It used to be that you could get to the airport about 90 minutes before your flight left, find a parking garage, take a shuttle to the terminal if need be, check-in, go through security, and still have time to sit down for a few minutes in the gate area before boarding began.
Yep, and you used to be able to pay for a cup of coffee with money that jiggle-jiggles instead of folds.
The days of a leisurely jaunt to the airport probably ended in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, when removing belts and shoes at security checkpoints, among other things, slowed down the process. Now, with less staff working as ticket agents, gate agents, baggage handlers, flight attendants and even pilots, flying has become a nightmare.
Navigating the airport these days has become a marathon – with obstacles. And it’s not just a U.S. problem, either, as airports around the world have been besieged by travelers looking to get back in the air after nearly two years on the sidelines thanks to the pandemic. Have you seen the literal mountain of luggage that is building at Heathrow International Airport in London?
And it’s not going to get any better, at least not for the next two months until the kiddies go back to school.
“We expect the summer travel season to remain busy, and we encourage passengers to arrive at the airport in plenty of time to park, check-in, check bags, get through the checkpoint with identification in hand and get to their gates in time for boarding,” TSA Administrator David Pekoske said in a statement Tuesday.
Some airlines are now advising customers to arrive at the airport three hours before a scheduled domestic flight to take into account traffic, parking, garages that are closed and directing people to off-site overflow parking, check-in and going through security. Add another hour for international flights.
And if a non-stop flight is not available, it would be wise to book flights with ample time for a layover to ensure you won’t miss a connecting flight if your first one gets delayed.
Ironically, there is a tongue-in-cheek article from 2012 making the rounds written by the masters of sarcasm and parody, The Onion, entitled “Dad Suggests Arriving at Airport 14 Hours Early.”
In it, the fictitious Massachusetts father Walter Holbrook tells his family that in order to comfortably make their 6:45 p.m. flight to Florida, they should leave for the airport at 4:45.
Ten years later, Mr. Holbrook’s timing might not be that far off.
One group of guys from New York even found an alternative. The friends were scheduled to fly out of LaGuardia Airport in New York City to a week of golf in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Instead of fighting typical city traffic, and then fighting through the issues at the airport, they tried what is quickly becoming a viable alternative if not an outright trend – they drove in the night before and stayed at an airport hotel.
That’s one way to cut down time.
But it doesn’t totally eliminate the problems.
For now, fliers are just going to have to deal with it.