From the high prices at duty-free to the free unadvertised water and WiFi, here are the secrets airports won’t tell you.
15 secrets airports don’t want you to know
15 secrets airports don’t want you to know
Your gender can be confusing
If your gender isn’t obvious to the TSA, you may get an old-fashioned pat-down as you go through security. This is because as you enter and put your arms above your head for the now-commonplace full body scan, the device operator must tell the machine “male” or “female” so it knows which anatomy to consider as it scans you. If they pick the wrong gender, and the machine sees “parts” it didn’t expect, you could get more, ahem, personal attention.
Airport bathroom feedback is received in real time
No bathroom experience will ever be worse than using an outdoor port-a-potty on a hot summer day, but for a long time, airport restrooms were not much better. This is changing, thankfully, and you can do your part to improve airport bathroom cleanliness by providing an instant reaction on smart feedback devices as you leave (after washing your hands thoroughly, of course). At certain airports, like those in the NYC area, that feedback is being received in real time to help get and keep bathrooms clean. By the way, make sure you never do these 18 things on an airplane.
The pleasant conversation may be a test
We don’t want to make you overly cynical, but the next time a TSA agent gets chatty with you, it might not be because she finds you fascinating. Instead, it could be a behavior inspection technique. The pleasant conversation may be a subtle test to see if you are a suspicious character. Here are 13 things airlines won’t tell you (but every flier should know).
Eating during the flight may be cheaper than in the airport
If you have an airline credit card, you may be entitled to upwards of a 25 percent discount on food and drink purchased while in flight. The cost of American Airlines’s delicious cheese and fruit platter, for instance, drops from an already reasonable $8.99 to a relative steal at $6.74 when you put it on any of their credit cards. This is likely half the price of a comparable meal in or out of the airport!
You don't really need to arrive two hours before your flight
Occasionally it will take hours to clear security, but the majority of the time you don’t need nearly that much time at the airport. We think this “helpful” airport recommendation is a ploy to get us eating, drinking, and shopping in the terminal. After all, the longer you’re there, the more money you’ll spend killing time. Instead, be sure to check in online, only bring a carry-on, be security-ready (skip the belts and jackets, and wear easy-to-remove shoes), and show up a little later than they suggest. Check out these free things to do when you’re stuck in the airport.
Taxi rides from the airport may be twice the actual cost of the trip
On a recent trip to Puerto Rico, an airport taxi cost $26 to get into Old San Juan with no traffic, yet an Uber for the reverse drive was a mere $14. If you aren’t renting a car the next time you fly, check to see if Uber or Lyft will pick you up at the airport before joining the taxi queue.
Checking your bag at the gate might be free
You may have the opportunity to gate-check your bag for free. Listen for a “we expect a full flight and will run out of overhead bin space” message at the gate, and then take them up on the opportunity for a complimentary checked bag to your final destination.
There is wifi and it is (probably) free
There’s still the stray airport with the audacity to charge for the privilege of hopping onto their slow WiFi network, but most airports offer complimentary WiFi nowadays. Log on for free and finish downloading those Netflix show episodes before you take off! Check out these things your airplane pilot won’t tell you.
Water is free
Airport shops would prefer that you fork over as much as $5 for a disposable plastic bottle of water. Avoid the charge by bringing an empty bottle through security, and look for the reusable water refill stations positioned near the restrooms and old-fashioned water fountains at nearly all major airports.
You may have access to a private airport lounge
There won’t be flashing lights inviting you in, but even without your name on the marquee, your credit card(s) may come with the perk of opening the door to free airport lounge access. Don’t be afraid to pop in and ask. You may just find yourself in a calm, quiet oasis with free food and drink before your next flight. Here are things you should never do at the airport.
You're being lured into the shops from a seated position
It’s not exactly a trap, but it is a clever trick: The reason the most comfortable seats—from rocking chairs to plush sofas—are near the airport retail zones is because you are being lured into the shops from a seated position. This practice is called “revenue seating”; the goal is to get you to whip out your credit card during the “golden hour” (the first 60 minutes after you have cleared security).
If you’ve noticed how the total announced flying time doesn’t add up to the published ETA when you booked the flight, here’s the reason: The estimated arrival time includes wiggle room for taxiing to and from the runway and other potential small delays. It also allows pilots to boast about getting you in ahead of schedule.
The duty may be free but the goods aren't always cheaper
The bright lights and shelves full of products in the duty-free shops are an enticing way to burn the hours before a flight or during a long layover. Don’t be fooled: The prices of duty-free beverages, chocolates, and perfumes are often still more expensive than what you’ll pay at home!
The currency exchange rates are atrocious
Frequent fliers know to never swap currency at the airport. The exchange rates are outrageously tilted in the house’s favor; you will lose a lot of money in the deal. Instead, either get your foreign currency from your hometown bank or, better yet, simply use your ATM card in a fee-free machine once you reach your final foreign destination. Next, find out some travel secrets only flight attendants know.
For a list of foods you should never buy at the airport, see below!
Foods you should never buy at the airport
Foods you should never buy at the airport
“A big old soft pretzel is not a meal,” says registered dietitian Marjorie Nolan Cohn, owner of MNC Nutrition in Philadelphia. Those fluffy carbs might smell enticing, but carbo-loading before a long flight will leave your tummy rumbling again by takeoff. Look for something with protein and fiber that will keep you satisfied until you land, or better yet, pack a meal from home. Nolan Cohn recommends making a sandwich at home to save money or packing leftovers like pasta salad or grilled chicken in an old, washed plastic container, such as a cottage cheese tub.
Try not to lump your waiting time at the airport in with the “treat mentality” of the rest of your vacation, says registered dietitian nutritionist Libby Mills, founder of Dig In Eat Up. “Even though it might be the kickoff to vacation, you want to save those calories for something unique when you arrive,” she says. Skip the specialty coffee drink and stick with plain coffee if you need a caffeine fix, or leave room for ice cream at the beach instead of gobbling a bag of cookies at the airport. Don’t miss these other 15 secrets to staying healthy on vacation.
You’ve seen yogurt touted time and time again as one of the healthiest snacks you can get, thanks to its satiating protein. But that fruit and yogurt parfait isn’t the healthy and fresh choice that it seems. “Yogurt has its halo over it as a healthy food, and obviously it is, but in context of what additives are in it,” says Nolan Cohn. By the time you turn plain yogurt into a sugary flavored yogurt topped with granola and fruit (which, unlike fresh berries, is full of added sugar), it isn’t a healthy choice anymore, she says. Skip the parfait and choose a regular yogurt from the fridge, or try these 19 nutritionist-approved travel snacks you can buy anywhere.
Even yogurts that aren’t covered in granola or chocolate chips can be a stealthy sugar bomb. Fruit-on-the-bottom varieties are “not really fruit—it’s more like jelly,” says Nolan Cohn, and the dessert-like flavors and toppings can have almost as much sugar as the treats they’re named after. A cup of unflavored Greek yogurt is a safe bet, but if you need something less tart, vanilla varieties tend to have a bit less sugar than the fruity ones, she says. Try these other 13 healthy tricks for actually losing weight on vacation.
Granola bars are often designed to look like a smart choice, but there’s more than meets the eye. “Some are like candy bars in a really strategic marketing package to make it look like something way healthier than it is,” says Nolan Cohn. Granola bars can be packed with added sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, and other decidedly unhealthy ingredients, especially if they’re covered in a waxy (and melty) coating. That said, a shelf-stable, portable snack is convenient when you need to take the hunger off during your travels, so hunt down an option with 12 or fewer grams of sugar, she says. Check out these other 10 ways to eat healthy on vacation.
A cheap, low-calorie cup of coffee might seem like the perfect treat while you’re waiting, but you might regret it once you’re seated. “Coffee has caffeine and can agitate the nerves, which might not make for the most relaxing flight,” says Mills. Plus, if coffee goes through you fast, you could end up making multiple bathroom dashes, she points out. Try a calming herbal tea instead, Mills suggests.
Large bar tab
While a glass of wine as you wait for your flight won’t do much harm for most people, you’ll want to keep your drinking to a minimum. Not only could it dehydrate you before an already dehydrating plane ride, but alcohol isn’t good for deep sleep. You might crash quick, but the alcohol will wake you up and keep you out of deep REM sleep as your liver works it out. “A less restful trip, especially if you’re going overseas, may be counterproductive to enjoying yourself fully when you arrive,” says Mills.
You might not have too many choices at a quick-grab sandwich station, but keep your calories in check by avoiding excessive fillings, says Mills. “If it has triple layers of meat or bread, that’s a tipoff that you’re getting triple servings,” she says. “‘Crispy,’ breaded,’ and ‘fried’ … are words on a menu that are tipoffs of an extra serving of carbohydrates, plus the extra fat.”
You might not want to rely on the bottled water from the airport terminal—and not just because of its sky-high prices. Normally we’d never discourage some good-for-you hydration, but hear us out if you have a small bladder. “You’re guzzling water before getting on the plane, then sharing a toilet with how many people?” says Nolan Cohn. Because hydration is important, especially when you’re stuck in a dry plane cabin, she recommends sipping extra water the night and morning before your flight so you aren’t dehydrated when you board. Especially if your flight is more than a couple hours, though, don’t ignore your thirst in the name of avoiding the bathroom, she says.
Anything your stomach isn't used to
When you’re about to sit in close quarters for hours on end, you’ll want to avoid foods that don’t tend to sit well with your digestive system. Steer clear of foods that normally might upset your stomach, such as certain types of fiber or greasy foods. “A hamburger and French fries or fried chicken before you get on a plane might not be the best idea,” says Nolan Cohn. “They have a higher potential for triggering diarrhea or GI issues.”