Tips for a hassle-free travel experience

ATLANTA (AP) — You've got to drop your kids off at school, stop by the bank and pick up your dry cleaning. That's a lot to do and still make it to the airport two hours before your 11 a.m. flight.

But what if you could cut that time in half, and not miss your flight?

Don't fret.

Before you head to the airport on your next trip and fall victim to the hassles that can waste time, here's a cheat sheet to help you navigate more quickly.

1. Take public transportation. No car means you don't have to spend time looking for a space in a long-term parking lot that sometimes can be a hike to the terminal. When you return from your trip, you can get right on that bus or train rather than spend time lugging your bags to your car — that time can multiply if you forgot where you parked. In most cases it could cost less to take public transportation than to park. If you have to bring your car, park as close to the terminal as you can, write down the space number on your ticket and take the ticket with you.

2. Pack light. The fewer bags you have, the quicker you can get through the terminal, past security and on board the plane. Try to avoid checking bags if possible. That also will save you money, since most major U.S. carriers charge $15 to check a first bag and $25 to check a second. Aviation consultant Mark Kiefer of CRA International notes that luggage stores can tell you the largest wheeled carryon that will fit in an overhead luggage bin. Strollers and child car seats are typically not counted against your allotted number of carryon bags. Airlines will gate check those for you.

3. Use self-service options. Print your boarding pass out online the night before your trip. If you are in a rush and haven't done that, use a self-service kiosk in the airport, if available, to check in. That will save you from standing in a long line to check in with an airline agent. Delta offers paperless boarding at some airports, including Atlanta and Salt Lake City, allowing travelers with Web-enabled mobile devices like a BlackBerry or iPhone to download their boarding passes, then hand over the devices for scanning by federal security screeners and airline gate agents. When checking bags, use curbside check-in if available. It can make for a quicker walk through the terminal. Remember that curbside has cut-off times before the flight departs — it varies by airport, but is often at least 45 minutes before the flight, said American Airlines spokesman Tim Smith.

4. Breeze through security. Have your ID and boarding pass in your hand as you walk through the security line. Also, take anything loose and put it in a bag. Remember to put your laptop on the conveyor belt separate from the bag it is in. Also make sure that any liquids you have will be allowed through security or are in the right type of or size container. The government rule is one one-quart Ziploc bag for one person, containing liquids and gels in 3-ounce or smaller containers.

If you travel at off-peak times, you sometimes can avoid long security lines. And check ahead. The Atlanta airport, for instance, posts security wait times on its Web site. If traveling internationally, give yourself more time than you would for a domestic flight.

5. Wait until you get through security to get a bite to eat. The security line could get longer if you eat before going through. On the other side of security, you can grab some food, take it to the gate and wait to board. You might not learn about a gate change until you reach the gate you were expecting to take off from, so waiting to eat avoids the risk of missing your flight.

6. Make the boarding process smooth. The quicker you get on, put your carryon bags in the overhead compartment and buckle your seatbelt, the quicker the plane can take off. Once you reach your row, step into it and out of the aisle so other passengers can get by. That will help make for a quicker departure.

7. Upgrade to business class if you can. It will cost you more, unless you use reward points or credits, though some airlines offer big sales on business class seats. If they are available, AirTran Airways allows you to upgrade to business class when you check-in for $49 to $99 one-way, depending on destination. You are the first to get on and the first to get off. Also, there are often special lines at check-in, at security and at the gate for people in business class, depending on the airline and airport. Choose aisle seats. You often can get off quicker than if you are stuck in a middle or window seat.

8. Consider an alternate airport. Kiefer advises that flying out of secondary airports when possible can save time. The lines can be shorter, the terminals are often smaller and less crowded and parking is easier, he said. A good example is the Manchester, N.H., airport, which serves the Boston area. The airport is about 50 miles north of Boston, but can be a quick drive during non-peak times and you can avoid the tunnel toll you pay when leaving the Boston airport by car.

9. Know where you are going. If connecting, map out the location of cross-terminal transportation for connections ahead of time, says Rick Seaney of FareCompare.com.