It's that time of year when many of us take our annual holiday - and for the lucky ones among us, that means an overseas trip. It also means negotiating airports, which can be a bewildering, time-consuming and frustrating exercise, especially if you're not a frequent traveller.
Here are a few tips on how to breeze through check-in and security with the least amount of fuss:1. Be prepared
Being well-organised before you even leave for the airport is probably the biggest favour you can do yourself. It cuts down on stress, and time-wastage once you're at the airport.
So pack your luggage the night before, ensure that you have all your documentation ready and together - particularly your ticket information and passport, and be certain that your luggage meets airline and airport requirements.
In other words, your check-in luggage should not exceed the airline's weight limit, and your hand luggage should meet size and weight specifications. A good rule of thumb is 5kg for hand luggage (if you struggle to lift it above your head, it's too heavy) - and it may not exceed 56cm in length, 45cm in width and 25cm in depth.
What you put in your hand luggage is important, too: it's a good idea to include valuables such as cameras and jewellery, something to read for the flight, and a light change of clothes just in case your check-in luggage doesn't arrive with you at your destination. If you wear contact lenses and it's a long flight, consider packing a lens case and solution so that you can rest your eyes.
And then there are the LAGs: liquids, aerosols and gels. Essentially, if you can pour it, pump it, squeeze it, spread it, smear it, spray it or spill it, it is a LAG. Since mid-2007 international regulations have been very strict about what you can take on board in your hand luggage, in order to thwart potential terrorist threats.
If you must take a LAG on board, ensure that it is in a bottle of 100ml or less. All LAGs must be contained in a single, resealable clear plastic bag of no more than 20cm x 20cm, and presented to security officials for inspection. Exceptions are medication and special foods for dietary requirements - but you should carry a prescription for the medicine, and you may be required to taste any foods.
And no sharp objects or other contraband are allowed! So leave your beloved pocket knife at home, or pack it into your check-in luggage. Remember that if any item is confiscated from you, you cannot retrieve it later.2. Be early
There's nothing more frustrating - and potentially expensive - than missing your flight. In addition, you're often required to check in four hours before an international flight, so give yourself plenty of time to get there, check in and pass through security.
Bank on traffic on the way to the airport, especially during the morning and afternoon rush hours. If possible, identify a less busy route.
There's a good reason to arrive early, too: you can often choose your preferred seat. Moreover, if you're really fortunate, you may get bumped up to business class.
Once you're checked in, it's time to negotiate the security check. The sooner you get through it, the sooner you can relax with a cappuccino or browse the duty-free stores while you wait to board.
Listen to the PA announcements, no matter if they are barely comprehensible, and watch the information displays. Your flight's boarding gate or departure time can change at the last minute, and you don't want to be sprinting across the terminal, your name being called, because you weren't vigilant. And everyone hates the guy who held up the plane.3. Be dressed correctly
Remember that it might be bright and sunny on the day you depart, but not so at your destination. In addition, take a jacket or jersey to wear on board the aircraft - you don't want to shiver all the way.
Also, wear slip-on shoes if you can. In many places you will be required to take off your shoes as part of the security check, and this makes things easier. (And leave your holey socks at home!)
It's also handy to wear clothing with buttoned or zippered pockets, such as cargo pants. This allows you to keep your documents safely on your person rather than in your hand luggage, as well as a bit of money for that cappuccino or an emergency telephone call.4. Be cool
This boils down to having good manners. Bear in mind that check-in and security staff is doing their jobs, and the law backs them up, before you decide to kick up a fuss.
So if the check-in queue is slow and you're running late, it's probably your fault for not getting there earlier. Moreover, if the security official asks you to produce documentation or unpack your luggage, smile and comply immediately. They deal with stroppy passengers all the time, and will happily give you the run-around if you tempt them.
Whatever you do, don't lose your temper and start bandying about language that could be misconstrued, like "bomb" or "hijack". In fact, don't even say them in jest; airport security people are not renowned for their sense of humour.
If you adopt an obstreperous attitude with an airport worker, you're likely to be detained - and you may miss your flight. Depending on how combative you were, you may even find yourself under arrest - and that's guaranteed to ruin your entire holiday.5. Be careful
Most importantly, know at all times where your things are - particularly your travel documents, because without them, you're not going anywhere.
Part of this is solved by clever packing. Try not to keep your documents in your hand luggage, for example, because if that vanishes, your trip is over.
Moreover, make sure you have your hand luggage with you at all times. It's unlikely to be stolen in a high-security place such as an airport, particularly once you're on the secure side of the terminal, but if left unattended it may end up being the best part of a bomb-squad technician's day. And there goes your novel for the flight ...And a word from the editor...
These are all great tips, but there is another one you might like to remember... Never
agree to take any luggage or parcel from anyone else (other than perhaps a family member or great friend, for example) on the trip with you unless you have checked the contents and are completely satisfied that they won't cause you any problems. The consequences of getting it wrong could be horrific; it has been known for unsuspecting passengers to do a "good deed' for a fellow passenger - end up in court... or worse.