A Complete Guide On Everything You Need To Know To Smoothly Board Your First Flight
Booking and boarding your first flight can be quite a nerve-wracking process. With proper preparation, patience, and a couple of practice tries you’ll soon be breezing through airports like a professional. Whether it’s your first time traveling or you’re a seasoned flyer this guide will help prepare you for the smoothest trip possible.
Before You Get To The Airport
Download Your Airline’s App
Although electronic boards typically are available throughout the airport the quickest way to receive updates about delays, changes in gates, or any other important information is through your airline’s phone app. You don’t have to keep it on your phone forever but I highly recommend downloading the app of the airline you’ll be flying with. Don’t forget to turn on push notifications.
You typically won’t be required to create an account if you don’t want to. Type in your booking reservation number and last name and you should be able to access your check-in time, your boarding pass, and much more. The mobile boarding pass scans just as a paper one would through security and at the gate.
Remember check-in is often 24 hours before the flight. Mobile check-in often closes shortly before boarding and if you miss check-in you’ll have to make an additional stop at the check-in counter to talk to a representative.
Parking can be quite expensive if you don’t do your research first. Long-term lots are a good option for cars planning on parking on-site for more than a few days. These lots are usually located furthest away as well so look to see if there is any kind of ride-share or shuttle service available.
Parking garages or cell phone lots are closer to passengers who are getting dropped off. Ride-share including taxis, Uber, and Lyft often have their own lanes.
Check your local airport's website prior to starting your drive to avoid any surprise fees or charges.
Once You Arrive At The Airport
I cannot stress this enough. Whether you’re a speedy traveler or not there’s always something that can happen throughout your boarding process. Even if it’s not your fault.
There are plenty of coffee shops, restaurants, bars, shopping, and seating throughout airports.
A good rule of thumb is to try to go at least an hour or more before your boarding time begins. Add additional time for international flights and even more time if you’ll be traveling through a major airport with multiple terminals and gates.
If it’s your first time through any specific airport try to plan at least two hours so you have time to find your gate without stress. I like to plan enough time to stop for a pre-flight cocktail. ;)
Airports can be a maze. Don’t be afraid to ask for directions.
Check-in Process (Phone vs Physical Boarding Ticket)
You’ll only have to stop at the check-in desk for two reasons.
You have decided to not go mobile or are having problems checking in through the app
You have to check bags
Both ways of check-in are completely perfect, but if you would like a printed ticket for memorabilia's sake you’ll have to go to the desk upon arrival.
Personal Item vs Checked vs Carry On
A checked bag is a suitcase that you pay to put in the storage area of the plane. Checked bags fly straight to your end destination.
Carry On’s are bags you hold onto and store either in overhead bins or under the seats on the plane.
Personal Items are smaller but free.
Read your airline’s rules carefully before packing. Some airlines allow one free checked bag, while others offer a free carry-on. If you’re flying a budget line chances are you’ll only be allowed a personal item.
Rules vary slightly on size and weight of carry-on but a good rule of thumb is if it won’t fit underneath the seat in front of you it’s too big to be a personal item. A medium backpack or purse are good personal items.
If you need any help stuffing your suitcase to save you as much space and money as possible check out 6 Super Easy Packing Tips To Save Time and Money.
Pro Tip: If you’re off only for a weekend trip and you have a backpack and your purse for example, most of the time you can get away with only a personal item. Make sure to save space in your backpack though to shove your purse if you need to make it “one item” as you board.
Getting Through Security
Occasionally you’ll be asked to remove your shoes going through the airport scanners and the last way you want to start your journey is with athlete’s foot.
Listen for Verbal Instructions
Security rules vary by airport. Sometimes electronic devices need to come out of bags, sometimes not. Sometimes shoes and sweatshirts come off, sometimes not. TSA is very good at communicating so take off those headphones for a few minutes and pay attention so you can be ready and smoothly speed through once it’s your turn.
Invest In A Good Travel Bag
A good travel bag will quickly become your best friend. Look for backpacks that have separate compartments for whatever you need. My musts are a laptop sleeve, an external sleeve, and two straps if it's a backpack. I've tagged some of my current favorite travel bags here.
Use Multiple Bins
Don’t stack everything on top of each other. Make it easy for TSA so they don’t have to spread out your things. Sometimes a separate bin is required for different electronic devices and phones. Smile and be nice to security they have a lot on their plate and remember your wait is only a slight inconvenience in regards to your safety.
Travel-sized items were invented for a reason. Any liquids above 3.4 oz or 100ml will be thrown away at security so either pack it in your checked luggage or leave it behind. This could be body wash, toothpaste, or even hot sauce.
Flammable items, including candles, are also a no-go.
Unpacked and sealed food, especially any food that could bring bugs or contamination to your next leg of the journey. Remember there will be more food stops after security!
Check your airline's website for a complete list of unacceptable items.
If your bag gets pulled to the side don’t fret. Either you forgot something small or they just need to see something closer. Be patient and an agent will be over shortly to explain the situation.
Finding your gate → Doors Close
I know there's a lot to see and do once you’re through security but if you can’t see your gate from where you’re standing my biggest advice is to go find it directly before wandering off to Starbucks or the bar. Confirm on the terminal screen that your flight is still leaving from that gate and at the proper time. Then if you want to wander far away keep track of how long it took you to walk/shuttle away so you aren’t late coming back. Remember doors close often 15-30 minutes before take off.
What You Shouldn't Leave Behind
No matter the trip there are a few staples you just should not leave behind. Some of them are hygiene items such as toothbrushes and deodorant. (Pack these in your carry-on in case you get separated from your luggage.)
I never leave my luggage scale behind in case I need to rearrange a bag at the last second.
On The Plane
Pack Gum or Candy
Especially if you haven’t experienced rocketing to such a high altitude all at once before you might experience some pressure in your ears. The best way to keep them from popping is to chew some kind of gum or candy to release the pressure.
Look For Free Wi-Fi
Depending on your airline and sometimes even your phone carrier, lots of planes offer free wifi once in the air. Some offer messaging while others offer movies, games, and tv shows for entertainment. If you’re flying a budget airline it is not as common but make sure to check out your wifi on your phone just in case! Don’t forget to put all your devices in airplane mode though no matter what throughout the course of your flight!
If you’re traveling to a different time zone start adjusting your sleep schedule immediately. Try to stay awake on your flight if you’re landing and it will be late in the night or try to stay awake if you’re landing and it will be the beginning of the day.
Sit Back And Relax
Remember that turbulence is normal and you will quite often experience it. Delays often occur due to multiple reasons including but not limited to weather, and problems with arrival or departure. If a flight delay causes you to miss a layover speak with the gate agent as soon as you disembark and they will help you with the next steps forward.
Double Check Your Seat
Once you leave the plane it is more than likely you won’t be able to reboard. Planes are on a tight schedule and cleaning happens between flights as well. Make sure to take all your belongings with you. Some airlines have a lost and found portal but in my experience, it rarely brings your items back to you.
Pick Up Your Bags
If you brought checked luggage there is typically an announcement at the end of your flight telling you which baggage claim to go to. In case you miss it, arrival boards will also have your airline, city of departure, and baggage claim number listed for you as well once you step back into the airport.
If you have a connecting flight remember once you exit through security there is no turning back without going through the whole TSA process again. Unless you have a super long layover, find a place in the airport to hang out while you wait.
Going in prepared and organized will save you a lot of time and money when traveling by plane. Are you a seasoned flyer? What are your personal best tips for a smooth flight? Let me know in the comments below.
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Until next time have a safe flight!
Sending love from Indiana,