How to Survive the World’s Busiest Airports

busiest airports escalator

Heading out on your first international adventure this year? Be alert if one of your layovers include Beijing, Tokyo, Dubai, London, Hong Kong, Shanghai or Paris Charles de Gaulle since they have been listed as the world’s busiest airports according to Airports Council International’s annual report. In the US, you’ll find the biggest crowds in Atlanta, LA, and Chicago O’Hare. Surprised New York wasn’t on the list? Because the city has three airports in close proximity to one another (LaGuardia, JFK, and Newark), travelers tend to spread out between them.

The good news is, if you keep this in mind and prepare accordingly, it doesn’t have to be so bad. Members from the Yonder team has traveled through each of these crazy terminals, so we put together a list of our pro-tips for surviving the world’s busiest airports:

Timing is everything

Most seasoned travelers know when they like to get to the airport. 

Some are early birds who like to get to the gate and get some work done or relax until boarding time.

Others have it timed down to the second and know exactly when they need to arrive at check-in in order to get through security and hop in line to board. But no matter what your style is, you can never plan the unexpected. On busy travel days, every part of the experience will take longer–from driving up, to parking (if you’re driving yourself), to check-in, to security…you get the picture. 

Man standing in airport

Pro-tip #1: The MyTSA app will tell you security line wait-time estimates in real-time. Download it and check in a few hours before you head to the airport, so you have a better sense as to when to leave your house.

Pro-tip #2: If you don’t already have TSA Pre-Check, now’s the time to get it. All you have to do is apply online and go to your closest TSA Enrollment Center for a quick background check appointment, and your security lines will forever be shorter. Or, at least until everyone else finds out about how easy it is…

Make the most of your layover

Sometimes, layovers can be pretty boring or even feel like a waste of time–but they certainly don’t have to be. In fact, many of the most-frequented airports have developed some pretty awesome features for travelers that are meant to ensure that your layover is anything but boring. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the busiest airport in the US, boasts hundreds of unique artworks scattered throughout the airport, including both rotating and permanent exhibits.

Someone unrolling a yoga mat

Chicago O’Hare International Airport is home to a naturally-lit yoga studio filled with live plants and vegetables that the airport’s restaurants use. They offer clean mats and plenty of space for you to de-stress before hopping back on a plane. If you’re traveling to or through Hong Kong, you might even be overhwelmed by the options available to you. In Terminal 2 alone, you can start off with a round of golf, followed by an IMAX movie, then cap it off with a trip to the Aviation Discovery Centre for some light learning. Honestly, you might end up spending your entire vacation at the airport!

Prep yourself for bumps in the road

We’re sure you’ve heard this tip before when it comes to travel, but it’s worth repeating here. Sure, you might always pack snacks and activities for yourself–and your kids, if you have them–but we’re talking about next-level preparation here. Rather than spending your entire layover waiting for a snack (and your entire paycheck for a bag of chips, for that matter), pack your own. If you really want to go for it, pack a full meal–as long as it’s not soup…that’s not going to fly (see what we did there?). You can even freeze liquids like smoothies and meal supplement shakes and bring them with you, as long as they’re still mostly frozen when you go through security.

Try your best to avoid checking bags so you know your stuff will make it with you from point A to point B. If you can’t make it happen, be really thoughtful about what you pack in your carry-on. You’ll want to make sure you have a change of clothes, an extra layer, a toothbrush, and any necessary medications.

Woman sitting next to luggage

It might feel like a bit of a pain to pack all of that in your carry-on when you’re already checking a bag, but it’ll be well worth it if a missed connection lands you at a hotel for the night or staying at the airport for a lot longer than you thought you would. And, of course, don’t forget entertainment. Get the Kindle app and set yourself up with a book or two, download a couple of Netflix shows–only available on your phone, and any other portable activities you enjoy. If you pack your carry-on thoughtfully, then check your list twice before you head to the airport, you’ll be a much happier traveler this holiday season.

If you do these things, you might just stay in good spirits during your holiday travel experience even at the busiest of the busy airports. Have a wild holiday travel story to share? Tell us about it on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram!

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