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Airport tips: how to help yourself survive

Airport Tips Another day another airport

One of the things people typically ask about is airports - how do I avoid them?  Is this a legal connection between flights?  Which airport is better?    So we thought we'd put together list of airport tips.

Direct flights

Almost everyone prefers direct flights.  Flying direct avoids the potential of missing your connections as well as reduces the potential for lost luggage.  And direct flights will reduce total travel time.  But sometimes they are either too expensive or just not possible given your destination.  Some people live close enough to choose between different departure airports.  If you are a little flexible you may be able to score that direct flight, but you may need to drive a little further.

Legal connection times

Each airport has it's own rules for "legal" connection times.  But I don't always follow these rules.  For example, when flying through Charles DeGaulle in Paris, my advice to clients is to have at least a 3 hour connection time.  This is from personal experience where I've missed a connection because my flight from the US was several hours late AND connecting between terminals took way too long.  Heathrow and Munich have a nice features which advise you how long it should take to traverse between gates.  The key is to know if you have to go through security or not.  Can you make a 45 minute connection in Atlanta if both flights are domestic? Sure.  We've even made a 50 minute connection in Frankfort but only because we were in the same terminal.  Bottom line - you can't always trust the airline to book the appropriate connecting flights.

Is Business class or Premium economy worth it?

Is Business Class worth it? Is Business Class worth it?

While many of my clients fly to Europe on business class, the price can be prohibitive for many passengers.  Most airlines now provide an upgraded economy service which basically gives you a few extra inches of legroom.  For many people it's probably worth paying for.   For a 7 hour flight, an incremental $120 is worth 4 extra inches for most people.  Is it worth $500? Depends on your personal values.  On Delta, the premium economy comes with upgraded drink and food offerings as well as a separate compartment which helps with restroom availability as well.

Business class offers lots of advantages:  bigger seats, much better food and service.  Two other advantages of business class are that you have a separate line when checking in - usually shorter and on international flights you'll be able to use the airline's amenity lounge (if available) complimentary.  That takes the sting out of a long connection time.  Recently airfare between the US and Europe has been pretty low and we've seen some great business class fares.

How to save time at the airport

  • First check in on line before you go.
  • If you have to check bags, do so in the separate line or kiosk - no need to wait for ticketing.
  • Figure out how to get dropped off rather than drive.  At many airports, long term parking adds 20 - 30 minutes to the trip.  Even dedicated airport parking requires a transfer on a small bus which adds time.  Lyft, Uber, SuperShuttle are all services you can use that will drop you right at your departure terminal.

How soon do I need to get to the airport?

The airlines have a variety of answers:

Here's a good general article on the subject from Conde Nast Traveler: http://www.cntraveler.com/stories/2014-07-11/ombudsman-the-tao-of-airport-arrival

Our recommendation:  Arrive at the airport 2 - 3 hours before your scheduled departure time depending on your particular airport.  If we're in a new airport, especially internationally, we'll err on the side of 3 hours.

Another tip:  getting to the airport early helps the stress factor.  If you're able to use one of the airport lounges, it makes the hours before your flight much more tolerable.  You'll get this in business or first class, with many credit cards or simply by buying a day pass.

Which airport is best?

To me, the best airport is the one that works best for your logistics.  If you're taking a river cruise that leaves out of Budapest, you're going to fly into Budapest airport no matter what you think about the airport (it's fine by the way).  Sometimes you have a choice of which airport to fly out of.  If you're flying out of the NY metro area for example, you'll have your choice of JFK, LaGuardia or Newark.  It's usually a pretty easy choice given plane tickets and traffic logistics.

Choosing which airports to connect through is important though. Flying through Chicago in the winter or Atlanta in the summer can be problematic given the weather for example.   If I have my choice when coming in from Asia, I'll choose Vancouver over Chicago any day.  When traveling to Europe either Frankfort or Munich are much better choices than say Charles de Gaulle.

For what it's worth, here's a nice airport ranking: http://www.businessinsider.com/best-airports-world-2017-skytrax-2017-3/#1-singapore-changi-international-airport-sin-15

Happy flying.

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