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Why I Always Show Up to the Airport Early

Airports + Flying
by Tim Wenger Aug 28, 2023

According to a recent survey conducted by Priority Pass, 63 percent of travelers noted that getting to the airport on time is the single most anxiety-inducing aspect of travel. This begs the question – why not alleviate that anxiety entirely, simply by showing up to the airport earlier than you need to?

This story is part of the Matador guide to airports

I get it – waiting around in an uncomfortable chair, listening to repetitive droning over the PA system and nearly getting your knees nicked every few seconds by the roller case of some hurried traveler rushing to get to their gate, isn’t anyone’s version of a good time. Neither is panicking as the security line snakes its way through the terminal at a rate far slower than the clock ticking down to boarding time.

It doesn’t have to be that way. My case is this: Airports actually can be bastions of calm productivity – and you don’t even need lounge access in order to experience this. All it takes is a willingness to arrive a few hours ahead of time, get through security, and reframe your outlook on the entire situation. In terms of places to pass extra time, airports offer so much more than the hectic confines of a busy concourse.

First, many modern airports have great WiFi now, making them excellent places to post up on your laptop and burn through emails and last-minute tasks before boarding. This prevents the stress of feeling behind at work when you’re locked in a metal tube for a few hours, sans-internet. Second, most airports larger than the smallest of regional hubs have at least decent food, with major airports nowadays offering locally inspired cuisine on par with the hippest of food halls. So there’s no need to stuff your face with Mickey D’s en route to the terminal only to feel the effects of old fryer oil turning your stomach over throughout the flight.

Once you’ve eaten and caught up on work, take a few moments to peruse and people-watch. Nowhere on Earth do people of so many different backgrounds congregate than in airports. Spend five minutes gazing at your fellow travelers as they ebb and flow around you and I guarantee you’ll hone in on at least one person to draw inspiration from. Perhaps that’s the woman scribbling fiercely into a notebook while reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, which of course reminds you that you have a book in your bag that you’ve been meaning to get through. Or maybe the guy checking in a film set’s worth of media equipment at the counter of an international carrier, seemingly en route to make a documentary halfway across the world, who reminds you that you, too, are heading somewhere awesome and will shortly have the perfect chance to relax and watch that movie you’ve wanted to see forever.

While randomly people-watching in airports over the years I’ve spotted Sinbad, Russel Crowe, and multiple touring rockstars slyly weaving through the crowd, headed unnoticed to wherever they’re high-profile life is taking them next. You may not see a famous person the first time you spend a little extra time at the airport. But by slowing down the process of getting from ticketing to take-off, and adding familiar elements of your routine into the mix, you will certainly find the affair to be much less of an ado.

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