Which TikTok airport travel hacks work and which ones will just get you into trouble?

Jul 29, 2022

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The heads of both Heathrow Airport (LHR) and Bristol Airport (BRS) in England have this week slammed travelers for copying a travel hack seen on TikTok, which involves passengers pretending to need a wheelchair to skip the line.

This trend isn’t just ridiculous, it’s dangerous: It leaves vulnerable flyers who actually require assistance at risk during a time of peak uncertainty and stretched ground staffing.

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However, there are some other less detrimental travel hacks circulating on social media, and with millions of people looking to beat the crowds at airports this year, travel tips have never been handier. It’s just about knowing which ones to use — such as TPG UK’s director of content Nicky Kelvin’s hack at Amsterdam Airport Schipol (AMS) that helped him avoid a six-hour wait — and, frankly, which ones to avoid.

Read on for our verdict on some of the most shared travel “hacks” doing the rounds in the United Kingdom and the U.S right now.

Beat the liquid restrictions

The hack: One TikTok user went viral after showing how she preorders her vacation cosmetics and toiletries online to be collected at in-airport branch of Boots before she flies. Why? So that she isn’t hampered by the 3.4-ounce limit placed on liquids at security. Plus, she can dodge airport prices on certain, costlier items.

Will it get you in trouble? No. This click-and-collect service has been available for ages but is still massively underused. Boots offers pickup at 14 U.K. airports (see the full list here). Warning: You will need to place the order at least 10 days before flying, and your bag of products will count toward your carry-on allowance in the eyes of most airlines. Additionally, if you don’t use up these items during your holiday and wish to bring them back, you’ll have to pack them in a checked bag for your return flight or risk having to throw the items away at security.

Free seat upgrade

The hack: One passenger says he buys a cheaper economy ticket at the back of the plane for a flight. He patiently waits to be called, and when he’s sure he’s the last passenger entering the plane, he sees if there are any free rows at the front. Then, he sits in one accordingly.

Will it get you in trouble? Quite possibly. Let us level with you: This one is dishonest at best and borderline unlawful at worst. Some may call it a victimless crime since the seats are empty anyway, but under Civil Aviation Authority rules, you get the seat you pay for unless you are otherwise upgraded by the airline.

While there’s a chance the seats are simply empty and free, they could have also been left empty for a specific reason — such as to leave emergency exits clear, allow access for those with disabilities or provide somewhere for returning (and exhausted) cabin crew members to sit. If you do want to take your chances, why not try putting on a smile, greeting the cabin crew and just asking politely if they’re able to move you? You’d be surprised how far being polite and courteous can get you in these situations.

Related: How to upgrade to first class without using a ton of cash

Turn your carry-on pillow into free luggage

The hack: This is exactly what you think it is: Travelers stuff a pillow with clothes and belongings that didn’t fit into their basic carry-on bags, without exceeding limitations. This popular TikTok shows three women waltzing through a Spanish airport after shoving a bundle of summer clothing into cushions they carried on to a flight.

Will it get you in trouble? Frankly, it’s debatable. The likes of Ryanair and easyJet have been allowing people to bring pillows aboard for eons — not to mention teasing customers on social media over more inventive means of maximizing carry-on space. Given that clothing and pillows are effectively perfect for stashing extra items, it was only a matter of time before people looking to avoid steep luggage prices would try to push it. The TPG verdict? You might very well get away with this one as long as you’re not filling your pillow with anything that wouldn’t get through security anyway.

Would we recommend it? No. For one, all your clothes will be creased. Secondly, imagine this doesn’t work … do you want to be the person at the airport standing with a pillow of belongings they can’t take with them? Lastly, actual pillows are far comfier than pillows you make out of your belongings. All this said, there are plenty of TikTok videos proving that it works, but with every view, there’s more heat; it wouldn’t be surprising if the airlines crack down on the hack at some point. Final verdict: Not worth it.

Pack a hammock for long delays

The hack: A group of U.S. travelers waiting out an overnight delay hung up their hammocks while waiting in departures and posted their efforts on TikTok.

Will it get you in trouble? The aforementioned trio’s terminal hijinks have led to 125,000 likes and counting, and could inspire other travelers to get inventive ahead of possible flight delays. Is it even allowed? A source at one leading U.K. airport told TPG it’s a firm no. “Why would a customer put up a hammock at an airport when the airline provides hotel accommodation or pay for transport to an alternative airport if a flight is canceled?  If the flight is delayed the customer is already in the departure lounge with very limited amount of cabin baggage,” the source said. It’s an entirely fair point, to be honest.

Track your luggage using Apple AirTags

The hack: Simply pop an Apple AirTag into your suitcase to track it during your journey. If it’s still at the airport you took off from when you reach your final destination or it has somehow ended up elsewhere, you’ll know exactly where it is.

Will it get you in trouble? No. In fact, we’d go as far as to say it’s not even a hack — you’re simply using a piece of technology in the exact way it’s supposed to be used. Please note, however, that while an Apple AirTag might help you keep track of the location of your luggage, it doesn’t always mean you’re going to be able to get it back any faster. In most cases, you’ll still have to patiently wait (like this guy) for the airline to fish it out. If you do find yourself in the unfortunate position of losing your baggage, follow our guide to reimbursement and the airline’s tracking methods.

Related: 7 steps to take when an airline loses your luggage

Stuffing clothes into a duty-free bag

The hack: Buy a small item in the duty-free section (or reuse an old bag), and stuff it with items you can’t cram into your carry-on allowance.

Will it get you in trouble? This is another one of those travel tips which seems wrong but does fall into something of a gray area. After all, you’re usually allowed to waltz onto a flight with your body weight in giant Toblerone bars, provided they fit inside these sacred bags.

EasyJet, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic are just a few of the carriers that allow an additional bag for duty-free goods purchased at the airport (minus booze in Ryanair’s case). Others, including Jet2, count a duty-free bag as a small piece of hand luggage. Earlier this year, Miguel Munoz, a flight attendant for an unnamed airline, told Express.co.uk about the dark arts. “I know the trick because I always do this when I fly as a passenger. … But a lot of crew don’t know this and most won’t realise,” Munoz said. “If you come on board with one piece of luggage, which you are allowed to, and a duty-free bag with some of your belongings, no one will say anything.” Attempt at your own risk, and at the very least, check that the airline you’re flying with does not count a duty-free bag as extra luggage.

Bottom line

Travel hacks are more useful than ever during a time of overcrowded airports and consistent flight delays and cancellations. However, some are more useful than others. Before trying one of the travel hacks you see on social media, do some additional research and make sure you’re not hurting anyone in the process.

Featured photo by Ge JiaJun/Getty Images.

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