Apps to help you avoid airport annoyances

The happiest place on earth they're not. But we find a handful of helpful apps that take the sting out of air travel.

By Jasmine France, TechHive |  Software, mobile apps

Frequent fliers and sporadic sightseers alike know the woes of air travel. Sure, it gets you there fast but at the price of unavoidable aggravation: You have to deal with the airport and all the lovely little annoyances associated with it.

Luckily, our technology age provides plenty of tools to make your trip go more smoothly. So before you take off, load up your phone with apps to help you do everything from getting to the airport on time to staying entertained while you (inevitably) wait for your flight.

Parking and transportation

Obviously, air travel starts with getting to the airport. But even that simple step can be fraught with delays and frustration. The following apps will help you arrive stress-free and on time, whether by train, bus, or automobile.

Google Maps--Android, BlackBerry, iOS, Windows Phone (free)

Work out your route to the airport with the ubiquitous Google Maps, which uses your device's on-board GPS to guide you to your destination. You can opt for audible navigation if you're driving yourself and need to keep your eyes on the road, and the apps handy traffic stats will warn you of impending bottlenecks so you can devise an alternate route.

Google Maps can also help you plot your trip to the airport on public transportation, with transit directions that show such details as time en route, transfer information, and the cost of the trip

AirportParking--iOS (free)

If you drive your car to the airport, you'll need a place to park it. AirportParking is a free iOS app dedicated to helping you find discount parking at any of more than 100 airports in the United States. It also provides maps, shuttle frequency data, and information on the type of parking available (outdoor, covered, or valet) as well as parking lot locations and contact numbers.

Using Android? Try the free Best Parking, which identifies locations and prices for garages and lots in 80 cities and 115 airports across North America--making it a useful app for nonairport parking, too.

Taxi Magic--Android, iOS (free)

Few things are more stressful than calling a cab to take you to the airport only to have it arrive late or not show up at all. Taxi Magic lets you book your ride directly on your device without sitting on hold; track your cab's location; and pay via credit card stored in your account, so you can hop out as soon as you arrive at your drop-off point.

In San Francisco, Los Angeles, or Seattle? Try Lyft, an on-demand ride-sharing service where the drivers receive ratings (and often offer riders thoughtful extras like bottles of water and gum).

Security lines

MyTSA--Android, iOS (free)

Regrettably, there's no escape from long security lines--but you can make the experience a little less painful (or at least know what you're in for) with MyTSA. This free app for iOS and Android provides real-time operating status updates for U.S. airports, including approximate wait times at security checkpoints.

It also offers information about permitted carry-on items and tips for packing and dressing in ways that will help you get through quickly. Now if only it could help the people ahead of you understand that leaving coins and keys in their pockets will, in fact, set off the metal detector--and that no, this isn't a good time to take an Instagram picture of their socks (yes, that actually happened).

A note about boarding-pass apps: Though digital boarding passes are becoming increasingly common, they typically operate via apps from specific airlines (such as Delta, United Airlines, or Virgin Airlines). Currently, few third-party apps provide universal boarding-pass functionality--but if you're willing to take a risk, you might try, for example, Boarding Pass for iOS, PassWallet for Android, or MyPasses for Windows Phone. If you're looking to avoid potential hassles however, you may be better off sticking with the app for your airline.

Waiting

Riding on public transit, standing in the security line, and sitting at your gate entail a lot of waiting--and waiting is boring. Avoid the boredom with these diverting apps.

Netflix--Android, iOS, Windows Phone (free app, $8/month subscription)

Few activities make time fly faster than watching streaming video, and the best app for that job is still Netflix. Subscribers to the digital service ($8 per month) can access Netflix's extensive catalog of streaming movies and TV shows from their mobile devices from anyplace that has a network connection. (Just be sure to hop onto the airport's Wi-Fi to avoid exceeding your data limit.)

Netflix is only the tip of the video iceberg here, however. If you have a short attention span, try Vine, Twitter's answer to video; if anime appeals to you, give Crunchyroll a whirl. Another option is to pass the time by creating photo-video hybrids with Cinemagram. And we haven't even gotten to Hulu, Amazon Instant, HBO Go, Vimeo, and dozens of others.

Rhapsody--Android, BlackBerry, iOS, Windows Phone (free app, $10/month subscription)

Music is the perfect complement to a book or a magazine, and Rhapsody provides a seemingly endless library of it--more than 16 million tracks at last count. You can listen to full albums, create custom playlists, or tune in to commercial-free radio. It's a streaming service, so again you need to be aware of your service's data limits (or use Wi-Fi). Rhapsody also allows you to save music to your device for offline playback, which is a particularly handy feature once you're in the air.

Of course, Rhapsody isn't the only option available: Pandora, Rdio, Slacker, and Spotify offer apps with varying features and services. Lesser-known music-streaming services are worth a try, too. For example, Songza selects a mix of music to match your mood. ("Cranky about delayed flight" isn't an option, but you can specify "angsty," "gloomy," or "aggressive.")

Where's My Water?--Android, BlackBerry, iOS, Windows Phone ($1)

Anyone who has ever been hooked on a video game, knows that playing a truly engaging game causes time to pass with almost magical swiftness. Where's My Water is an addictive, physics-based puzzle game starring a fastidious alligator named Swampy. Swampy loves to take long, hot showers, and your goal is to make sure that he gets enough water for the job. This one's great for keeping cranky kids distracted, but it's fun for adults too.

If you're traveling with children, be sure to check out PBS Parents Play & Learn, a full suite of games available for a wide range of devices (including Kindle and Nook) and designed to promote math and literacy skills.

Flight delays and cancellations

In a perfect world, flights would always be on time and you'd never have to deal with unexpected cancellations. You'd also have a lot more leg room, seats that fully recline (though the people in the row in front of you wouldn't), and tasty in-flight meals--but hey, we obviously don't live in a perfect world. These apps will help take the sting out of unanticipated bumps in the road.

FlightTrack--Android, BlackBerry, iOS, Windows Phone ($5)

FlightTrack provides real-time status information for delays and cancellations at more than 3000 airports worldwide. You can view your flights on a zoomable map, and see satellite weather imagery to help you anticipate the likelihood that a flight may be delayed; another a feature provides forecasts of potential delays. And if you have to deal with a cancellation, you can find alternate flights right in the app.

FlightTrack also lets you label your flights, store your flight confirmation number, and save your seat number from within the app. Upgrading to the Pro version of the app ($10) brings you push flight alerts, delay predictions, and the ability to sync your flight itineraries with TripIt.

GateGuru--Android, iOS, Windows Phone (free)

GateGuru's FlightCard feature rolls up every detail pertaining to your flight, including real-time arrival and departure stats, baggage carousel numbers, estimated TSA times, airport weather, and estimated security wait times. In addition, GateGuru includes airport navigation tips and maps.

The app integrates last-minute rental car deals, which may come in handy if your flight is canceled, and a list of nearby stores and restaurants (with ratings) customized to your terminal location to help you endure the wait during a delay or a layover.

Aggravating airlines

TripAdvisor--Android, iOS, Windows Phone (free)

TripAdvisor offers a wealth of travel planning features, but it made the cut here thanks to its airline rating section. You can check star ratings, read reviews, and (maybe) gain the strength not to book flights on problem-prone airlines. The app is equally useful as a pressure valve if you want to lodge a complaint following a particularly exasperating experience.

Other TripAdvisor features help you compare airfares, find deals, ask travel questions (in the forums), book hotels, and find restaurants and entertainment near your destination.

Lost luggage

Trakdot Luggage--Android, iOS ($50 with device)

Airline lost your luggage? There is, of course, an app for that--but you'll need a piece of hardware to go along with it. Trakdot Luggage pairs a location device planted in your luggage with an app that lets you track it. The app will alert you when your luggage has arrived with you upon landing, and will send you an alert when you're within 30 feet of the bag. However, this item doesn't go on sale until June.

In the meantime, you can make do with similar services such as HipKey, FinderCodes, or Bungee Tags, which use either a device or a QR code paired with an app to help you locate lost luggage.

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