The Ultimate Guide to Flying for Beginners

Updated December 14, 2022.

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 the experience can seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be! Here is Quick Whit’s guide to flying for beginners and infrequent travelers alike!

1. Don’t Panic!

Truly, there is nothing to worry about. If you’re not sure what to do, a flight attendant or airline employee can 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 exciting, so feel free to get excited!

So excited for a selfie with a tortoise in the Galapagos!

3. Tickets vs. Boarding Passes 

Your ticket is what 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 airport. Printed on that, 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 them 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 seen 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 holidays, 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, too. These fees usually do not apply if you are traveling with carry-on luggage only.

5. Security

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 pockets), shoes, jackets, and belts from your body, as well as laptops and liquids from your carry-on. Think about those things while you pack so you don’t have to dig for them 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 put those items in your checked luggage.

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.

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, since 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.

6. Boarding

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 against your flight number on your boarding pass. If they match, great! Have a seat and wait for your group number to be called (your group number 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!

Lines can be long!

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 the 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 Surviving a Long-haul Flight.

8. Landing

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, and get yourself ready to go. When you land and the seatbelt sign goes off, 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 signs to baggage claim, pick up your checked luggage, and head out to your rental car, cab, or public transportation.

Coming in for a landing!

9. Connections

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.

Up, up, and away!
More here: How to Handle a Layover

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!

Want more? Check out my Air Travel Page!

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3 responses to “The Ultimate Guide to Flying for Beginners”

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