Flying for the first time can be nerve-racking if you don’t know what you’re doing. But, it doesn’t have to be! This helpful guide will tell you everything a first-time flyer will need to know, including how to pack for your first flight and what to expect at the airport. The more prepared you are, the less intense it will be!
#1 – Packing for Your First 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!
Packing Your Carry-On Bag
Your carry-on bag will be your most prized possession on a flight. Pack in all the essentials as you never know if your checked bag will be delayed or lost.– And it does happen! You’ll also want to use your carry-on bag to pack in-flight entertainment.
An example carry-on packing list may include snacks, water, books and magazines, chargers, laptops and tablets, 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.
Packing 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 cannot pack into your carry-on will be allowed in your checked bag. There are a few restrictions, so check your airline’s policies. Checked bag fees do apply and typically cost around $30-50.
#2 – Arriving at the Airport
As a good rule of thumb, arrive at the airport 2 hours prior to your boarding time. This will ensure you have enough time to get checked in, get through security, and make it to your gate.
Most airlines require you to arrive an hour early to process your checked bag. If you do not arrive an hour before your flight, they will not take your checked bag and you’ll likely miss your flight. So be sure to give yourself plenty of time.
#3 – Checking into Your First Flight
There are several ways to acquire your boarding pass. If you’re traveling with only a carry-on and a personal item, you can check in electronically through your airline’s mobile app and skip the lines.
For those who prefer to have their boarding pass in hand, electronic check-in stations usually print them out for you. On occasion, these machines may be down, so in this case, you’ll go through an in-person check-in process.
However, if you have a bag to be checked, you’ll need to go through an in-person check in process anyway.
#4 – Security Checkpoints
Security checkpoints are a normal part of ensuring everyone’s safety. The first checkpoint you’ll enter will require you to validate your identity. The TSA officer will ask you for your ID and boarding pass to ensure you are an actual passenger.
#5 – Baggage Scanner
The second checkpoint ensures that restricted items are not brought onto the plane. Typically, you will empty your belongings into bins so that they can pass through an x-ray baggage scanner.
Older baggage scanners require you to remove all electronics and place them into a bin. However, some newer bagger scanners don’t require you to remove your electronics. If you are unsure, just ask a TSA officer.
As well, you’ll need to remove your shoes, belt, jacket, and any metal objects you may be carrying on you. If you follow my advice and pack according to TSA guidelines, this should be a breeze.
#6 – 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 on your way to boarding your first flight!
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.
Once you’ve made it through the security checkpoints, you’ll want to head to your gate.
#7 – 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.
#8 – 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 as well.
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.
Alexandrea Sumuel is 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 better.