Before you head to the airport for a flight, it’s a wise idea to check how long you should expect to wait at the security checkpoint. Knowing this info ahead of time can help you decide if you should depart earlier than you planned and get you mentally prepared if there’s a long queue.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to know where to find this information. The Transportation Security Administration provides updates on its website, but the data isn’t updated consistently, and it only covers U.S. airports. Major airports with their own apps and Twitter feeds generally don’t provide real-time checkpoint wait times.
A number of travel tech companies are trying to do better, feeding historic data into super-secret algorithms to determine airport security wait times and making that info available in apps. Using Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport as an example, I took a look at a few of these free airport security apps — along with the TSA’s website — to see how they compare.
My TSA: The TSA has a simple-to-use website called “View Security Wait Times.” But the agency relies on fliers to provide updates, and that isn’t happening often enough. On Monday evening, for example, the wait time at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport hadn’t been updated on TSA’s website in six hours. Was there still only a 10-minute wait at the main checkpoint? It’s impossible to know.
flightSpeak: This app provides security wait times plus maps, dining options, Wi-Fi info and direct links to airport Twitter accounts for hundreds of airports around the world. On the main page for Atlanta on flightSpeak, it showed Atlanta’s wait time as 10 to 20 minutes. Yet this was not wholly accurate.
If you happen to click on that timespan on the app — there’s no prompt to click on it; I just happened to touch that feature when exploring the page — it shows a new page explaining that the 10- to 20-minute wait is the aggregate time for the entire airport. It then breaks down wait times according to five checkpoint locations. The main checkpoint, it says, is actually a 30- to 40-minute wait. So the wait could potentially be four times longer than I had been expecting. And I don’t know when the data was last updated, because it doesn’t say.
MiFlight: This savvy app crowdsources wait times at more than 150 airports. When I selected Atlanta’s Concourse F, in the international terminal, MiFlight told me the wait was 30 minutes, with info updated within the past five minutes.
The app is pretty in its design and singular in its purpose, but it took me a few tries to figure out how to navigate.
Fleet: This crowdsourced app provides info on a few dozen major airports. When I entered a late-night flight from Atlanta to Santiago, Chile, the app told me that my particular Delta flight has a history of being on time 93 percent of the time, then revealed that the check-in desk and security lines were “not crowded.” As of when? And how do you define “not crowded”? It was hard to know.
Strangely enough, though, I felt a greater comfort level with the vaguer description than I did with other apps’ specific time frames.
The app goes on to provide additional helpful details about the flight, including flying time, the cost of checked bags, even how much carbon I used for this flight.
Bottom line: None of these sources seems 100 percent trustworthy 100 percent of the time. Use them as a general guideline, but continue to follow best practices for domestic and international departures based on when you’re flying.
First Low-Cost Asian Airline Cleared for Flights to the U.S.
Cheaper fares to Asia could be in store for Americans. CNN reports that AirAsia, a budget airline based in Malaysia, has just been approved to fly to the United States. Though the fares might be cheap, passengers would have to pay extra for meals and bags.
How Airline Passenger Rights May Change in 2017
As the U.S. makes the transition from the Obama administration to the Trump administration, Conde Nast Traveler investigates which air traveler protections will likely stay in place and which might be on the chopping block.
Are you an expert in packing light? You could use a new app called Airmule to sell the extra space in your suitcase. You’ll be serving as a “mule” — or personal courier — for shipments arranged through the app.
Here’s how it works: You download the Airmule app (which is currently only available on iOS), list your trip — including the flight details and how much suitcase space you wish to sell — and wait for a shipment inquiry to come in. Once you accept the inquiry, Airmule will make sure you get the delivery item before your flight, either by mailing it to you or bringing it to you in person. In most cases another Airmule representative will meet you at your destination airport to pick up the item and forward it to its final destination. (In other cases you may need to arrange a transfer once you arrive.)
Airmule works with TSA-certified shipping companies and inspects all items before they’re given to you. Packages are insured up to $200.
Travelers serving as mules earn $150 per luggage space, minus a $1 processing fee. Sell space in two suitcases on a roundtrip flight, and you could make nearly $600 on your trip — perhaps enough to pay for the whole flight!
While it sounds like an easy way to make money while traveling, there’s one drawback: The service is currently only available for shipping between the United States and China.
When we tested the app, we were able to see available mules for other trips, such as New York to London. We reached out to Airmule about the issue, and a spokesperson responded: “Though we do allow people to list travel anywhere, we currently actively support only U.S. and China. We will support additional countries very soon. This is because we want to ensure a high volume of shipments for travelers when we open a new channel.”
So if a trip to the Great Wall is on your bucket list, keep the app in mind as a way to earn money toward your vacation. Otherwise, you may have to wait for the service to expand in the future. Learn more at Airmule.com.
Check out the stories you may have missed in the travel world this week.
MasterCard Could Share Your Height and Weight with Airlines, But Will It?
Skift reports on an eyebrow-raising new patent application from MasterCard that could affect how your data is shared with airlines. Because the credit card company has records of consumer purchases — including the sizes of shoes and clothing — it could theoretically let an airline know how large you are, allowing the carrier to avoid seating “two physically large strangers next to each other,” according to the patent.
Travel Is So Much Better Than It Was
It’s easy for travelers to find things to complain about — baggage fees, security lines, shrinking legroom — but this column from the National Review points out that we actually have it pretty good these days, thanks to new technology and innovative services such as Airbnb and Uber.
Five Myths About Hotel Room Service
USA Today debunks a few common myths about room service. Did you know, for instance, that you might not have to tip (if the gratuity is already included on the bill)?
Check out what’s worth reading in the travel world from the past week.
The U.S. Government May Allow In-Flight Phone Calls, and People Are Freaking Out
Business Insider reports on a recent proposal from the U.S. Department of Transportation that would require airlines and booking agents to state in advance whether passengers are allowed to make voice calls on flights. Passengers are currently not allowed to make voice calls via their cell phones on certain radio frequencies, but there are no rules against chatting via Wi-Fi using services such as Skype.
50 Reasons to #LovetheWorld
Clicking through this gallery from BBC will spark your wanderlust all over again. The site has reached out to dozens of contributers and travelers for anecdotes from incredible journeys around the world.
Cuba’s Young Artists Embrace a New World
This National Geographic feature offers fascinating photos and stories from the young people of Cuba, where “individualism is creeping out into the open” after the recent death of Fidel Castro.
‘Basic Economy’ Fares Make Sense: Opposing View
When United recently announced that its new Basic Economy fares would not include overhead bin access, many travelers and news outlets responded with outrage. But this piece on USA Today makes the case for these bargain-basement fares, arguing that while they won’t suit everyone, they fill a niche for price-sensitive travelers who don’t need many amenities.
Check out what you might have missed from around the travelsphere.
Many Ryanair Flights Could Be Free in a Decade, Says Its Chief
Most airline news these days is about reduced services and extra fees, but here’s something a little different: The CEO of Ryanair, a European discounter, recently said that he wants his carrier to offer free flights within the next five to 10 years, reports the Guardian. Instead of charging for airfare, the airline would make money via a revenue share with the airports from which the carrier’s passengers fly.
Airbnb Broadens Its Business with Tours and Travel Experiences
Airbnb made a splash this past week when it announced that it was expanding its offerings to include tours and activities, reports the New York Times. Examples include a two-day Behind the Art experience in Miami, in which you can meet local artists, and stargazing excursions in Los Angeles.
Visions of Kenya
We love this black and white photo essay from Maptia, in which the photographer offers both wild landscape images and intimate portraits from his monthlong solo trip to Kenya.
Every Country’s Tourism Slogan, In One Map
This Digg map of the world’s tourism slogans makes for fun browsing. Some countries’ slogans are enticing (“Brunei: a kingdom of unexpected treasures”), others are odd (“El Salvador: the 45-minute country”) and still others simply make us laugh (“Visit Armenia, it is beautiful”).
Why It’s Time to Rethink Frequent Flier Programs
Airfarewatchdog founder (and frequent traveler) George Hobica argues in the Huffington Post that airline loyalty programs are becoming less useful to many travelers — and should therefore inspire less loyalty.
Inside the Airport of the Future
Conde Nast Traveler rounds up more than a half-dozen technological innovations happening at airports around the world, including scanners that don’t require liquids to be removed from your carry-on and personalized navigation systems that send you directions based on where you’re standing in the terminal.
This week’s video, which features a narrator reciting Walt Whitman’s “Song of the Open Road,” captures the spirit of why we travel.
Check out the travel stories you may have missed over the past seven days.
Breakdown at 30,000 Feet
The Tampa Bay Times has published a thorough — and alarming — investigative report on Allegiant Air, a budget airline whose planes had to make emergency landings 77 times last year due to mechanical failures. The Times notes that Allegiant’s planes are four times as likely to experience in-flight failures as aircraft operated by other U.S. airlines.
The Romantic Myth of ‘Living Like a Local’
The San Francisco Chronicle questions the popular desire to “live like a local” when we travel. “What you want is to live like a rich local,” writes travel editor Spud Hilton. “If you lived like the average local, you’d have to make your bed, have a crappy commute every morning to get to your average- to low-paying job, which you do to pay the bills for your tiny apartment, your meager car and your kids’ school supplies.”
Will Uluru Become Off-Limits to Tourists?
The NZ Herald reports that the indigenous people living near Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock, are threatening to close the symbol of the Australian Outback if the government doesn’t act on some of their concerns. The Anangu people argue that their children are living in poverty while the government makes money off their land.
Eyes Aloft: The Sublime Obsession of Plane Spotting
The Virginia Quarterly Review offers a fascinating longread about plane spotters, also known as “avgeeks,” who document aircraft as they take off and land around the world. Their obsessive documentation has led to news scoops such as the return of basketball star LeBron James to his home town, which was predicted based on the sighting of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ owner’s private plane in Florida.
2016 Presidential Election: What It’s Like Traveling on the Campaign Trail
Those of us who travel a few times a year for vacation can hardly imagine what it’s like to be on the road constantly over the course of a relentless, months-long presidential campaign. Conde Nast Traveler interviews four NBC and MSNBC political reporters about what the experience has been like.
During a flight from Mexico last week, I sat next to a guy I’ll call Lenny Loquacious (not his real name, obviously).
Apparently I’m more concerned about protecting his identity than he is, because for nearly five hours, Mr. Loquacious talked nonstop to the business associate sitting to his left. Non. Stop. For five hours. Loudly.
Lenny was blindly oblivious to the dirty looks that the half-dozen passengers around us kept giving him. Even the flight attendants rolled their eyes at him, and slipped me free bottles of red wine out of pity.
More disturbing than his behavior, however, was how much personal information he revealed during the course of the flight. I knew where he worked and lived. I learned his wife’s and children’s names. I knew where he traveled for work and when he would be away next. I overheard the names of his home town, his university, a few past employers and the chi-chi private club he was a member of.
In addition, he left his iPhone and business card-as-a-bookmark on his seat when he went to use the restroom. I could have pick up his phone and accessed a good deal of information if I’d wanted to; I knew the phone wasn’t passcode protected.
Clearly, the guy had no self-awareness. But even worse, he put himself at risk of a number of different crimes, according to an identity theft expert I contacted the next day.
“This is an individual who gets an F grade in security,” says Robert Siciliano, CEO of IDTheftSecurity.com in Boston. “He’s already given out enough information [to] allow someone to pose as a bank or a credit card company or even his employer and be able to extract even more data from him to commit fraud.”
The lessons here are obvious: Don’t leave items containing valuable personal information unattended. Watch what you say when you’re in a public place like an airplane. And for the love of the passengers around you — not to mention the information about yourself that you should hold near and dear — pipe down.
As Siciliano says, “Nobody except for criminals wants to hear what you have to say.”
Check out the travel stories you might have missed over the past week.
The Countries with the Best (and Worst) Airfare Deals in the World
Thrillist reports on a new aviation price index that can help you keep perspective on whether it truly is expensive to fly. The U.S. is the third-cheapest country for domestic flights (behind India and Malaysia), but it ranks 54th (out of 75 countries) for international flights. Canada ranks dead last for international flights, while China offers the best value.
Surfing Under the Northern Lights
Even if you’re not particularly interested in surfing, you won’t want to miss this feature from the New York Times, which combines striking imagery with a fascinating story about “hanging 10” in an unexpected part of the world.
A New Perspective of Our Planet
We loved clicking through the incredible satellite photos in this slideshow from CNN. Our favorite shots include Ipanema Beach and tulip fields in the Netherlands.
Why Airline Codesharing Must Die
Ever booked a flight on one airline and then realized at the airport that your flight was actually operated by a different carrier? USA Today explains the dangers of codesharing, including going to the wrong terminal or even missing your flight.
How Travel Nerds Book Airfare
Houstonia offers an in-depth look at how one traveler got creative to find an affordable airfare to Europe — including trying different cities, checking trains and rental cars, and piecing together itineraries with discount airlines.
16 Evocative Pictures of Sri Lanka
Get inspired by these photos from Rough Guides from a recent trip to Sri Lanka. Be sure to scroll all the way to the bottom — we promise the last one will make you smile.
This week’s video is a short feature film from Holland.com. Yes, it’s basically a 17-minute destination commercial, but the sweet storyline and the dreamy footage of Amsterdam make it an entertaining watch.