When people say they love traveling, they generally mean they love being at their destination. Few people love the air travel experience — particularly at crowded airports. Here are tips to help you navigate even the busiest of U.S. airports.
1. Use alternative airports
Know the nation's busiest airports and look for nearby options. In terms of total passenger boardings, America's busiest are Dallas/Fort Worth, Denver, George Bush (Houston), Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta, JFK New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas McCarran, Chicago's O'Hare, Phoenix Sky Harbor and San Francisco. Others can be just as busy at certain times of the year. If at all possible, use an alternate or secondary airport — Love Field in Dallas, for instance, or Midway Airport in Chicago. Los Angeles has at least three other options: Bob Hope in Long Beach, John Wayne and Ontario.
2. Book flights strategically
The day and time of the flight matters, especially at busy airports. Early morning flights on Tuesday through Thursday are best. It's common sense, really. Leisure travelers tend to fly on or right before or after weekends — often trying to stretch their vacations by booking post-work-hours departures and later-in-the-day returns. Business travelers tend to fly on Monday, to get a start on the business week, and Friday, to get home for the weekend. Hence, early morning midweek flights are cheaper, less crowded and have better on-time departure records. Plus, with early flights, if there are delays or cancellations, you stand a better chance of being rebooked on a same-day flight.
3. Know your airport
Prior to departure, study the layout on the airport's website. Find your terminal and plan a route directly to it. Determine if reaching your terminal requires a long walk or boarding a shuttle or tram. Research security-line wait times on the airport and Transportation Security Administration websites. Check the historical traffic patterns on roads to the airport at the time you're flying. Before heading to the airport, check on your departure gate (it might have changed) and on real-time traffic.
4. Rely on technology
You can prep for your flight online or with a smartphone. Check your flight's status and print out your boarding pass before leaving home, and sign up for email flight-status alerts. Airline apps not only provide alerts, but also let you download a digital boarding pass and opt for automatic rebooking on the next available flight if your original flight is canceled. Online technology and apps can also let you do things like book an airport parking space ahead of time — especially important during the holidays when lots fill up.
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