10 Ways to save time at airports

Richard Mellor

Beyond obvious measures—priority boarding, complying with carry-on regulations, etc—here are some clever ways to save precious minutes before and after plane travel

Before take-off:

Pre-arrange visas

If you’re travelling to a destination where visas are required, try to sort them in advance—assuming this doesn’t mean posting $200 to an “embassy” (ahem) in Brussels. 

Visa-application queues in smaller airports, especially African safari destinations, can take hours to clear.

 

Print boarding passes

It might seem retro, but always print a copy of your boarding pass. Phone batteries have been known to suddenly die, or wi-fi provision be absent; in such a scenario, having a back-up will have you an almighty—and, most likely, almighty expensive—faff.

 

Plan your parking

Driving to the airport? Check how to access your chosen car park (those airport ring-roads can be maddening) and whether a shuttle bus is required to get to Departures. Such shuttles can be unreliable or full, leaving you stuck. 

A pricier but prudent option, when available, is valet parking.

 

Spare see-through bags

It never hurts having a few clear plastic bags. Some airports now cheekily charge a pound or two for these, and others have been known to run out. 

 

Prepare for security

Ace security by preparing ahead. Empty your pockets into your carry-on so you don’t waste time rooting out every last coin. Ditto jewellery. 

Try not to wear belts, but do wear trainers or slip-on shoes. Have your see-through toiletries and electronic items ready to extract and be placed separately. 

Alas there’s no mitigating randomly-implemented searches, ones in which you or your bag is penalised despite raising no alarms. Gatwick Airport is particularly maddening in this regard.

 

If all else fails

Airports such as Manchester and Stansted offer, controversially, a premium fast-track security option. It’s something to consider if you’re likely to be cutting it fine. 

Alternatively, politely explain your time-pressured situation to a security employee with your boarding pass to hand as proof. In most cases, they’ll let you queue-jump.

 

After landing:

Ditch the roller

In a word: escalators. If you’re wanting to beat everyone else to immigration, escalators offer opportunity. Airport passengers always stand on both sides, allowing no-one to pass. 

The way to bypass them is by running up the adjacent staircase—but this is far harder if you’re carrying a cumbersome roller suitcase. The same applies to all hurrying in busy terminals. Rucksacks are the way to go.

 

Savvy seats

As rear-door exits are a rarity, book a seat very close to the front of the airplane. This means you’ll be among the first to disembark, and thus—assuming no shuttle buses—to security. 

That can be a huge advantage, especially at small airports where immigration desks are teeny or understaffed.

On bigger planes, have that seat be on the left-hand side, nearer the exit door. Every second counts...

 

Passport-hall pondering

Take a second to scan the immigration hall. E-passport queues always move quicker, but if the line is huge, and the old-school, real-person alternative only has a trickle of people, opt for that instead.

 

Make a good impression

How you behave and appear at immigration shouldn’t matter, but often does. 

Be smartly dressed, make eye contact and have ready information about your reason for travel (always say ‘holiday’), first night’s address and length of stay.  Never joke, but always take off your hat and sunglasses, and put that phone away. 

Show respect, and you’ll negate the risk of any hassle or delay.