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A Quick Guide for First Time Flyers (Jargon free!)

First Time Flyer

What’s the big deal about flying? Why fly when you can stay on the ground and be of no inconvenience to anyone? We all know that it is, in some ways, more boring than driving. Not to mention how costly it is. And don’t even get me started on the cramped seats! 

On a more serious note, flying can provide you with an incredible opportunity for a new and unique adventure that will take you to distant lands with culture and food that is very different from the norm, not to mention the chance to visit family and friends who live on the other side of the world. 

So if you’ve decided that this is the year for you to fly, there are a few things you would need to consider before jumping onto the bandwagon. A little advance planning and preparation will go a long way in making your flying experience a pleasant and enjoyable one.

This blog post will provide you just that! Information on what to expect during your flight, including airport check-in, security screening, boarding the plane, in-flight service, and more.

Flight Ticket Booking

Booking your flight

Here are some of my personal tips to help you book the best flight possible.

  • When looking for flights, search one-way fares first. One-way rates are typically about 50% less than round trip rates, so keep this in mind when choosing your departure date and time. You can always book a return flight after you know that your journey went well!
  • Book your flight at least 21 days in advance
  • Look for the lowest fare through various comparison sites and note down the likely candidates. Call the company to book the deal you find on the site. More often than not, you will find better deals on the phone if you quote a competitive cheaper price that you have found online.
  • When booking a return ticket, make sure to take care of one end of the journey before you book the other
  • Be flexible with your travel plans and choose cheaper flights that might involve changing or additional connections.
  • If your travel plans allow for layovers, make sure to take advantage and visit the destination airport and its nearby attractions even if you only have a few hours.

Remember when booking your flight to be frugal, not cheap. To me, being frugal is different than being cheap.

I like to save money, but there’s a line to be drawn. It may seem like a good deal to save $140 on that flight, but after you factor in the 12-hour layover and the amount of money you’ll spend on food and other goodies during the layover, you may find it’s not a great deal after all.

Plus, how uncomfortable is a 12-hour layover? Yuck. Not worth $140 after you factor everything in.

Booking Your Flight

Before your flight   

Download the airline’s app onto your phone so you can keep up to date with gate changes, flight delays, and any other information the airline may need to relay to you about your flight.

Does the hotel you’re staying at offer shuttle rides to/from the airport? If so, be sure to call and get details about that ahead of time. How often does the shuttle run? Is it free? Does the shuttle run even in the middle of the night? Save yourself some money and time by not having to deal with taxis or designated drivers.

Do you have all your travel documents in order? It’s important that you know before going into it! You don’t want to get all the way to the airport only to find out you don’t have your passport, and now you’re in a pickle and need to wait in line at the government office before you can be on your way.

Weigh and measure your belongings: It will be necessary to weigh and measure your weight after your bags have been fully packed and closed. Check the constraints that are stipulated by the airline in terms of dimensions and weight. It makes no sense to bring a backpack that is too heavy or large. It’s better to leave the airport knowing you’ll have to pay an excess baggage fee than to try to take off with your worst fears when you board your first flight.

Airport Checkin

Airport check-in

Check-in actually starts before you get there! If you wait until you arrive to check in on the app, depending on the airline, you may get stuck in a seat you really don’t want to have to sit in! Try checking in at least 16 hours before the flight (some open check-in online much earlier than that!)

When checking in, airlines typically offer you the option to change your seats. If you’re traveling with friends or family and want to sit next to each other, be sure to do this ahead of time!

You may also need to provide documentation for the baggage restrictions of the airline. Check beforehand what kind of hand luggage you can bring onboard and what must be checked.

Transportation to and from the airport

If you live near the airport, you can have a friend drive you or you can probably catch rideshare like Uber or Lyft for less than $20.

If you have to park at the airport, it can get expensive. Look for parking around the airport instead. Most parking lots near airports offer free shuttle service, just make sure you factor in extra time as shuttles may only run once or twice per hour – especially if you’re flying out of a smaller airport instead of a big city.

Once you get to your destination, find the rideshare or taxi area unless your hotel offers shuttles to and from the airport. The airport should have signs directing you to the loading areas for rideshares, but if you don’t see them, ask any airport employee and they will point you in the right direction.

Airport Arrival

Airport arrival

Arrive at least 2 hours ahead of time for domestic flights, and 3 hours for international. Check your flight’s status to see if it is delayed before you leave for the airport. If your flight is delayed by 5 hours, for example, you don’t need to leave for the airport at the same time as you were planning.

Keep all important documents safe and within your reach, such as your ID, passport, etc. Take a screenshot of your boarding pass, just in case your phone’s signal is weak when it’s time to board.

Wear comfortable clothes on your flight so you don’t have to squirm and be extra uncomfortable on your flight. Breathable clothes that can easily be layered are ideal.

Check-in counters for baggage drop typically open 2 4 hours prior to your flight. You would have to wait outside if you arrived before check-in time. It is not advisable to arrive on time for your flight and to stay near airports. If you are visiting an airport for the first time, you may want to use that time to observe the surroundings or to shop and eat.

COVID: According to COVID rules, passengers are not permitted to check out of the airport or drop their own checked baggage at any time. Depending on the airline and destination, check-in counters usually open 2-4 hours before your flight.

getting through security 001

Getting through security

A passenger under the age of 18 traveling in the United States must have a valid REAL ID or another form of acceptable identification. The TSA has an article that highlights more acceptable forms of identification when you don’t have your military ID, driver’s license, or passport. Even if you intend to use a digital boarding pass on your phone, printing it from your home computer or at the airport’s kiosk may be useful. The TSA’s website has more information about the REAL ID. If you’re traveling internationally, make sure you have valid identification and a valid passport with you.

Dealing with airport security can be intimidating, especially if the staff is yelling or unfriendly (it happens). For best results, know the rules ahead of time of what you can and can’t bring in your carry-on. Your bags may get searched, but most of the time it’s painless.

Passing the time

Bring something that helps you pass the time such as a book, magazine, laptop/iPad/Kindle Fire just in case there is something long waiting like a layover at an airport or car ride to your destination city. Do not forget to bring an extra charger for your phone, just in case you lose it or forget it at the airport or hotel.

Boarding Your Flight

Boarding your flight

It can be a bit scary walking down the runway to board your first flight. There are sights, sounds, smells, and lots of people… what an opportunity to get overwhelmed! Take it one step at a time and remember everyone else has been in the same position as you are. They know what it’s like to be nervous for their first flight and will be sympathetic.

Walking on the plane

Your airplane seat will be small and some airplanes even have tight rows. There isn’t much legroom or space to move around, so make sure you wear comfortable clothes and shoes that can come off during the flight (just in case they need to search your items). If there is a chance of turbulence you should read up on how to brace for impact, it’s better to be safe than sorry!

You’ll want to get everything ready before boarding so when you find your seat, you can just sit down instead of having to fumble for your phone charger or headphones. Make sure all electronics are fully charged too. Keep in mind that once take-off begins, no matter how long the flight is going to be, your seat belt must stay on (during take-off, landing, and when instructed) until the plane has landed.

If you are traveling in a group, have everything in place before boarding so when you find your seats you can just sit down without having to rummage for what you need. Most airlines will announce when it is safe to use electronic devices once they have reached cruising altitude.

You did it first time flyer

Possible flight issues

Be prepared for possible issues that can happen on any flight:

●    Turbulence – this is when the plane ride gets bumpy.

●    Loud, smelly, or rude passengers – unfortunately, it happens.

●    Delays in disembarking – you could get stuck on the tarmac for a few hours if there is a traffic jam of planes, or inclement weather.

● Medical emergencies – you may be asked to help out.

You did it!

Whew! The landing on your first flight is a feeling like no other. [tell your personal story about your first landing]

When you’re planning your first time flying, it can be a little overwhelming. There are so many things to consider like the possible flight issues or finding a ride from and back to the airport on top of packing for an entire week (or however long) away from home!

With these tips, I hope that this will make traveling less stressful for you as well as help avoid any potential setbacks along the way. Tell me about your first flight in the comments below! 🙂

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Lisa Hayden-Matthews

Lisa Hayden-Matthews

A bike rider, triathlon enthusiast, amateurish beach volleyball player and nature lover who has never lost a dare! I manage the overall Editorial section for the magazine here and occasionally chip in with my own nature photographs, when required.

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