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.
Thanks to my perfectionist ways, I tend to do pretty well in airports. I arrive early, wear slip-on shoes that are easy to get on and off at security, organize my carry-on items well and constantly check the departure board for changes related to my flight.
But in the same way some travelers are always on the prowl for discounted getaways, my travel obsession of late is studying new strategies to master the airport experience. Fortunately, there are others out there like me, and they’ve shared their tips to hack your way through the airport.
Here are five tips and recommendations that I’ve found particularly useful lately:
Take screengrabs of your mobile boarding pass: This great article on the New Zealand website Stuff reminded me how finicky some apps can be — and that Murphy’s law dictates they’ll give you the most problems when you’re just about to approach the security officer in line at the airport. Avoid such problems by taking a screengrab of your boarding pass and displaying that. Chances are, it’s much easier to open your phone’s photos folder than to count on an airline’s app to work exactly when you need it to.
Pack an outlet splitter in your carry-on: There’s nothing more frustrating than needing desperately to charge your phone at the airport but finding all the outlets are occupied. Insider smartly suggests packing an outlet splitter, which turns one outlet into two. Then you just ask another tethered device addict to share the outlet and you both get to charge up. Outlet splitters cost just a few dollars and are widely available.
Download airport apps: I have plenty of airline apps on my phone, along with GateGuru, but I never thought to download apps for the airports themselves. Airplane News’ 10 Common Mistakes You’re Making at the Airport reminded me to download the airport apps too. I found this especially useful on a recent trip to seek out a decent place to eat and find an alternate restroom when the one near my gate was closed for cleaning.
Pick airport security lines to the left: I should have known this because I’m left-handed, but somehow it slipped my mind: Because most people are right-handed, they tend to gravitate to the right-side security lines. So it’s likely the lines to the left will be shorter, according to our own 18 Best Airport Hacks. This tip has been around for a while, but it’s still holding fast and true.
I’m sure there are still plenty of people simply staring at their phones the whole time, or curled up on an uncomfortable bench trying to catch a snooze. But there are a lot more interesting things to do at airports these days during a long layover.
Learn CPR. Chicago O’Hare International is the latest airport to introduce free kiosks where you can learn CPR. The video arcade game-like tutorial shows you how to do hands-only CPR and practice on a rubber torso attached to the machine. Push hard and fast in the center of the chest to the beat of the Bee Gees song “Stayin’ Alive,” the tutorial advises.
And if you ask one University of Dayton student, the tutorial is time well spent. He learned CPR during a three-hour at Dallas/Fort Worth international. The lesson took 15 minutes, and he ended up saving the life of a fellow student two days later.
Take a free city tour. A number of airports offer free city tours to airline passengers with layovers, writes Jennifer Dombrowski of Luxe Adventure Traveler in 5 Things to Do at an Airport During a Layover. Tokyo Narita, Singapore Changi and even Salt Lake International Airport are among those offering free tours.
Icelandair launched a new program called Stopover Buddies this winter to pair up travelers with airline employees who take you skiing, ice skating, out for a spectacular meal, horseback riding or for a dip in a thermal pool, among other activities. The sky’s the limit, depending on how much time you have. The Stopover Buddies program concludes on April 30, but I hope they continue it again later this year.
Get sporty. As this Lonely Planet article details, you can go to the gym at Changi Airport in Singapore, ice skate at Seoul Incheon International, go surfing — actual surfing, not on the web – at Munich International or do yoga in a studio at Dallas/Fort Worth International.
Hang out in a first-class lounge. You don’t have to be a first-class ticketholder to pass your layover in an airline lounge. According to the website Sleeping in Airports, more than 190 airports around the world have 300 lounges that you can access by prepurchasing a pass. Or check with the airport information desk to ask about lounges that allow you to purchase access. For more information, see 7 Ways to Score Airport Lounge Access.
Be a foodie. So many airports have specialty or themed dining options that you could design your own eating tour. Travel Pulse suggests a Latin food tour at Miami International by sampling Cuban and Venezuelan dishes at various eateries. Likewise, you could go on a wine tasting tour. Two dozen U.S. airports have outposts of the winebar Vino Volo.
Rent a day room. I’ve hit the age now where trying to nap in an airport has zero appeal. So I love the concept behind Hotels by Day, in which hotels offer unsold rooms for day use at lower rates. There are a number of airport hotel options if your layover doesn’t afford enough time to travel into a city but you still want a chance to shower, take a nap or watch television.
Among the world’s busiest airports, Seoul’s Incheon International Airport and Singapore Changi Airport provide the best customer services and amenities, according to a new survey from Airports Council International (ACI).
The two Asian airports provide modern amenities and entertainment options for travelers, including Incheon’s ice skating rink and Changi’s butterfly garden. Amenities like those make for a better traveler experience, an ACI representative told Skift.
The Airports Council International, a trade association for the world’s airports, interviewed 550,000 passengers at more than 300 airports around the world, asking them about such topics as checking in, cleanliness, security, airport facilities, food and beverage, and retail offerings. Seoul and Changi tied for first place among airports handling more than 40 million passengers a year.
Indianapolis International Airport was ranked the top airport in North America for the fourth straight year. The airport, which sees more than 7 million travelers annually, has 2,000 acres of protected land surrounding it. Researchers study bats there, and last year, conservationists added an apiary to breed honeybees. The airport is also home to the largest solar farm at any airport in the world. Inside, the airport is filled with art and local eateries.
Five North American airports tied for second place: Grand Rapids, Tampa, Dallas Love Field, Jacksonville and Ottawa.
The best airports in other regions, according to the survey, are:
Africa: Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport in Mauritius
Europe: A three-way tie among three Russian airports — Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International, Pulkovo International in St. Petersburg and Sochi International
Middle East: Amman Queen Alia International Airport in Jordan
Latin America/Caribbean: Jose Joaquin de Olmedo International Airport in Guayaquil, Ecuador
Catch up on what you may have missed this week with this roundup of our favorite travel stories.
52 Places to Go in 2016
The New York Times kicks us off with an inspiring collection of destinations to visit in the coming year, complete with droolworthy photos and videos. Suggestions include familiar favorites (such as Dublin, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising) and up-and-comers (such as Garzon, a new wine region in Uruguay).
Inside One of the World’s Biggest Airline Food Factories
CNN visits the Emirates Flight Catering facility in Dubai, which provides 55 million meals a year for hungry fliers. It’s fascinating to learn the scale of the operations here — for example, the facility cleans three million items of equipment every single day. (Now that’s a lot of dishes!)
Airports Shutting Terminals at Night in Effort to Evict Homeless
Conde Nast Traveler examines a recent push by U.S. airports to force out homeless people by shutting down public, pre-security areas overnight. Especially this time of year, many homeless people find airports a warm, clean and safe place to sleep, and some “fear the alternative: a city shelter that is often dirty and dangerous.” New York’s LaGuardia and Washington D.C.’s Reagan are among the airports cracking down.
Old Driver’s License? You Can Still Fly for Two More Years
There’s been a lot of anxiety lately about the new Real ID Act, which sets minimum security standards for driver’s licenses and other identification cards — standards that are not currently met by some states. Fortunately, the Associated Press reports that there will be at least a two-year reprieve before travelers in non-compliant states will have to use an alternative form of ID instead of their driver’s license when flying within the U.S.
Irish Hotel Helps a Lost Toy Bunny Find Its Way Home
From the “Awwww” department comes this Travel + Leisure story of a stuffed animal left behind at the Adare Manor Hotel in Ireland. The hotel staff took good care of the toy, sharing photos on the property’s Facebook page of the bunny taking afternoon tea and getting a massage while it waited to be reclaimed by its young owner. Adorbs!
Our favorite travel video of the week is an upbeat journey around the cities, beaches, deserts and mountains of Morocco. (We love the soundtrack.)
I’ve taken many a trip, been on many a flight, and maybe because I’ve been (knock, knock) lucky about not having my luggage lost, I’ve never contemplated what happens to my suitcase after I drop it at the luggage counter. Without much imagination, I always assumed baggage handlers industriously gathered the checked luggage onto carts and wheeled them out to some kind of freight elevator where they journeyed to the tarmac below and were then loaded by another industrious group of baggage handlers onto the plane.
Little did I know, while I’m thumbing through magazines and finding the nearest Jamba Juice before settling in to await the boarding process, my luggage is having the ride of its life — at least it would in Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, where a first-person (bag) video has recently been released, chronicling a checked bag’s journey through an intricate series of conveyor belts and robotic platforms. Seriously, if this thing were designed for humans, it would be the hottest new theme park attraction.
We found the video on Time.com, but if you browse the airport’s website, you can find a version that allows you to scroll for 360-degree views.
What other inside view of travel would you like to see a video of? Share with us in the comments.
There’s plenty wrong with the airline industry. From increased fees and decreased legroom to security procedures that leave a lot to be desired, air travel gets slammed on the regular. We figured maybe it was about time for some positive news. Below, we recap three awesome air-related things from the last couple weeks that actually made us feel good. Recline your seatbacks, and read on.
Frontier Offers Fee Discount for Bundled Services
Frontier Airlines — a low-cost carrier notorious for tacking added fees onto everything from carry-on bags to beverages — is now offering what it calls “The Works,” a bundle that includes one checked bag, one carry-on bag, better seating and no penalty fee on ticket changes. On sample flights, the price for the bundle (which is in addition to the base fare paid by each flyer) would be less than half of what it would cost a passenger to purchase each of those offerings a la carte.
Private Jet Option Offered to Frequent Flyers
Delta is rewarding some of its most loyal customers by doing something unheard of — removing them from traditional Delta flights. Instead of flying with the masses, passengers who have reached Delta’s elite “medallion” status (those who accumulate at least 25,000 miles or 30 segments annually and who spend a minimum of $3,000) will instead be entitled to fly on private jets at a cost of $300 to $800 per flight (in addition to the cost of the original airfare booked). For the time being, the perk is mainly being tested in the East Coast market — on domestic flights only — using Delta’s private fleet of 66 aircrafts.
Lost Luggage? Have a Beer
Travelers waiting for their luggage at a baggage carousel at London City Airport were pleasantly surprised when, instead of suitcases, the conveyor produced cases of beer, emblazoned with the words “Take me, I’m yours.” U.K.-based brewer Carlsberg pulled the stunt as part of its “If Carlsberg did ___” campaign, leaving passengers grinning.
Is there anything about flying that makes you smile? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
There’s good news and bad news when it comes to buying airfare. The good news: It is possible to time your flight for the lowest possible price. The bad news: That time will almost never be summer. According to a recent analysis of airfare data by Hopper, a flight search app, seasonal travel price drops can be predicted and taken advantage of — just start planning trips for fall, winter and spring.
Using the drop-down of the 15 most popular U.S. origin airports on Quartz, the cheapest time to fly to major worldwide destinations can be determined by seasonality, but also based on your domestic airport. We all know Europe is generally cheapest to travel to during winter, but for Dallas, a flight to London is actually cheaper in the fall.
Don’t believe prices can fluctuate that much outside of holidays and peak times? If you’re looking to head to Istanbul, you might want to reconsider that notion. Of all the major flight paths analyzed, three of the five with the largest seasonal price difference are en route to Istanbul — starting at a 50 percent price difference originating in Washington D.C. and totaling as much as 57 percent more on flights from Chicago in the summer. Flights from Los Angeles to Barcelona and London are 52 and 53 percent more, respectively, in the summer season.
If you’re set on one of the elusive flight paths that are actually cheaper in summer, Dallas is your best bet followed by the capital of Taiwan: Boston to Dallas, Houston (Bush) to Dallas (and reverse), Houston to Taipei, New York (La Guardia) to Taipei and D.C. (Reagan) to Toronto all run low in the summertime. (Think of the heat.)
Maybe this is a concept we always knew about air travel, but finding my familiar home airport, and watching the lists of destinations appear in conjunction with the cheapest season, is reassuring. With everyone already bemoaning “the end of the summer season,” it gives me three more seasons (and potential trips) to look forward to.
While air travelers continue to suffer through carry-on fees and legroom reductions, their furry friends can enjoy spa treatments and splash pools in a new $48 million facility dedicated to the pre-flight comfort of pets.
The New York Post reports that, in 2016, John F. Kennedy Airport in New York will open the Ark Terminal, featuring a 20,000-square-foot facility where dogs can romp, a faux jungle setup where cats can climb trees, and even special stalls for larger animals like horses and cows, complete with showers and hoof-friendly flooring. Massages are on the list of amenities as well.
The Ark will also offer boarding for pets who aren’t actually traveling with their humans. The cost? A mere $100 per night for access to human-sized beds and the use of flat-screen TVs.
It all sounds a little over the top, but an article in Crain’s New York Business notes that the new terminal will serve some very real needs. The current facility used for animals passing through JFK dates back to the 1950s, and the nearest federal quarantine center is two hours away, requiring a tedious and pricey side trip. The new terminal will have a quarantine facility right on site.
Crain’s also reports that animal travel is on the rise; shipments of various creatures through the New York metro area have risen by 28 percent over the past three years.
The perfect time to arrive at the airport, according to one mathematician, may be an unsettling one. Despite most airlines advising you to arrive at least three hours prior to international departure, Jordan Ellenberg, a mathematician and professor at the University of Wisconsin – Madison vies that the best time to arrive for your flight is as late as possible, and considers every hour spent waiting to board a plane as a “negative unit.”
According to the article in Huffington Post, Ellenberg considers optimizing your life by cutting it close to boarding time. “If we routinely arrive at airports three hours ahead of time, we’ll accrue hundreds of those lost hours over the course of our lives, and that’s not an efficient use of our time on earth.”
Ellenberg’s strategy puts forth only a one to two percent chance of missing your flight, but he doesn’t seem too concerned about the prospect, quoted as saying, “If you’ve never missed a flight, you’re not doing it right.”
Although Ellenberg’s theory seems to be about saving precious time, it gives me an anxiety attack just to imagine running late for a flight. I think the notion of saving time is a noble one, but let’s be honest: there are plenty of times in travel that we spend waiting — security checkpoints, hotel check-ins, you name it — but it’s worth it to ensure we have the best trip possible.
I don’t see how my life would be benefitted if I missed my flight — or needed an inhaler to catch one. Do you subscribe to Ellenberg’s time-saving maneuver? Tell us about your arrival-time preferences in the comments below.