SeaTac airport

I have a lot of summer time travel coming up, starting with TBEX 12 this week (time in Denver and Keystone, Colorado) through TBEX Europe (in Girona, Costa Brava, Spain) in September.  In between there are plans for short trips around Washington and Oregon – summer is a great time to enjoy the Pacific Northwest – and I’m planning to stay on in Europe for a few additional weeks come fall.  I’m pretty excited about all these travel plans, as well as the ones that I’m sure will come up at the last minute, and it makes up for having to miss out on the annual summer trip to Italy.

Heading off to the airport is a rather routine thing for me, but I feel sorry for the people who start off their travels are the wrong foot, getting to the airport cranky and fussy.  It’s going to be pretty tough to turn things around when you start off in that state of mind.  I’m a big believer that getting to the airport in the most relaxed state of mind possible is important.  It sets the tone for everything that is to follow and is, in large part, within your control.  And let’s face it, once you’re at the airport, very little is going to be within your control.

So why not have a plan to get to the airport in a timely, unhurried fashion?  And yes, frequent flyers, I’m talking to you about this too!  (Some of the most harried travelers at the airport are frequent flyers who travel so often that they forget to plan.)

Most travelers are able to check in from home, print out a boarding pass, and pay for fees if checking bags.  Those steps can reduce the things you’ll need to do at the airport and you won’t need to allot quite as much time for the check in process.  HOWEVER, and I put that in caps for a reason, planning how you are going to get to the airport on the day of your flight is probably the most important part of starting your travels off on the right foot.  It’s important to have a plan in place well in advance of your travel date that takes in variables like traffic patterns, airport size, and whether you’re flying domestic of international.

Here are my tips – ones that I actually follow – on how to best get to the airport in plenty of time:

Drive yourself and park at the terminal.  Depending on where you live and the traffic patterns, this could take a fair amount of commute time.  Additionally, terminal parking is generally the most expensive parking option.  If you’re really running late, some airports offer valet parking at an even higher daily rate.  I NEVER plan for this option as the parking rate is exorbitant, but I have encountered traffic problems that have left me having to make this choice at the last minute.

Drive yourself and park off-site.  You’ll still have to deal with the traffic and commuting issue but at least parking off-site saves a bit of money.  Allow plenty of time to not only get to the parking lot, but also to get from the parking lot to the airport.  Some lots run the shuttles on a scheduled basis, others whenever there is someone ready. The farther away the lot, the cheaper it will be, but the more time you need to allow.

  • Tips:  If your off-site lot of choice accepts reservations, consider making one and avoiding any chance that the lot could be full on your day of travel (especially important during the busy holiday travel times).  Searching online can usually turn up some special rates or coupons that can help reduce the cost.

Have a friend or family member drive you.  This is probably my least favorite alternative, because you really are pushing your schedule and commute time onto someone else (although you may be able to use the carpool lane).  Delays can wreak havoc on a schedule.  If you have an understanding that you’ll each take turns transporting the other, this can be an attractive option.  As long as you’re not traveling every week.  Or departing at the crack of dawn.  Or arriving back home in the middle of the night.  It can be an imposition on a relationship, to be sure, especially when a creeping delay means a friend is standing by for you rather than enjoying their own plans.

  • Tips:  Have a cut off point where you no longer expect your friend to wait for you.  If the 7 pm arrival becomes 3 am due to a mechanical, take a cab.  And if you are a decent friend at all, you’ll bring home a gift or treat the person to lunch, dinner or drinks.

Take a cab to the airport.  You still have the traffic and commute to deal with but you don’t have the headache of managing it.  Plus, most taxis are able to drop you curbside, right at your airline’s check in counter.  If you live in a residential area you’ll need to arrange in advance for your pick up, although urban dwellers may be able to hail a cab on the street.  Cabs can be expensive, but with more than one traveler the per person cost can be reasonable.

  • Tip:  Some cab companies take credit cards.  If this is important to you, ask in advance.

Use a car service.  Although not available in all cities, I’ve found a car service to be more reliable than a taxi service when it comes to a timely pick up.  The cars are clean and comfortable, and comparably priced to a taxi.  If I’m going to be gone for longer than a week, I usually use a car service.  It’s more reliable for my suburban location and cheaper than what it would cost to park.

  • Tip:  Booking round trip will often get you a discount.  If you plan on using a car service regularly, set up an account and negotiate for a discount.

Shared van service.  There are a variety of companies that provide these services, lumping several pick ups in one shuttle.  Because these are shared rides, it will take more time to get to the airport, but you’ll also save some money.  For example, a taxi or car service from my home to the airport will cost about $50, a shared van service will take about half an hour longer and cost about $38.  If there are two or more of you traveling together, it’s probably more cost efficient to use a taxi or car service than to use a shared service.  Check on line for coupons or special promotions (like kids ride free).

  • Tip:  Most shared van services offer a discount for online booking.

Stay at an airport hotel that offers a fly/drive package and then take the hotel shuttle to the airport.  This can save a lot of time if you live a long way from the airport, and is an attractive option for those very early morning flights.  In my area, many hotels offer seven days free parking with an overnight stay.  Do the math and see if this makes sense for you.

  • Tip:  Even if your airport hotel of choice isn’t advertised a fly/drive option, call and ask.

Public transportation.  Depending on where you live this could be a subway, train or a bus.  This is my preference when traveling to a large city, but unfortunately it’s not a viable option from my home (maybe one day soon, I hope).  If you have a service that can get you directly to the airport (examples:  Chicago, San Francisco, Washington DC, Newark, JFK), this is probably going to be relatively cheap and quick.  You will have to juggle luggage, so if you’re carrying a lot this might create additional stress on you.  And if you are traveling with kids and a lot of their gear it may not be possible.

  • Tip:  Check the schedules and don’t catch the very last train/bus that will get you to the airport on time.

How are you getting to the airport for your next trip?

Photo credit:  Prayitno via flickr