Airport: Nailed It!
As travel writers, we travel a lot. And when we do, we pack a lot of gear, we experience a lot, and we meet a lot of travellers. Needless to say, airports are kind of our second home and we have a lot of great travel tips to share with you. Following our popular 18 Backpacker Hacks that Everyone Should Know, we decided to focus on one of the most frustrating places for most travellers: the airport. Cue, our airport hacks!
Hopefully, you are well prepared for a long haul flight, but you can do better! This list of airport tips and hacks below will make your airport experience a whole lot easier. From shorter queuing times to never losing your luggage, you’ll find that plenty of the hacks below are super effective, as they are relatively unknown. So use our frequent traveller experience to your advantage. Start your trip to New Zealand by nailing the airport!
Watch (Some of) These Airport Hacks on Video
If you can’t be fussed reading over 30 airport hacks, we cover about 15 of them in the video below. Plus, you get to see our silly faces. Don’t forget to hit like and subscribe; we post New Zealand travel videos almost daily!
1. Download or Print Your Boarding Pass and Airport Map
We are all addicted to technology, after all, it makes our life much easier and even made this awesome guide you’re reading possible. But just in case there is no free WiFi in your airport or super slow because every single person in this airport is connected to it, it’s a good idea to download your online boarding pass and the airport map on your phone. Or even print them. That way, if your boarding paperwork gets messed up, wet or lost, you can still check in easily. Trust our experience: digitalise as much as you can! But we’ll get back to that at a later point…
2. Don’t Get Scammed!
There are a lot (a lot!) of useless services offered at any given airport and some of them are rather useless or simply overpriced. Let’s start with the obvious: Don’t exchange money at the airport. The rates are often the worst in the whole country. Instead, wait until you arrive in the city centre of your destination. In Auckland (since this is a New Zealand travel guide), the best spots are on Queen Street.
There is also the matter of “anti-jet-lag” drinks such as “1Above” to only name one. In other words, they are glorified soft drinks or vitamin tablets that achieve nothing. We’ve tried them and we can report that they do not work… At all!
Finally, there is the matter of those “luggage wrapping” services that supposedly protect your suitcases. Simply put; they don’t! Most luggage is built to withstand rough handling. A thin layer of plastic around it will achieve nothing aside from using more wasteful unrecyclable plastic. Oh, and the urban legend that it dissuades customs from looking into your luggage because “it’s more work” has been debunked countless times.
3. Don’t Listen to Your Music
When asking to stewardess what the number one reason is for people missing their flight, it is a unanimous “headphones!” Seriously, listening to music in the airport is not a smart move, you may miss an important announcement like a gate change or even a boarding call! If you really can’t live without the beats, just use your headphone as a mild noise canceller; not a nightclub.
By the way, we’ll have some headphones recommendations in the gadget related tip below.
4. Plan to Have Coffee at the Airport
There are nine chances out of 10 that you will have a lot of time on your hand at the airport. A mistake that we have done often is having a full breakfast complete with coffee prior to leaving our accommodation for the airport, just to be left with not much to do at said airport but not wanting to get yet another caffeine fix there… So, have your lean and healthy (yes, a healthy breakfast is better before a long flight) but avoid the coffee first thing in the morning. You’ll appreciate it more at the airport when it helps you kill a good half an hour.
5. Customise Your Suitcase or Backpack
It is crazy to see how almost every piece of luggage looks the same. After a long flight, everyone is tired and is still in their own smog. You might know what your bag looks like but others might not be as switched on as you and take your bag by mistake. That’s a whole lot of trouble ahead. So make your backpack or suitcase stand out by personalising it! Can you spot our very bright yellow suitcase below?
If you need some inspiration on how to customise your suitcase, check out these bright luggage straps (combine two different colours to make it stand out) or pick luggage staps with a very unique design. Otherwise, just use the same yellow suitcase as we have done for the last few years. Just promise not to take the same flight as us!
By the way, if you are still unsure which one to choose, read our Backpack VS Suitcase review.
6. Know the Paperwork
Doing a bit of research on what paperwork will be asked from you at the check-in counter will save you heaps of time. Taking New Zealand as an example (since we’re a New Zealand travel guide, after all) we’ve got: visa, passports, plane tickets, New Zealand Traveller Declaration Pass, vaccination proof & test results (if Covid is still a thing at the time you are reading this) Passenger Arrival Card, declaration form (if needed), proof of onward travel, etc… Luckily you are in the right place, we’ve got hundreds of articles on NZ Pocket Guide to help you plan your trip with ease – just head to our Airport Tips page and start browsing.
7. Know the Airport
More and more airports are built like Ikea stores. They are practically mazes that’s sole purpose is to get your eyeballs on as many products as possible. Airports famously make most of their money by getting travellers to spend money, so it is not unusual for travellers to be forced to meander hundreds of extra metres between check-in and the gates. Don’t be fooled; like in an Ikea store, there are shortcuts. All it takes is to look at one of the maps on display, or simply keep an eye up for a less well-lit alley and you could shave off precious minutes and, most importantly, avoid temptations. Plus, it’s kind of fun to notice once you figure it out! Auckland Airport has some very obvious corridors in its departure section, for instance.
8. Have One Folder With All Your Documents
Simply put, you’ll have a lot of paperwork with you when you travel. Don’t scatter them everywhere with some in your purse, some in your luggage, some in your wallet or back pocket, etc. Honestly, it makes you stress because you have to open all your bags to find the right one! It makes other passengers waste time because they have to wait for you. Most importantly, it makes you lose any chance of getting an upgrade. The eye-roll of the check-in agent will say it all. We arrive at the counter with one folder containing all the paperwork possibly needed. Hand the passport and ticket opened on the correct page and it’s smooth sailing from there.
Pro tip: Digitalise all your paperwork by taking photos of each of them and emailing yourself. Or scan them using apps like Camscanner. That way, if you lose something, it is only a couple of clicks away.
9. Carry a Multi-Plug
Airport power plugs are sparse and very spread out. Carrying a double plug or even a multi-plug will help you charge all your devices at once. You could even make friends, as other travellers will find your idea smart and helpful. Aren’t you nice?! Oh, and don’t forget your travel adapter.
Want some suggestions? We love this travel multi-plug because it is super compact. When it comes to travel adapters, we like ours to be super versatile, like this universal travel adapter. But we have more recommendations for you in our article on the best travel adapters for New Zealand.
10. Let’s Talk Gadgets
We’re all in for some fun gadgets and it looks like airports have been inspiring all kinds of inventors. The stress of long-haul travel seems to create problems that can be fixed by a plethora of simple gadgets. Let’s go over some of our favourites:
Don’t feel like paying for access to premium movies and shows while on the plane? Get yourself a universal plane stand for your phone and watch your own stuff! If you travel with a tablet, get something sturdier.
Don’t want to pay extra if your luggage is a tad too heavy? Get yourself a light luggage scale. We carry one on each of our trips!
Want comfortable headphones to sleep on a plane? Get yourself this eye mask/headphones that are perfect for travel. It’s better than a neck pillow!
Want a swing for your feet?!😅 Get yourself this travel foot-rest thingy. Ok, we admit, we added this one just for the joke, we have not tried it and it probably does not work…
Want an actual universal padlock for your luggage? This padlock is really good, it fits pretty much everywhere!
11. Bring an Empty Water Bottle Through Security
We all know that airports like to charge travellers a lot for very common things. Start watching your travel budget early by spending little to nothing at the airport. For example, pass an empty water bottle through security (as you’re commonly not allowed to pass large quantities of liquids) and then fill it up in the bathroom. That’s already $5 saved!
Want to go a step further? Avoid bottled water altogether for your whole trip! We travel to a lot of places that lack access to clean, drinkable tap water so our go-to is the Lifestraw bottles. They include a filtration system that basically turns any water into fresh drinkable water (but not seawater. Come on now, you’re dreaming!) Jokes aside, this saved us thousands on buying bottled water in resorts, shops, etc. We also prefer spending our money in the local communities as we travel, rather than giving it to mega-corporations that privatise access to clean water. Win-win!
12. Pack Your Liquids and Electronic Devices on the Top of Your Carry-On Bag
We all know the rules when passing airport security: “Take all your electronic devices, metal devices and liquids out of your bag and place them in the tray”. Be smart when packing your carry-on and leave them where they are easy to access. While we are at it, only pack small travel-size liquids in your carry-on bag. In short, always assume that your bag will be checked because it very well may be. Even if you don’t look suspicious, security workers have a quota to fill; we know this all too well.
13. Start Emptying Your Pockets When in the Line
The security queue is always the longest, as nobody seems to be prepared for it despite the fact that the process is always the same. Be smart and cool, don’t wait last-minute to empty your pockets and get your liquids out. Do that while waiting so you’ll save your’s and everybody’s time. You will still have a few things to do when arriving, like handing out your passport, unpacking your laptop and answering a few questions, so may as well get started. Oh and don’t forget your watch, we always do…
14. Pick the Left Line
Since most people are right-handed, they tend to pick the right line to start queuing. Picking the furthest left line gives you the most chance to pass through quickly. Although this sounds like a silly trick, it is backed by multiple behavioural studies and, as far as we have tested, it seems to work. And hell, you’ll want to try anything to make it go faster!
15. Check-In Online
To save a lot of time, most airlines now offer online check-in. Use it! Nobody wants to be stuck waiting to check in behind ten groups with a stupid amount of bags and kids running around. Use the power of technology to your advantage! On the downside, some airlines do not issue a refund if you have checked in online and then miss your flight, so it’s always a good idea to look into your airline’s terms and conditions.
16. Queue Near the Business Class Check-In
Business travellers are treated the best in all services. But there are only a few of them on each plane so the “business” check-in counter is never really busy. As an act of kindness, the hostess will sometimes see to peasants like us to help with the workload of the main check-in counters. With a bit of luck, you’ll be helped faster that way. So when arriving in front of check-in, make sure that spotting the business class sign is the first thing you do.
17. Avoid Shopping Duty Free
Ok, this may be a bit controversial but seriously, have you ever gotten a good deal at duty free? Because we never have! Yes, some items may be a little cheaper than the regular retail price in some stores, but with sales and discounts continuously advertised, we literally always find items cheaper online or in shops outside of the airport. It seems that most airport shops pocket the duty and charge us a premium for shopping there instead of passing on the discount. In fact, even fast-food chains seem to be guilty of this as we have noticed that only the “premium” items are available at the Maccas (that’s kiwi for McDonald’s) in the Auckland Airport. Aside from the convenience and boredom quencher that shopping at the airport can be, there is really no reason to spend more for the same item you’ll get elsewhere.
Pro tip: If you shop for tobacco or alcohol, make sure you are aware of the allowance so you get to keep your booze.
18. Boarding Takes Ages; No Need to Rush
When there is a boarding call, the reaction is a bit like that in a bar when the All Blacks score: everybody jumps up at the same time. Boarding only takes 10-20 minutes. So let the crowd go first and board in a civilised way after everybody else. You’ll all end up in the same place anyway. Most airlines will board in “sections” meaning that your seat row will determine when you can board. In short, just wait your turn. If you are at the right place, the plane will not leave without you.
Just to make this clear: If you need any extra help boarding the flight, then that is a valid reason to want to board early and a flight attendant will call you ahead of time.
19. Be the Last One on Board
Speaking of boarding… Being the last one on the plane means that you could potentially be able to pick any empty seats. Sometimes, if the stewardesses are in a good mood and you ask nicely, you might be able to grab that empty seat in first class. Being polite and letting others pass first could well pay off. Plus, this saves you from awkwardly bouncing your carry on luggage around trying to avoid other passengers. When was the last time you actually rolled into your plane seat? It pays to be patient!
20. Pack the Most Important Belongings in Your Carry-On
Losing your checked-in luggage is unlikely, but it could happen. Be prepared for that too. Pack your most important items and a change of clothes in your carry-on, so in the worst-case scenario, you still have a backup. See here for more airport hacks for packing your carry-on.
Pro tip: Pack an extra set of underwear in your carry-on too, just in case you need to wait an extra day until your lost baggage is found. It happens!
21. Pack a Lot of Snacks
Airport food is expensive and often not that great. Pack yourself some snacks so you save money and eat what you like in transit. Dry snacks are usually the best ones to bring as you can easily pass them through security. If you have some left when arriving in New Zealand, don’t forget to declare them on your form so Biosecurity can check them, or else you might have to eat them (or surrender them) on the spot.
22. Don’t Wear Contact Lenses
This is an easy one. Aeroplanes have particularly dry air. So, if you are like us and like to mix contacts and glasses, make your flight day a glasses day. No matter how good quality your contact lenses are, they will not be comfortable after a couple of hours in flight. And if you’ve ever read about aeroplane bathrooms, you know better than wanting to stick your fingers in your eyes after having touched everything in there.
23. Have a Jumper Handy
Airports get cold; really cold sometimes. The air conditioning seems to always be on the “freezer” setting. Plus, you’ll probably get really tired and stressed with the whole travel and time-difference combination. That so happens to be a recipe to catch a cold. Don’t be that guy who arrives sick in a country. Keep a warm jumper on hand so you can keep yourself in shape for the biggest adventure of your life!
24. Save Money on Your Flight
Flying with peace of mind also means feeling confident that you got a good deal on your flight. There’s no worse feeling than chatting with another passenger to hear that they paid half your fare for the same flight (true story…) So make sure to check out How to Book A Cheap Flight to New Zealand before booking your flight. While you’re at it, save money on your airport car rental too by checking out 21 Ways To Save Money on Car Rental in New Zealand.
25. Book Your Whole Trip Wisely
Since we’re talking about bookings… Flights can get cancelled or delayed and, thus, put your whole trip out of wack when it comes to planning. That means a lot of rescheduling headaches and having to deal with cancellation fees. This is why throughout NZ Pocket Guide, we suggest booking through online booking platforms such as Booking.com or Expedia. That means that you will have a second layer of customer service and a more uniform cancellation policy to deal with. The same goes for your car rental, book through agents such as Rentalcars.com to get more peace of mind. It’s much simpler than having to deal with an insurer…
Pro tip: If you are still in the planning stage of your trip, make sure to browse around our site, we have trialled and tested recommendations for every spot in New Zealand, no matter how small. Accommodation, things to do, itineraries: we have it all covered!
26. Fill Up Your Forms Early
Ok so you’ve made it on the plane, it took off and you are on your way to say… New Zealand! Woop Woop! Then the stewardess hands you a Passenger Arrival Form. Take this time to fill it up on the plane. After all, you’ve got nothing much to do on the plane. You will shave off a lot of time at the airport because, unbelievably, many other passengers will think that it is “not mandatory” and arrive at Customs without it. They’ll then be turned back, lose their place in the queue, and fill up the form standing up in the middle of the crowd. Nonsense! Be a smart cookie and have it completed and ready.
Pro tip: If you are unsure, always declare something. The officer will most likely just ask you why you declared something, realise that all is fine, and send you on your way. It happens to us often.
27. Be Tarmac-Ready
It’s surprising how often you end up on the tarmac in New Zealand. It may be early, cold and rainy, so make sure to pack a little something extra to keep you warm in that situation (and that your carry-on bag is waterproof enough). It can be a bit disorienting to arrive in a new place, being herded between cones into a corridor, a bus or a golf cart. Take a deep breath; you read that article so you knew it could happen. It will all be fine; the adventure is just beginning!
28. Learn About Biosecurity
We’ve got a full article covering the New Zealand Biosecurity rules – the dos and don’ts etc. so we won’t expand too much here. In short, New Zealand protects its unique environment and wildlife through very strict enforcement of biosecurity rules. That means that your honey jar or that pack of trail mix is probably going to have to go in your stomach or the bin before reaching the booth. Other countries also have rules, including your own (probably), so do a bit of research to avoid hefty fines.
Pro tip: Avoid fines by declaring anything you are unsure of. If you declared it, you won’t be fined for it.
29. Compare Taxis, Uber and Shuttles
Everybody and their cousin seem to think that Uber is always cheaper than any other option. Well, at least in New Zealand, it is not always the case. Ask about the fare to a taxi driver, consider a shuttle (yes, they go door-to-door), and check out the public transport options. You may be able to save up to NZ$20 on your transfer by not going with the obvious option. As Uber gets more and more mainstream, so are the prices on the platform. We have a full article on the cheapest airport transfer for Auckland Airport if that is your city of arrival. Oh, and many towns and cities in New Zealand simply don’t have Uber so there goes that option…
30. Read NZPocketGuide.com
Finally, to be well prepared for Auckland Airport, read our guide to Arriving at Auckland Airport. We also have thousands of other articles to help you make the most of your trip tn New Zealand. We’ve created this travel guide out of feedback from other travellers telling us how hard it was to find reliable information to plan their holiday. So if you score a bit of free WiFi at your airport, check more of the site!
Or if you are an over-planner like us, get started now. We suggest heading to the New Zealand Trip Idea section to find some pre-made itineraries created by experts ready for you to print, customise or simply enjoy straight up.
More Airport Tips for New Zealand
That’s it for our complete list of airport hacks and airport tips that will change the way you traveller forever! If you found these airport hacks useful (and you’re travelling to New Zealand), here are some other articles to make you wiser:
- 10 Simple Ways to Get Over Jet Lag
- A Beginner’s Guide to Getting to New Zealand
- Visitor Visa: Do You Need a Visa to Visit New Zealand?
Finally, anything else you might have missed, as well as New Zealand-specific airport hacks, will be in Everything You Need to Know About Arriving in a New Zealand Airport.