There are heaps of travel apps that sound great in theory, but are not so great in practice. When you’re in a full-out sprint between gates on a tight connection, loading a couple of airport apps to find the pretzel stand nearest to your gate is not going to happen.
The Best Airport Apps
Even if you’re not under time pressure, there’s enough to keep track of at your gate—carry-ons, kids, boarding passes, passports—that an airport app needs to be truly useful to warrant even a quick look.
The best airport apps earn their spot on your home screen by providing essential and timely information when you need it. The following 10 apps may not be the hottest, coolest, or most fun, but they’re apps you will actually use while barreling to and through the airport.
TripIt and TripCase
TripIt (iOS | Android) and TripCase (iOS | Android) are travel itinerary apps that contain almost all details of a trip, including flight, car rental, lodging, and other details. The air travel information includes flight times, flight and booking numbers, seat assignments, terminal and gate information, and more.
I have found it incredibly helpful to have all of this info in one place during the 36 hours before any trip. Set up notifications on your phone, and 24 hours before your flight, the app will prompt you to check in online, and from there just keeps updating as new information becomes available.
You may notice that flight status updates on the app can sometimes lag those found on airport displays by several minutes, but if you are not inside the terminal, the notices can still save your hide; learning while in a security line that your gate has changed or your flight is delayed can be the difference between a comfortable walk to your gate and a full cross-terminal sprint.
GateGuru (iOS | Android), one of the best-known airport apps, helps specifically with getting through the terminal efficiently and (fairly) well fed. On a recent trip I learned through GateGuru that my airport’s terminals weren’t connected but required walking outside, which saved me from a trudge through the snow to meet my pickup.
GateGuru has relationships with airports all over the place, so it tends to be pretty up to date. That said, I have long wished that the Map feature was integrated with the Amenities list so that you could look at the map, see what was available where you are in the airport, and make a decision on where to eat or find an item you need to purchase.
Once you put your itinerary into GateGuru, it gives you a lot of information about your trip, including security wait times. Note, however, that these wait times are crowdsourced, so they depend on app users inputting information in real time; read them with a grain of salt.
Google Maps (iOS | Android) has started mapping the interiors of airports, and to some extent does solve GateGuru’s problem of not showing amenities right on the map. Unfortunately, many establishments only show up after you zoom in pretty far—so, again, there is too much clicking and zooming to help make fast and reliable decisions.
Despite these complaints, it’s worth checking both Google Maps and GateGuru before your trip to the airport; that will give you a good idea of the cleanest (and most flavorful) line from the departure curb to your seat on the plane.
MyTSA (iOS | Android) also relies on crowdsourced checkpoint wait times, which is a shame. Very few travelers have the time or inclination to input this information once they’ve cleared security, and you’d think that the TSA itself might have some useful data on this point—but apparently not. That said, this app has one helpful feature for TSA PreCheck members: It shows which airports and terminals have TSA PreCheck lanes and where to find them, which is a major bonus when arriving at an unfamiliar airport.
While Google Translate (iOS | Android) isn’t strictly an airport app, it can come in handy during those disorienting first few minutes at an international airport. You can type in foreign text or even snap a photo of an airport sign, and the app will give you an instant translation.
I have not had an opportunity to use Mobile Passport (iOS | Android) myself, but several travelers I know swear by this airport app, and I have seen enough people breezing through Customs while using it that I am sure they are onto something. The official app of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the app lets you skip the regular lines when you are re-entering the United States after traveling abroad.
Note that only the person registered for the app can access the expedited lanes, so if you are traveling with friends or family who do not have the app, they still have to go through the regular lines (and there’s no way to cheat on this one).
Not everyone cares much about an airline lounge—if you need an airline lounge, by definition you are stuck in an airport, which all of us try to avoid—but a long layover is a very different experience in a lounge versus a gate area or food court.
LoungeBuddy (iOS only) can tell you if you qualify for lounge access by virtue of your miles (although if you have that many miles piled up, you probably already know you qualify). It is in the pay-per-visit category that LoungeBuddy can help non-elite travelers. If you have a long-ish layover, spending it in a lounge can salvage your trip; as one reviewer of the app wrote, “I never lounged before LoungeBuddy … and now I’m hooked.”
Again, HotelTonight (iOS | Android) is not strictly an airport app, but imagine this: Your flight is canceled for the day, there is no way to avoid an overnight, the airline is not providing hotel rooms, and you need somewhere to sleep on short notice. HotelTonight’s shortcut to nearby hotels with available rooms (and its boast that it can book a room for you in under 10 seconds) can give you a head start on everyone around you thinking the same thing.
Your Airline App
Airline apps are maddeningly inconsistent, but they can sometimes offer information and speed that will best third-party apps, as they are tied in to the airline system (or at least they should be). Most apps include a scannable boarding pass and will let you change and upgrade seats, see incoming flight information, find out connection info, and more; some also tie into the in-flight entertainment systems.
Did I miss any airport apps you use between leaving your house and arriving at your destination? Let us know in the comments.
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Ed Hewitt is a seasoned globetrotter who brings you a monthly glimpse into the latest travel news, views, and trends—and how they could affect your travel plans.