As much as I like to travel and see the world, I’m no fan of the typical airport experience. You’re supposed to arrive at this place well in advance of your flight, only to deal with a mess of traffic along the way, check-in kiosks that become unresponsive, extra long lineups at security and customs, and a severe lack of Wi-Fi and power outlets at the gate. It’s just not the ideal situation.
Don’t get me wrong. Many airports are architectural marvels and they’re working to provide a better airport experience. But you can make your time at these hubs of transportation even better if you do your research ahead of time and arm yourself with the right smartphone apps. Here are some of the best ways to get the most out of your time before you board that plane.
The TripAdvisor GateGuru
Before you even get to the airport, you can get a jump on how your day is going to go with the GateGuru app. Available for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone, the smartphone app not only tells you everything you need to know about your flight — like departure time, whether it’s delayed, from what gate you’re departing, at what terminal you’ll arrive, etc. — but also information about the amenities you can expect at the airport. What is there to eat near your departure gate? What shopping is available? Other travelers also leave useful tips, just like Foursquare, that can further enhance your time at the airport. The app is also integrated with car rental, thanks to a partnership with Avis.
Minimize Your Wait Times
What’s the only thing worse than waiting in line? It’s knowing that you could have been in a much shorter line had you arrived only 15 minutes earlier or 15 minutes later. Avoid that sense of dread and regret by getting the What’s Busy app. Originally designed for places like restaurants, it has now been expanded to include airports. An algorithm calculates you estimated wait time at the security lineup based on the flights of the day. It knows how many passengers are expected on each flight and at what gates, so it can estimate how many people will be at each checkpoint at various points of the day. This is great for airport management too, because it means they can better manage personnel needs to handle the bigger rushes and slower periods.
Fly Straight Through Security
Speaking of getting your way through airport security as quickly as possible, you can do yourself a big favor by picking up a TSA checkpoint-friendly bag. This is something that I mentioned in my essential travel gadgets guide and it’s worth mentioning again. By using one of these fold-out bags, you don’t need to remove your laptop and can get through the checkpoint far more quickly. Try to stuff all your electronics and metal things in your jacket or bag too, so you don’t have as many little loose bits to pick up from the scanner on the other end.
Relax in the Lounge
Yes, you could spend your time in the standard waiting area along with everyone else, or you could find a better place to relax, freshen up and be more productive. The LoungeBuddy app for iPhone tells you everything you need to know about available airport lounges, because these aren’t just reserved for triple-platinum, ultra-elite, frequent-flyer members. The app contains tours too, including photos, amenities, and reviews. These lounges oftentimes include complimentary Internet, snacks and drinks, and far more comfortable seating. Check the one-time fees and make an educated decision about how you want to spend the next few hours of your life. An Android app is also in the works.
Get to Know Your Airport
Many individual airports also offer their own specialized apps to give you a better airport experience. The utility of these apps will vary widely, of course, but they’ll usually provide live flight updates, parking information, terminal maps, restaurant listings, and other useful information. Some examples include the apps for London Heathrow, Zurich Airport, and Schiphol Amsterdam Airport (shown above).
Image credit: beyondtherhetoric / Flickr