Before I boarded my first flight headed to Florida back in high school, I was incredibly nervous and had no idea what to expect as a first-time flyer. However, once I got through the process, it helped to alleviate some of my anxieties knowing that most airports walk you through the same process, over and over again. One of my friends actually contacted me about this subject since she was going to boarding her first plane to see her family, and I felt that if I walked you through the flying process, step-by-step, that it would help you all feel more comfortable and confident while you’re traveling. Sometimes new environments and situations can make me incredibly nervous, so if you go through the same fears or are really just curious about what the process of checking in and boarding a flight is, strap in because we’re getting into the nitty-gritty of flying!
Are you planning a trip? Check out my other blog posts for smooth travel!
- How To Stay Organized While Traveling
- 20 Essential Apps For Smooth Travel
- A Beginner’s Guide To Airbnb + $40 Off Your First Trip
Double Check Departure
Check Traffic Conditions
Double Check Carry-On + Luggage
Make Sure Your Luggage Isn’t Over The Weight Limit
Eat A Snack Or Meal
Load Luggage Into The Car
Arrive At The Airport At Least Two Hours Before Flight Takeoff
Arriving At The Airport + What To Expect
Finding Your Terminal + Drop Off Location
The first thing you want to do is find the terminal that your flight is in. The terminal is the place where you’re going to scan your boarding pass and get on the plane, but it’s important to get to the right one first. Each airport has different terminals for different airlines, so in Terminal A, it could be Frontier Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and Spirit Airlines, while Terminal B could be Cathay Pacific, United Airlines, and Eva Air. For every airport it’s different, but generally, there will be signs once you arrive at the airport that tells you what terminal your airline is in. It looks like an oversized highway sign, and you really can’t miss it. If there aren’t any signs once you enter the airport, you can search your flight on google using your flight number (example: D317), and it will tell you what terminal your flight is in. If you go to the wrong terminal first, you’re going to have to walk across the airport to get to the correct one, which you don’t want to do, so keep your eyes peeled for a sign or look it up if needed.
Once your turn into the correct terminal, there is either going to be airline specific drop-off points, or there are going to be signs that literally say “passenger drop off”, and you guessed it, this is where you’ll be dropped off at. Find your specific drop off point and you’ll enter the building and see desks for specific airlines, and small electronic kiosks outside of them; this is where you’ll check in.
Earlybird Check-In / Online Check-In
Not all airlines offer online check-in, but if they do, you’re going to want to take advantage of it. What it means is that twenty-four hours before your flight leaves, you’re able to check-in and possibly select your seat depending on the airline. What this means for you is a possible, if you check in early enough, guaranteed window seat, and you won’t have to check in in person at the airport, meaning you can skip right to security unless you have a checked bag to drop off. This is an awesome feature, and it’s incredibly useful if you find yourself running a little late. If you do check-in online, make sure that you print out your boarding pass or put it in apple wallet on your phone.
Checking in with the counter is super simple and I’ve listed below the items that you’re going to need for the process. This is where you will get your luggage weighed if you’re checking it in and it generally only takes a couple of minutes. You’ll put your luggage on the scale, hand over your ID, and then you’ll be handed your boarding pass and luggage sticker that allows you to match it to your luggage when you arrive at the baggage claim at your destination.
Some airports have kiosks that you can check in at and you’ll need your passport to confirm your identity. You can print out your boarding pass here and you won’t have to wait in a line, so this is especially useful for people who aren’t checking a bag.
Some airlines, like Southwest Airlines, offer a free checked bag for all travelers, but you’ll have to check with your airline to see if you need to pay for one or if one is provided for you. Each airline has certain dimensions and weight limits for their carry-on and checked bag, so you’ll need to make sure your bag isn’t too big, small, or too much weight.
Items You Need
Passport for International Flights
License or Another Government-Issued ID for Domestic Flights
Note For Domestic Travel Within The US: Some states are changing their ID requirements so that you must have a passport to travel domestically and internationally. From my understanding, there are nine states that must require a passport for domestic travels, but some have been given an extension (look on the website linked below to see if your state has an extension) There are only nine states as of now but there have been others starting to implement this rule in 2019, and eventually, all states will require this come 2020. You can check the Department of Homeland Security’s website to see if your state is in compliance with this law and if it has received an extension. Personally, I have always used my passport for domestic and international travel, so I am unsure of what would happen if you don’t have this form of ID when you try to travel. You can read the FAQ’s for this new change here.
What You’ll Receive
First + Last Name
Departure + Arrival Times
Departure + Arrival Airports
Getting Through Secruity + Tips
Security is super simple and if fairly quick depending on how busy and/or efficient the airport is. You’ll want to keep your boarding pass and ID card out because there will be a worker at a small stand that is going to scan and make sure that the two documents match. They’ll hand your stuff back and that’s when you will head into the security line and wait your turn. (This is the part where you chug the remaining water in your water bottle lol). I travel with a lot of electronics and items that need to be removed, so I make sure that when I am around the second to third person in line, I will take off my shoes and my computer to get a little head start. Obviously, you don’t have to do this, but I find that it helps speed up the line and I don’t have to worry about taking so long.
Certain airports make you separate different things, but I end up with three bins when I go through security. I have one for my carry-on bag, although some airports have you leave it on the conveyer belt, one for my laptop, and one for all of my misc. items like my phone, boarding pass, shoes, jacket, and hat. This changes depending on whether or not I have to take my shoes off and things, but taking out the proper items and being efficient helps everything go smoothe and prevents you from being stopped (which has still happened to me on multiple occasions). Stay with your stuff until it goes into the little flap looking thingy and then you’ll step into a scanner or be scanned. If you have jewelry on your neck, a hat, or something else you may get patted down, but it’s not thorough, and it’s really nothing to worry about if they choose you. It takes less than five seconds and then you’ll be on your way. Wait for your items to come out of the opposite side of the conveyer belt, grab your things, put your loose articles back on, and then prepare to head to your gate. There will be areas past where your bag will come out that you can organize your things and get your bearings. Refrain from putting things back in your bag right where you grabbed your bins because it will cause unnecessary clogging of the security line.
If you are under the age of thirteen or over seventy-five, you won’t be asked to remove your shoes and if you have TSA Pre-Check, you won’t have to remove them either.
How To Get Through Security With Ease
Take Out Toiletries or Liquids
Shoes Off (Unless Not Specified)
Empty Water Bottle
Remove Large Electronics
Take Off Prohibited Items
Any Metal Items That Will Set Off Detector
Put Large Bags and Electronics In Their Own Bins
Items I Have Been Stopped For
A Bag Of Currencies
Finding Your Gate + Boarding
This is the simplest part of the whole process, and all you need to do is follow the signs to your gate number. If you’re in a small airport, this process is a breeze, but it can get a little more transportation inclusive if you land in a larger, international airport. In Singapore, I have taken a tram to another terminal that only took a few minutes, but in LAX, I walked one whole hour to get to my proper gate, and that was without getting lost! I always like to give myself extra time to find my gate because I want time to be able to get a snack if I need, fill up my water bottle, and go to the restroom. Once you arrive at your gate, find a comfortable seat and then wait until they call for boarding.
Odds are, you’re going to be placed in one of four boarding groups, and all you need to do for that is wait until they call boarding for that specific group. I like to sit and wait for most of the line to go down before I stand up in line and it is so much more comfortable that way. They are going to scan your boarding pass and then you’ll be headed into the tunnel for boarding. Once you get here, you’ll be waiting in the line for a few minutes as people find their seats and then you’ll use the seat number on your boarding pass to find your seat. The seat numbers are normally labeled on the overhead bin, so walk until you find your seat. If you don’t have a seat number, chances are the airline lets you pick your own, but always double check to make sure.
These are an actual cake walk compared to longer flights, and they’re a great opportunity to get some work done, journal, or finish those last pages of the book you’re reading. Depending on the flight, they will offer some snacks and drinks, but I always bring my own since it’s a lot healthier that way. There’s not really too much happening on these in all honesty, so relax, kick back, and enjoy the short few hours you’ll be in the air.
Some domestic flights can be a little lengthy, but generally, that’s if you’re flying across the whole country (like the US for example), but that’s still under six hours. If your domestic flight is longer than this, you can easily apply the long-haul flight tips to your own.
Long Haul Flights
Long-haul flights can easily become the perfect place to get work done, or to binge watch a couple seasons of a TV show. For myself, it really depends on what type of mood I am in, so I have been invested in movies, designing, tv shows, and everything under the sun to keep myself entertained with multiple naps in between of course. If you’re flying overnight, then you have the upper hand and can take some melatonin and pass out until landing which is always really nice and sets you up for the new time zone.
The planes are set up with tv screens and various selections of movies, so if you find that you’re bored of the things you brought along, there is always that option, and generally, they have some newer movies out to watch for free which is really nice.
There will be a few meals depending on what time of day you are flying, but I normally try and eat at the airports when I get the chance (coming from a vegan). If I am really desperate I will eat the food, but most of the time it has meat or cheese in it and that is generally when I remember that I forgot to request my meal, but hey, that’s why we packed snacks! If you have a food allergy, most airlines offer meal requests while you book your flight and the bonus of this is that you’ll get your meal before everyone else. You have the option to bring your own snacks or meal on board with you, which is a great way to guarantee a great meal on your trip.
The flight attendants will come through offering various drinks and snacks available for purchase. I normally drink water since it is no extra cost to me and I stay hydrated that way.
- Don’t Bother Buying Wifi – It’s Slow
- You Aren’t Required To Have The Meals Provided
- Get Up And Stretch Or Walk Down The Aisles Every So Often
- The Bathrooms Are Located In The Middle And Back Of The Plane
- Stay Hydrated + Drink A Few Liters Of Water
- Neck Pillow + Compressions Socks Are Essential
Landing is either the most exciting or most fearful part of the flying process, but either way it signifies arriving in a new place safely, which is something to be stoked about. Chances are, as soon as the plane makes a complete stop, everyone on the plane is going to try and stand up and get off, which is a waste of everyone’s time, so just sit back and wait for the plane to file out. The plane exits row by row, front to back, so you’re going to be more comfortable sitting in your row waiting for your exit time rather than wedging in between people to try and get your things. I like to thank the pilot and the attendants at the front of the plane as I exit and then I make my way to baggage claim.
Luggage + Transportation
Once you get off the plane, you’re going to be looking for a sign that indicates where the baggage claim is, and you’ll follow them until you meet the conveyer belt. It generally takes a couple of minutes for the bags to finally start coming out so you really don’t need to rush to get over there. I normally wait until I have my bags before I do anything else. Once you have your bags, you are free to leave the airport or move on to your method of transportation.
Depending on where you land, you’re going to have loads of options for transportation whether it be family, taxi’s, busses, uber’s, etc., and you can either schedule this ahead of time or do it on the spot whenever you get there. Don’t worry about not being able to find one because there will be some everywhere at the exit of the airport. A taxi is going to be the most expensive option, so always look for alternatives like uber or a bus if you want to go for something a bit cheaper. I like to book my transportation in advance so that way when I arrive in a new place I am stress-free and don’t have to worry about finding the bus station or flagging down a taxi. Generally, you can arrange airport transportation with your accommodation or use uber if it’s offered in the country.
Were you nervous about your first flight? Share with me in the comments below!
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