Traveling is the best. Deal with airports? It is not the best. You’ve likely encountered long waits in security lines, baggage issues, and other stressful situations if you’ve ever flown. Even if you’re a frequent flyer, there’s a lot you may not know about taking to the skies. Much is invested in the multi-billion dollar airline industry, and no one knows its inner workings better than the flight crew.
To make matters worse, airports have some secrets they don’t want travelers to know. Read about them and cry, or read them and use them to enhance your airport experience.
Here are some dirty little secrets airports don’t want you to know:
1. The duty may be free, but the products are not always cheaper
The bright lights and stocked shelves of duty-free shops are a tempting way to burn off the hours before a flight or during a long layover. Don’t be fooled: the prices of duty-free drinks, chocolates and perfumes are often even more expensive than what you’d pay back home!
2. You are being lured into stores from a sitting position
It’s not exactly a catch, but it’s a clever trick: The reason the most comfortable seats, from rocking chairs to plush couches, are near airport shopping areas is because they draw you into the shops from a seated position. This practice is called “entry entry”; The goal is for you to pull out your credit card during the “golden hour” (the first 60 minutes after you’ve passed security).
3. Currency exchange rates are atrocious
Frequent travelers know never to exchange currency at the airport. Exchange rates are outrageously skewed in favor of the house; you will lose a lot of money on the deal. Instead, get your foreign currency from your hometown bank or, better yet, simply use your ATM card at a machine free of charge once you reach your final destination abroad.
4. Your gender can be confusing
If your gender isn’t obvious to the TSA, you may be patted down the old-fashioned way as you go through security. That’s because when you walk in and place your arms above your head for the now-common full-body scan, the device’s operator must tell the machine “male” or “female” so it knows which anatomy to consider when scanning. If they pick the wrong gender and the machine sees “parts” it didn’t expect, it might get more, ahem , personalized attention.
5. Pleasant conversation can be a test
We don’t want to make you too cynical, but the next time a TSA agent talks to you, it might not be because they find you fascinating. Instead, it could be a behavioral inspection technique. The pleasant conversation can be a subtle test to see if you are a suspicious character.
6. Eating during the flight can be cheaper than at the airport
If you have an airline credit card, you may be entitled to a discount of more than 25 percent on food and beverages purchased during the flight. The cost of American Airlines’ delicious fruit and cheese platter, for example, drops from an already reasonable $8.99 to a relative steal of $6.74 when you put it on any of their credit cards. It’s probably half the price of a comparable meal in or out of the airport!
7. Airport restroom feedback is received in real time
No bathroom experience will be worse than using a portable potty outdoors on a hot summer day, but for a long time, airport bathrooms weren’t much better. This is changing, thankfully, and you can do your part to improve airport restroom cleanliness by providing instant feedback on smart feedback devices when you leave (after thoroughly washing your hands, of course). At certain airports, such as those in the New York area , real-time feedback is received to help keep restrooms clean. By the way, make sure you never do these 18 things on a plane.
8. You really don’t need to arrive two hours before your flight
Occasionally it will take hours to get through security, but most of the time you don’t need that long at the airport. We believe this “helpful” recommendation from the airport is a ploy so we can eat, drink and shop in the terminal. After all, the longer you’re there, the more money you’ll spend killing time. Instead, be sure to check in online, just bring a carry-on, be ready for security (skip belts and jackets, and wear easy-off shoes), and arrive a little later than they suggest.
9. Checking your baggage at the gate can be free
You may have the opportunity to check your baggage at the gate for free. Hear the message “we’re expecting a full flight and will run out of overhead bin space” at the gate, then take the opportunity to bring a complimentary checked bag to your final destination.
10. There is WiFi and it is (probably) free
There is still the stray airport with the audacity to charge for the privilege of accessing its slow WiFi network, but most airports offer free WiFi these days. Sign in for free and finish downloading those Netflix show episodes before you take off! Check out these things the pilot of your plane won’t tell you.
11. Taxi rides from the airport can cost twice the actual cost of the trip
On a recent trip to Puerto Rico, an airport taxi cost $26 to get to Old San Juan without traffic, yet an Uber for the reverse ride was only $14. If you’re not renting a car the next time you fly, check to see if Uber or Lyft will pick you up at the airport before joining the taxi line.
12. You may have access to a private airport lounge
There won’t be any flashing lights inviting you in, but even without your name on the marquee, your credit card(s) may come with the bonus of opening the door to free airport lounge access. Don’t be afraid to show up and ask. You may find yourself in an oasis of calm and tranquility with free food and drinks before your next flight. These are the things you should never do at the airport.
13. The water is free
Airport stores would rather you pay up to $5 for a disposable plastic bottle of water. Avoid the fee by passing an empty bottle through security and look for reusable water refill stations located near restrooms and old water fountains in almost all major airports.
14. Security is not as secure as you think
Understaffed and overworked TSA employees staring at a screen for too long and scanning technology that’s probably already outdated means airport security isn’t as secure as you think (and hope) it is. Here are some more things your TSA security agent isn’t telling you.
15. Your ETA includes more than just flight time
If you’ve noticed that the advertised total flight time doesn’t add up to the ETA published when you booked your flight, here’s why: Estimated arrival time includes leeway for taxiing to and from the runway and other possible minor delays. It also allows pilots to brag about making it arrive ahead of schedule.