How to look like an experienced traveler at the airport (even if you are not)

Summer is quickly approaching, which means a large number of you will be heading to the airport for your summer vacation. If you are one of the many people in the country that only visits the airport once a year, then chances are you are going to be quite unprepared for what the airport has to offer.

In this article, you’ll find some simple ways to arrive at the airport, and not look like a once-a-year traveler. In fact, with these tips, you’ll appear to be the kind of person who gets on and off planes on a weekly basis.

Know how to pack

Planning for your trip, and being prepared for the airport starts at home, so the first couple of tips all take place long before you head for the airport.

This one may sound really stupid, but if you have not been paying attention to developments in airport security, you may still be packing full sized bottles of toiletries in your carry-on, and spreading all your stuff between 4 suitcases.

Check the web site of your airline to see what their most up to date luggage rules are. You’ll be surprised how many airlines are now charging for checked luggage. Even the big carriers want to see some cash before accepting your bags. A family of 4 may see airport luggage fees as high as $200, which would make a pretty big dent in your vacation budget before you even reach your destination.

Leave all those stickers on your luggage

Since this article is all about appearing to be an experienced traveler, you’ll want to do anything you can to create the appearance that you are a seasoned world traveler.

So, when you dig your suitcase out of the garage, don’t peel all the stickers from previous trips off the bag. Do remove any old checked luggage tags, as they will only confuse the bar code scanners at the airport.

If you still have airline logo tags or priority tags on your bag, leave them on, the same goes for hotel stickers or anything else that shows how often you are on the road.

Sign-up for the frequent flier program

Even if you only plan to use your airline once, be sure to sign-up for their frequent flier program.

Being an entry level member of the airline won’t get you a single perk, and most airlines won’t even bother sending a membership card until after your first flight with them, but every mile earned may come in handy one day.

In a really rare event, the airline may pick you if they are looking for people to upgrade, but that would only be in the event they don’t have any elite members to select from.

Online check-in is your friend

It has been a long time since a trip to the airport involved walking up to a counter to check-in. Sure, some airlines may still have a couple of desks with a real person, but the terminal long line of manned desks disappeared years ago.

If you want to be an experienced traveler, get on your computer and check-in the day before your flight. The advantage of this is that you’ll be able to pick your own seat, and may even be offered an affordable upgrade to a slightly better seat.

Before you actually pick that seat, be sure to visit Seat Guru to check out a seat map of your plane (you’ll find the plane type during your check-in screen). Many of these seats have some descriptions, and really bad seats come with warnings. Seat Guru will also let you know where to find exit row seats, because your chance of getting an exit row seat assigned at the airport is next to nothing.

Your boarding pass will come out of your own printer, but even if you can’t print right away, just check-in, to lock in your seat choice and use an airline kiosk at the airport to print your boarding documents.

Your luggage says a lot about you

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but that old leather luggage with spinning wheels is not of this era.

If you want to look like you are at the airport every week, then get yourself something modern.

Also remember that airlines hate luggage, and anyone in contact with passenger luggage will do anything in their power to destroy it, so be sure to travel with luggage that can survive a couple of trips.

Don’t be an amateur at the security line

One of the number one pet peeves of any frequent flier at the airport is amateurs clogging up the security line.

Help everyone from delays and aggravation by preparing yourself for the checkpoint. Empty your pockets completely. Do not assume that your massive belt buckle or watch won’t set off the metal detector. Assign a portion of your carry-on luggage for items you will send through the X-Ray machine.

Before you approach the checkpoint, go through all your pockets to be sure they are empty. Then be sure that you have your ID and boarding pass available for the checker at the security line. You may need to show your ID and boarding pass twice – so be sure you don’t pack it away after the first checkpoint.

If you are carrying a laptop computer, be sure you can get it out quickly, and place it in its own in a plastic bin (or invest in a security checkpoint friendly bag).

For several years, the TSA has prohibited passengers from carrying any liquids in containers over 3 ounces, and ALL liquids must be carried in a single quart size bag.

This “3-1-1” rule is explained on the TSA web site, so be sure to read through their rules before you pack your carry-on. Remember, this rule only applies to your carry-on, checked baggage is not included in these rules.

Be prepared at the gate

Once you reach your boarding gate (on time), take a seat and pay attention to the announcements. Many airlines use a boarding group system for getting passengers on the plane. On most airlines, this system will allow elite members of their frequent flier program to board first, followed by passengers in the first and business class cabin, followed by less elite members, then on to the regular passengers.

If you are really unlucky, you may be in one of the last boarding groups, which means it could take as long as 45 minutes from the time boarding commences to the time you can actually get on the plane. By then, it is not unlikely that you won’t find anywhere to store your luggage. Prepare for this by making sure anything important can be grabbed out of your carry-on in a matter of seconds, because unlucky passengers may find themselves in the back of the plane, with their bag in the front, and the last thing you want to do is walk all the way up front each time you need something from it.

Do everyone a favor, and don’t be one of those passengers that stands next to the boarding gate expecting to be the first person on board – a plane is not a train, and chances are you’ll only get in the way. Of course, if you are a top tier elite member flying in first class then feel free to ignore my advise.

If you carry medication, an iPod, or anything else you don’t want to fly without, pack it in your jacket. That way you won’t be in trouble if you do need to say goodbye to your bag.

Be prepared on the plane

I’m aware that not everyone gets on a plane every month, but ever since the early 1940’s, plane seating rows have been numbered, and those numbers start at 1 and go up at every row.

If you are seated in row 50, it does not make much sense to try and find your seat in the business class cabin in the front of the plane. You’d be amazed how many passengers get on board, then spend their first minutes trying to determine whether row 48 is next to row 2.

If you are in a really bad boarding group, then it may be worth paying the airline for an upgrade.

United Airlines is a good example of an airline that will try and nickel and dime you any chance they get – but on many flights, $50 may move you from the back of the plane to a slightly better coach seat.

This better seat often includes using the elite security line, and being moved into boarding group 1. You may also get an offer for an upgrade from coach to business or first class, but expect to pay several times your ticket price for that “luxury”. Save yourself some money by seeing whether you are given upgrade options at the check-in kiosk at the airport. Also, consider asking the gate agent if they have any paid upgrades available (this really only applies to United Airlines and their Economy Plus seating).

And finally – do everyone on the plane a favor, and get into your seat as soon as you possibly can. Nothing is more annoying than a single passenger taking 5 minutes to get his or her bags in the overhead bin, especially if it is delaying 100 fellow passengers.

If you can’t find a spot for your bag, sit down and keep it on your lap until a flight attendant reaches you. Don’t bother trying to walk up all 50 rows to the front of the plane, as every single thing you do will only delay boarding. Flight attendants will help you before the plane leaves the gate, so don’t worry about that bag.