When you get to fly quite a bit like me, airports naturally become a part of the journey and sometimes, depending on how soon you arrive at the airport or if you have a connecting flight (which is often my case), it tends to be a place where you spend a lot of time.
Most of the times, at least for me, it’s the boring part of the trip so I try to make the most of the time I spend there. There are great airports out there and some that are not so special, but in truth, it’s all about how much time you spend in it that makes you like or dislike that part of the experience.
I still remember when I was a kid that we needed to go to the airport about 3 hours in advance, so we wouldn’t miss our place in the airplane. Back then, we had to go to the airline office to buy a ticket (it would take forever!) with months in advance and being on the wait list was not so bad as we would eventually get an ok status as we approached the travel date.
The only thing I cared about back then was seeing the planes on the runway, coming and going, so time would go by pretty fast, at the airport. Arriving at our destination, waiting for the bags was another long wait before leaving behind that part of the journey.
These days, travelling and the airport experience has become a whole lot simpler and faster, as most services are getting more and more automated.
When you get to know an airport that you frequently go to, like me with Madeira, Lisbon and Porto, you know how soon you need to get to the airport, where you go to leave your luggage, how long is the queue for the security check, how much time you still have to get to the door and what you can do and where you go in between.
We are all creatures of habits, so I also have a few of my own when it comes to airports.
My first rule (and this is me because I know a lot of people who do the opposite) is not to get there too early and just with the right amount of time to get things done and still have some 30 minutes before they open the gate (in Madeira this may come down to 15 minutes, since it’s a smaller airport and you don’t need much walking to get from one place to the other).
Another one is not to bring cargo hold luggage and just use a backpack or carry-on or, if the airline allows it, bring both with me. As most of my travels are for 2 to 5 days a backpack or a carry-on are usually my choices. I would only take both for a 10 days to 2 weeks trip. I try hard to bring only what I’m going to wear or use but even then, there is always a t-shirt or 2, maybe an extra boxer or socks that come back untouched. Since I don’t use the cargo hold, it’s less time I spend checking it in and, most important, less time I wait for it when the flight is over, because this one can be a real pain! Also I’ve had the experience of lost luggage at the start of a trip (eventually everyone does) and, let me tell you, it ain’t a good one! I don’t mind much if the luggage gets sidetracked on the return trip, as it will eventually appear and it’s mostly dirty clothes in it… but on the going?… please, no!
Security checkpoints are also a pain, sometimes. And if you’re not familiar with the airport (or when you are) you need to consider that you may spend a bit of time in these queues. There’s a lot of people that fly maybe once every 5 years or once in a lifetime, and I think they always know when I’m flying because there they are, right in front of me (!!), without a clue as to where to go or what to do with the bottle of water that they should have tossed a while back of even where did they put those darn’ perfumes and other liquids (usually tucked right at the bottom of everything else!). I used to stress quite a bit with this but now, well… that’s airport life, for ya!
For me it’s easy… nothing in my pockets, wrist watch already in my hand, same as belt (although these days I rarely use it) and maybe a jacket, liquids in a small plastic bag right under the zippers (backpack or carry-on), same with the laptop (although some ask for it, some don’t). Unzip the bag, take them out, bang, bang, and I’m done. Pass the metal detector (rarely beeps), put stuff back in, zip it back up, wrist watch, jacket and I’m done! Time! Just under 3 minutes… Damn’! Got to train harder! 😊
After this and depending on the time, it’s mostly a relaxing stroll “on the other side”. If I’m short for time will go straight to the gate area and sit there a bit (sometimes a lot when flight gets delayed!). If I have more time and run into a Starbuck’s, there I’ll be! I just love their coffee and options they have, and I know they’ll taste about the same anywhere, so I know I’m good. A table with an outlet socket is a must! If no Starbuck’s in sight, I’ll do with other coffee shops (Costa is also good and you can find it in a lot of airports). Sometimes everything is full, so I try to find a quiet spot in one of the closed gates lounge areas.
Important!!! Socket…GIVE ME A SOCKET! This is the thing I search the most in every airport and I don’t get it why there are some where these are really hard to find! If I’m staying for an hour or more (delays and connections will do that) I will plug in and stay connected, maybe even do some blogging or post pics online. Sometimes just to check out the results from the orienteering race I’ve just been to. No matter what, a socket is my crusade at any airport…and sometimes it’s a rough battle…
Shopping or Duty Free? Almost never to really never! Shops are too expensive and it’s stupid that they are so expensive (maybe not so much at Duty Free). People are there (mostly) doing nothing and just waiting to go home or to go abroad and if these shops had, at least, the same prices as standard shops they would do serious business! Never did quite get why this is.
I may have something to eat if the munchies start to settle in, but just like those shops, food is also a bit overcharged, so usually just a snack, hoping to get something else on the plane (subject for a different post…).
When you gotta go, you gotta go, and airport toilets (at least in major European airports) are among the cleanest public toilets there are. And they get cleaned several times a day. To a point that I once passed by 3 different toilets and all were being serviced… Talk about walking for miles just to take a wiz!
Sometimes I have the chance to get an upgrade on my flight. Either by the airline itself but mostly because I use some of my frequent flyer points to upgrade from the usual economy to executive class. I’m not really concerned about the quality on board, although obviously it improves. What I do love about going in executive class is those airport lounges! This is the only time I want to get to the airport earlier, and there have been occasions where I got an upgrade on the flight back home just because it was a late flight and I decided I would spend the time just “lounging about”. If you’ve never tried it, you don’t know what you’re missing. If you have, you know what I’m talking about… Free FOOD and drinks! It’s like an all you can eat buffet and I have experienced not only snacks but a real buffet dinner! There’s always a good sitting spot and sockets all around!! It’s the best place to be in an airport and, in there, time just goes by way faster.
Airport living may be a pain, or not. It depends on so many different factors, if it’s an airport that has a lot of things to offer or if you find your perfect spot to stay, then it should be a smooth wait for that next flight… Just make sure you know the layout and the distance you still must walk to get to the plane on time, otherwise, “the relaxing” will turn into “the stressing” real fast! 😉