15 Airport Tech Hacks Every Traveler Should Know
Airports are pretty bad in and of themselves, but the hassles and restrictions they place on our gadgets are the worst. No Wi-Fi, weak cell reception, and three power outlets per terminal? The horror!
But not every trip to JFK or LAX has to be a brutal experience -- you just have to prepare. Here are some airport tech hacks that can help make that five-hour layover a little less disruptive. Once you're in the air, however, it's a whole other story.
1. Use Google Voice to make calls & send texts
Reception at the airport is shit. You know this all too well. But what most commuters don’t know is that they can still make calls and send texts without tapping into their data plan. All you need is a Wi-Fi connection, along with Google Voice and Hangouts. Set up your Voice phone number and communicate through there. Another way is by purchasing a prepaid SIM card with data access to utilize Google’s services.
2. Charge your phone in Airplane Mode
When you're down to the wire and need to get as much juice as possible before they call boarding, switch your phone into airplane mode before you plug in. It's proven to charge your phone quicker -- with tests showing an increased charge time of four minutes.
3. Buy a portable power strip
Sometimes you find yourself in a fight to the death with all the other suckers at your gate over the last outlet at the charging station. Play it smarter by investing in a portable power strip like the Belkin SurgePlus USB Swivel Charger, which offers three standard AC outlets and two USB ports. That’s more than enough to charge your MacBook, iPad, and iPhone simultaneously.
4. Carry a portable organizer for your gadgets
Organization is the key to leading a stress-free life... especially at the airport. Sifting through cluttered carry-ons trying to find the end of your charging cord should not be on your list of concerns when moving from the check-in to security. A gadget organizer like this is both stylish and useful in securing spots for cords, documents, styluses, and a tablet.
5. Download FlightBoard to monitor arrivals and departures
Seriously, don’t be that dude looking over the arrivals and departures board near the terminal. Get with the times. Turn your mobile device into a personal flight board and use the aptly named FlightBoard to obtain all essential info: including flight times, gate numbers, and -- of course-- delays. This will free up some bathroom and duty-free time.
6. Take advantage of airport lounges to charge devices
If you’re a frequent flyer, there’s no way in hell you shouldn’t have access to any airport lounge. Besides offering more breathing and legroom while waiting for flights, they also eliminate the need of searching for an open wall socket near your terminal. Either use your sky miles to sign up or pay a nominal fee ($25-50) to gain access to drinks, snacks, charging outlets, and free Wi-Fi.
7. Get free Wi-Fi with a Boingo hack
If you can't bribe your way into an airport lounge, you might be forced to pay for Wi-Fi. Luckily you can keep a few tricks up your sleeve. For example, if the airport is using a Boingo hotspot, you can try clicking on the partner pages (complimentary websites for shopping, banking, news, etc.) to get past the paywall. Connect to the Wi-Fi network and click “The Good Stuff,” instead of “Get Online Now.” Next, choose one of the free sites offered, leave that tab open, and open a new tab. If all goes well you’ll have tricked the paywall and now have unfettered access.
8. Browse through FourSquare comments for Wi-Fi passwords
If there was ever a great use for FourSquare at the airport, it’s clearly to steal Wi-Fi logins. The local discovery and social media service serves as a password haven for public hotspots. Search the comment sections of your location and chances are you’ll be wirelessly connected before boarding a flight.
9. Or try the “Developer Tools” Trick
Paywall sites block access to the web through a variety of methods. One of the more common options is by simply disabling the address bar within the browser. You can bypass this restriction by breaking out the error console and changing how you enter a web address. Keep in mind this depends on the browser you're using.
In Chrome: Click View > Developer > Developer Tools. Don't be alarmed by the complicated screen, just find the search bar, and enter the following formula to get to your site of choice: window.location.href=”https://www.google.com.”
In Firefox: click Menu > Developer > Web Console > click the double-blue arrow on the bottom left of the screen. Use the same format as above to get to a site.
10. Roll back the clock for extended Wi-Fi use
In case your airport offers free limited use of its Wi-Fi (typically a one hour slot), adjust the clock on your laptop back an hour before the time window closes. It actually does work sometimes.
11. Secure luggage with a digital tracker
Airports love to lose luggage. Rather than worry where your travel bag is being sent, put your faith in a luggage tracker like Trakdot. Crush-proof and equipped with locked bags to deter theft, the little box can transmit locations via a quad-band GSM chip, letting flyers know exactly where their unmentionables are.
12. Snap a photo of your luggage being checked-in
It's smart to take a photo of your baggage being checked in. That way in worst-case scenarios you have indisputable proof your suitcase was in good shape and in their hands, putting full liability on the airline.
13. Check-in 24 hours in advance
It’s commonplace for an airline to offer advance check-ins on their mobile app. Good thing is, most allow it up to 24 hours in advance. Still, flights can get overbooked. So as a precaution, check-in as early as possible on your smartphone, get a confirmation number, and lock in a seat. From there, just chill till the wheels go up.
14. Use the MyTSA app to learn of shorter security lines
The more you know about flight statuses, weather conditions, and traffic reports, the better. MyTSA offers all the standard typical travel info and also provides a sneak peek as to which security lines have the shortest lines. That’s if your airport offers you a choice between stations.
15. Scan your passport and other important documents via smartphone
Something will go wrong when going abroad. The smartest traveler will make sure it’s not the more important things that go missing, such as your ID or passport. So before boarding a flight, consider scanning important docs and emailing or uploading them to any cloud service (Dropbox, Google Drive, etc). Also, check your airline app to see if it supports scanned passports for international check-ins like United Airlines does.
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Alex Bracetti is a contributor to Thrillist, Complex, HOOP, Man of Many, and several other popular lifestyle outlets. Follow him on Twitter @AlexBracetti.