Your Friendly Airport Guide
Are you more afraid of the airport than actually flying?
Making the Decision: Why flying is great.
If you're a drifter-at-heart like me, you know that one of the quickest and easiest ways to get to your next destination is via airplane. Sure, road trips are classic, and definitely have their advantages, but who doesn't like to feel like an Instagram-worthy jet-setter who knows the airport like the back of their hand? Flying is quick and easy, but that's not even the best part. Flying is an experience like none other. Nothing beats the feeling of being above the clouds, knowing you're on your way to a fulfilling and mind-opening vacation. You can look down on the rest of the world, watching them like ants on the ground, as you reflect on what amazing experiences the world has to offer, still waiting for you to visit them. If you are someone who does not view the airport as a magical place full of wanderlust, I hope this article offers you some advice to ease your mind when it comes time to fly.
What should I expect at the airport?
When flying, you should plan to get to the airport around two hours before your flight departs. Any longer than this, you will be stuck waiting around the airport, and giving yourself time to worry. While being early may sound appealing, the airport is not always a place of great comfort, it is almost always full of people, so finding comfortable seating and plug-ins for electronics may pose an inconvenience. Additionally, the longer you're at the airport, the more likely it is that you'll have to eat something there. Let me be the first to tell you: airport food is expensive! You may get lucky and be able to find a deal, but the odds are that you will be stuck with a $10 charge for a soft pretzel with cheese. Even the most delicious of pretzels are not worth an expensive kickoff to your trip.
That being said, you also want to give yourself ample time to check-in, check your bags if needed, get through security, do last minute pre-flight things, and get to your gate for boarding. Two hours should be perfect for this.
What Can I Bring to the Airport?
Behold, the most important part of traveling via airplane: knowing what you can and cannot bring on a flight. It is also important to know the difference between a 'personal item', a 'carry-on', and a 'checked bag'. It should be common sense that things like weapons, drugs, lighters, and anything that could pose an obvious threat to others are not allowed on the plane. But some other prohibited items are not so crystal clear. Most airlines have a rule that any liquid you bring on the plane in your carry-on or personal item must be in a container of a size no more than three ounces. This means shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and all the other essentials. I have seen some airports that allow up to 3.4 ounces, but it is best to check with your airline's regulations prior to departure. I would highly suggest bringing a reusable water bottle, it needs to be empty when you go through security, but can usually be filled up near your gate and brought on the plane.
Now, for luggage. First, a personal item is something small that can fit underneath the seat in front of you. Most airlines allow this on the plane for free. Personal items are commonly things like purses, small backpacks, and laptop bags. Next up is the carry-on, which is a slightly bigger bag that is allowed on the plane, but it will be stowed in overhead bins, generally inaccessible from where you are sitting. It is possible to get up during your flight to get to your carry-on, but make sure it is not during a time when the seat belt light is on, during which you must remain in your seat with your seat belt fastened. Some airlines charge a fee for carry-ons, ranging from $30-$40, and some airlines let you bring them for free. Carry-ons are great for weekend trips, or any trip that you can pack light for. A checked bag is a bag (usually a larger suitcase) that you must check in with the airline during the time you get your boarding pass. Airlines charge for checked bags, and you cannot access them during your flight, as they are stowed separately from the passenger cabin of the plane. Liquids of more than three ounces are allowed in your checked bag. Although this is rare, airlines have been known to sometimes lose luggage, so it might be a good idea to keep all of your most important items in your carry-on, as it is with you, and you can keep track of it during the flight.
Other things that will help your flight experience would be a travel pillow if you have a longer flight, headphones, snacks (check your airline's regulations, but most allow small snacks through security), and a comfortable outfit to fly in.
The Airport Experience
When you arrive at the airport terminal, you will check in at your airline's desk. Some airlines have convenient little self check-in kiosks available so that passengers can skip the lines; this is best for people who do not have to check bags. During check-in, you will give the employee your government-issued ID (and your passport if you are flying internationally). They will take your checked bag if needed, and you will pay for it here. They will then print your boarding pass. A boarding pass, which is another term for 'plane ticket', is a small sheet of paper that lets the airline know that you're allowed on the plane, it will contain your name, flight number/date/time, seat number, the gate you are flying out of, and your boarding zone. A boarding zone is the part of the plane that your seat is located in, and you will usually board in the order of front to back in the plane.
After check-in, you will need to make your way to security. For me and most people, security is the most stressful part of the airport experience. But fear not, it is not as scary as it seems. The more you do it, the less trouble it will give you. At security, you will need to present your boarding pass and ID, then you will be directed to the line. It can be stressful because you may feel like everyone else is moving faster than you, but it is better to be thorough than to accidentally make a mistake, which could earn you a lovely pat-down by a TSA agent. When approaching your turn, you will need to take off your shoes and jacket, put them in bins, and place those along with your bags on the conveyor belt. All of your items will go through an x-ray machine where they scan everyone's things for potential threats and prohibited items. All liquids will need to be taken out of your bags and placed in a bin, along with any electronics. For this reason, I always pack my electronics, liquids, and snacks on the top of my bag for easy removal and replacement. After you place your stuff on the belt, and it is pushed through the machine, an airport employee will direct you through a standing, full-body scanner to make sure you are not hiding anything. It would be helpful to decide against wearing lots of jewelry or clothing with many metal zippers for your flight. It is important to note that even if you give TSA no reason to give you a pat-down, you still could be randomly selected for one.
After you step out of the scanner and collect your things, you can now find your gate where you will board the plane when it is time. The time after security, but before boarding is the perfect time to go to the bathroom and fill up your water bottle before your flight.
On the Flight: Things to Keep in Mind
You made it through security! Great, now comes the easy stuff. At your gate, the airport staff will announce when passengers can board, and which zones are currently boarding, as the zones will take turns. You will enter the plane, find your seat, stow your carry-on if you have one, and sit. Takeoff can be scary for some people, but it is important to remember that the pilot and flight crew have plenty of experience, and they would not allow you on a flight that is knowingly unsafe. You are required to keep your seat belt on during takeoff and landing, but when the seat belt light is off, the best way to ensure a great flight is to get up and stretch as needed, make nice with the people sitting next to you, and enjoy the experience. It is very easy to get dehydrated on a plane, so make sure to drink that water I told you to get. You may also want to bring chewing gum to help your ears pop, and adjust to the changing pressure.
You are now on your way to a great trip, or on your way home to finally sleep in your own bed again. Through all the stress, remember that a flight is like an alternate universe, one of excitement, wanderlust, and chips that cost $17.