Is it your first time flying? If you haven’t flown before, or if you haven’t flown in recent years, it can definitely be intimidating. Between airline policies and TSA regulations, it can be difficult to know what to expect if it’s your first time flying on a plane. Wondering what to do? Here are our tips for first-time flyers.
First Time Flying Tips
What to Do When Booking Air
Booking airfare can be challenging. If it’s your first time booking a flight, make sure that you understand what is included in your ticket before purchasing. Some airlines charge for bags (both carry-on and checked baggage) and seat assignments, so understand those additional fees and make sure that you know what the final price will be.
If you are booking a flight with a connection, be mindful of how long your connection time is. It can be tempting to get the shortest connection, but make sure that you have enough time to get off your first flight and onto the second connecting flight. This is especially important with an international flight.
Another very important thing to understand is that many airlines charge extra if you want to choose your seat. If you don’t want to be stuck in a middle seat and/or want to make sure your whole family is seated together, it’s a good idea to pay this extra fee. It will significantly improve your flying experience, especially for long-haul flights.
Once you’ve chosen your flight, consider signing up for the airline’s frequent flyer program. It’s typically free, and that way, you’ll start accumulating frequent flyer miles on your first flight. You should also provide all of your contact information so that the airline can easily contact you if flight times change.
What Do You Need to Fly?
If you are flying out of the country, make sure that you know exactly what the requirements are for what you’ll need to enter the country (ie: passport, Visa, etc). Domestically, you’ll need a REAL-ID-compliant driver’s license or passport (starting in May 2023). Children don’t need photo IDs if they are too young to have a driver’s license (unless leaving the country – then they need a passport).
Understand what the airline’s requirements are for baggage. Typically, you can bring a personal item (like a diaper bag, briefcase, or purse) as underseat luggage, as well as a larger carry-on bag. Anything additional would need to be checked, typically at an additional fee. You can sometimes save money on bags by paying for them at home in advance, rather than at the airport.
Flying with kids? You’ll want to be prepared. Flying with a baby can be especially challenging, and you’ll want to make sure you have a diaper bag filled with essentials, including changes in clothes. Keep in mind that flights can be delayed, even in flight, so pack more than you think you’ll need. In addition, there’s always a risk that luggage will be lost or delayed, so make sure you have extra in your carry-on bag.
Car seats are typically allowed with some restrictions, so check with your airline. Often, the car seat needs to be installed in the window seat (not the middle or aisle seats) so that it doesn’t block access to the aisle. Now that my kids are older, I make sure they have carry-ons loaded with entertainment, like headphones, electronics, and books.
What To Do Before Your Flight?
I always recommend checking in for your flight the day before. For domestic flights, you can usually do it 24 hours in advance. It’s a good way to reconfirm your flight time and check your seat assignment.
The day before your flight is also a good time to decide when you plan to depart for the airport. I always recommend leaving early, and if you are flying for the first time, you’ll want to have plenty of time. Ask friends and neighbors about the best way to get to your particular airport, and figure out when you need to leave your house. Always leave extra time.
If you aren’t familiar with the TSA guidelines, it’s a good idea to check their website and familiarize yourself with the guidelines. First-time flyers probably won’t have TSA Precheck, so you’ll need to take your shoes off. Wear shoes that are fairly easy to slip on and off, and think about skipping the belt and heavy jewelry if possible. It’s also important to understand the liquid rules for carry-on bags.
What To Do at the Airport
If you aren’t checking bags, and you have your boarding pass, you can head right through security. Otherwise, you’ll need to check your bag at the airline counter first and then proceed to the TSA screening area. You’ll usually be able to use the kiosk to start the process and then just hand off your luggage.
Checking a bag can take a while, depending on the line at the check-in desk, so keep that in mind when you figure out how early you need to arrive at the airport. When we check bags, I usually add at least 20 minutes to my time.
Once you get through TSA, check to see how much time you have. Reconfirm your gate number, and see how long it will take to walk there. If you have extra time, you can explore the airport and perhaps get something to eat. I always recommend checking the gate a few times, as it can often change. You definitely don’t want to miss your flight while you are waiting for your flight!
What to Expect in Air
Once you are in the air, expect that the seat belt sign will be on for a while until the plane is at cruising altitude. Since you won’t be able to use the airplane’s restroom during that time, make sure the whole family goes before boarding.
You also won’t be able to stand and reach the overhead while the seat belt sign is on, so pack entertainment and essentials in the bag that goes under your seat.
Expect some standard noise on the flight and some turbulence. It’s best to sit back and try to relax as much as possible until you arrive at your destination!