20+ Airport Mistakes You Might be Making and How to Fix Them

Nasreen Stump Avatar
frustrated woman at airport
Check out our airport tips and learn what airport mistakes are commonly made so you can avoid them. Photo Credit: Stock Unlimited

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a first-timer or a million-miler, we all make mistakes when it comes to flying. Even those of us who consider ourselves travel experts have been known to head to the wrong airport, book a flight at the worst possible time or fail to allow enough time to get to the airport in bad weather or road construction season.

Here. we lay out the airport mistakes we’ve made, along with the solutions to fix them.

Read More: What to wear to the airport to be comfy but still look cute.

1. Arriving at the Airport Too Late

The common rule is to arrive at the airport two hours before a domestic flight and three hours before an international flight.

This is a good general guideline. But it doesn’t work for EVERY flight.

How to Fix This Mistake

We recommend looking at historical data for your airport before deciding how early you actually need to get to the airport. It’s also not a bad idea to check flight schedules. Are there 12 flights leaving within 20 minutes of one another at 8am? If so, security lines will be loooooong at 7am. Don’t make the airport mistake of arriving at the busiest times and being surprised it’s so busy.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Don’t arrive too early if you plan to check your suitcase. You cannot check luggage more than 4 hours in advance on many flights.

Mom and son pulling a suitcase at the airport
Photo credit: Cindy Richards

2. Arriving at the Wrong Airport

While you may be asking who does this, it happens more than you think! With three airports to choose from, I have set off to the wrong one.

How to Fix This Mistake

If you’re lucky enough to live in a city that is blessed with more than one airport choice, check your ticket to be sure you know which airport is the right airport. Always double check (triple check, quadruple check) flight times and airports.

3. Booking Your Flight to the Wrong Airport

Many budget airlines fly in and out of secondary airports. For example, flying Allegiant Airlines to Walt Disney World means arriving at Orlando’s Sanford Airport (SFB) rather than Orlando International Airport (MCO). The cab fare to get to your Disney World Resort might negate any savings on the ticket!

Likewise, when you search for flights into New York City, Newark International often pops up. But it’s in New Jersey. (The good news is that it’s really easy and cheap to take the train into Manhattan from EWR.)

How to Fix This Mistake

Slow down when you’re booking the flight and look closely at the airport code before you book.

Boy pulling a suitcase through the airport
Photo credit: Cindy Richards

4. Not Factoring in Time to Park and Walk to the Gate

So you planned to get to the airport two hours ahead of your domestic flight and you know that it takes 45 minutes to drive to the airport. So you’re leaving home 2 hours and 45 minutes ahead of your flight, right? Wrong.

You forgot to factor in the time you will spend circling to find a parking spot and the 20-minute walk from your car to Ticketing. Rookie mistake.

How to Fix This Mistake

First, leave a little earlier. Second, book a parking spot ahead of time using an app such as Spothero.

5. Not Buying Travel Insurance

We are travel insurance super fans. There are so many scenarios when it comes in handy that we wholeheartedly recommend either an annual policy that covers your whole family (for frequent travelers) or per-trip coverage (for infrequent travelers).

How to Fix This Mistake

You already know the answer to this one: Buy the travel insurance.

6. Not Reserving Parking

Usually, there are many parking choices near an airport. Airport-run garages are the most centrally located and usually the most expensive. Economy lots will involve time on a shuttle or bus. But there are all sorts of other options – Park N’ Fly, The Parking Spot, SpotHero, nearby hotels and more. Some parking lots require a reservation and do not take same-day drive-ups.

How to Fix This Mistake

Figure out your parking ahead of time!

6. Not Figuring out How You’ll Get from the Parking Lot to the Airport

Some off-site lots run shuttles every few minutes, but some have specific shuttle times. This is another lesson I learned the hard way. On my last flight out of Houston Hobby Airport, I found cheap parking at the nearby Marriott. Score! One thing I didn’t realize? The hotel shuttle only ran every half hour to the airport. Luckily, I had enough time and didn’t miss my flight.

How to Fix This Mistake

Ask before you book. A shuttle that runs every half hour might be just fine, especially if the parking rates are super affordable. Just factor in some extra time so you won’t be sweating while you wait for the shuttle — or eat up all the money you saved on parking by ordering an Uber.

7. Not Remembering Where You Parked

It happens. You’re rushing because you didn’t leave enough time (tsk tsk) or you’re trying to get 3 kids and luggage into the airport. When you return from your trip, you realize you have no clue where you parked. Maybe it was the 8th floor? The “buggy of shame” picks you up and drives you around the garage as you push your key fob lock button hoping to hear a faint “beep beep” in the distance.

How to Fix This Mistake

Take a picture of where your car is parked or add a note to your calendar app for your return date so you can find it easily.

SheBuysTravel Airport Tip: Frequent flier? I highly recommend always parking in the same area of the same lot. Walking to your car becomes a muscle memory activity.

Vegas Packing List
We pack one water bottle per person. Photo credit: Jill Robbins

8. Not Bringing a Refillable Water Bottle

Yes, we know you can’t bring liquids through security, but that doesn’t mean you have to pay $4.99 for a 16.9 oz bottle of Dasani after security.

How to Fix This Airport Mistake

Carry an empty water bottle with you. Most airports have water filling stations, so you’ll save money and the environment.

9. Not Washing Your Hands

Airports are germy places. Chairs, handrails, those TSA bins. The germs are everywhere.

How to Fix This Mistake

I feel like this goes without saying but wash your hands. Carry sanitizer. Try not to touch anything.

10. Not Printing Your Boarding Pass

While many of us elect to use mobile boarding passes on our phones, it’s still a good idea to have a printed copy. Maybe it will be the day you forget your phone charger. Maybe the airline has technology issues. Stuff happens.

How to Fix This Mistake

Another easy one: print your boarding pass(es) at home before you head to the airport. It’s always better to have a paper copy than to be muttering silent affirmations to your phone as the battery hovers at 2% while you stand in the C boarding group for your Southwest flight. And, if you’re flying a cut-rate airline, you could get hit with a printing fee to have your boarding pass printed at the airport.

11. Not Taking Advantage of Lounge Access

Million-milers know the wonder that is an airport lounge. It’s the place to find a quiet respite with comfy chairs and access to free (and strong) wifi, free drinks and lots and lots of free snacks.

How to Fix This Mistake

If you have a credit card or frequent flier status on any airline, you may have access to airport lounges. Before your flight, look into what credit card perks you may have. And if you think you’ll be flying a lot, consider switching to a credit card that offers airline lounge access as a perk.

12. Major Airport Mistake: Not Planning for TSA

Ahh, airport security. Unfortunately, a lot of airport mistakes center around your time at the security checkpoint. Here are the biggest TSA mistakes and how to fix them:

  • Wear shoes that are easy to take off and put back on. The good news: Kids under 12 and adults 75 and older do not have to take off their shoes.
  • Bring or wear socks to avoid gallivanting around on the (usually filthy) floor barefoot during your security screening.
  • Leave the studded tank tops, elaborate underwires, bangle bracelets and anything else that might set off the metal detector at home (or in your suitcase).
  • You may be asked to remove sweatshirts or anything considered a “jacket.” So unless you want to parade around in that lacy see-through camisole, plan accordingly.
  • Liquids and toiletries should be packed in a one-quart zip-top plastic bag. All liquids, gels and aerosols should be smaller than 3.4 ounces.
  • Electronics larger than a cell phone should be easily accessible and able to come out of your bag. Listen carefully to the instructions from the TSA agent. Some airports want Kindles and iPads to be sent through in a bin just like a laptop.
  • Know where your snacks are. While you may not need to take them out, some airports require passengers to remove food items to be swabbed. I’ve run into this twice at Boston’s Logan Airport. Keep them together.

13. Not Packing Snacks

Here’s the deal: Flight delays are common these days. And they sometimes happen while you’re sitting on a tarmac strapped into your seat with no way out. Your tummy might be grumbling, but there won’t be any drinks or snack service until the airline hits cruising altitude.

How to Fix This Mistake

Pack snacks! Not only will you be able to quell your hunger on the plane, you’ll save a lot of money and time at the airport. Labor shortages are still a problem. The lines at the snack shops can be long, the service can be snarly and the prices definitely will be high. Check out this list of healthy (but yummy) snacks to pack. 

14. Thinking a Delay is Written in Stone

When a flight delay pops up on the board, remember this: It’s just an estimate. The airline is notifying you that you may be delayed. But things change. This isn’t the time to head to the sit-down restaurant and order a full meal thinking you’ll have plenty of time to eat it only to miss your flight that ended up taking off on time.

How to Fix This Airport Mistake

If you plan to still take the flight despite the notification of possible delay, continue your drive to the airport. If you’re already in the airport, pay attention to the announcements. Sign up for text notifications on your phone.

15. Failing to Pay Close Attention to Airport Announcements

This has happened to just about every frequent flier. We are so comfortable at airports that we head to the gate listed on the flight board, set up our laptops or tune into our favorite podcast and zone out, waiting for the gate attendant to call us to board. But airports are dynamic places gate changes can and do happen. You don’t want to sitting at Gate 36 happily binge-watching old episodes of “Friends” only to find out your flight left 10 minutes ago from Gate 31.

How to Fix This Airport Mistake

There are several options here. One, of course, is to put away your electronics and pay attention to the world around you. Another is to sign up for text alerts about your flight so your phone will tell you the gate has been changed. Or you can simply set a timer to go off 30 minutes before your flight is scheduled to take off so you know to look up from your laptop to check on the status of your flight.

16. Not Taking Advantage of Unique Airport Entertainment

So you got to the airport early and have plenty of time before your flight. You sit down near your gate and wait and wait. You read a bit, then do some people watching. But everyone’s getting bored. You need to figure out how to entertain them.

How to Fix This Airport Mistake

Sure, you could just start that movie you downloaded to the iPad. But save that for the place. Airports are fascinating places. From art displays to yoga rooms to live music to movies, airports provide more entertainment than ever. Do a little research before your flight to see what’s offered at your airport. And check out these ways to entertain your kids at the airport.

real ID requirements sign at the airport
REAL ID is coming. Don’t make an airport mistake by putting off getting your REAL ID compliant drivers license. The deadline has been pushed back to May 7, 2025, but officials expect a rush as the deadline nears. Don’t wait. It will make your DMV experience even worse. Photo credit: Cindy Richards

17. Not Bringing Proper ID

You know what makes a trip much less fun? Not being able to go because your passport is too close to expiration, or your driver’s license is expired or is not Real ID complaint.

How to Fix This Mistake

Research what type of ID you need and check to make sure yours is compliant — before you book the trip. Starting in May 2025, all domestic US flights will require REAL ID.

18. Not Bringing Proper Paperwork

Traveling solo with your kids out of the country? A common mistake is not bringing proof of consent from the child’s other parent. Even if you’re married, authorities could ask for it.

How to Fix This Mistake

We recommend a notarized consent letter. You can find notaries at most UPS stores, some pharmacies, travel agencies, banks and city offices. We’ve got one for you that is free to download.

minor consent travel form
If you’re traveling solo with your kids (even if you’re married to their other parent) be sure to download this form, print it out and bring it with you! Photo credit: Nasreen Stump

19. Not Checking the Size of Your Carry-on Bag

Having to check a too-big bag last minute will put a damper on your trip. It could cost you time if you end up standing in line for a bag that you can’t bring through security. Or it could cost you big money if you’re flying a low-cost carrier. Flying Spirit? It will cost a whopping $99 to check at the gate if the gate attendant determines it’s too big!

How to Fix This Mistake

These days it seems like every airline has a different size limit for carry-on baggage. Make sure yours measures up BEFORE going to the airport. Remember that rules are different for many international flights.

20. Not Packing an Emergency Bag

Planes often run out of overhead bin space before everyone boards. If you’re among the last to board, chances are you’ll have to turn over your carry-on to the gate attendant so it can be checked and stored underneath the plane with all of the other checked baggage.

How to Fix This Mistake

Pack an “emergency bag” in your carry-on. It can be as simple as a reusable tote bag. That way, if your carry-on gets checked, you can quickly pull out the essentials — medications, bathing suits, a spare pair of underwear — that you will want to have just in case your bag gets lost.

21. Packing Essentials in a Checked Bag

This is a common rookie mistake. Frequent fliers rarely check a bag, often because they were burned at some point by an air carrier that lost their luggage. And yes, we always hope that luggage won’t go missing, it happens. In fact, estimates are that 7 in 1000 bags will get lost or delayed.

How to Fix This Mistake

Always pack your keys, medications and valuables in a bag that fits under your seat. (This is another good reason to buy travel insurance. It can cover the cost of replacing your lost luggage and its contents!)

22. Not Knowing Your Rights

What you don’t know can hurt you in an airport — from not knowing your right to bring breast milk through the security checkpoint as a nursing mother to not knowing what rights you have if your flight is delayed. There are a myriad of rules surrounding what an airline needs to provide to you in case of a delay or cancellation.

How to Fix This Mistake

Know your rights! Read the rules, called Contracts of Carriage, for your airline.

23. Not Downloading Airline Apps

An airline’s app does all sorts of things. It allows you book flights, displays your boarding pass, notifies you of changes and, in many cases, is the way you access the carrier’s free onboard entertainment. You don’t want to discover that when you’re at 35,000 feet and bored out of your mind.

How to Fix This Mistake

Download the app and explore all of its functions before you leave for the airport. You can always delete the app after the flight if you don’t want it taking up valuable memory on your phone.

24. Not Asking for Help When You Need It

Whether you’re traveling solo or dragging a small posse of your offspring with you, flying can be a hassle. Many folks try to tough it out. Don’t! Ask for help!

Gate agents can direct you to the nearest restrooms. Hands full? There’s a good chance a fellow passenger will earn their good human certificate for the day by holding something for a second.

Flight attendants are there for your safety, but also to make sure you have a pleasant flight.

How to Fix This Mistake

Don’t wallow through your travels alone. Ask questions as needed. People are generally willing to assist if you give them the chance.

Heck, we’re even here to help at SheBuysTravel. From numerous family travel stories to a Facebook page, please let us know how we can help with airport tips or any other questions you might have!

25. Not Planning Ground Transportation

You may gasp, but not every city has Uber. Also, rental car sites aren’t always open during the posted hours. No one wants to be stranded at an airport at 1am.

How to Fix This Mistake

Research transportation options before your trip and call locations to confirm the information is correct, or ask questions if it’s confusing.

Nasreen’s adventures started out as business travel. Working as a territory sales manager she covered 21 states during her tenure, traveling 3-5 nights a week. As she visited new cities and states, she always worked in a quick stop at a unique or iconic site. A travel writing career was born. When her father-in-law’s cancer came back she started writing and consulting full-time around his chemotherapy schedule. Traveling with her firefighter/paramedic husband, kids, friends and solo allows her to cover a variety of situations and topics. Her four kids (19 year old boy, 13 year old girl, 11 year old girl and 7 year old boy) are professionals at the cross country road trip. After 10 years in Texas, their family is back in the Northeast exploring both familiar and new destinations. There she runs her own business providing go-to-market, sales strategy, podcast, and content marketing consulting for websites and B2B businesses. Whenever possible she writes for a variety of publications in the podcast, travel, and business space. Connect with her on LinkedIn to chat about travel, content, sales, and podcasts!
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One response

  1. I like the idea of reserving a parking space. I would think that would let you make sure that you could get a good spot and not have to search for one for forever. I’ll have to look into something like that and hopefully save a bit of money that way as well.