Plane travel is so common in today’s world that we often assume most people have flown at least once in their life, but this isn’t always the case. And while many people already know the ins and outs of flying, everybody has to fly for the first time at some stage.
Over the years, I have definitely made a lot of beginner flyer mistakes, such as booking the wrong airport, and misspelling my name on an international ticket which resulted in a $300 change fee.
So if you’re flying for the first time it is my hope that I can help you avoid the mistakes I have made, and help you feel like a pro on your very first flight.
Whether you’re afraid of flying or have simply never had the opportunity to travel before, I would love to give you a few tips on what to expect, and how to make your first flight as relaxing and stress-free as possible.
Who knows, maybe you’ll even enjoy it!
Travel Tips for Your First Time Flying
The first step to plane travel, after deciding where it is you are going of course, is to book tickets. It may sound simple enough, but there are many mistakes that can lead to financial setbacks.
When booking online, it’s absolutely imperative that you double check that all the information you have entered is correct. It was a fairly sheepish 21 year old girl who rocked up to the wrong airport in England in 2009 and had to re-book
my her flight.
Additionally, should you spell your name wrong on your booking, there’s often a pretty large change fee to fix your name as it appears on your passport or ID. You might think this is a given, but beyond typing errors, newly married women run into this problem a lot – booking under their married name, when their passport is in their maiden name.
You might also find that there are cities around the world that share the same or very similar name. You don’t want to book a flight to Sidney, Ohio when you really want Sydney, Australia, and you might be surprised by just how many people do!
When it comes to saving money on your flights, it pays to do some searching online for the best deals. You can score the lowest fares by choosing off-peak seasons to travel and daily flight times that aren’t as popular. But just remember to keep the big picture in mind too.
Cheaper flights may be enticing at first, but may have a longer total trip time that may include several layovers. You also want to check what extras each airline includes, such as luggage and meals, since these may not be included with cheaper flights.
Choosing a Seat
When booking online, you often have an opportunity to select your seat. A good seat can often mean the difference between an enjoyable flight and one you’d rather forget.
First Class or Business Class will provide the best comfort but definitely comes with a premium cost, which you may decide is worth it if you are planning a long haul flight. But if your budget only allows for economy class, there are still seats that are better than others.
If you’re not claustrophobic, you may want to book a window seat which will not only allow you premium views out the window for your first flight, but this seat is often better for being able to rest your head against the side of the plane to try and get some sleep.
Taller people or those that may need to use the bathroom frequently will want to select an aisle so as to have more leg room and the ability to get up without having to disturb other passengers.
Airlines generally fill up their planes from front to back, so selecting a seat in the back of the plane may allow you to score an empty seat or two beside you to allow you more room to spread out. Note though that there may be more traffic passing by these seats due to the bathrooms located at the back of the plane.
Passports and Visas
If you’re flying domestically, you won’t have to worry about a passport or visa, but this is a requirement if you’re traveling internationally (you may not always need visas, but will always need a passport).
Be sure to apply for both a passport and a visa for the country you are visiting well before you book your flights and accommodation. Some visas, especially ones with work privileges, can take longer to process and you may have to send your passport to an embassy or consulate to get the visa placed in it.
Passports have an expiration date, and you are often required to have at least 6 months validity left on your passport to be able to enter an overseas country. It’s important to make sure your passport is not damaged and keep your passport secure during your travels.
It’s also a very good idea to make a copy of your passport ID page and email it to yourself in case your passport is lost or stolen while travelling.
Packing and Luggage
Airlines restrict how much weight you’re allowed to carry in your luggage as well as the dimensions of each bag. The exact weight restriction will depend on the airline but generally is around 50lbs for each checked bag and around 15lbs for carry-on bags.
One of the most common mistakes for first time flyers is over-packing. You really have to be selective with what you want to bring. This not only saves you from paying for extra baggage but also makes your travels less stressful.
Wear your heaviest shoes and carry and bulky jackets to free room and weight up in your luggage. These will not count towards your weight allowance if you’re physically wearing them.
Be sure to pack a spare change of clothes in your carry on too, as well as any important medications in case your bags go missing or are delayed. Even though most missing bags are generally found and delivered to you (free of charge) within 24 hours, having a spare change of clothes for that time is a godsend.
Be sure to place any expensive or breakable items in your carry on as well. You don’t want to risk them breaking by meing mishandled.
Checking in for Your Flight
Most flights nowadays allow the option of checking in online, and you can often print your boarding pass from home, or save an electronic one to your mobile device. This will save you from having to visit the ticket counter, unless of course you need to check bags.
You should arrive at the airport 90 minutes before your flight if you are flying domestically and checking bags, or two hours before your flight if you are flying internationally.
Be sure to have your passport/ID and all travel documents handy, and that all checked bags have luggage tags with your contact info on them.
A luggage belt or colorful tag will help you to identify your bag more easily when you pick it up at the airport luggage carousel in your final destination. Most people travel with black bags, so have something on yours that makes it easy to distinguish.
Note that you will have to take your bags through customs at the first port of entry when flying internationally, and then recheck those bags if continuing on domestically in that country.
So, for instance, if you’re traveling to Florida but first stopping in LA, you’ll have to collect your bags in Los Angeles, clear United States customs with them, and then check them in for the domestic flight to Florida. This is generally the same with every country, but if you’re unsure, ask the flight staff when you check your bags.
You’ll have to pass through airport security before making your way to your departure gate, and these lines can often be quite long, hence why you need to allow for up to two hours before your flight is due to take off.
You’re not allowed to bring any weapons, which may sound obvious, but don’t forget things like scissors, small knives, and other sharp objects that may be possibly confiscated at the security checkpoint. In addition to screening your bags for weapons, they will also check for signs of drugs.
Be aware that if you smoke marijuana or use other drugs, your bags may contain residual evidence that may set of their detectors. If this happens, security has the right to search you and your bags.
As you make your way through security, you will often be asked to remove your shoes, hat, jacket, and all items in your pockets. Note that you are only allowed liquids in your carry-on bags that are in containers which measure 3oz/100ml or less.
These should be placed together in a clear Ziploc bag and presented to security. You will also usually have to remove your laptop from your bag, so be sure to pack it in a way that makes it easy to get to.
Simply do what is asked of you and do not resist any requests by security personnel. They’ll probably also confiscate bottles of water (any liquid more than 100 ml).
Your departure gate will be printed on your boarding pass, and you’ll wait here until boarding is announced. Make sure that the gate you are waiting at still displays the city and flight number you have booked. Gates can often change, so don’t be afraid to ask if you are indeed at the correct gate.
While you wait for your plane, there are often bathrooms and often small shops or restaurants around. Be sure to keep track of time though so you don’t end up missing your flight. When it comes to boarding, passengers will often be called by their row number, giving priority to passengers with small children and disabilities which may require additional assistance.
Once on the plane, place your carry-on bags in the overhead bin, keeping any items you may wish to have during the flight down with you in your seat. These items must be secured in your seat pocket or underneath your seat during takeoff and landing.
Make yourself familiar with the airline safety brochure, especially since this will be your first flight. This brochure will tell you where the closest exits are in case of an emergency as well as the procedures you will need to do during an emergency.
A flight attendant will also go over these safety procedures before the flight and you are welcome to ask them any questions you might have.
Image: Jetstar Airways / CC BY-SA 2.0 / Flickr
In-Flight Food and Drink
Shorter flights may not have any food or drinks available, while long haul flights may serve several meals. Most airlines can usually cater for dietary needs, but you will have to inform the airline of any allergies or meal requests when booking your flight.
It is important to stay hydrated while flying, since there is very low humidity inside an aircraft in-flight. Although drinking alcohol may sound enticing (especially if it’s free), this can lead to further dehydration, so you should actually keep your alcohol intake to a minimum.
During your flight, the cabin pressure drops, which will make gas within your digestive system expand. This may leave you feeling bloated and you may experience more gas than usual.
Avoid consuming spicy or gassy foods before and during your flight to help with this. Bland items that are easy to digest are your best bet for experiencing a comfortable flight.
Finding Comfort and Sleeping
Always dress warmly on a plane as it will cool off once you’re airborne. Blankets are usually provided, but it is nice to have a light jacket or sweater. Pack layers so you can adjust your clothing as the temperature changes.
You should wear loose fitting clothing that is comfortable yet presentable. Airlines generally have a dress code, so avoid revealing or grungy looking outfits to avoid hassle.
You may wish to bring your own pillow to help you sleep better, as the ones supplied by airlines are pretty basic. It is also a good idea to bring an eye mask and ear plugs or noise cancelling headphones for long haul flights. Planes are often noisy and you may be seated near crying babies or near the plane’s engines.
Remember to get up often and walk the aisle or do foot exercises in your seat during long haul flights to help with blood flow. Sitting for long periods of time without getting up can lead to stiff muscles and joints or complications such as deep vein thrombosis.
Most planes these days are equipped with your own individual entertainment screens where you can watch movies and TV shows, listen to music, and play games. But it is always wise to bring backup entertainment on your phone, tablet computer, or laptop in case your in-flight entertainment is not functioning.
If you are nervous about flying, it may be a good idea to download soothing meditation music that can help you breathe more smoothly and find a bit of an escape. Listening to pre-recorded self-help podcasts can also come to your rescue for those that are truly scared of flying.
Note that telephones and other electronics will need to be turned to flight mode during your flight. Some planes nowadays have in flight Wi-Fi, though the service is usually spotty, and charged astronomically.
Travelling with a family member or friend who has travelled before can be the greatest asset you can have during your first flight. They will become your one stop free shop for support and advice throughout your journey. Just remember to book seats next to each other.
Landing and Departing the Plane
The flight crew will prepare the cabin for landing as your flight nears its end. While they begin to collect all trash, it is a good idea to use the bathrooms one last time since you will not be able to use them during landing. This can sometimes last quite a while.
Upon reaching the gate, you will be allowed to turn your electronics off flight mode, and can begin to gather your belongings. Be sure to set your phone or watch to the correct time zone if it does not adjust automatically. The captain will usually give the local time over the loudspeaker.
Be careful when gathering your bags from the overhead bins, as they may have shifted during the flight and can fall on you or other passengers upon opening the doors. Disembarking can be hectic, with everyone standing up and trying to get their bags all at once, so you may want to remain in your seat until your row is just about to exit.
Picking Up Your Luggage
After exiting the plane, there should be clear signage as to where you need to go to pick up your checked luggage. The luggage carousels will show the flight numbers, and once you have found the correct carousel, you will wait for your bags to arrive.
If your bags don’t arrive, there will be an assistance counter where you can give your information and bag identification so as they can locate your bag as quickly as possible.
If flying internationally, you will then proceed to customs inspection where you will need to declare what you are travelling with and why you are travelling. It’s super important not to lie on any of the forms you are filling out or you may face fines or prosecution.
Fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and dairy products are generally not allowed to be brought into countries, nor are animal products or any illegal items. Check your chosen country’s customs restrictions before travelling.
We hope this guide to flying for the first time has been helpful. Share with us in the comments your own tips and tricks for staying comfortable / ensuring a stress free flight.
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