Start typing to search
Share Post:

Favorite Airport Tricks

I understand why some people don’t like airports. Really, I do.

But speaking for myself, I love them. I spend extra time in airports, not because I’m worried about missing my flight (that happens once in a while) but because planes and airport terminals are my happy place.

I often think of a story about a Dutch guy named Jan Mul, who spent every Wednesday flying from Amsterdam to any number of European airports. He’d then spend a couple of hours in the terminal, turn around, and fly back.

No doubt some people would find that silly, just like some people don’t like airports or flying. But I get it.

An interesting fact I try to remember is that most people fly very little. On American Airlines, for example, something like 80% of passengers fly only once a year. Do you find that fact surprising? I do, but maybe it makes sense when you see all the in-flight meltdown videos these days. So I try not to judge all the people carrying around pillows and checking baggage.

Here are a few of my favorite airport tips and tricks. I tried to focus on advice that’s different from what you hear everywhere else:

  • Some airports are a series of “mini-airport” terminals that aren’t connected airside. When you fly through JFK or LAX, say, your experience is often limited to (and determined by) the airline you’re flying. Another terminal might be much more peaceful or have better amenities, but you’d never know if you stick to just one. In most domestic airports, you can go through security at a different terminal than the one your flight leaves from. So if you have extra time, go somewhere else to explore! You’ll just need to clear security again in your “real” terminal when it’s time to actually fly.
  • As I wrote about in the Ultimate Travel Superpower, the best travel hack is to be able to go anywhere, anytime. Admittedly, this is getting a little harder (or at least more expensive) these days. Most airlines are moving to a system where award ticket prices are tied directly to cash sale prices, and with flights being so full, there are fewer deals to be found. Last weekend I spent more than two hours booking a flight to Croatia for next month, a task that would have taken me 15 minutes a couple years ago. But of course, I was still able to book a good flight.
  • If you need help from an airline and hold times are long, try pestering them on social media. Most airlines have Twitter support teams, though some are better than others. One note: they usually want to “take it to DM” to address the issue, which can produce mixed results. Sometimes this is helpful! Other times they just want to stop you from complaining publicly without actually solving your problem.
  • Uber and Lyft (and taxis, if anyone still uses those) often charge more for airport pickups, but hotel shuttles are free. When prices are insane, hop on a shuttle to a nearby hotel, then have the rideshare driver pick you up there. Related: many airport hotels are situated close to each other. When waiting for your hotel’s shuttle (which always seems to be the last to arrive, no matter where you’re staying) check the map to see if another one is close by. Then, get on whichever shuttle comes first. Always tip the shuttle driver, of course.
  • I have a 1,500+ day exercise streak that mostly consists of running every day, but some days I also need to do a good bit of walking or other workouts to hit the goal. If it’s a long travel day that involves changing continents, I might need to do a lot of walking in the terminal. Some airports are great for this. London’s Heathrow Terminal 5, for example—there’s a huge underground passage where you can walk for close to a mile in one direction. I like to think of it as a secret passage, because even though it’s clearly signed, almost no one uses it. I leave my bags in the lounge (unattended! living on the edge) and go walk for an hour or so. Hong Kong (HKG) is also great for this.
  • Speaking of lounges, these days I tend to avoid them as much as I use them. That is, I’ll usually go in for a while, see what’s available, eat something if there are any reasonable options, but then I end up spending more time in the terminal itself. This is different for the really nice international lounges, but for most domestic ones, the juice is not worth the squeeze. Everyone has Priority Pass now, and even the “nice” Centurion Lounges by AmEx can get super crowded these days.
  • So what’s better? First, keep lounge expectations reasonable. Second, find a quiet place somewhere in the terminal—and more often than not, this is easily possible, even in the busiest of airports. Since I’m often walking a lot anyway, I head down the corridors to the farthest possible gates, often where fewer flights are scheduled from.
  • Sometimes there’s a truly secret spot somewhere: a room that no one goes in because they think it’s not open, a shoeshine station that’s unoccupied for the day, a zone for pets that contains no pets or pet owners, or something else. (An idea I just thought of: Even airport Chick-fil-As are closed on Sundays. Hmmm.)

The point is that you can usually find a space to find your vibe. If you hate flying, treat it as a game the next time you travel and see what you can do to make it fun.

That’s what I try to do. I’m writing you these notes from the airport—of course.