Collect first time flying tips and get through the airport procedure, step by step so that you are mentally prepared in advance.
This will help you focus on your trip, stay organized and hopefully reduce your anxiety too. This includes domestic and international travel globally.
Table of Contents
✔️ Pre-Travel Organization
Flying domestically (in the same country), is more straightforward than flying internationally.
This is because there are more steps that need to be completed if you want to travel to another country or even a continent.
Generally, you need to have the following papers for both domestic and international flights:
- Ticket – can be booked online. Book only from the airline’s websites to avoid issues and buy only refundable tickets if you want to minimize risk.
- ID – Passport is the best option.
Bring enough cash but not too much because there are limits in every country and if you have too much cash, you will have to declare it to the customs.
Debit and credit cards work usually better at international airports because you don’t have to worry about currency conversions.
You may want to secure travel insurance for your trip. It is optional.
If you travel domestically, you will not need a passport. I.e A US Citizen can travel with a simple ID too, and an EU citizen also within the EU. Yet, I think it just feels better to travel with a passport, than just an ID domestically.
International long-haul flights always require a passport. A very few nations even ask you to carry along your old passport (i.e., Indian passport holders) but most well-known western nations don’t.
Moving on to the extras for International travel. Please refer to the country you intend to visit for more details.
- Visa or Residency Cards – check way in advance if you require a visa. It all depends on your nationality and the country you intend to visit. Some countries have an E-Visa and Visa on arrival system. Check the destination country for more info. People from certain countries may also require a Transit visa if they are bound to a prolonged lay over in a transit country (i.e., Indian passport holders with an 8+ hour layover in the EU to go to the US).
- Customs Declaration – This only applies to you if you have valuables to declare, such as large quantities of cash or valuable goods.
🚗 Day of your Flight
Here is what the day of your flight will look like, and these First Time Flying Tips will help you on your journey.
24 hours before your flight is planned to depart, you get an option to do a web check-in online. It’s a faster way to get through the cues at the check-in desk at the airport and the luggage can be left at the “Drop-off” desk.
The airline will notify you by SMS and email if you have to do a web check-in. If you don’t get a message, don’t stress, maybe you don’t need to do it. If you are trying to complete a web check-in, and it doesn’t work, well perhaps the option was taken. To be sure, contact the airline for guidance.
Make sure you meet the baggage allowance. You can weigh with a portable weight scale, and you have the option to buy an extra weight allowance online.
Some airlines have flat fees. i.e Lufthansa. Buying an extra weight allowance in advance is cheaper than buying it at the airport check-in.
On the day of your flight, keep all your documents with you. You can travel with soft copies on your mobile phones, such as a flight ticket.
I recommend printing all your docs if you are traveling internationally. Some airlines, such as Emirates, have been even asking randomly for colored printouts.
Don’t forget your passport! That’s the most important document!
When to get to the airport?
If you have a domestic flight, be at least 2 hours before your departure time at the airport.
If you have an international flight, be earlier there because of the extra formalities. That means on average 2–3 hours before your departure.
Pay attention to which terminal you have to travel to. Most international airports have more than 1 terminal and these are fairly large.
👩✈️ At the Airport Check in Area
Entering the Airport
Most airports in the world allow family members and friends to enter the airport along with you.
This is not the case in a few countries, such as India. In those few places, when entering the airport, you get asked to show your flight ticket and ID by an army official, and you can’t just go back out for a smoke with these airport security rules.
Once you are inside the airport locate your airline check-in counter. Ask somebody working there if you need guidance.
You usually have the option to get in line for the counter or use a quick web self-check-in terminal.
When you are ready to do a check-in, find out if your ticket is a first/ business class ticket or an economy ticket and get in line at the correct counter. If the airline has a luggage drop-off counter for web check-in, get in line for that.
Present the lovely airline people your travel documents. They will ask for more if required. Occasionally, they just require your ID to check you in, as we experienced at the Qatar airport.
Give them your checked luggage if you have any. Remember to keep your power banks in your cabin carry-on bag and not the checked bag.
Make sure you have the airline tags placed around your bags and get your boarding pass, your passport, and documents back.
🛡️ Security Checkpoint
The security checkpoint is where your bags will be scanned, and you get frisked.
Avoid taking in any liquids (water bottles etc) or foods. They will be taken away. Sometimes foods are skipped, but I wouldn’t bet on that.
TSA restriction in the USA allows you to have a quart-sized bag of liquids and the same law is sometimes applied to other western countries.
Your bag has to go through the scanner.
New technologies and security standards, don’t ask to take out devices from your bags. Only a handful of airports adhere to these new rules.
All the other airports still require one to take out all your electronic devices. You need to take them out and place them into trays. This also includes jackets, belts, and RFID-blocking wallets.
Avoid carrying too many electronic devices in your cabin bag because it’s cumbersome to take it all out and back in.
Pocket knives, lighters, and anything like a nail file will be taken away.
Some places require you to remove your shoes too. I.e USA.
But the USA has a nifty system called TSA PreCheck. As a US national, you can apply for it and pay a yearly fee. It enables you to go through security without having to do any of the stuff mentioned above.
If you have a metal plate or knee screws, let them know and carry along some medical documents to show the authorities. They may ask for it or not.
If you have Prosthetics, let them know before you go through the scanner. They may ask you to take it off too.
Some countries in this world separate men and women. I.e Arab Emirates, India.
Collect all your personal items and move on.
🛂 Immigration (only international flights)
Immigration only applies to those traveling outside the country.
This is where they will check your passport ID and stamps in it with visas or with the residency card.
Just keep everything ready. They may ask for the ticket too.
Occasionally, they make you stand in front of a camera to take a picture of your face. It totally depends on the country.
If you travel with your partner and one is from the 1st world and the other 3rd world, know that you don’t need to separate at this point. Just walk together to the counter for “all passports”.
At this point, you are done with all the major formalities, and you have made it so far. Congratulations!
You have reached the area with the gates, shops, and food courts.
Your ticket will tell you the gate number and the start of your boarding time. Don’t be later than 30 minutes before flight departure at the gate.
Always double-check the departure gate number with the airport announcement. Every so often there are delays or they changed the gate.
The airline will scan your ticket once again during boarding time, and they may want to see your ID again.
Then you are taken to the plane by walking over the bridge, or they will take you there with the other passengers by bus.
When entering the plane, you will have an airline attendant helping you find your seat.
Place your bag in the compartment over your head and put on your seat belt. Always pay attention to the seatbelt sign.
Pay attention to the flight attendants during the safety instructions, place your mobile into airplane mode and enjoy your flight.
Landing at a destination comes with a few steps. Here are some more First Time Flying Tips for your destination.
After you land, stay put. There is no point getting up early on. The flight attendants will let you know when you can get up.
Get your luggage and exit the plane. Follow the other passengers. Either you will have to take a bus or a handy bridge takes you to your arrival platform.
Immigration (International only)
The immigration desk at the arrival country is for international travelers only.
Locate the counter that applies to you. You will have to show your passport and as a foreigner, a visa, or residency card if any.
Some countries will ask you to fill out an immigration form as a foreigner, i.e., Asian countries. Just fill it out and get back into the line.
Again, they may ask to take a picture of your face or iris, and they may take your fingerprints. Just comply and move on.
If you checked-in baggage, you get to collect it at this point.
The plane crew mentioned the baggage carousel number on arrival on the plane. Go to that number and wait for your suitcase to arrive.
If your luggage hasn’t come (it is rather rare) go to the information airport desk nearby.
Customs (International only)
International arrivals have to go through customs.
There are two areas, the green, and the red customs area. If you don’t have anything to declare, go through the green one, if you have something to declare go through the red one.
You have something to declare if you exceeded the quantity of an item or currency. Of course, there is also a limit here. I.e., you can never bring 20 cigarette boxes with you. If you brought a 2000 USD watch with you, you will have to declare that.
If you cross the green area, your hand luggage is usually taken through the x-ray machine, sometimes they skip that part. Do as they ask you and open up your luggage if they want you to do so. You can get fined if you had something to declare, and you didn’t do so.
Do airlines serve food?
Long-haul flights always serve food (except budget airlines). Short flights may not serve a meal. You can check that in your booking in advance.
When is the best time to take a flight?
Avoid booking flights during the festive or peak vacation season. Mass turmoil situations have been the norm in the recent 2 years in summer and around Christmastime. Strikes add another layer of uncertainty, but those are typically announced in advance.
Can you bring a razor on a plane (USA)?
Yes, disposable razors and razors with cartridges can be stored in the carry on bag. A straight razor and a safety razor cannot be taken in a carry on bag, but you can store them in your checked baggage. Electric razors are fully permitted with batteries in your carry on bag.