Tips to make air travel more efficient

Published Sept. 29, 2013

I have to fly a lot, and over the past four years, I've honed the art of efficient air travel to a sparkling shine. Here are my tips for the efficient flier:

Check in with the airline app. If you have your airline's free app on your phone, you can check in ahead of time, even the night before, and save yourself the worry of getting to the airport an hour before the flight. At that point, the app can also display the bar code representing your boarding pass. No paper. Just set your phone face down on the little Transportation Security Administration scanner, and you're through. Not all airlines have the bar code scanners, but the app will let you know ahead of time.

Save the pass to Passbook. If you have an iPhone, use the button called Save to Passbook. This button appears when you're viewing the bar code in the better airline apps, including those for Delta, American and United. It adds a banner representing your flight on the phone's Lock screen. So every time you need to show your boarding pass (twice in the TSA line, once at the gate), you don't have to unlock your phone, open an app and navigate to the bar code. Just wake the phone and swipe across the banner. Your bar code is there, instantaneously.

Use FlightTrack Pro. This app knows every detail about your flight — time, gate, terminal, airspeed, time remaining and so on — even before the airport monitors and airline agents do.

See whether you can bypass the TSA lines. If you fly often to certain airports, it might be worth getting the Clear card for $180 a year. It lets you jump to the front of the security line in those airports. If that's a bit rich for your blood, you should look into the TSA PreCheck program. It lets you walk through an old-style, door-frame-type security scanner — without removing your laptop, coat, shoes, belt or watch.

Carry a butterfly laptop bag. You don't have to take your laptop out of its bag to go through security. TSA-approved bags keep the laptop in a flat compartment of its own, easily visible to the scanners. So you don't need to fuss with plastic bins or worrying about leaving your laptop behind. And don't bother taking out the Kindle or tablet. E-book readers, iPads and other tablets don't have to come out of your carry-on bag to go through security.

Know what the scanner cares about. Most major airports now use the millimeter-wave scanning booths — you know, the ones where you stand still with your arms in the air as if you're being mugged. Many travelers are unduly terrified of these things. They take off their watches, rings, necklaces, glasses, belts and anything with metal — and thereby hold up the whole line. In fact, that's unnecessary.

Be brave in repacking the overhead bins. Ever since the airlines started charging for luggage, people began carrying more hand-held luggage. Here's the thing, though: You can almost always make room for one more bag by rearranging stuff that other people have already put into the overhead bins.

Pack noise-canceling headphones or cheap foam earplugs. Airplane cabins are loud. I can't imagine that it's good for your hearing to sit there for hours without ear protection, especially if you fly a lot. If you don't plan to listen to music, those cheap drugstore earplugs cut down on the sound by more than half.