I could publish my accumulated wisdom in a small book and sell literally dozens of copies. But no: I selflessly offer then to you here, for free.
* Check in with the airline app. If you have your airline’s free app on your phone, you can check in ahead of time, even the night before, and save yourself the worry of getting to the airport an hour before the flight.
At that point, the app can also display the bar code representing your boarding pass. No paper. Just set your phone face down on the little T.S.A. scanner, and you’re through. Not all airlines have the bar code scanners, but the app will let you know ahead of time.
(Kudos, in particular, to Delta’s app. It’s beautiful, typographically intelligent and loaded with great features. You can change your seat, track your luggage’s location, check your position on the standby list or upgrade list, and so on.)
* Save the pass to Passbook. If you have an iPhone, use the button called Save to Passbook. This button appears when you’re viewing the bar code in the better airline apps, including Delta, American and United.
Apple’s promotion of this app always seemed to suggest that its value is keeping all of your boarding passes and event e-tickets in one place. But Passbook’s real value is much simpler; it adds a banner representing your flight on the phone’s Lock screen.
That is, every time you need to show your boarding pass (twice in the T.S.A. line, once at the gate), you don’t have to unlock your phone, open an app and navigate to the bar code. Just wake the phone and swipe across the banner. Your bar code is there, instantaneously.
* Use FlightTrack Pro. This app is almost a miracle. It knows every detail about your flight — time, gate, terminal, airspeed, time remaining and so on — even before the airport monitors and airline agents do. (I wrote more about it here.)
* See if you can bypass the T.S.A. lines. If you fly often to or from the San Francisco, San Jose, Orlando, Denver, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio or Westchester airports, it might be worth getting the Clear card for $180 a year. (A spouse or child is $50.) It lets you jump to the front of the security line in those airports.
If that’s a bit rich for your blood, you should also look into the TSA PreCheck program. It’s fantastic. It lets you walk through an old-style, door-frame-type security scanner — without removing your laptop, coat, shoes, belt or watch. The details are in my April 2012 post here; since then, PreCheck has spread to more airports and airlines.
* Carry a butterfly laptop bag. You don’t have to take your laptop out of its bag to go through security. T.S.A.-approved bags keep the laptop in a flat compartment of its own, easily visible to the scanners. So you don’t need to fuss with plastic bins or worrying about leaving your laptop behind (it happens). Here’s the one I bought.
* Don’t take out the Kindle or tablet. E-book readers, iPads and other tablets don’t have to come out of your carry-on bag to go through security. Don’t waste your time, and everyone else’s, by unpacking and repacking it.
* Know what the scanner cares about. Most major airports now use the millimeter-wave scanning booths — you know, the ones where you stand still with your arms in the air like you’re being mugged. (They often bear the unfortunate, but apropos, name Rapiscan.) Many travelers are unduly terrified of these things. They take off their watches, rings, necklaces, glasses, belts and anything with metal — and thereby hold up the whole line.
In fact, that’s unnecessary. Jewelry and glasses don’t trigger the alarm. Neither do watches, unless they’re the gigantic he-man metal-hunk style. Leave them on. (I also leave my belt on. About once in 10 times, the agent on the far side of the booth asks to pass his hand-held scanner over my belt buckle, but that’s about it.)
* Be brave in repacking the overhead bins. Ever since the airlines started charging for luggage, people began carrying more hand-held luggage. Those overhead bins fill up, and the next thing you know, you’re being asked to check your carry-on! That means 25 minutes of extra waiting when you land.
Here’s the thing, though: you can almost always make room for one more bag by rearranging stuff that other people have already put up in the overhead bins. You see the flight attendants do it all the time; why shouldn’t you?
For example, you’ll frequently see an overcoat lying there, occupying enough space for an entire roll-on bag. Or a shopping bag, briefcase or backpack laid horizontally that could stand upright and take up a lot less space.
If it’s worth it to you to avoid the 25-minute wait in baggage claim, it’s possible to overcome your instinctive fear of touching other people’s things. Target your spot in the bin, ask the people sitting there politely if you can adjust their stuff, then do it (when you’re not blocking the aisle, of course!). For example, you can often slip your roll-in bag beneath someone’s jacket. It’s amazing how often you can find room if you really try.
* Pack noise-canceling headphones, or cheap foam earplugs. Airplane cabins are loud. I can’t imagine that it’s good for your hearing to sit there for hours without ear protection, especially if you fly a lot. If you don’t plan to listen to music, those cheap drugstore earplugs cut down on the sound by more than half. If those are a little goofy looking for you, you can also invest in noise-canceling headphones. (Here’s my most recent roundup.)
Flying is still expensive, annoying and environmentally damaging. But if you have to fly, at least these tips can help you make flying less frustrating.