You followed all the booking and checking-in advice in Part I, right? Okay, cool. Half the battle is done. The rest is just an exercise in maintaining sanity in an increasingly absurd concoction of security theatre, inept tourists, and over-priced food in one of humanity’s greatest logistical achievements. Navigating the airport is a fine balance of coordination, speed, and quick thinking. Your goal is to pass through all the checkpoints, meandering crowds, and $20 cheeseburgers with the skill of a watchmaker & the slyness of Ryan Gosling’s cocked little smirk.
Disclaimer: This advice is coming from a Canadian citizen’s perspective. Many of our international flights go through the United States. Experiences in other countries may vary, but the basic principles should apply everywhere.
Arrive at the airport with ample time to reach your flight. More experienced sky warriors know how time is appropriate for their destination. I aim for 1.5-2 hours before take-off on an international flight (one hour for domestic). If you’re new to flying, allow for extra time to get lost and ask questions. Just don’t put yourself in a position where you have to rush.
If you have your tickets with you in printed or electronic form and you have no baggage to check-in, congratulations, you’re already ahead of the game. Have your tickets, passport, customs declaration form ready, and proceed to the first security checkpoint. Otherwise…
Depending on the time & day of the week, airport queues can be empty or they can be absolutely chaotic. I find it about as predictable as 12-sided die coated in Mountain Dew & eczema. If anyone has any insight into the best times to arrive, I’m all ears.
You’re going to want to find the shortest line possible, but also pay attention to the people in line. Savvy flyers have their heads up, documents ready, and bags prepared for weigh-in. These folks are the ones that know their shit and will torpedo their way through most quickly. They aren’t fiddling with luggage, documents, itineraries, or screaming children. Follow them in line and by example.
On your turn, swiftly move to the first available agent, hand over your passport, ticket, and throw your luggage on the scale. And always tag those bags. Save yourself two weeks of waiting on lost luggage by removing any old tags and slapping on that new one. If all is good, get your ass out of there and move to the next checkpoint.
From here, the procedures vary between airports, but the concepts are the same. Sanity is simply a matter of knowing when to beat the crowd and when to hang back. And always have your documents ready. I repeat: Always have your documents ready. If I catch you holding up a line because you’re digging around for your tickets or passport, I will mutter incoherent insults under my breath and send a dirty look squarely in your direction. You’ve been warned.
You’ll probably have to show your tickets to a security agent as you pass through to the next phase, but the big bottleneck, if flying internationally from Canada, will likely be immigration & customs.
If you see a line beginning to form, get the lead out. Walk swiftly and try to beat the crowd without beating skulls. If you can’t beat the crowd, just relax and face the sad fact that you’ll probably be bored in a line for a while. Count the ceiling tiles and be grateful that you’re not crammed into that flying sardine can just yet.
After you pass through the glacial line of human misery, you’ll need to inform the US border patrol of your intentions of flying into the US. Go slow, be friendly, and be honest. Don’t rush and don’t hide anything. There should be little reason to lie to a border official. If you have a secret that would prevent you from flying, you should probably rethink your mode of transportation.
Ready for the fun part?
Security is where all of your training and preparation get put to the test. Once you hit the line, be swift, be ready, be calm. Nothing says “shove a finger up my ass” faster than a flustered, unprepared, stressed out, traveller. That’s the truth. TSA screeners won’t be happy with you either.
Before you even reach the stack of bins in the security line, you should have your shoes and jacket off, wallet out, vibrator stowed, and laptop bag unzipped (you remembered to not wear a belt, right?). Dump your stuff in a bin, pull out your laptop, and push it into the x-ray machine. Be cool. If you get sent through the metal detector and it doesn’t beep, good job. Gather your stuff, move away from the conveyer and put everything in its rightful place. Pow! You’re in. You did it champ! If you still have time, grab a beer and tweet that airplane icon so all your Twitter followers think you’re important because you fly.
If you get pulled into the cancer machine line, do your cells a favour and opt out of the backscatter. You’ll need to go through a pat-down by a frisky, unqualified TSA agent with a bad-attitude, but hey, demoralizing humiliation is less permanent than radiation right? Insist on having the pat-down done in public. Let everybody else see how absurd the system is. Don’t argue, don’t complain, don’t joke. Just comply, have someone film everything, and upload it to YouTube when you’re through. If you still have time, grab a corner in the bathroom, curl up and weep until the flashback of indecent adolescent night terrors passes with your last mucusy drop of dignity.
Every amateur flyer’s first instinct is to jump in line as soon as the flight crew starts announcing that they are almost ready to board the plane. Waiting in line sucks. Being the first on the plane sucks. There is no good reason to be first in this line. The plane will not leave without you. You will go from standing uncomfortably for about 20 minutes with your carry-on luggage, to waiting for flight amateurs figure out how overhead baggage works, to being stuck for even longer in your cramped seat while people ram bags into your head and crawl over your lap to get to their spot. No good.
Instead, I encourage you to wait it out. I like to wait until there’s about three people left in the terminal, then jump in near the end. There’s less of a line to stand in and most of the inexperienced suckers have already had their bags shoved away. It’s about taking the path of least resistance.
As soon as the seatbelt light goes out, the first passenger instinct is to stand up, find bags, and stand there waiting to get off the plane. Resist the urge. You’re just going to be standing there like a lumbering idiot waiting for the cabin doors to open as you choke on that last bit of recycled pig flu virus circulating through the cabin. Just sit, check twitter, and be ready to quickly grab any luggage as you leave the plane. You may be dying to stand, but you won’t be dying to stand at a 45° angle for ten minutes because there’s no room in the aisle and the overhead bin is in the way.
As I’ve stated before, flying is an incredible pain in the ass. If you follow every word of my advice, your flying experience will probably be a little better than the hellish experience it normally is. Realistically though, between the offensive security procedures and the frustrating mobs of stupid, it’s still going to suck more than James Dyson’s puckered asshole (what does that even mean?).
In fact, I’m going to say fuck it. Don’t fly. Drive. Take a bus. Take the train. Take a god-damned horse and buggy like your stupid, old ancestors. Anything is better than the shitstorm of the skies these days. Just writing about it makes me angry. Goodbye.
☝ Back to top. ☝