How long will it take to get from your curb to your gate? If you’re Lonny MacLeod, the answer is: a lot less time than you think.
Flying from Orlando, Florida, to Halifax, Nova Scotia, on one of the busiest air-travel days of the year, he took no chances. MacLeod paid an extra $200 for Blacklane PASS, an airport concierge service that helps you check your luggage, finds the fastest check-in option, gives you access to a faster security line, then escorts you to your gate.
“I saved at least half an hour at the airline check-in counter and another 30 minutes at my gate,” says MacLeod, a retired high school teacher from New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, who adds that he was surprised by the speed.
For summer travelers headed to the airport, it’s a question that looms large: How long will it take to get to the gate, or from terminal to terminal? A concierge service such as Blacklane is just one shortcut for summer travelers who are worried about missing their flights.
“Trying to get from one gate to another in a short amount of time can be tricky when you aren’t familiar with the airport’s layout and there are crowds everywhere,” says Henrik Zillmer, CEO of AirHelp, a service that helps passengers get compensation from airlines for travel disruptions.
AirHelp publishes airport satisfaction scores, which factor in average transit times. But the times fluctuate. For example, at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, transit times are between 35 and 85 minutes, depending on your destination. Chicago O’Hare International Airport’s are between 75 and 90 minutes, while the Los Angeles International Airport averages 90 minutes.
Instead of relying on one source for airport transit times, experts say, you need to factor in several variables. One is the airport map, which few travelers bother to review before departure. Almost every major airport has a detailed map on its website.
What about the security lines? The Transportation Security Administration’s mobile app, called MyTSA, provides wait-time averages based on the day and time that you are traveling. The actual wait time may be faster or slower on any given day. But airport busy periods are fairly predictable, and this should be a good approximation.
“But if there are any operational irregularities or if it’s a holiday, then that could extend your wait times,” says Stephon Owens, a frequent traveler and data analytics consultant from New York who uses the app to help him calculate transit times.
Another app worth considering: Terminal Buddy (iOS only), an ad-supported mobile app that offers flight status, live wait times for check-in and security, and terminal maps. That’s what Fares Khalidi, a frequent traveler who works for a travel start-up company in Boca Raton, Florida, uses. He says he finds the wait times are accurate.
“I use Terminal Buddy because it has the wait times and the information on the airport, including food, lounges and maps, which I might need in case I find myself with more time than I thought,” he says.
Now that you have a general idea of how long it will take to get to the gate, you’re probably wondering: Is there a way to shorten my transit time? You bet.
Apply for Global Entry: Global Entry lets you cut the customs line when you arrive at U.S. airports and land borders. It includes TSA PreCheck, TSA’s trusted-traveler program. A five-year Global Entry membership costs $100 and requires online pre-enrollment, as well as an in-person visit to an enrollment center for an interview, during which you’ll have to verify your ID and be fingerprinted. If you fly frequently or even periodically, Global Entry will save you time.Download the Mobile Passport app: This free smartphone app, now in use at three cruise ports and 25 airports, lets you cut some customs lines by filling out your paperwork in advance online. Arriving passengers can head straight to the “Mobile Passport Control” line.Hire an airport concierge: Blacklane isn’t the only service that will spirit you through the terminal. Royal Airport Concierge, which operates in more than 750 airports around the world, offers similar services. If you’re headed to Asia or the Middle East this summer, try Airport Fast Track, another airport concierge.MacLeod, the retired schoolteacher who used Blacklane, says he’d do it again in a New York minute. He says his affable concierge knew every corner of Orlando International Airport and prevented the moments of confusion that inevitably come with an unfamiliar airport.
“I liked my guide a lot,” he says. “I liked going to the front of the check-in line at the airline counter. Most of all, I liked not having to worry about where I was going and whether I would get there in time.”
His guide, a retired police officer named David, was so fast that they arrived at the gate too early. David recommended a quiet lounge where MacLeod could wait to board. “I was the first passenger on the aircraft,” he says.
Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate, journalist and co-founder of the advocacy group Travelers United. Email him at email@example.com.