Four Wheels Are Better Than Two
The roller bag you’re dragging behind you? Upgrade to one that has four wheels that can spin, such as Samsonite’s (1910:HK) Black Label Firelite line of luggage. You can push your bag, pull it, or let it roll alongside you, which is useful as you move like a linebacker through that crowd of ninth graders on a school trip.
Enter the Terminal Near the Premier/First-Class Check-In
Do this even if you’re flying coach. The elite entrance is often at a quieter end of the terminal with smaller crowds. That means a possibly shorter line at the nearby security checkpoint. If you’re enrolled in the TSA PreCheck program, which lets you go through security like it’s 1999, you’ll often find it near the fancy-traveler entrance, too.
Use the Mobile Boarding Pass
You’ll have one less thing to lose. Plus, the airline can update your mobile boarding pass remotely, so you’ll know the proper gate and departure time if they change.
But Still Check That Departure Screen
You know the one—right after security, with all the flights on it. Sometimes an airline changes flight info, but there’s a lag before it hits your phone. Check the big screen to confirm your gate, lest you hoof it down to A122 only to discover your plane’s at A17.
Check In as Early as Possible
This is particularly true for non-elite airline passengers. Twenty-four hours before your flight, the airline will often release some seats on your plane. These may be better than what was available when you booked your flight, but to get them you have to log in like you’re calling a radio station to win Springsteen tickets. Be swift—make a calendar reminder if need be. The difference between economy plus and a middle seat by the bathroom is all in who’s fastest.
Window Seats Are Chillier Than Aisle Seats
Airplane windows leak outside air a little. At 30,000 feet, that air may be –30F. Move toward the aisle or bring a sweater.
Fly on Tuesday or Wednesday
Business travelers like to fly on Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays. Leisure flyers usually ship out on weekends. That makes Tuesdays and Wednesdays comparatively deadsville. Flying on a holiday also means fewer people. This year, Christmas is on a Wednesday, which is like double word score for travelers. They might even let you fly the plane yourself.
If You’re in a Lounge, Talk to a Customer Rep There
Who’d you rather ask a favor from—a harried gate agent who’s battling a line of angry travelers or one who’s sitting in a comfy lounge with free snacks? Take the low-pressure route and increase your chances of satisfaction. Not only are lounge reps less stressed, but they’re also accustomed to moving heaven and earth for loyal flyers.
Go to Airport Hotels for Pickups
Wait, that came out wrong. If you’re picking someone up, you can avoid the terrible parking/waiting/hiding-from-the-traffic cop thing: Tell your friend to take a free shuttle to the nearest hotel. There you can park at the lot, grab a drink at Runways bar, and wait in comfort for your traveler to arrive.
Get the Right Apps
GateGuru has user reviews on restaurants and shops in dozens of airports. TripIt organizes all your travel plans into one easy-to-read interface. FlightTrack alerts you if your plane’s delayed. And check to see if the airport you’re going to has an app to tell you parking lot status and security line waits: San Francisco International and New York’s JFK do; Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson has a website optimized for mobile.