air travel stress: woman with suitcases at nashville airport
Airports should be happy places – find out how to lessen the stress of air travel

Airports should be happy places. They’re the beginning of a journey, either to a new place, a vacation, business meetings, time with family and friends, or back home.

If you’ve spent even a brief amount of time inside an airport, though, you know that’s not the case. They can be stressful places with people running to and fro trying to make flights. All while dealing with their day-to-day life via their phone. No surprise that a psychologist has even developed an air travel stress scale.

Air travel stress gets to virtually all of us. But it doesn’t have to. How can you reduce the drama?

Put things in context

A lot of reducing air travel stress comes simply from having a good mindset.

The most important thing is to start with the right attitude, says Rishi Piparaiya, author of Aisle Be Damned: “We’re talking about an extremely complicated industry, where millions of people fly in the skies in metal tubes at the speed of sound. Sure, something may go wrong, but our ancestors would spend a lifetime to make the journey we make in half a day.”

Here’s another take from Brent Bowen, dean of the College of Aviation at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. He noted that in 2013 the overall performance of U.S. airlines hit its highest point in 24 years.

“The number of customer complaints has gone down,” he says. “Mishandled baggage has gone down and on-time performance has improved. So technically, based solely on the data, (the flight experience) has improved over the last 25 years substantially.”

So remember that air travel is actually much more effective than almost any human mode of transport in history. And in the past few decades, the experience has technically only improved. Take a deep breath when that air travel stress hits you.

air travel stress: passengers lining up in airport as plane flies outside
Avoid the lineups by flying on a Tuesday or Wednesday

When to fly

Leisure travelers tend to fly on weekends. Business travelers are crowding airports Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays. Therefore, book your flights for the quieter days of Tuesday and Wednesday when you can.

Book an early-morning flight if possible to avoid more air travel stress. Airlines are less likely to have delays first thing in the day.

Use a packing list

This prevents “Oh no!” moments at the airport. If you’re not even at security yet and you already think you’re missing something and don’t have the time to go get it, the rest of the airport experience probably won’t be great.

Avoid that kind of air travel stress before you get to the airport by starting with a packing list. Also, learn how to effectively pack a bag.

Check in promptly

Airlines let you check in online 24 hours before your flight. Do that to avoid lineups at the airport. Another bonus: it may help prevent you from being bumped off an oversold flight.

Carry on what you can

The advantages: less to potentially lose in your checked luggage. No baggage fees. And a faster exit from the airport when you arrive.

Always carry on essentials like keys, medications, valuables and anything critical for business meetings. You don’t want to arrive in the Caribbean and be waiting days for everything you need to actually enjoy the Caribbean.

air travel stress: man sitting at airport with laptop and roller bag
Arrive at the airport early, charge your devices at home and carry on your bag to avoid air travel stress

The early bird approach

People fall into very distinct camps on this. Earlier tends to be better (especially around peak travel times like holidays). If you know security lines might be longer, why gamble and add more air travel stress?

The full charge

Phone batteries are getting better as technology continues to develop. And more airports are offering outlets and charging stations. But always get to the airport on a full charge. If you encounter a hiccup, you’ll need your device as a resource.

What to wear

Layers will help you navigate varying temperatures inside the airport and on the plane. Wear comfortable clothes you can move in, in case of a last-minute dash to a connecting flight. Wrinkle-free clothing is great, both for the journey to your destination as well as your trip itself.

As far as footwear goes, wear something easy to slide on/off to get through security faster. In larger airports, you’re likely in for a big walk to and from your gate, so comfort is a must as well.

For tips on looking good in transit, Virtuoso Life covered that topic.

TSA PreCheck

Speed your way through shorter security lineups with TSA PreCheck. If you’re approved for the program, you’ll have special airport lanes. You won’t have to remove your shoes, laptops, carry-on sized liquids or light jackets, either. It costs $85 for five years.

If you’re already part of Global Entry, SENTRI or NEXUS, you’re automatically part of TSA PreCheck. Anyone who has this will tell you what a great air travel stress reliever it is.

TSA Mobile App

The TSA Mobile App allows people to report wait times on security lines at multiple airports. Download it before you fly – then check to see your expected wait time. Delta and American, among other airlines, also offer this service on their websites and apps. GateGuru is another app for this.

air travel stress: woman reading book on airplane
A book is one way to relax on board the plane – and cope with a potentially challenging seatmate


Unless you’ve booked an entire row on the plane, your seatmates are a random act of chance. They could be great – and not bother you. Or they could be challenging in many ways.

So load up on distractions. Those include magazines, books, e-books, movies, TV shows and work you need to complete. They’ll also help in case of delays while you’re still in the terminal.

Your fellow passengers

Airports are amazing places for people-watching. If you stop at an airport bar or restaurant, you can usually strike up a conversation easily. You might be sitting next to someone from halfway around the world. You don’t get that chance every day, so take advantage of it.

Want a conversation starter? Talk about the fastest way to board passengers. You’ll make some new friends and relieve your mutual air travel stress.

Airport lounges

Another place to meet new people: an airport lounge. You’ll await your flight in a relaxed, comfortable atmosphere. And you’ll enjoy peace and quiet, comfortable seating, food, drinks and reading materials.

First-class and business-class travelers and elite frequent flyers have access to their airline’s lounge. Also, certain credit card holders enjoy complimentary access. For everyone else, there’s a day pass. A pass at an independent lounge will run you about $30 to $50.

air travel stress: four happy women sitting in airport
These happy passengers booked their air travel with a Virtuoso advisor

Advisors as air travel stress relief

There are dozens of reasons why working with a professional travel advisor is a good idea. See here for real-life stories from actual travelers. One of those: an advisor can reduce air travel stress. Your advisor will work with you on itineraries, the best flight times, and any adjustments. If something crops up at the airport, you have a trusted resource one call away.

One Virtuoso traveler almost had her honeymoon ruined. Her advisor sprung into action and fixed everything as the couple was still at the airport. Learn more, including how to connect with a Virtuoso travel advisor, here.