Been wanting to start or expand your vacation list but feel a little intimidated of flying? Don't worry, I have some tips especially for you to help make your first flight stress free!
Flying can be intimidating, don't let anyone tell you otherwise. As a frequent flyer I understand how over time you forget those first flight jitters you once had -- it's sorta like childbirth, you're supposed to forget after a while -- but they were definitely there. I started flying as a child, but my first flight on my own as an adult was pretty scary. I don't mean I was afraid of some freak accident, but I was scared I'd be late, my luggage wouldn't arrive, or I'd get on the wrong flight and end up in a foreign country. None of that happened, but I want to make sure to share knowledge to help you avoid the fear all together.
Check In for Your Flight
24 hours prior to your flight you may receive an email from your airline telling you it's time to check in. You checking in tells the airline you plan on using your seat that you paid for. I know, it seems a bit silly, but airlines oversell the seats on each flight hoping that someone will miss the flight and they will still have a full plane. Checking in also helps keep you in your seat assignment. If you were to come to the airport and didn't have a seat assignment you may ask the gate agent to seat your party together or give you a window seat, if you are already checked in the airline won't move you to accommodate others.
Although some airlines don't give you a heads up email, read Southwest, the process is the same, and even more vital because that's how you get your boarding assignment.
I am about to be a total hypocrite, but if you're not versed with the airport, or have TSA Precheck, you want to arrive to the airport 2 hours early for domestic travel and 4 hours early for international. Checking in, bag drop, security, grabbing food or snacks, and finding your gate can take a while, and you want to be sure you don't miss your flight because you wanted the latest version of People from the gift shop.
Have a Luggage Tag
Whether a cute tag you ordered online or a free paper tag you get at the airport check in, you need to have a luggage tag. In the unlikely chance the airline loses your luggage they will have no idea who the bag belongs to if you don't add your details prior to checking your bag. Also, if you have one of the popular black roller bags and you're standing in baggage claim looking for your bag that you didn't realize looked like everyone else's bag until you got there, you'll be happy you have that little tag to help you find your bag quickly. I speak from experience....
You should also know if you are going to check luggage or be team carry on. Checked baggage can't be accessed while traveling. The airline will take your bag once you check in and return it in the baggage claim area once you arrive. Carry on bags stay with you during your flight and must adhere to all TSA regulations for what can and cannot be carried into the cabin of a flight.
Take Off Your Shoes
If you have never flown, or haven't since before September 11th, you will be shocked to see how much you have to do to get through airport security. You may also be surprised to see how long that line gets (TSA Precheck is worth the money, but we'll tackle that in another post). You also can't take through any liquids larger than 3.4 ounces in your carry on.
Once you get up to the TSA agent you will have to show them your ID or passport and your boarding pass. They will make sure you are who you claim to be and will have you get in a line for screening. Once in line, you will need to take out your laptop (tablets don't need to come out), any liquids, and to take off your jacket and shoes. They provide bins for you to put your personal effects in to run through the metal detector. Make sure to take everything out of your pockets and take off your watch and put your phone in the bin. You will then go through the metal detector or the screening machine and meet your belongings on the other side. If you're selected for additional screening it will happen right there, unless you need a full body screen. Once done, grab your things and head to your gate.
A few things to know:
You can bring food through with you, even a large container of frozen food if you want.
You can't bring a 5 ounce tube of toothpaste (regular size tube) that only has 3 ounces left, they will take it.
If you have a child that requires formula to be made you can bring bottles of water with you. TSA will test it, without opening it, to make sure it's just water. I'm not sure how that works but I definitely used that policy when my kids were younger.
If you are selected for TSA Precheck you don't need to take off your shoes or light jackets.
Understand Gate Check
Once you get to your gate you can sit and wait for your boarding zone to be called. If you have a later boarding group you may find yourself in a situation where you may need to gate check your carry on. What does that mean? It means that they will put your carry on under the plane like a checked bag free of charge. For some people this is great, since they didn't want to pay for the checked bag but didn't want to carry their bag with them either, but for others it is devastating because they didn't want to have to head to baggage claim once they arrive. Either way, make sure you get a bag tag from the airline so it can be tracked if they were to lose it.
Find and Take Your Seat
I cannot stress this enough, find your seat, put your checked bags in the overhead compartment, and sit down. You can hold up the whole plane and cause the flight to be late if boarding takes too long. I have faith in you and know you will sit down as quickly as you can without hurting yourself or someone else. Also, if you have time once seated, watch the faces of the people behind the slow moving people, you don't want that directed towards you (this also goes back to how us frequent travelers forget there are people who hardly travel, or don't speak the language the signs are written in and tend to have zero patience).
You can now relax, listen to the flight crew, and enjoy your flight.
This is an old tip, but chewing gum during take off and landing can help keep your ears clear and reduce pain from the change in cabin pressure. I usually don't even realize it anymore, but some people are very sensitive to it. Also, if you have any known Eustachian tube issues talk to your doctor before your flight to know how to keep yourself from experiencing pain -- this is very rare, but I found out the hard way that I was having sinus issues while on the first leg of a cross country flight.
Understand Your Seat Territory
This is another tip I can not stress enough, know your seat territory:
Window - you have the arm rest closest to the window, the window area, and up to the start of the middle armrest. You also should not have a weak bladder for this seat, you are almost expected not to get up to go to the bathroom, so if you have to go once an hour this is not the seat for you. But you also get to control the shade on the window, so make sure you tell you bladder it was worth it.
Middle - both armrests on your sides. That's it. That's why you get them both. Make sure to put your elbows down as soon as you get settled because some people take advantage of others not knowing it belongs to them.
Aisle - the armrest near the aisle and you can stick your legs into the aisle a bit as long as it doesn't block anyone from getting by. You can also get up to go to the bathroom as much as you want, you won't be bothering anyone!
Sometimes, when you are up in the air, you may encounter pockets of air that cause the plane to jerk, dip, or feel like you are traveling down an old cobblestone road. Don't worry, it's ok. Turbulence happens, and it can be scary, but as long as the flight attendants aren't freaking out you will be fine.
Landing is great, you have arrived at your destination, you are about to get your vacation started, and you can finally go to the bathroom if you were in that window seat, but landing can also be A LOT. The only thing you really need to know is that no landing is the same. I have come in smoothly, have jerked down, have thought the wind would blow us into the grass, but every time we have landed safely. The back wheels will hit the ground first, followed by the front, and then the breaks will screech as the plane stops itself from going hundreds of miles an hour. Make sure you have on your seatbelt because your back will come off the seat as you slow down after landing.
Retrieving Your Bags
Once you land, and the captain has turned off the seatbelt sign, you will head to the baggage claim area. The flight crew should tell you where to retrieve your bags, but if they don't you can look at the digital sign in the baggage claim area that will list every flight that has arrived and where their bags can be found.
I know I told you about that luggage tag earlier, but here is another place it will be important. Many bags look alike, so check your tag to make sure you have the right bag before leaving. Someone took my bag once, and although I was home and had everything I really needed, I still felt violated that someone else took my bag home with them.
Book Your Next Flight
Now that you've gotten through your first flight you're ready for your next one. Hopefully you weren't pressured into applying for the airline credit card while on the flight, but if you were, at least you know which airline you're selecting.
I hope these tips have helped you push your fears to the side and got you ready to book your first flight.
Think I missed some tips? Leave your best first time flyer tips in the comments.