Part one: What to expect
So you’re going to be flying for the first time! Congratulations on this well deserved vacation! At least I hope that is what is getting you on a plane for the first time, having something to look forward to can help with first time flying jitters. No matter what is sending you 30,000 feet into the air though it can be a scary and daunting process if you are unfamiliar! Luckily, I myself was a first time flyer not even a year ago! (FUN FACT: Since my first flight in March 2018 I’ve flown TWELVE times since then! Needless to say I was hooked!) So I remember what it was like, all the questions I had, and searching the internet for exactly what it was going to be like. I am a person who likes to be prepared so I wanted step by step what to expect. I hope I am able to provide that for you and that this detailed explanation helps calm the nerves and makes you feel a little more prepared for this journey.
So here is exactly what is going to happen when you get to the airport. If someone is dropping you off then you will just get you and your luggage out of the car, say your goodbyes, and go on in. For a detailed explanation on what to do if you are parking your car in extended stay check out this post about it! (https://www.smartertravel.com/long-term-airport-parking/).
Getting your boarding pass & Checking your bag.
So if you are checking your bag(s) this is the time to do so. If you aren’t checking a bag skip ahead to the SECURITY section. The most important thing to know when you get to the airport is WHO are you flying with, this greatly narrows down where you will be headed once you get there. Hopefully, you already know this and have an email confirmation from them and you will use this email to get your boarding pass and check your bags.
I prefer to fly American Airlines and this is also who I fly most often with so we are going to use this as an example since I am most familiar with them. You need your boarding pass in order to check your bag, I highly recommend downloading the app and getting your boarding pass that way, more on that later, but anyway your boarding pass is your ticket anywhere in the airport (haha literally!)
If you need to get your paper boarding pass find the area that says AMERICAN in big letters. There will be kiosks and they are very straight forward. You will need either your confirmation number from your email about your flight, or the payment method used to purchase the ticket. (since I personally fly with work and my job purchases my tickets for me, I have to use the email confirmation number since I don’t have the payment method). It will ask if you are checking bags, and ask about explosives etc (Check out the TSA website to figure out what you can and cannot fly with!) then it will print your boarding pass and your receipt if you paid (with a card) to check a bag. When I fly American checking a bag is usually around $25 per flight. (this means from start point to end point, you do not need to pay again if you have connecting flights, ex if I fly from Knoxville to Dallas to Colorado Springs with CO being my final destination I will only pay once to check a bag. If I fly this same route to come home I will pay the fee ONE more time). Once you have your boarding pass and receipt you will take your luggage to the counter and the attendant will weight it, ask to see your ID, and if you are paying in cash instead of a card you will pay them. The attendant will tell you where to take your bag(s) and you’ll drop them off and away you go 50 LBS lighter!
This can be the most time-consuming part of stay at the airport, it can also be the most frustrating if you aren’t prepared. You will usually wait in two lines, the line to scan your ID/Boarding pass, and then the actual line to go through the scanner. For the first line make sure you have your ID and/or passport readily available as well as your boarding pass. Having this ready means once you reach the attendant you set your pass on the scanner they direct you to and hand them your ID, they will confirm and hand it back to you and then you’re done. The faster and easier you make this the better it is for everyone involved. Now you’re on the scanner (this is where the taking your clothes off and putting stuff in bins happens). Depending on the size of your airport this may be a much longer line or it may be much shorter, either way expect some sort of a wait. See my tips below on what to wear to make security a breeze, but the best advice I have is take advantage of all the time you will be spending in the security line. Take your jacket off, put your phone, smart watch and tablet in the outside pockets of your personal bag (I prefer and recommend a backpack over a duffle or purse). Take your laptop out of your bag and as you get close to the front of the line take your shoes off, this is why I recommend easy to slide off tennis shoes for flying since no one wants to stand barefoot on the airport floor where thousands of other people have stood. Ugh! When you get to the conveyor belt put your shoes/jacket in one bin, your laptop in a bin by itself, and put your carry on bag on the conveyor by itself. If you have a bag of liquids in your carry on make sure you take it out and put it in the bin with your shoes.
Remember to not have anything in your pockets as well as inform the attendant if you have any artificial rods/bones like a hip replacement or pacemaker for example. (I personally have a mesh implant in my heart and it has never been an issue) The attendant will direct you to the scanner where you’ll stand for 3 seconds and then they will wave you through and let you know if you’re good or if they need to do a search by hand. Afterwards grab your bag from the conveyor and take the ENTIRE BIN of your personal items. Take the bin to a bench and put everything away, don’t stand at the conveyor putting your clothes/shoes back on and organizing your bag. This is annoying for everyone and can halt security if you take too long, just grab your stuff and move to a different location to put everything away. Now you’ve made it!! You’re almost done with your stay at the airport!
Boarding and what to do in the airport
Now all that is left is to board the plane when the time comes. Depending on how much time you have until your flight you have some options. I prefer to find my gate first thing, because depending on the size of the airport you don’t want to be filling your water bottle or standing in the Starbucks line when they call for your flight to board. Large airports usually have plenty of food/drink options and bathrooms in each terminal, so find the one you need to be in and then continue to enjoy your free time how you feel. Once I find my gate I always confirm that the gate number, flight number, and destination are the same as the one on my boarding pass. If you are unsure or have questions about this just ask the employee behind the desk at the gate. Now if you’ll notice on your boarding pass it will usually say GROUP NUMBER. Typically group 1 is veterans and members of the armed forces as well as flight attendants. Group two is usually priority seating and first class. Everyone else will fall into the rest of the groups. Pay attention to which group they are calling and try not to crowd around the gate if you’re in group 6 and they are just now boarding group 2. It will just make the process longer for everyone. When they call your group get in line with everyone else in your group and have your boarding pass ready, you shouldn’t need your ID if you’re flying domestically, if you are flying internationally keep your passport ready if they check it.
Once you get onto the plane, put your luggage in the over head bin or put your personal item under the seat in front of you. But PLEASE don’t take 5000 years to do this. If need be just sit down, let others pass, and then continue to stow your items. Annnnd that’s it! You made it! All that is left is to sit back and enjoy your flight, but most importantly enjoy that insanely relaxing tropical destination you’re headed to right?? Or enjoy the idea of a tropical vacation while flying to Chicago on business. Whatever the circumstance I hope you now have the knowledge of what to expect and are feeling better and more excited about this adventure! Doing new stuff is always fun right!? Okay now I’m rambling, so check out the lists below for last minute tips and tricks as well as the top 4 things to remember! See y’all on the next adventure.
“Everywhere you go the culture is different, but the people are the same.”