How to avoid airport chaos: 5 tips from an expert travel writer

Flying can be an extremely stressful affair, even before you’ve boarded the plane. These tips will help you prepare for take-off while remaining grounded

Airport check-in
(Image credit: Getty)

Let’s face it – if you’re heading abroad this year, your holiday is highly likely to start with the challenge of battling your way through an airport, before clinging desperately to the hope that your luggage will make it to the destination it’s destined for. In short? Airports are stressful places right now, which is why I’ve come to the rescue with a guide to alleviating airport-relating stress.

Still looking for the right destination? There's some handy inspiration in the form of these surprisingly cheap all-inclusives

Heathrow Priority Pass lounge

(Image credit: Heathrow)

1.  Seek sanctuary in a lounge

Nothing takes the shine off bagging a bargain flight quicker than the realisation you’ve just spend £10 on a bottle of water and a chocolate bar. At a time when more of us are opting to arrive at airports earlier than usual due to recent chaotic scenes, it’s easier than ever to fritter away your hard-earned cash at airports, which is where lounges come in.

Flying economy, or with an airline which doesn’t have lounges? Not a problem – book a visit to one of the growing numbers of pay-to play lounges, such as Priority Pass lounges (prioritypass.com (opens in new tab)). There are 1,300 Priority Pass lounges around the world, and annual membership fees start from just £69. These types of lounges typically offer a wide range of food and drink (although alcohol often costs extra), and they’ve been designed with boredom busting in mind – most have an abundance of power points, dedicated quiet spaces and television rooms which screen everything from sports matches to films.

Many lounges are accessible for a one-off fee, and although one-off access at UK airport lounges can err on the pricey side, don’t assume that lounges in other countries cost the same. For example, a visit to the brilliant pay-to-play Aviserv Lounge at Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport will cost you just £10, and the lounge has all of the perks you’ll find in the ones operated by airlines such as Virgin and BA.

2.  Embrace fast track

Ever watched a fellow passenger cruise through the fast track security lane and experienced a pang of jealousy? Don’t assume they’re enjoying this perk because they’re flying first-class or are a VIP – most airports, including most major ones in the UK, will allow guests to use this lane for a small fee.

For example, if you’re flying out of Gatwick airport, for just £5 you’ll be able to access the fast track security lane – simply book your slot (gatwickairport.com) at least two hours before you fly, or opt to pay at check-in and pay the slightly higher fee of £6.  

Conversely, I’d avoid wasting money on speedy boarding-type schemes offered by several short-haul budget airlines. Now more than ever, passengers are still being asked to board by seat number (especially if the aircraft is delayed), whatever their ticket type.

3.  Opt for valet parking

I'm not talking about the kind of dodgy scheme you stumble across on the internet, which involves handing over huge amounts of cash (followed by your car keys) to someone who refuses to divulge the exact location in which your car will be parked, and whose idea of a car park could be a country lane, field or his mate’s driveway.

When operated correctly, valet schemes can save you huge amounts of time as well as cash. Prices vary hugely, so be prepared to shop around. At the luxury end, you’ve got services such as Heathrow’s official valet parking (heathrowparking.com), which will cost you £117.50 per day. You won’t have to worry about remembering where you parked your car, and you can add extras such as internal and external car washes.

Then there are services such as Purple Parking (purpleparking.com (opens in new tab)), which charges as little as £5.95 a day, and provides its services at most UK airports. There are a wide range of options to choose from – at Gatwick for example, Purple Parking has car parks at both terminals, and it’s possible to opt for add-ons such as meet-and-greet packages.

Samsonite C-lite suitcase

(Image credit: Samsonite)

4.  Go cabin luggage only

When it comes to baggage, if you can travel with just a carry-on case, do it. With luggage taking longer to get from the aircraft to the airport than ever before (or worse, not making it at all), you’ll save both time and cash. Trust me – this one could transform your life, although mastering the cabin baggage-only approach admittedly takes a little skill. The benefits, however are endless.

Almost all airlines now charge for checked baggage, so you’ll not only save time due to cutting out the baggage drop process but money, too. Our tips? Invest in a decent set of compression cubes – fabric pouches with double zips which compress the contents as they’re zipped up. Make use of internal spaces such as the insides of trainers, travel flasks and spectacle cases.

Worried about keeping your weight down? These days, hard shell cases are often the lightest, thanks to the use of composite, space-age materials chosen for their lightweight construction. I'm particularly smitten with Samsonite’s C-Lite suitcases, which weigh just 1.9kg and are made of an extremely light (but incredibly tough) type of polypropylene.  The C-Lite’s internal compression straps help you make the most of your space, too. We’ve got a full selection in our best carry-on luggage guide if you’re looking for more price options.

Finally, invest in a set of handheld luggage scales with which you can weigh your bags before your flight and prior to returning, otherwise you risk spending the money you’ve saved by avoiding checked baggage fees on fines incurred by excess luggage.

Chipolo card

(Image credit: Chipolo)

5.  Be prepared

I get it – travelling with just cabin baggage isn’t for everyone, but (now more than ever) it’s important to be prepared for the dreaded lost luggage scenario. Nothing’s worse than spending the first day of your holiday trawling a local shopping centre for underwear or scrambling to find the nearest pharmacy so you can replace toiletries which have somehow ended up in Mumbai instead of Mallorca. Always stash some essentials – underwear, toiletries and any medication – in your carry-on.

The good news? Tracking technology used by airlines and airports means that the airline will generally be able to locate your luggage relatively quickly, and in the vast majority of cases, you’ll be reunited with it within 24 hours (most airlines will forward it to your hotel, too). But don’t forget to put in a compensation claim to cover any costs. This should initially be done with airline, the majority of which will have dedicated online forms. Many airlines will try to convince you to approach your insurer first, but the airline should always be your first port of call, if only because any insurance claim – no matter how small, or what for – can ramp up the cost of future insurance policies.

For extra peace of mind, place your own tracking device in your case. I'm a huge fan of Chipolo trackers, but my favourite trackers are Apple AirTags (opens in new tab). If the worst happens, you’ll be able to use the AirTags’ Find My app to see the location of your case – and yes, possibly learn that although you arrived safe and sound in Sydney, your worldly positions never left Heathrow.

Tamara Hinson is a freelance travel and tech writer who writes for a range of publications, including T3, Wanderlust, the Times, the Metro and the Independent. Favourite destinations include Peru, India, Zambia and anywhere in South East Asia, although as a former snowboard instructor she’s happiest in the mountains. Her favourite trips include a visit to North Korea and the time she joined a postman for his 250-mile mail run around the remote cattle ranches surrounding Coober Pedy, an Australian outback opal mining town where everyone lives underground.