Human flight has been around for hundreds of years. Hundreds! Yet still, every day, there are people who fly for the first time in their lives. It can be scary, exciting, intimidating, exhilarating, and gut-wrenching all at the same time. Even for those who have flown before, but not recently, the experience can seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be! Here is Quick Whit’s guide to flying for first timers and infrequent travelers alike!
1. Don’t Panic!
Truly, there is nothing to panic about. If you’re not sure what to do, a flight attendant will tell you. If you start to feel overwhelmed, have a seat close to the desk at your gate so you can hear all the announcements better. Millions of people do this every day–you can, too!
2. Get excited!
You’re going somewhere new! Or maybe you’re going somewhere not new, but fun! Or maybe you’re going home! Air travel connects the world in a very unique (and fast) way. It’s excited, so feel free to get excited!
3. Ticketing vs. boarding passes
Your ticket is the thing you purchased when you booked your flight. It will come to you in an e-mail confirmation. You boarding pass is the paper you receive when you check in at the check-in desk when you arrive at the airport; printed on it, you will find your flight number, gate number, boarding start time, boarding end time, seat number, and other information for your flight. In other words, this tells you everything you need to know!
Be sure to watch that gate number, though, since it can change. You can always ask someone in uniform, or look at the TV screens with all the flight info on it for Departures and Arrivals. Make sure you’re looking at the Departures screen if you’re flying out some where, and the Arrivals screen if you’re picking someone up at the airport.
If you’re feeling tech-savvy, download your airline’s mobile app. This will give you the most up-to-date information and can even act as your boarding pass! Your boarding pass will be the page with the QR Code on it.
4. Checking bags
I recommend not checking a bag if you can avoid it. For years my husband and I have been going carry-on only, and we love it! But if you do have to check a bag (if you need liquids more than 3 ounces, have sharp objects that could be construed as weapons, or are unable to carry your luggage for any reason), you can check it easily. Plan to wait in line at the check-in counter, especially around a holiday, and let the airline employee do their thing! You will need to show them your government ID and boarding pass (unless you are receiving your boarding pass from him or her), and they will take care of the rest. You may have to pay a luggage fee depending on your airline’s policies and/or the weight of your bag, so be prepared for that. These fees do not apply if you are traveling with carry-on luggage only.
Security is important, but it’s nothing to be afraid of! If you are not a frequent or “TSA Pre-Check” traveler, you will have to go to the regular security line. Be prepared to remove metals (including change from your pants pocket), shoes, jackets, and belts from your body, as well as laptops, liquids, from your carry-on. Think about those things while you pack so you don’t pack your laptop and liquids at the very bottom of your bag! Jewelry is usually ok to leave on, but if the metal detector beeps when you walk through, start taking it off and put it through the scanner just in case.
Please DO NOT attempt to bring a bottle of water–sealed or unsealed–through security. Also, butterknives, Swiss Army Knives, and scissors of all sorts are not allowed; please check those items.
Here is a list of prohibited items according to TSA’s website. If you have specific questions about items not covered here, you can “Tweet” or “Facebook” @TSA and ask your question via social media (or ask someone else to do it for you if you do not use social media.
Sometimes there are random extra security screenings. Remember that you haven’t done anything wrong, you just got the lucky number! The TSA agent will tell you what to do. Be aware that they are in charge, even if they are rude to you. Be kind and sincere to them, they are just doing their job–and they can kick you out of the airport if you get snarky and they feel like you deserve it.
You made it! You’re at the gate! First step: Look at the TV screen or the board at the agents’ desk. Is that your flight? Check the flight number there agains your flight number (on your boarding pass). If they match, great! Have a seat and wait for your group number to be called (also on your boarding pass). Do not panic if you missed your boarding group. You can board with any group after the one printed on your boarding pass. Find your seat, stow your carry-on overhead or under the seat in front of you, and you’re set!
7. Up in the air
This is the part when all you have to do is sit! Watch the safety demonstration, obey the seatbelt sign, and know where the lavatory is located. Do what they crew says, say “please” and “thank you,” and you’ll have a great flight! Bring a couple of snacks with you just in case, though. In-flight meals, especially in economy, have been going by the wayside for a while, and though there may be snacks and meals for purchase, those can get pricey! Pre-packaged snacks, trail mix, and sandwiches are all good options. Not sure how to keep yourself occupied? Try my guide for fighting flight boredom.
8. Landing and connections
You did it! You’re on the final descent from your flight. be sure your seatbelt is fastened, your phone and other carry-on items are secured (so they don’t go flying across the plane when the pilot hits the breaks), and get yourself ready to go. Grab your carry-on item(s), follow everyone else out of the aircraft, and then make your decision: where to now?
If this is your final destination: great! Follow the masses to baggage claim, pick up your checked luggage (if applicable), and head out to your rental car, cab, or public transportation.
If you are transferring to another flight, this is your layover time! Look at your next boarding pass (you’ll be given all your boarding passes when you check in and get the first one) and find your next flight number. Look at the nearest “Departures” screen (ask someone in uniform if you don’t know where it is), and find the most current gate information for your next flight. Go to that gate so you know where it is. Make a mental (or physical) note of the boarding start time. Plan to be back there about 10 minutes before boarding starts, just in case your gate has changed; this will give you time to find the new gate if necessary. Now you can sit at the gate or go explore the airport! If you’re feeling brave and have several hours to wait, consider exploring the city you’ve landed in! Just remember to be back at the airport at least two hours before boarding begins.
That’s it! You did it! That wasn’t so hard, was it? Now you have the confidence to fly absolutely anywhere in the world!