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Wheels Up! How To Have A Better Airport Experience

By Tom Warneke

Some people detest airports and the whole process of flying. I conversely do not. I love airports, I love the act of flying. There’s something special about flying – you’re 30,000 feet in the air travelling at 800km/h from one far-flung destination to another – how is that not cool? Particularly with night flying, there’s something so incredibly freeing and calming about thinking about the world around you – I often get compelled with this immense sense of limitless possibility.

There’s also something amazing about the idea of air travel in general. I love the occasion behind it – Not to say it’s a three-piece suit wearing occasion, but I still dress well to fly. I find it amazing to simply people watch, look at who all these people might be and where they might be going – travelling for work, for holidays, to be reunited with loved ones; some people are happy and overjoyed, some are distraught and saddened, some are tired and stressed – you see the whole spectrum of humanity when at an airport or on the plane.

Put simply – flying is one of my favourite things to do.

As the curtains close on 2017, I did the math. I’ve taken 77 separate flights this year. This is slightly more than usual but year on year the trends would suggest I’m flying more, in fact, we all are.

Certainly, flights are a major part of the arts and entertainment industry globally. For all manner of reasons – you may be flying to start a contract on a ship or starting a new expat posting overseas, you might be on flight twenty-something of a tour or you may be flying in a for a day of design presentations and meetings before returning home – whatever your journey, chances are if you’re working in this industry then this industry has you on a plane sometime soon.

With that in mind, there are certainly ways to make your travel experience easier than you might think. Following the below recommendations, you can change your airport experience from an hour-long experience from curb to arriving at the lounge or gate to around 10-15 minutes.

Before you even get to the airport

Do some pre-production. The act of flying can be made a lot easier with a bit of research as well as the right tools.

To begin with, when flying, understand the airline you’re on- are they a full-service airline? What do reviews say about them? Where are you sitting on the plane, is that the best seat for you?

To do this – take an active interest in the flight booking – check in online before you go to the airport and select your seats. The likes of SeatGuru.com can very quickly tell you things like how good the seats are and where is best to take your place.

Dress for the occasion & pack properly

You’re not getting on a bus and you’re not going to your living room so dress properly. I still treat flying with a certain reverence that needs “dressing up” – a collared shirt, nice trousers, clean and tidy luggage. You want to be comfortable but you want to look like you care about travelling. This matters because this could change how you’re treated at check-in (and whether you’re upgraded for free or not) as well as how you’re treated on the plane (asking for another drink? no problem!)

Become a frequent flyer

Sign up as a frequent flyer. (It’s usually free!) Just about every airline has a frequent flyer program and it’s always worth signing up. The perks aren’t just for Business or First Class flyers. The perks are also more important than you think – even entry-level frequent flyers generally will get priority check-in and boarding (so less queuing up) as well as access to better seats on the plane and your phone call will actually get answered faster by the airline.

(I know for example with a certain Australian Airline where most of my frequent flyer (FF) status exists, if I put in my FF number, my call in answered within minutes, if I don’t put that number in, I’ve been on hold for upwards of half an hour.)

I would also encourage you to start trying to fly the same airlines where you can. When I’m in Australia, I tend to always try to fly Qantas – I like them better than the others but it also contributes to that FF status meaning the benefits grow. For Dubai, I try and always fly Emirates for the same reasons. The more business you can send to certain airlines, the greater the benefits and the easier your journey. This includes things like lounge access (we’ll come back to this) as well as express immigration and perhaps most importantly, more likely access to being upgraded for free.

Airport arrival & checking in

It’s the travel day and you arrive at the airport. Make sure you know what terminal you’re flying out of – seems obvious but not all airports are alike and sometimes, terminals can be 30-60 minutes apart on the other side of town. If you’re arriving super early or you think you’re going to spend a bit of time at the airport (or conversely if you need to get through the airport super quickly) make sure you check out the airport and what facilities or how advanced the airport is. SleepingInAirports.com is a great resource for telling you all about an airport and how it works.

When checking in, assuming you’ve got that FF membership and status – line up in their business check-in or members line which immediately speeds up this process. Don’t pack the entire house – think carefully about your luggage and pack accordingly. Have your passport ready. I would rarely ever print tickets or carry paperwork but if you’re somewhere that might need to know about onward flights, have it on your phone for the check-in agent to see. Don’t carry a travel wallet with thousands of pages featuring every booking to known to man – they search via your passport anyway. It’s all they need.

Learn a bit of the lingo – when I was in and out of Sydney airport every second day (and the weather at Sydney Airport is pretty unpredictable) I often used the phrase, “Are you flowing forward today?” Flow forward is airline-speak for pushing as many passengers as they can onto earlier flights because they don’t want you to be stuck due to weather or late aircraft. Asking this not only means you might get to fly sooner but it also shows the airline that you’re a Pro, you know what you’re doing and you fly a lot.

Be nice! It’s amazing how much a bit of friendliness and a good smile can help when checking in. It might get that little bit of overweight on the plane without being charged, it might get you better seats or at the very least, you’ve been nice to someone making their day better.

Heading for security & passport control

This for me is the part of airports that separates frequent traveller Pros from the amateurs. If you’re really good at this (or it’s muscle memory) you can do these actions while still walking.

  • Remove your laptop from your carry on before you line up.
  • Empty your pockets of anything metal before you line up (throw all of this in the top pocket of your carry on – likewise wallets, phones, pens, coins… just chuck it all in that very convenient top pocket)
  • Take off your belt – put that in the top pocket too…
  • Keep hold of your passport and boarding pass
  • Always think about liquids and gels – throw these out before you even go to line up.

If you do those things, you’ll find getting through security is the fastest thing in the world. The one remaining item is shoes… some countries need these removed, some don’t. If you’re in and out of the US, this is a definite.

What I’m getting at here is… don’t be the guy or girl who gets to the security scanner and then realises they need to repack their luggage or empty all their pockets. This takes forever and holds everyone else up.

Hold your passport and boarding pass in front of you as you walk through a security scanner. This way it’s still in your hand and the security agent can see it. It also means it’s never out of your sight.

Once you’re through security – if international, you’ll head to passport control. Pay attention to the signs, follow the directions of the people. Be polite and courteous and you’ll be fine. As a general courtesy and to make your life easier – always remove hats, glasses, headphones, don’t play with cameras and phones – hand your passport over and try and say hello in the local language.

Through to airside

You’re almost done – bags are checked, security and immigration are done and now you’re through to airside. What to do?

First up – know your gate and know your boarding time. More and more airports now are becoming ‘quiet’ airports where they don’t announce flights or page people.

The responsibility is yours to know the details and maybe set an alarm on your phone. In addition to that, know how big the airport is – walking to your gate might be a +20 minute adventure or might involve trains or buses – don’t be late.

Next, understand what’s available. Nobody wants to sit at the gate for hours on end. Either find yourself a nice restaurant or bar and take it easy or if you’ve followed the advice from above, find the lounge.

Airline lounge access is somewhat of a golden goose of air travel. Some people don’t value it but I do. It’s usually quieter than the main terminal, there’s access to food and drinks, free wifi and a place to relax. Bigger and better lounges are offering greater perks – nap rooms, full restaurants, kids activities, business centres, priority boarding, access to showers and bathrooms, spa facilities – the list goes on. Do your research first but it’s usually the best way to spend your time before you get on the plane.

How to get in? There are three possible ways.

The standard way to get in is to be a member of the frequent flyer program at the appropriate tier. Make sure you check this before you go the airport as different airlines have different levels – generally it’s a gold tier of frequent flyer gives you lounge access. This can’t be bought with points, it literally means you fly a lot with that airline that you’ve made your way to gold status and therefore you get to go to the lounge.

The second easiest way is if you have a credit card that gives you lounge access (often American Express or Mastercard World will offer this) or if you’re a lounge member (like Priority Pass) or something similar. Often the lounges that are general ones (Marhaba Lounge for example) will offer this – they’re not actually run by the airline but they’re a general access lounge. The only downside to accessing these places is that because they let non-frequent flyers in, they’re usually busier and louder.

The third way is to buy in. While you’ll most likely never be able to buy access into an airline lounge, a lot of these generic or airport run lounges will let you buy a pass to get in. To be honest, they usually charge way too much. If you don’t have access via method 1 or 2, it’s rarely worth it to buy in. The biggest exception is if you’re dying for a shower or need to use a computer/printer, but otherwise, you’ll probably find these places busy and expensive.

Boarding

It’s time to get on the plane. If you’re one of those frequent flyers – you can most likely board via Business or First class even if you’re flying economy.

If you’re not, you’ll need to queue with everyone else. Don’t be one of those people who race to the line the second the screen shows “BOARDING” – take your time. Most of the time, I stay seated and chill out because it’s likely to be either 15 minutes standing in the line or 15 minutes of you relaxing til you need to board.

I always put what I want for the flight in my pockets or pull it out of my bag. When you get on the plane, you want to just put your bag overhead and sit down, don’t waste your time fishing around for your notebook and pen in the bottom of your bag while blocking the Aisle for the other hundred passengers.

…and there you have it, a handful of ways to make your airport/flying experience better.

It all boils down to a bit of research, a bit of status and a bit of consideration for your fellow travellers – do these things and you’ll find travel is an absolute breeze.

Do you have any great travel tips that you want to share? Send them to us at submit@TheatreArtLife.com

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