Five tips to speed your way through the airport

By John Walton, February 9 2012
Five tips to speed your way through the airport

Road warrior and frequent flyer Ryan Bingham dissected the art of passing quickly through an airport in the movie Up in the Air -- a flick that we tend to keep on fairly heavy rotation when travelling. 

We've got our own time-proven strategies to speed your way through Australian and international airports, and spend more time being productive (or relaxing) in a lounge rather than standing in line. Ready for AusBT's 'fast five'?

1. Wear a suit or casual jacket

There's no easier or faster way to deal with taking everything out of your pockets for security than just slipping them into the pockets of your suit jacket or a casual equivalent.

Wallet, phone, headphones, keys, everything else -- all kept safely together, harder for thieves to purloin from the x-ray belt if you're pulled aside for extra screening, faster to slip back on your shoulders after you're done with the metal detector or body scanner.

2. Carry an Ultrabook or tablet instead of a full-size laptop

In the US, the TSA checkpoints will let you leave an iPad, small laptop with SSD (not a hard drive) or other device with no moving parts in your carry-on bag when it goes through the x-ray machine.

So you save a bit of time zipping and unzipping, plus no more waiting for your laptop to come out of the x-ray machine when the screener is peering intently at the bag after yours.

Lighter, faster to start up and shut down -- and in the US it can stay in your bag.
Lighter, faster to start up and shut down -- and in the US it can stay in your bag.

We just wish the same "only big laptops out" idea would spread to this side of the Pacific.

3. Fill out the inward/outward immigration forms in advance

If you're travelling internationally you'll have to fill out assorted immigration and customs forms.

You can save time by completing these forms ahead of time – while you're queueing for check-in (they're available at the check-in desk), en route to the airport or even (if you're hyper-organised) in a few spare minutes anytime before you leave for the airport.

Sorting out your paperwork en route means you don't have to do it at the airport while balancing your luggage in the other hand.
Sorting out your paperwork en route means you don't have to do it at the airport while balancing your luggage in the other hand.

If you can, grab a few of these cards for outgoing (and incoming) Australian passengers and keep a stash at home, in the office or in your carry-on.

4. Wear a shirt with a pocket

Once you've got all the forms you need -- plus your boarding pass, passport, and express departures/arrivals cards -- it's a matter of keeping them to hand during your trip.

Wear a shirt with a breast pocket so that you can keep them handy as you pass through security, while you make your way through the airport, when you board, for reference during the flight and on arrival.

That way you have everything together and aren't hunting through your bag, jacket and other pockets for all the important documents you need.

Pockets not your style? You can achieve nearly the same convenience by picking an external pocket of your carry-on bag as your designated travel document pocket.

5. Look at the map and plan your route before you arrive

Before you get to the airport, eyeball the terminal on the airport's website. Is the terminal one of the ones with an interminable duty free maze? Are certain gates a hefty hike away from the business lounge?

So which gate is yours again? (Hint: it's always the one furthest away from the entrance at Chicago O'Hare.)
So which gate is yours again? (Hint: it's always the one furthest away from the entrance at Chicago O'Hare.)

Large international airports are a nightmare to navigate when busy, so know where you're going. Where are your airline's check-in desks, so you can ask the cab driver to stop right outside the closest doors -- or make a beeline straight for them from the airport train or bus stop?

Is there a sneaky shortcut you can take, or perhaps an airline partner's lounge that's closer to your gate than the lounge that your airline uses?

If you're connecting, do you need to change terminals? How does that work -- is there a bus? peoplemover? train? moon buggy? (No, really -- Washington's main international airport, Dulles, uses odd moon buggy peoplemovers to get you around the airport.)

When travelling internationally, at what point do you clear customs and immigration? It's usually the first airport you reach in the country, but that's not always the case.

Your tried and tested tips

What are your favourite tips for speeding your way through the airport? Do you use our top five? Share your own tips with your fellow AusBT readers in a comment below!

John Walton

Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.


Qantas P1

18 Jan 2012

Total posts 73


I make sure I have "scanner friendly" shoes and belt so I can walk through without removing them. 

At checkin, or getting out of the cab; I put wallet and phone in my carry on bag. So when I walk up to security I simple take my laptop sleeve out and walk through. 

When collecting laptop on airside, I keep an eye on the bomb swab testers. Wait until they have a victim then decide to proceed so they don't slow me down. Expresss cards obviously help for international travel; particularly since the lane is right behind the QF F checkin. It's not uncommon at Sydney to go from kerb to lounge in less than 5 minutes. 

QantasFF Platinum

16 Feb 2012

Total posts 153

When travelling in USA, I found it extremely handy having boots (R M Williams) that you can quickly slip on after having to take them off to go thru the X-Ray machine 

If you are super efficient, and see the people ahead of you are taking their time, you can often walk up to the front of the queue and whack your stuff straight onto the conveyor belt ahead of a slow moving family or elderly, to glide thru the scanner and pick up your gear even before someone can say 'hey!'

10 Mar 2011

Total posts 529

Aside from having a stash of forms and filling them in before leaving for the airport and also keeping wallet and phone in the hand carry bag until after xray, there are no true and tried ways of speeding through. The speed you go through is always dependant on (a) the airport, (b) the time of arrival / departure and (c) how organised people in the queue in front of you are.

09 Feb 2012

Total posts 1

Place your bag on the security scanner belt ahead of the trey with laptop, etc.  That way you'll have the back picked up and open ready for the tray to come through with the stuff that needs to go back into the bag.  Much quicker repacking on the other side of security.

30 Jun 2011

Total posts 49

At Sydney T2 but flying Qantaslink, Jetstar or REX? Then ignore the main security gates and head downstairs past the baggage carousels, past the car hire co's all the way down the end near where Rex's gates are.  That is where you will find a single security gate, with never a queue, bringing you up right near Virgin and not far from Q's T2 lounge.

Looking for a cab at the other end of the day?  If one terminal's cab queue is a full two lanes deep, then make the effort cross the airport to the other.  You'll be surprised how often it can be quiet over there, plus is a leg stretch ever that bad?


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