How to Make the Most of Your Time at an Airport

I travel as much as my finances allow. These travels mostly include international destinations. Living in the Southern Hemisphere, Cape Town in particular, means I have to travel for hours and hours and mostly via connection routes through the Middle East.

Airports have become zones of strategy by now. I always teach myself a new trick or two dealing with the unavoidable waiting at airports. Most carriers recommend checking in up to three hours before flights. As much as I would like to evade that, it is being recommended for a reason.

Too few people follow the online check-in and some carriers don’t offer that service yet. That means endless lines of people who check their luggage in and receive boarding passes from the counters. For some reason arriving early won’t allow you the best seats on a plane. Too many people chose their seats online prior to arriving at the airport so forget about setting your heart on the aisle seat nearest to the exit.

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Airports are similar all over the world. They are crowded, airport security staff is edgy and trying to avoid certain checks is not possible. You will be asked to remove your belt, watch and earrings at certain security points. It simply won’t work telling them that “it always happens, it’s my watch.”

Once I pass all security checks, receive my boarding pass and get rid of my luggage the strategy kicks in. Here is where I may come across as cold hearted, but for the sake of conveying experience; it always pays off to walk to the second or third toilets rather than going into the very first ones you spot. Those are always crowded, out of paper and not as clean. I also avoid walking behind parents pushing strollers because their speed doesn’t always match up with those who have connecting flights to catch.

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On a long stopover it is inevitable not to get hungry. I usually walk through the entire food court before deciding what to eat. International brands (i.e burger joints) work out economical because they have internationally set prices. The smaller deli shops are drastically overpriced and usually charge obscene amounts for simple items such as water. In fact, airports have vending machines around every corner. Why not buy water from those? It would cost up to six times cheaper to do just that.

I’ve also come to learn that duty free isn’t cheap at all. In fact, it only appears cheaper because the pricing is in foreign currency with fewer digits. Edgars and Foschini are still cheaper so keep it local “cos local is lekker”.

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Most carriers now board passengers according to zones, which are seating areas within the plane. The best is to stick to what the crew calls out as you will be sent back if your boarding pass zone is not being called out. This is a good thing though; it means the plane is being filled from the back to the front without passengers blocking the isles while storing their carry-on luggage.

Some final advice – if you haven’t travelled through a particular airport you should read up on their security measures. Some airports search all luggages, including suitcases, before passengers check in and receive boarding passes. Those airports experience heavy delays in initial entry so it is best to be prepared.

Airports are economical hotspots and bustling twenty four hours so make the most of it, you won’t get better front row seats for people watching!

written by Mariska Knoesen

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