Flying for the first time? Here’s what you need to know
Flying for the first time can be an overwhelming and anxiety-inducing experience, but you can turn your first flight into a memorable one if you prepare properly.
This basic first flight guide will tell you when and where to buy your ticket from, what the check-in and boarding procedures consist in, what happens when you arrive at the airport, how to pack your bags to make sure your belongings will reach your destination, and how to prepare for the flight itself to turn it into a less stressful experience.
TICKETS: BOOK 3-4 WEEKS IN ADVANCE
Browsing for tickets 3-4 weeks before your trip is a good strategy for finding lower prices, so don’t postpone this task for the last days. Compare the prices on 2-3 search engines, such as Expedia, TripAdvisor, CheapOAir or Kayak for finding the most convenient travel tickets. Some of these platforms have a flexible travel date search feature that allows you to see the prices for tickets 3-4 days before or after your initial departure day.
Although features may vary from one platform to another, most of them will require you to enter the departure date and city / airport, the arrival date and city /airport, as well as the number of travelers. Once you enter this information, the search engine will return a list of available flights, and the corresponding airlines.
If you book the ticket online, you will be asked to enter the personal information of the travelers, then you’ll have to choose a payment method. After you buy the ticket, you will receive an email confirmation with your e-ticket number, and a check-in link for online check-in.
NOTE: It is good to print the email confirmation, but this is not your actual ticket that will be used for boarding. After you do the check-in you will receive a boarding pass (on email or at the airport), that will be used during the boarding procedure.
As for accommodation, I encourage you to book this in advance as well. Booking.com is an easy-to-use platform for finding hotels, hostels, flats or aparthotels, and it features user reviews, as well as a useful rating system that enables you to easily identify the most and least appreciated rooms.
CHECK-IN PROCEDURE & BOARDING PASS
To confirm your flight reservation and be allowed on board of the airport you will need to check in. This can be done online or at the airport, but most companies charge a small amount for airport check-ins, so it’s better to do this online.
Look for a check-in link in the email that confirms your flight booking. Click on that link and you will be redirected to the airline’s website. If you don’t find the link in your email, simply search for the airline’s website and on their website, look for the “Online check-in” tab. Here’s an example from Brussels Airlines.
After you go through all the steps, you will receive your boarding pass on email. That’s the document you need to print and show at the airport, during the boarding procedure.
As said, the second option is to do the check-in at the airport. For this you need to go at the service counter of the airline and show your ID card or passport, and your ticket number (received on email). The agent will then print your boarding pass and will ask whether you have checked baggage or only hand luggage. With the boarding pass and your cabin luggage (hand luggage) you can proceed to the security checkpoints (I’ll explain this immediately).
NOTE: Not all airports have self-service kiosks for printing the boarding pass, so it’s usually recommended to do this in advance if checking in online.
BEST TIME FOR ARRIVING AT THE AIRPORT
The rule says that if you do the check-in online, you’ll have to be at the airport 90 minutes before the departure. If you do the check-in at the airport, you need to arrive there 2 hours before the departure.
For some smaller airports and domestic flights you can also arrive there 60 minutes ahead of departure, but if it’s a crowded airport this may not be the best idea, as it may take more than 60 minutes to go through the security checkpoints.
NOTE: There are some myths we frequently see in movies, such as the fact that airline will allow you to move to the front of the security line if your plane is about to leave, or if your beloved one is about to leave and you have to stop him or her. This doesn’t happen in real life.
Also, it’s not true that airplanes won’t take off without you on board if you checked in or your checked baggage is already on the plane. Most often than not, the plane will leave without you, so do your best to show at the gate before the last call.
After you check in and leave your checked luggage at the service counter, you need to pass through the security checkpoints. Here you will be asked to show your ID card and boarding pass, and to open your cabin luggage and place your belongings in plastic bins. The laptop and other electronics will have to be placed in a separate bin.
If you have creams, makeup products, razors and other such items, they will have to be stored into a clear plastic bag (up to 1L). You will need to take off your jacket and belt, and sometimes your shoes too. An agent will then give you the OK for walking through the metal detector. Once you’re done with this, you can retrieve your items and go find your gate.
FINDING YOUR DEPARTURE GATE
Once you’re through security, you enter the duty free area that separates the security checkpoints from the departure gates. Your gate number is usually mentioned on the boarding pass and by the agent at the service counter, and it also appears on the flight information screens in the airport. So check the electronic displays and look above for signs that indicate the direction of your gate; follow those signs to make your way to the gate soon after the gate number is displayed.
LUGGAGE SIZE & WEIGHT
Depending on the length of your trip, you may need a carry-on or a checked bag. The checked bag (or hold baggage) is the larger baggage that travels in the hold of the aircraft, while the carry-on is the luggage you take with you in the airplane, and is also referred to as cabin luggage or hand luggage.
The checked baggage has a weight limit (around 23 kg for most companies), and if you exceed it you’ll be charged extra. Baggage allowances vary between airlines, so make sure to check with your airline prior to departure. For most flight companies the height of the cabin luggage is limited to 55-56 cm (as per IATA recommendations), but the size restrictions vary from one airline to another.
Here are the size limits for cabin luggage for some of the most known European airlines:
PACKING: ALLOWED/FORBIDDEN ITEMS
Some items are prohibited, while others are restricted to checked baggage. Here’s a list of forbidden items:
- explosive and incendiary materials
- flammable items (including cooking fuel and flammable paints); exception: aerosols for personal use
- gas and pressure containers
- oxidizers and organic peroxides
- infectious materials
- corrosive materials
- organic materials like fiberglass resins
- radioactive materials
- magnetic materials
- other dangerous items
The following items are restricted to checked luggage:
- sporting goods
- knives and other cutting instruments
- firearms and replicas
- dry ice
- gel-type candles
- non-flammable liquids / aerosols
- small compressed gas cartridges
As for liquids, you’re allowed to take one sealable, clear plastic bag of up to 1L with you on board of the aircraft, but the individual items or containers packed in this bag shouldn’t exceed 100 ml each.
Items allowed in cabin luggage include:
- small hand tools
- small scissors, razors or tweezers
- electronic gadgets
Avoid packing money, credit cards, jewelry, electronic devices and prescription medication or medical devices in your checked baggage.
I hope you’ll find this first flight guide helpful and wish you a safe trip! If you need help in choosing a IATA-approved cabin luggage, here are our recommendations: Top 10 cabin-sized Samsonite trolleys.
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