Flying for the first time can be intimidating and overwhelming. However, the airport experience is entirely manageable if you are well informed and prepared. This guide will help equip you with all the necessary tools to navigate your journey successfully.
From packing tips to navigating security checkpoints, you’ll get an understanding of the entire process. With these guidelines, there’s no reason to stress or worry – just enjoy your trip and travel with confidence as you fly for the first time.
#1 – How to Pack For A Flight
Before packing your check-in or carry-on luggage, the first thing you’ll want to do is check current airline and TSA (Transportation Security Administration) restrictions and requirements. If you’re going to get through the screening process or customs with ease, this is an absolute must!
#2 – How to Pack Your Carry-On Bag
When traveling by airplane, one thing to consider carefully is the size of your carry-on baggage. Different airlines have different regulations for what constitutes a legal size for a bag you can bring on board.
Failure to comply with these regulations may lead to having your bag placed in the cargo hold without access to your belongings during the flight. Before buying any luggage, make sure that its dimensions are within the specifications stated by your airline.
While traveling by air, your carry-on luggage will become your most prized possession. If your checked bag becomes lost, stolen, or delayed, you’ll at least have your valuables and essentials with you. A sample carry-on packing list may include snacks, a water bottle, electronics and charges, valuable items, your medication, and an extra change of clothes.
In addition to your carry-on, you’ll be allowed to bring one personal item such as a backpack or a large purse. This bag must fit underneath the airline’s seat. You can utilize this extra space to get all of your essentials on board with you.
#3 – How to Pack Your Checked Bag (Optional)
The best thing you can do for yourself is to make a packing list! A list will ensure that you’ve packed everything you’ll need and will also ensure you return with everything you left with.
Most things you are not allowed to pack in your carry-on will be allowed in your checked bag. There are some restrictions, so check airline policies and TSA guidelines. Here are a few things to consider:
- Checked bag fees do apply and typically cost around $30-50, but some airlines may charge more.
- Most airlines have a weight limit of 50 lbs. If you exceed that limit you will be charged additional fees.
- The total linear dimensions (L + W + H) cannot exceed 62 inches or you will be charged additional fees.
#4 – When to Arrive At the Airport
General guidelines indicate that you should arrive two hours before domestic flights, and three hours before international flights, in order to ensure plenty of time to check-in, go through security and take care of any last minute changes or paperwork related to your flight. You’ll likely also want extra time for plane or gate changes and delays.
Most airlines require you to arrive 30-60 minutes early to process your checked bag. If you do not check your bag in time, they may not take your luggage and you’ll likely have to miss your flight.
#5 – How to Check-In To A Flight
Before your first flight, you’ll need to go through the check-in process. You’ll likely get an email notification 24 hours before your flight reminding you the check-in. The email will send you to the airline’s website and guide you through the process. Typically, the check-in process includes reminders of what not to bring, allows you to choose or upgrade your seat, and confirm you’ll be on the flight.
The best option for checking-in is online before you get to the airport. You can check-in at the airport, but that could leave you waiting in a long line. If you choose to check-in at the airport you will be asked to either use a designated kiosk (you’ll need your confirmation number) or to check-in with an airline attendant.
#6 – TSA Security Checkpoints
TSA checkpoints are a normal part of the process and ensures everyone’s safety. This part of your airport experience can be the most time consuming. You’ll go through several security measures to ensure restricted items, such as knives and guns, do not make it onto the plane. Again, visit the TSA’s website before packing your bags so you do not mistakenly put a restricted item in your carry-on or personal item.
The first checkpoint you’ll enter will require you to validate your identity. The TSA officer will ask you for your ID or passport to verify your identity. Once you’ve done so, you’ll head to the baggage scanner.
Want to streamline the process? Consider TSA PreCheck.
#7 – Baggage Scanner
The second checkpoint ensures that restricted items are not brought onto the plane. Once you reach this point, you’ll need to do a few things.
- Remove electronics from your carry-on and personal item and place them in a gray bin. The gray bin will then go on a set of rollers that will carry your items to the baggage scanner. Some baggage scanners are more advanced and don’t require removing your electronics, but every airport is different.
- Remove your coat, belt, and shoes and place them in a gray bin and on the rollers. You’ll also be required to empty your pockets.
- Place your personal item in a gray bin
- Place your carry-on luggage on the rollers
If you follow my advice and pack according to TSA guidelines, this should be a breeze.
#8 – Body Scanner
Next, you’ll need to walk through a full-body scanner. This ensures that you are not carrying any weapons, drugs, or other restricted items.
Typically, you will step into the scanner barefoot and hold up your arms while the machine rotates around you. If everything looks good, you’ll be able to grab your belongings and head to your gate.
On occasion, you’ll be asked to step forward and a TSA officer will perform a light body search to double check you do not have any weapons or drugs on you.
#9 – Waiting To Board Your Flight
Once you’ve reached your gate you may have extra time to sit down and relax. You can also explore the shops and dining options nearby if you need something to do. Your airport may even have workstations for you to plug-in and get some work done.
#10 – Boarding the Plane
Each airline will have a slightly different process for onboarding passengers. Generally, though, about 20-30 minutes before your flight is set to leave, you will start hearing announcements. Check your boarding pass to find out what boarding group or zone you are in. Then, listen for them to call your section to board.
Once you’ve boarded your plane and found your seat, you’ll want to put your carry-on in the overhead bins. Your personal item will need to fit underneath the seat in front of you.
Lastly, buckle up! The flight attendants will go through all of the safety protocols and if you need a refresher, you’ll find a safety guide in your seat pocket.
Other Tips for Flying for the First Time
- Dress comfortably: Wear comfortable clothing and shoes that are easy to slip on and off, especially if you’ll need to remove your shoes for security screening.
- Stay hydrated: It’s important to stay hydrated during your flight, so be sure to drink plenty of water.
- Bring entertainment: Bring a book, music, or other forms of entertainment to keep yourself occupied during the flight.
- Relax: Flying can be stressful, especially if it’s your first time, but try to relax and enjoy the experience. Remember, flying is one of the safest modes of transportation.
Final Thoughts on Flying For the First Time
Flying for the first time can be a daunting experience, so it’s essential to plan ahead and travel smartly. Make sure to give yourself plenty of extra time, so you don’t feel rushed when you arrive at the airport. The most important tip is to familiarize yourself with the airline’s policies and TSA guidelines. Doing these things will make your first flight much less intimidating!
Alexandrea Sumuel is a travel writer and the founder of Wander With Alex, where she provides vacationers and travel enthusiasts with trip ideas, travel guides, news, and itineraries. She travels to experience, eat, and explore-- and, on occasion, escape! Alex’s mission is to help people travel a little easier.