Everyone has their travel quirks. Some obsess over packing their suitcase just right. Others have a list of must-have carry-on items for a seamless experience, from sheet masks to adaptogens. Me? It’s all about making the flight. And in the decade since I got my passport, I’ve yet to miss one.
After much trial and error (and consulting pros like Brianna Glenn of Milk + Honey Travels), it appears the key to never having a boarding door closed in your face comes down to four simple rules. Follow the tips below and you can lower the odds of your plane’s wheels going up without you.
1. Prepare for your flight well in advance—and go analog…with your travel info
Practice doesn’t make perfect—preparation does. Before any trip, compile all your pertinent travel details: flight itineraries, addresses of where you’ll be staying, copies of your driver’s license or passport. (Pro tip: send a copy of all of the above to a family member or close friend who’s aware of your travel plans, just in case you need someone to resend you anything.) It’ll save you from wasting time searching for it when you’re supposed to be heading to the airport.
Write down your flight info, the confirmation number for your boarding pass, plus the addresses and phone numbers of where you’ll be staying in a notebook that you can easily access during check-in or for filling out customs forms on international trips if you’re changing planes. Doing so in advance will prevent you from delays later.
2. Sign up for flight updates and schedule your taxi to the airport ahead of time
If you can book anything early, do it. When you have early flights, for example, schedule your Uber or Lyft the day before: It’s one less thing you’ll have to allocate mental energy to among all the other moving parts travel entails. If you’re driving yourself, factor in time to leave your vehicle in long-term parking, catch a shuttle to your terminal, and make it through security (which is longer than the time your GPS will tell you it takes to simply get to the airport).
Another valuable tip: Sign up for email or text alerts from your air carrier, which will ensure you find out if there’s a flight delay or a gate change. Sometimes these alerts can be delayed but often they’re a needed heads-up to help you re-adjust on the fly. Literally.
3. Pad your travel time for unexpected delays
The number one tip Glen gives clients who come to her for advice on streamlining their travel process? “It’s really important that people give themselves some wiggle room arriving at airports,” she says. And it’s not just for your initial departure, either. Raise your hand if you’ve had a moment of panic when you were unsure if you were going to miss a flight due to circumstances beyond your control? I recently had to make a connection in Munich after flying from Madrid. I had about an hour before the next flight to Heathrow. I vividly remember deplaning and walking down a long hallway toward customs, which seemed empty but then filled up. Fast. And the line wasn’t moving.
I eventually finessed my way to the front of the line and made my connection. But I never forgot the lesson from that experience: You must be realistic with time while traveling, and honestly, expect delays.
“Pay attention to connection times [when booking your tickets], especially when you’re landing in a destination that requires you to clear customs,” says Glenn. “If your flight connects at Heathrow, and you have 1 hour and 20 minutes, but need to go through customs, collect your bags, recheck them, and then make it to Terminal 5 from Terminal 2—you’re basically asking for a missed flight.”
4. Keep calm and carry on (your luggage that is)
Travel doesn’t have to be stressful. In fact, it shouldn’t be. Prepare as much as you can but also remember to take a deep breath because even the best-laid plans can be derailed. “Stressing never helps the situation,” says Glenn. “Neither does yelling at gate agents.” (This could actually work against you and slow down your security processing.)
To further streamline the process, skip checking a bag. Not only will limiting your luggage to just what you can bring onboard mean you can head straight to security when you arrive at the airport for your departure, but it also means you won’t have to wait at baggage claim to pick it up if you’re connecting on a flight between countries that requires a stop at customs.
Finally, because there’s no guarantee that even if you do everything right you won’t miss your flight (sometimes Mercury’s in retrograde, you know), Glenn recommends purchasing travel insurance. “Not only does it cover a host of issues, it also covers travel delays. If you are going to be inconvenienced when you travel you might as well be compensated for it,” she says.
Booking flights via Kiwi is another good option for extra reassurance. All flights come with a free guarantee should your flight be delayed, canceled, or affected in some way. And if you’re stuck, Kiwi will find you another flight and assist with transportation to an alternative airport, overnight accommodation for especially long delays, and even a food voucher.
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