. But after boarding and spending hours on a long-haul flight, we sometimes can’t help ourselves.
Airports Made Easier
Despite the challenges of air travel, we’ve found it can be made much easier if you do online check-in 24 hours before, allow extra time for getting to the airport, checking bags, and going through Passport Control and Security; take a snack from home; go through Security sooner rather than later; treat yourself to a coffee, book, or favourite lolly purchase; and breathe deeply and try to relax before you board.
My next post will cover our tips for how to best use, or at least survive, time on the plane.
More to come.
A Passion for Travel, Part 1: Introducing the Series
A Passion for Travel, Part 2: The Master Trip Calendar
A Passion for Travel, Part 3: Travel Planning Checklist
A Passion for Travel, Part 4: Packing without Panic
A Passion for Travel, Part 5: Travel Technology
A Passion for Travel, Part 6: Departure Checklist
Filed under: A Passion for Travel |