Collect first time flying tips for your trip during COVID times.
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.
✔️ Pre-Travel Organisation
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 continent.
Generally, you need to have the following papers for both domestic and international flights:
- Ticket – can be booked online. Currently during Covid times, book only from the airline’s websites to avoid issues and buy only refundable tickets.
- ID – Passport is the best option.
- COVID Certificate – Now that one depends on your country and where you are planning to fly to. Please, check with the airline, they have to guide you. Normally they ask for a registered vaccination pass and/or a PCR test. If you have to travel with a COVID test, check the test validity as per current rules. They are usually set at 24-72hours.
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 plan on visiting for more details.
- Visa or Residency Cards– check way in advance if you need a visa. It all depends on your nationality and the country you plan on visiting. Some countries have an E-Visa and Visa on arrival system. Also keep in mind that due to covid, some countries decided to put e-visas on hold. Also, a few countries still havn’t resumed tourist visa schemes.
- Pre-Travel Clearance – Most countries now require you to fill out a pre-travel clearance due to covid. It’s a formality and a way for them to store your details in their database, so that they can trace infections easier. Sometimes, when cases are lower, the pre-travel clearance is omitted, but the airline will let you know if that is the case.
🚗 Day of your Flight
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.
This was a general rule before COVID. Since all that happened, airlines and countries started to come up with their own rules. A few do not accept web check-in anymore and in other places, you have to do web check-in.
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 maybe 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 and covid certificate.
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 2-3 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 4 hours before your departure. Luckily, due to COVID, they tend to open up the check-in desk earlier these days.
Pay attention to which terminal you have to travel. Most international airports have more than 1 terminal and these are fairly large.
👩✈️ At the Airport Check in Area
Entering the Airport
Wear your mask at the airport at all times. A couple of countries now require you to wear ffp2 or n95 masks. Those are thicker than regular surgical masks. I recommend only wearing ffp2 or n95 when traveling to avoid infection.
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.
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. Again, the latter feature might not be currently available due to covid. It is mostly for sure possible to self-check-in at the terminal if you have a domestic flight.
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 for 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. Some airlines have set up two counters along the way, one for covid documents and the second to check you in.
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. All your electronic devices need to be taken out and placed 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 is just for 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.
Sometimes, they make you stand in front of a camera to take a picture of your face without a mask. 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. Sometimes 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.
Some countries have odd rules and the airlines have to make you wear a surgical onesie and face shield (thank you covid).
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.
After you landed, 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.
Airlines usually give them in the plane, sometimes they forget about it during covid times. Anyway, take it from the officer and just fill it out and get back into line.
Again, they may ask to take a picture of your face. 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 crossed 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.
Covid checkpoints can appear randomly in some countries. They may appear after the baggage claim or after disembarking the plane.
They will check your vaccine certificates and/or PCR tests and the authorities will also go through your Pre-travel clearance.
When a new COVID virus variant makes its rounds, the countries may add another PCR testing point after all that. It’s a fluid situation so be prepared for waiting times in those times.
Some countries will ask you to stick around to wait for the results, some don’t. This can also change anytime depending on the latest COVID strains. In normal times, they don’t ask you to stick around, they send you the results via email/SMS. Always check the newest regulations to stay up to date.
And if you have another connecting flight after all that, I recommend keeping enough time between those flights. 4-5 hours can be a good choice.
Every once in a while when new Covid variations or cases surge, countries decide to stop international travel. This can change fast, so stay informed and prepared.
No, they don’t. Some claim they do but in the end, they didn’t at all. Flights are jam-packed because airlines are trying to make up for the losses of the previous months. Flights are capped too by governments and people just want to travel again after all that.
Long-haul flights always serve food. This is the time when everyone in the plane removes their masks and some people really forget themselves at times in the plane. You can always still get infected in a plane and you always have the choice to not remove your mask and eat, if this is something that worries you.
Avoid booking flights during the festive season. Also, keep an eye on the covid stats for the countries that you are traveling from and to. Surges of cases and covid variations can scramble your plans. Cases tend to increase in fall/winter for example. Take a look at the last 2 years to see when covid cases had their peak and avoid traveling in those times because your plans can get canceled.