The Matador Guide to Airports

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Air travel is magic. Nearly three million people fly every day on some 45,000 flights in the United States alone, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. Of course, between delays, long snaking lines, expensive flights and airport food, frustrated fellow travelers, and airport security, it often doesn’t feel all that magical.

The key to starting your trip off on a good note is knowing all the ways to make the most of what an airport has to offer. Every one is different, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t near universal tips and tricks for everything from navigating security checkpoints to finding your checked bag.


The Case for Arriving Last Minute

Going to the airport is kind of like going to the dentist. The sterile corridors, bright iridescent lights, tedious waiting around, and uncomfortable procedures aren’t exactly inviting, and, at worst, can even be painful. With the exception of some state-of-the-art new terminals, most airports are terrible environments to hang out at. Not to mention check-in lines and the frisking at security. Your reward for all of this? Waiting another couple hours in the most uncomfortable seat known to man, alongside hundreds of other disgruntled soon-to-be-passengers who just endured the same process. Sure, having lounge access makes the waiting a bit easier, but it’s the equivalent of getting a root canal in a dentist’s chair that massages you. So why spend more time in the airport than you have to? Check in online, get TSA Precheck, and show up at the last possible minute. The short-lived “will I I make my flight?” anxiety is well-worth avoiding the hours of waiting in the airport. Eben Diskin

The Case for Arriving Early

Airports 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. 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. Then there’s the people watching. And that’s just the start Tim Wenger.



Traveling With Baggage

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The decision to check a bag is highly circumstantial. Some items (skis, large instruments, special liquors or wines from your travels) simply can’t be carried on, while some occasions require a lot more packing (month-long trips, almost anywhere with a baby, etc.). There’s an art to finding the best airline in terms of checked-bag fees, carry-on bag fees and size limits, and wait times to get your bag tagged and sent off. There’s even more of an art on the airlines’ side to get your bag from point A to point B through any number of connections.


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Getting Through Security

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Airport security is one of the biggest obstacles to making it to your gate on time. Lines are long and only seem to be getting longer. Even expedited programs like CLEAR and TSA PreCheck can involve waiting in a long line now depending on the airport. What’s worse, the vast majority of airports lack a reliable way to check how long it takes to get through the security line. That leaves travelers with the choice to risk it and hope for the best, or spend far too long trying to entertain themselves post-security after an unexpectedly short wait. With the right approach, however, security lines can be an afterthought.

Sign Up For TSA PreCheck

If you’re ready to make the jump to TSA PreCheck, or you just need to renew, the first hurdle pops up before you fill out a single document: finding an available time at an enrollment center. There are two primary options.


  • More than 580 enrollment centers
  • $78 fee
  • $70 for online renewal, $78 for in-person renewal

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  • 10 locations
  • $85 fee
  • $70 for both online and in-person renewal

Learn More


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At the Airport

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Travelers are generally divided into two distinct camps: Those who always arrive hours early and those who just make it in time. But even the latter group isn’t immune to spending some quality time in the airport if their flight is delayed. Thankfully, the days of airports being black holes of boredom are largely over. In Rome Fiumicino Airport, sculpture installations allow for a self-guided art tour, while the newest terminal in the Denver International airport has an outdoor viewing deck to watch planes take off and land. And lounges and good bars can be found just about anywhere. Being entertained these days just depends on knowing what to do and where to go.

Avoid Those Hidden Fees

The cost you see when booking a flight isn’t always what you’re going to end up paying. Despite a government push to make pricing more transparent — in the airline industry and beyond — hidden fees are still something travelers need to keep an eye out for. There are some very fee-happy airlines out there.

A report from money-saving platform NetVoucherCodes ranked US and international airlines based on additional fees for carry-ons, checked bags, boarding order, insurance, WiFi, and seat selection (which is the most common). In all, 89 percent of airlines charge a hidden fee, and 100 percent of US airlines do.

Highest hidden fees as percent of base price, US airlines:

  • Spirit Airlines: 736 percent
  • Frontier: 376 percent
  • Sun Country: 201 percent
  • Delta: 158 percent
  • JetBlue: 147 percent

Highest hidden fees as percent of base price, international airlines:

  • Volaris (Mexico): 626 percent
  • Etihad (UAE): 401 percent
  • Ryanair (Ireland): 344 percent
  • Wizz Air (Hungary): 273 percent
  • EasyJet (UK): 170 percent


Taking Off and the Gear That Will Get You Through It

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All of the fuss around airports is toward one goal: boarding that plane and heading off to your destination. If only it were so simple for your everyday commercial flight (a private jet or charter is a whole other story). Thankfully, there is affordable gear out there that can make the flight more relaxing, even if you’re stuck in the middle seat in the back of the plane. From airplane foot hammocks to expert suggestions to avoid jet lag when you land, these products and tips will help get you there as refreshed as possible.



Editorial lead

Nickolaus Hines


Eben Diskin, Alex Bresler, Tim Wenger, Katie Scott Aiton, Morgane Croissant, Nickolaus Hines, Suzie Dundas, Olivia Harden, Kelly Magyarics, Katie Jackson

Special Thanks

Ryan Dury
Debbie Gonzalez Canada