Any flight that takes off before 6:30 a.m. is a blessing. Get me where I’m going already! You think I want to linger in the airport during precious daylight hours? No thank you. I prefer to beat rush hour traffic to the airport, stand in a shorter security line, laugh silently at the dramatic displays of sleepiness from teenagers dragged out of bed by their parents, and be on my way. I’ll offset the lack of sleep with a little nap on the plane or, better yet, a venti Starbucks sipped languidly at the gate before boarding. And this is why we have to talk about the absolute worst way to order Starbucks at the airport.
Even before the pandemic, the hours of operation could vary dramatically from one airport Starbucks to another, depending on which terminals saw the greatest foot traffic. Now, the unreliability of those hours is compounded by a lack of workers and fluctuations in air travel. Never trust Google to tell you when Starbucks—or any business—is open. Changes to those hours can happen faster than Google reflects them.
If you know a given Starbucks location will be opening soon, you’re free to start queueing up nearby, but your presence in line does not mean you’re entitled to immediate service. When the employees are ready to serve you, they’ll let you know; just because they’re wiping down the counters and opening up the register doesn’t mean you can start rattling off your order just yet.
You should give yourself as much of a cushion as possible when ordering, even if you plan to sip the coffee on the flight. Sometimes waiting in an airport Starbucks line can take upwards of 25-30 minutes; if there’s any chance your order won’t be ready by the time you have to board, don’t order a coffee in the airport terminal at all.
Just as the TSA agents are not required to allow latecomers to skip to the front of the security line, baristas shouldn’t have to enter warp speed to ensure your coffee is ready before your boarding group is called. Sometimes we all must settle for the coffee poured from the sad gray pot on the in-flight beverage cart. Hey, at least it usually comes with a cookie.
This is my cardinal rule for ordering Starbucks at the airport: If there’s a sizable line behind me, I’m getting brewed coffee. That’s it. Nothing “handcrafted.” Nothing mixed or shaken or customized. It’s not my typical order, but when flying, I order a Pike Place roast with cream. The barista taking my order pours it themselves and hands it off directly, meaning there’s no secondary waiting period after payment. I’m caffeinated and on my way, baby.
When you’ve been waiting in a 20-minute line at an understaffed Starbucks, it can be disheartening to hear someone in front of you order a Venti Caramel Ribbon Crunch Frappuccino with extra caramel drizzle, extra whipped cream, extra ice, extra Cinnamon Dolce Sprinkles, extra pumps of Dark Caramel Sauce, extra Caramel Crunch Topping, one pump Honey Blend, five pumps of Frappuccino Roast, and seven Frappuccino Chips, made with heavy cream and double-blended. And while it is, of course, the customer’s right to order virtually any drink that Starbucks is willing to sell them, I personally believe this is the sort of beverage best ordered outside of a rush period—and at the airport, it’s almost always a rush period.
Plus, given the inflated airport prices, a brewed hot coffee will keep your total bill down. But if you’re opting for the airport Starbucks instead of the speedier Dunkin’ three gates away, maybe cost savings isn’t top of mind. In any case, safe travels!