14 airport hacks to make your next flight better

Contrary to the mindless quotes posted on Facebook and Tinder profiles, travel is in no way about the journey, but rather the destination. Surly gate attendants, moronic passengers, crap coffee -- you don't have to be Tom Hanks in The Terminal to know that flying can suck. And because we don’t all have the time and money to pull off using a first class ticket to eat for free for a year, some kind soul on Reddit reached out to airport workers to compile a handy list of how to make airline travel better.

So, straight from the horse’s mouth, here are 14 hacks that'll make any airport experience better.

Flickr user Gavin Anderson

1. Use any card to get free movies

Allegedly, swiping any card with a magnetic strip to pay for the TV in front of you will work, so long as there's no WiFi on the plane. So that Red Lobster gift card now gets you a lot more than just Cheddar Bay biscuits.

How it works: When there’s no connection to verify your card, the transaction is held until the plane lands. If you swipe while still on land, WiFi is usually not active yet. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 on repeat!

2. Roll back your computer's clock for more time on WiFi

When life hands you lemons, make lemonade. When airports hand you an hour of Wifi, play the system and make two hours look like one by rolling back the system clock before the first hour is up.

101 holidays

3. Don't get into the line when your schedule changes

If your flight is cancelled or overbooked, following the herd to the gate attendants is like throwing gasoline on a fire sparked by frustration. Instead, just call the airline; the operator can do everything the gate agent can, and probably much sooner than for all those suckers waiting in line.

Or double dip: Call while in line. Then you'll be laughing at them while swigging $12 airport beers in no time.

4. Pay less for flights by booking impossible connections

This is obviously situational, but – at your own peril – book a cheap connecting flight you've got a snowball's chance in hell of making. Oh, you only had 10 minutes to connect in Philadelphia? The airline has to reschedule you. 

If flights aren't sold out, you can tell the gate agent you won't make it even before you leave on the first flight, and possibly get rescheduled on a direct flight that would have been much more expensive otherwise. It's not quite hidden city ticketing, but it still carries some risk.


5. Pack a gun


OK, now we've got that out of the way.... a few airport workers affirmed that packing an unloaded firearm or starter pistol in your checked luggage means the TSA won’t mess with it. Or you, for that matter.

Obviously, be sure to declare it, but once you do, watch your luggage get extra special treatment – apparently it’ll be handled extra carefully, won’t get lost, and will be the first on the carousel.

However, we REALLY don't recommend doing this without knowing the local legislation. If you happen to end up in a state with strict gun laws (like New York, California, Hawaii, and Illinois), you could end up going to jail.

6. Acquire shopping bags. Avoid overweight fees

Go to any airport gift shop and ask for a big shopping bag. Then throw all your extra crap in there, and strut on board; since it looks like you just bought this stuff, airlines can’t charge you for an extra carry on.

Alternatively, look into whether buying a cheap new bag and checking it as a second bag ends up being cheaper than paying overweight fees. If so, do that.

Also: Why don't you know how to pack without going overweight?

alcohol minis
Flickr user iwan gabovitch

7. BYO Booze

Don't spend your life savings on airplane alcohol: 50ml bottles of liquor are totally fine going through security, as long as they're sealed, contain less than 3oz of liquid, and fit into your 1qt bag.

However, try to be sneakier than that time you wanted to sneak booze onto a booze cruise in college, as it’s a violation of federal law to consume alcohol on a plane when it's not provided by flight attendants. 

And hey, we even have in-flight craft cocktail recipes for when you do!

8. Pack a dense bag to fool the x-ray machines

Pack things like textbooks, cords, and shoes, and you conceivably could sneak that favorite bottle of rosé of yours on board. The reason? The denser your bag, the less detailed the x-ray.

Still seems like a good way to get your hooch tossed in the trash, though.

frozen gatorade
Flickr user lorianne disabato

9. Freeze liquids to get them through security

Apparently, as long as it’s frozen solid, that Gatorade G Series Lime Cucumber Thirst Quencher is totally cool with TSA (see what we did there?).

10. BYO Snacks

So maybe don’t bring last week’s fish curry or a pot of chili. But homemade snacks and meals will save you approximately $459 per flight. And, they won't be airplane food.

Flickr user rekre89

11. Give chocolates to the crew

We mentioned schmoozing flight attendants with chocolate before, but what we didn’t know is that it’s pretty standard for flight attendants flying privately to bring chocolates to the crew onboard. Hence, if you do it with a little in-the-know nod and wink, they might give you preferential treatment for saving them a trip. Plus, who doesn't love chocolate?

12. Bypass lazy WiFi passwords

You don't need to be Kevin Mitnick to access the airport WiFi. Allegedly, the Delta Airlines WiFi password is usually "thankyou". Make sure you’re near a Delta lounge though, and to say, "thank you".

Flickr user Ryan

13. Wrangle stray luggage carts for free

Some airports have the nerve to charge for luggage carts – but if you go to the transportation/pickup area outside the terminal, you’ll probably find carts abandoned by people too busy or lazy to return them. Bonus hack: make money with this as Smart eCart usually dispenses 25 cents for returned carts. Yes, it's very Tom Hanks in The Terminal, to go back to that well.

14. Make calls from the airport phones to wherever

Apparently, pretty much every phone behind every counter in every airport can connect to outside lines if you dial 9 first. With modern cell phone technology, that's probably not necessary. But if your iPhone's outta juice and you still need to call Aunt Mildred to pick you up, you're not up crap creek. Except that you're still relying on rides from Aunt Mildred.

Sophie-Claire Hoeller is Thrillist's über-efficient German associate travel editor, and her favorite airport hack is an Ambien. Follow her @Sohostyle