A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

13 Things You Should Never Do at the Airport

You may know not to wave around a firearm or joke about having a bomb in your carry-on. But it's still surprisingly easy to mess up at the airport.

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Flight information, arrival and departure board at the airport

Airport no-nos

Journeys through the airport can be stressful—you’re on a time constraint, you’re surrounded by lots of other stressed people, and you’re faced with the inherent nerve-racking nature of the security screening. But there are plenty of ways you can keep the stress level to a minimum and make your airport experience go smoothly for yourself and everyone else at the airport. Avoid these common airport blunders—and instead, make sure to do these things smart travelers always do before a flight.

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Raleigh, NC/United States- 11/12/2018: Passengers wait to check bags in a long line at RDU International airport.

Don’t expect it to be easy

Now that the golden age of aviation has passed, we can no longer count on assigned seating, checking baggage, legroom, or free meals. Before you even board, you have to run the gauntlet of an overcrowded, understaffed airport. The glamor of flying is dead, and that can set you up for disappointment: “A tremendous amount of stress happens because we have expectations that are unrealistically high,” notes Fast Company. At least you can keep from making things worse by avoiding these airport pitfalls. Take a look back to better times with these vintage photos of how glamorous air travel used to be.

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African american businessman hurrying up for flight at airport with wheeled bag
LightField Studios/Shutterstock

Don’t show up late

Being on time is crucial when it comes to airline travel, according to Tom Davis (not his real name), a commercial pilot for more than two decades. When you show up late to the airport, you not only risk missing your flight, but you make the experience worse for other passengers and the flight crew. If that doesn’t make you want to change your tardy ways, know that your impatience will attract the attention of TSA agents. All in all, it’s just one of the airport mistakes you really need to stop making.

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Bride applying perfume on her neck. Wedding day.

Go easy on the perfume or aftershave

Airports and airplanes are crammed: You can make everyone’s experience a bit less unpleasant if you minimize your scent of choice. In fact, antiperspirant will be enough to get you through (and protect your seatmates), says Davis. Going overboard with scents is one of the inconsiderate airplane habits passengers need to stop.

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CHICAGO, USA - APRIL 1, 2014: Pilots walk to gate at Chicago O'Hare International Airport in USA. It was the 5th busiest airport in the world with 66,883,271 passengers in 2013.

Don’t ask a pilot for directions

If you see a uniformed pilot in an airport, there’s a really good chance he’s just passing through—which means he could be just as lost as you are. “When you ask a pilot for directions, you’re more than likely wasting both your time and theirs,” Davis advises. Learn some more things your airplane pilot won’t tell you.

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Woman holding pill and glass of water in hands taking emergency medicine, supplements or antibiotic antidepressant painkiller medication to relieve pain, meds side effects concept, close up view

Don’t take a sedative

It’s tempting to want to sleep your way through a long flight, but you don’t want to incapacitate yourself on an airplane, warns Davis—you’ll not only need to get up for seatmates, but you may need to respond to emergency instructions. A registered nurse told Business Insider, “Taking medication to help you sleep while flying increases your risk of blood clots in your legs that can lead to death.” Shocking, but true. Find out how packing a tennis ball in your carry-on can keep you safe from this airplane danger.

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Narita airport, Tokyo, Japan, April 2018 - At airport lounge with a glass of champagne overlooking the runway.
Distinctive Shots/Shutterstock

Don’t drink too much

You need your wits about you while you’re at the airport, which is reason number one to go easy on the booze. Reason number two is that flying will dramatically dehydrate you, making the flight and arrival far more miserable than if you had switched to water. That jet lag you’re feeling? It’s probably half hangover.

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A TSA agent searches luggage at an airport. (12MP camera, NO model release, editorial only)
Carolina K. Smith MD/Shutterstock

Don’t try to outwit the TSA

Yes, TSA lines are annoying, and no one likes taking off their shoes, belts, and coats. But there’s no way around security—and if you try, you’re not going to like what happens. On one flight, a woman who refused to take off her coat because it was part of her outfit ended up being pulled aside for an extensive patdown.

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security check of hand luggage

Don’t leave your laptop at security

Most TSA security checkpoints require that all laptops and tablets be placed in a separate bin—and a shocking number of travelers forget to put their electronic devices back in their bags—around 12,000 a week, according to NBC’s WBMF News. “You wouldn’t believe how many people leave these things behind,” a TSA security officer says. Find out these things most likely to get your luggage flagged by the TSA.

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Waiting for flight delay is always a terrible memory
Muk Photo/Shutterstock

Don’t sleep at the airport

It’s a great way to miss a flight and get pickpocketed or lose your stuff, Davis points out. “Sleeping in airports is a strictly at-your-own-risk activity,” writes TripSavvy. “It is something that few people would recommend outside of extenuating circumstances.”

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Suitcase on luggage conveyor belt in the baggage claim at airport
Brian A Jackson/Shutterstock

Don’t mess with the baggage conveyor belt

Yes, you’re anxious to grab your suitcase and get out of there. And it’s incredibly frustrating when it’s sitting on the belt, ready to slide down, and then the belt stops—or your luggage gets stuck. Resist the urge to climb onto the belt to try to fix things: You’re not only risking a fall or getting tangled up in the machinery, but you’re also violating airport security.

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Smart phone Charging On Wood background
Suttipong Choysakda/Shutterstock

Don’t forget to charge your phone

Your mobile boarding pass is useless if your phone is dead, and that’s really going to hold you up. If you can’t get it up and running quickly—or worse, forgot your charger and have to fork over for one at the newsstand—you could miss your flight. Also, electronics are one of the top 15 things you should never buy in an airport.

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Man hand take picture of airplane using cellphone. Tourism concept photo
Roman Kosolapov/Shutterstock

Don’t take photos of strangers without their permission

“Taking someone’s photo without their consent and posting it on the Internet is a [bad] thing to do,” advises Lifehacker. “It’s invasive, inappropriate, and can even put the other person in danger.” It can also put the photographer—and their phone or camera—in danger should the subject catch on and strenuously object.

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Hot latte coffee in white cup and man use tablet in cafe.
Yukolthorn Nasongkhla/Shutterstock

Don’t forget why you’re there

Airports can be incredibly distracting, with duty-free shops, restaurants, and other novelties. It’s become more and more common for travelers to lose track of time. Safebee—a safety news site—interviewed a guy who once missed his flight entirely: “I would be in the [airport] coffee shop, find a newspaper, and start poring over it, forgetting I had a flight coming out a few gates down the concourse,” he admits. Once you’re on the plane, find out the things you shouldn’t be doing on airplanes.

Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York–based writer whose work has appeared regularly on Reader's Digest and in a variety of other publications since 2008. She covers life and style, popular culture, law, religion, health, fitness, yoga, entertaining and entertainment. Lauren is also an author of crime fiction, and her first full-length manuscript, "The Trust Game," was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.