6 Traps Waiting for You at the Airport

Anticipate these traps ahead of time to make your travel day stress-free.

ByRICK SEANEY, CEO of FareCompare
April 17, 2016, 2:23 AM
PHOTO: A stock image of a female traveler texting at an airport check-in desk.
A stock image of a female traveler texting at an airport check-in desk.
Andrew Bret Wallis/Getty Images

— -- If you think the hardest part about travel is the planning, you may not have flown lately. Today’s crowded airports are full of “gotchas.”

Some folks now blow off the first and last days of vacation as lost causes because of the headaches. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Don’t lose precious time to “travel days” when a little strategizing on your part will make it so much easier.

6 Airport Traps and How to Avoid Them

Take a look, then set your alarm a little early on departure day.

1. The Parking Trap

If you drive, you have two choices: Park nearby or park far away but no matter how you slice it, you’re going to pay a lot. At Los Angeles International, for instance, a seven-day parking stint is $84 at the cheap lot and $210 at the terminal-close lot. Bet you have better ways to spend that.

Solution: Leave the car at home. Compare prices with Uber, Lyft, even the local taxi service and you could save big; an acquaintance of mine’s Uber trip to LAX from the San Fernando Valley cost a reasonable $58.

Another option is to do a swap with friends; play airport chauffeur for them when they go away if they’ll do the same for you.

2. The Security Trap

Most travelers who get to the airport an hour before takeoff this summer may be in for a nasty surprise thanks to crazier-than-ever lines at security. Reports from Newark’s busy hub showed that hundreds of people missed flights in December alone because of continued Transportation Security Administration staffing shortages, and things are not getting better.

The shortages are due to a 10 percent cut over the past few years in anticipation of a big signup for PreCheck that never materialized. Top it off with more stringent security in the wake of terror incidents in Paris and Brussels and lines get even slower.

Airlines are certainly taking notice; JetBlue now recommends all travelers get to the airport at least two hours early and this is, in effect, for all flights through early-September.

Solution: Do what they say. Show up two hours (or more) ahead of departure or sign up for PreCheck (if you fly internationally, sign up for Global Entry which includes PreCheck). It only takes a minute and it’s cheap. Yes, an in-person interview is required, but you’ll find that a lot less painful than standing in line for two hours this summer.

3. The Banned Item Trap

OK, so you made a mistake and tried to bring a bottle of water through security, no big deal, just toss it. But what if it’s a hostess gift, maybe a $50 bottle of Grand Marnier? Ouch.

Remember, no liquids in containers bigger than 3.4 ounces and that goes for liquid-ish items like jams and jellies and even peanut butter.

Solution: See the TSA’s app called, “Can I Bring My…” and they’ll let you know. And remember, even small liquids (shampoos and such) must be in a small zip bag and you are only allowed one of these.

4. The Delay Trap

Did you see the video of the raging woman howling at the American Airlines rep because a flight delay was threatening to ruin her Disney cruise? Yes, indeed, bad weather happens and not much can be done about it (though we hear the woman did make her cruise).

Solution: No one can control the weather. Howl if you want to, but anecdotal evidence strongly suggests that could hurt you; I mean, if there’s a delayed flight and one seat opens on another flight, will the airline rep help the passenger swearing at him or the patient passenger?

Be patient, be polite, and be first – first in line at the airport, first in line on the phone to try to get first choice of any alternatives.

5. The Electronic Death Trap

Phones die. They usually do it at the most inconvenient times, too, like just as you’re about to produce your on-the-phone boarding pass.

Solution: Be sure your device is charged up before you travel, keep a charger on your person and print your boarding pass at home or at the airport kiosk.

6. The Overstuffed Bag Trap

A lot of people are unaware that even carry-on bags have size and weight limits and more and more airlines are looking for violators. Frontier, for example, says “no” to carry-ons over 35 pounds, while Virgin America refuses any over 30 pounds.

Airlines like American, Delta and United have dimension limits of 45 inches (height plus width plus length), while Spirit allows a surprisingly generous 50 inches, but then they charge more for carry-ons than checked-bags.

Violators may be forced to pay the bag fee (typically $25 each-way), or at least risk having the bag taken away for stowage below and who wants to wait around the luggage carousel?

Solution: Measure and weigh your bag. If it’s too big, why take a chance? If you’re willing to gamble, fine, but remember to grab your medications and charger cords before they take the bag away from you.

Any opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author.