And it’s not just me. With travelers rushing to escape the cold grip of winter and kids off school, Transportation Security Administration spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein says TSA has seen checkpoint traffic numbers rivaling the Sunday after Thanksgiving, one the busiest days of the year at airports.
It’s all a recipe for stress and disruption. But swarmed airports don’t have to ruin your trip. Here are six tips for making the experience a little smoother.
Pack with the airport in mind
As you pack for your trip, don’t just think about what you need at your destination. Think about how each item might cost you time getting through the airport.
Start with a completely empty bag, checking every little pocket to make sure nothing is in there. You don’t want to get held up at security because you forgot you had a wine opener in your backpack.
Then make sure what you are packing is TSA-approved for checked or carry-on luggage. Remember the “3-1-1″ rule: Each passenger may carry liquids, gels and aerosols in travel-size containers that are 3.4 ounces or 100 milliliters in a one-quart bag. Farbstein encourages travelers to consult the “What Can I Bring?” page on TSA’s website or the MyTSA app.
Travel adviser James Ferrara, president of the InteleTravel agency, recommends packing light so you can take a carry-on, letting you skip waits at check-in and baggage claim. “You can walk off the plane and jump right into vacation mode,” he says.
Try a mental exercise
If you’re really anxious about heading to a crowded airport, mental exercises can help you chill out. Mark Debus, manager of the behavioral health team at Sedgwick, has been preparing clients who are returning to the workforce — including a return to business travel — with visualization techniques.
Debus recommends picturing what the scene will be like ahead of time. Anticipate the huge lines, the angry travelers, the process of taking off your shoes and putting your belongings on the conveyor belt. The exercise can help you feel better prepared for the potential chaos.
Make extra time for every task
Even if you’re someone who lives for the thrill of cutting your arrival time dangerously close, consider giving yourself more time than usual to get to (and through) the airport.
Farbstein says travelers planning on parking at the airport should anticipate spending longer looking for a spot. If you’re renting a car, you should expect more of a wait while picking up and dropping off. You will probably encounter lines every step of the way, from check-in to the Starbucks by your gate.
“There’s going to be a line with the check-in counter because more people are traveling,” Farbstein says, adding that people are also traveling for a longer stretch, making them more likely to check bags.
Invest in line-cutting services and loyalty programs
Spring break travel brings a lot of families to the airport, and people trying to wrangle strollers, car seats and missing toys are bound to slow down security checkpoints.
“And then you’ve got people who have not traveled maybe since the beginning of the pandemic, so they’re a little rusty,” Farbstein says. “It’s going to take them more time; they’re more likely to have something [in their carry-on] that’s prohibited.”
Ferrara says that besides getting to the airport early, getting a line-cutting service such as CLEAR or TSA PreCheck (or both!) is his best tip for travelers to survive hectic airports.
“CLEAR speeds up the travel-document check process, while TSA PreCheck expedites the physical screening process,” Ferrara says. “But having both services complement each other greatly, providing the quickest, surest route through the entire airport security and screening experience.”
Ferrara also recommends you start building status with your favorite airline’s frequent-flier membership. Loyalty programs can eventually get you priority boarding, access to private lounges, upgraded seating and sometimes security benefits similar to CLEAR.
Use mobile apps to stay informed
Download your airline’s app to easily track your flight status and simplify check-in.
Drake Castañeda, a Delta Air Lines spokesperson, says the Fly Delta app can alert you of flight changes in real-time; let you change your assigned seat; provide airport maps; show information on airport lounges; help you access in-flight WiFi; and send a push notification when it’s time to board.
Take a deep breath — or 10
Debus recommends adding an extra hour to the standard airport arrival time for your mental health. “That way, you have enough buffer after the checkpoint to then focus on relaxing before your flight,” he says.
When you get there, find a gate near yours that is less crowded and try Debus’s “10 breaths” technique. Start by finding a quiet place where you can sit upright. Put one hand over your belly button, close your eyes and inhale for three seconds while you focus on pushing your belly out. Hold your breath for three seconds. Exhale for three seconds. Repeat the exercise for 10 rounds.
“You’re doing diaphragm breathing rather than chest breathing,” Debus says. “Chest breathing will usually increase anxiety. Diaphragm breathing usually releases anxiety.”
More travel tips
Planning: Your guide to traveling again, in 5 steps | How to move to Europe | Less busy national park alternatives |Protect your plans from covid chaos | Save on wedding travel | How to cook at a vacation rental | How to travel with kids under 5
Road trips: How to find a rental car | Snacks | National park tips | Rental car disasters | Try Kevin Costner’s road trip app | Trying a fancy bus from NY to DC | How to save on road trips as gas prices soar | What it’s like to rent from Turo
Flying: What to do about lost luggage | Getting through to airline customer service | How to get a refund | Extend your flight voucher | Find a good neck pillow | How to deal with chaotic airports | Cut the line at the airport | Get your kid a frequent flier account | Plane workouts | Why you should pick your seat | Can you fly with edibles? | When an airline bumps you | Your canceled flight emergency kit