Going on your first flight? How exciting! Mixed in with that excitement, however, could be a lot of butterflies and a little bit of stress. Airports can seem huge and confusing and the flight itself can be daunting. Today we will look at what to expect from booking to taking off to landing, and show you that there is nothing to fear every step of the way.
Booking the Flight
You have two options to book your flights online: through an online aggregator like Expedia.com or directly with the airline.
Aggregators are very useful for the first-time flyer because they show options from a variety of airlines. You can even add a hotel and car rental without having to use multiple sites. When using an aggregator, stick to proven, industry-approved websites and avoid little known, new, or questionable sites.
You’ll get a booking/confirmation number when using an aggregator. This is for your site booking only – use your flight number on the airline’s website to track your flight information.
Booking directly on an airline’s website is quick and easy too, especially if you don’t need to book a car or accommodations. If you get stuck, simply call the customer service line and an airline representative can help you book over the phone.
Navigating the Airport
It helps to think of the airport like a mini United Nations! Here you will see, experience, and have access to a variety of foods, people, cultures and items to purchase. To ensure you have time to take it all in, arrive early.
Follow the airline’s guidelines on when to arrive. For most airlines, check-in and the baggage drop close 45 minutes before a domestic flight and an hour before an international flight. There is a lot of behind-the-scenes action that takes place before each flight, and a lot of that depends on the number of people checked in. This is for your safety as luggage must be loaded and balanced and dispatch details confirmed. If you arrive after the cut-off, even if it’s 30 minutes before your plane takes off, you will have to book a later flight.
Arrive well in advance of the cut-off times. The recommended arrival time for domestic flights is 90 minutes prior to departure and two hours prior to departure for international flights. This allows you time to navigate the airport and deal with line ups or technical glitches at the kiosks. Anything from a traffic delay to searching for parking can also derail your timing. Don’t worry, if you get through check-in quickly, there are plenty of places to grab a bite or a coffee, or to check out local art or watch the planes take off and land.
The security gate is where you will empty your pockets and place your jacket, belt, purse, and carry on items in a bin for x-ray scanning. If you have a laptop, remove it from the case and place it in the bin. You may also be asked to remove your shoes. As your bag is scanned, you will walk through a scanner yourself. If a signal beeps, you have either set off the alarm or have been randomly selected for further checking. At this point, if a quick wand scan with an attendant produces further beeping, you’ll have the option of going into a full body 360 scanner or being patted down by a same-gender official. Don’t be embarrassed. Everyone goes through this at some point. It’s easy to accidently set off a scanner! Just wait patiently if you or your luggage are pulled aside for further processing. If you are not trying to sneak anything onto the plane, you have no reason to feel worried.
After you have cleared security, find your gate and note the boarding time. Put your passport or picture ID where you can quickly grab it. Now you have time to explore the airport! Just stay on the right side of the security gate so you don’t have to clear security again.
When it’s time to board the aircraft, you will board by zones. This is to speed up the boarding process. Listen for your zone to be called, then get in line. Present your ID and boarding pass and then off you go down the gate walk! The plane is narrow, but fresh air is pipped in. You can control the air flow and lighting at your seat. Find your seat and quickly stow your bag overhead or under your chair to keep boarding going smoothly.
Listen closely to the safety talk. It is important.
Takeoff is what frightens new fliers the most. It’s a truly odd sensation. Here is what to expect:
- The plane taxis slowly to the runway
- The plane fires up and moves faster and faster to take off
- You’ll hear a loud “roar” as the plane lifts off
- You may hear an odd sound as the wheels move into the wheelbase. This is normal and fun to watch if you can see it from your window
- You’ll experience a moment when the engines power down a little and the plane banks (turns) or levels. This may make your stomach drop as the plane feels like it suddenly is shutting down. It’s not. It’s just getting ready to hit altitude and start cruising.
During the landing, you will experience all of this in reverse. The plane may jolt you a little bit as you touch the runway but most landings are very smooth, albeit a little noisy.
If you commonly experience motion sickness or feel you may be sick on the plane, plan ahead by carrying Gravol. Each seat is equipped with a bag for vomiting; press the button for an attendant to quickly take it away if you have used it.
Soaring above the clouds is thrilling, but if you prefer the window screen down or are travelling with small children, bring books, tablets, or use the in-flight entertainment system. There is often a charge for this so check ahead. You may prefer to download movies onto your own tablet ahead of time.
Airlines are credit card only, so if you wish to buy food on board, ensure you have a credit card with you. Water, coffee, tea, and juice are complementary on some airlines, but seldom on low-cost airlines like Swoop or Flair. You can bring your own food and non-alcoholic drinks if you purchase those after you have cleared security. As a courtesy to other passengers, stick with easy-to-manage, non-odorous foods. A sandwich is great. A warm salmon meal is not!
Despite busy airports and long security lines, many people love to fly and you’re about to find out why. When you plan ahead and arrive early, you will have plenty of time to enjoy the entire process, and the destination when your flight lands.