A trip to the airport can be an overwhelming experience, especially for those who fly infrequently or have never flown before. The thought of getting lost in an unfamiliar airport terminal or having overweight checked luggage may cause you stress, as both scenarios can add time and frustration to your travel experience.
Let’s start with some basic tips for flying. We will cover the top tips for pre-flight preparations, easily making your way through the airport, and best practices to follow on the airplane.
Your flight doesn’t begin at the airport, but with the preparations you make at home before your flight. Ensure you are fully prepared before setting off for the airport.
Plan Your Transportation to the Airport
It’s important to figure out your transportation to and from the airport ahead of time to prevent unnecessary spending or last-minute stress.
One option is to drive yourself and park your car at the airport for the duration of your trip. Most large airports have levels of parking that increase in price the closer you are to the airport entrance.
Those who want to save money should look for “economy” parking. While economy parking lots typically offer free shuttles that come around every few minutes, you’ll need to factor this extra time into your schedule.
Also note that parking at an airport can be a bit pricy. Leaving your car for a couple days might not be a big deal. But consider asking a friend or family member to drop you off if you’re taking a longer trip or don’t have the budget for parking expenses.
This is often the most affordable option for airport transportation. Airports have drop-off and pick-up areas for this purpose.
If family or friends are unable to drop you off and pick you up, it may still be more economical to use a ridesharing service like Uber or Lyft. Be aware that these services can be busier during certain times of the day. Schedule your ride ahead of time to ensure you make it to the airport on time.
Some cities even feature public transportation stops at nearby airports. If you live in a major city, see if any local trains or buses provide a convenient route to the airport for you.
Know the Types of Baggage (and Restrictions)
There are three types of baggage options for travelers. Different airlines may have different rules for their baggage, but they generally follow the same rules recommended by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
- Checked Baggage – Checked baggage is stored in the aircraft hold and usually has a weight limit (40lbs to 50lbs). If you go over the airline’s limit, you may be subject to additional fees. This luggage is usually weighed and received at check-in before going through security and finding your gate.
PRO TIP! Weigh your luggage at home with a hand-held luggage weight (or a basic bathroom scale) before going to the airport to avoid scrambling to get rid of items from your suitcase in the middle of the airport.
- Carry-On Baggage – Carry-on baggage is usually smaller than checked bags and is limited by its size instead of weight. There is often a length, width, and height limit which can be found on your airline’s website. Keep in mind, you are prohibited from packing many items in your carry-on bag. Carry-on bags are taken through security, onto the plane, and stored in overhead bins during the flight.
- Personal Item – A personal item, like a purse, backpack, or briefcase, is an additional carry-on item allowed onto most airplanes. Typically, personal bags should be small enough to fit under the seat in front of you on the plane. Keep in mind some items are prohibited from bringing on the airplane.
Before you begin packing your luggage, check your airline’s luggage requirements. Avoid extra fees by knowing how many of each type of bag you are allowed to bring on the plane. Most airlines allow one checked bag, one carry-on bag, and one personal item free of charge. There is often a fee for additional bags.
Learn about how to pack your suitcase more efficiently to ensure you pack everything you need.
Pack All Necessary Identification
You will be prompted to provide a form of identification before going through security. Ensure that you have a photo ID like a driver’s license or another state-issued ID.
International travelers will also need to present their passport (and possibly also a visa upon landing). Make sure your passport is still valid and will not expire before you depart for your trip.
Purchase Travel Insurance or Travel Medical Insurance
Another important step before flying—especially if you are traveling abroad—is to purchase travel insurance. Depending on the type of plan you choose, you could be covered for emergency medical expenses, unexpected travel expenses, or unused trip expenses due to a cancellation.
Purchase your travel insurance plan before departing to ensure you are covered for the entire duration of your trip. Travelers can opt for:
- Travel Insurance (Also Known as Trip Cancellation Insurance) –> Travel insurance provides coverage for prepaid and nonrefundable trip expenses like airline tickets, accommodations, activities, and more if you must cancel your trip for a covered reason. It often provides additional travel-related benefits as well as some medical coverage. Travel insurance is typically available to U.S. citizens and residents who are traveling domestically or abroad.
- Travel Medical Insurance –> Travel medical insurance provides coverage for emergency medical expenses abroad, like emergency room visits, hospitalization, physician expenses, and more. It often provides additional travel-related benefits but does not provide reimbursement for a canceled trip. Travel medical insurance is available to citizens and residents of most countries who are traveling internationally.
WorldTrips’ Atlas JourneyTM is a comprehensive trip cancellation plan that provides coverage for U.S. citizens or residents traveling domestically or internationally. This plan features travel-related benefits like:
- Trip Cancellation
- Trip Interruption
- Travel Delay
- Missed Connection
- Baggage Damage or Loss
- Emergency Accident & Sickness Medical Expense
WorldTrips’ Atlas Travel® is a travel medical insurance plan that provides flexible coverage for emergency medical expenses while abroad, like:
- Hospital Room and Board
- Local Ambulance
- Intensive Care Unit
- Emergency Dental (Acute Onset of Pain)
- Emergency Medical Evacuation
This plan also features benefits for other travel-related expenses, like Trip Interruption, Travel Delay, Lost Checked Luggage, and Lost or Stolen Passport.
Read about the difference between travel insurance and travel medical insurance to help you decide which type of plan is best for you.
Those traveling internationally will need to exchange their currency for their destination’s local currency. It is often best to exchange currency before heading to the airport.
Currency exchange centers at airports often charge a premium to exchange money compared to other locations. Look up a nearby currency exchange and visit it before you travel.
You may also choose to withdraw money from a bank or ATM when you arrive at your destination.
Check in Before Leaving for the Airport
Did you know you have the option to check in for your flight before you even get to the airport? Some airlines allow you to check in for flights up to 24 hours before your flight’s departure.
When you check in early, you can print your boarding pass off at home before you depart or save it to your phone. This means fewer steps to take at the airport and more time to make it through security and to your gate if you’re running late or traveling during a busy time.
You also may have the option to pre-select your seats online. If you have a strong preference for the aisle or window seats or you want to make sure you’re seated next to your travel companion, go ahead and do this now, too.
PRO TIP! If you don’t want to be disturbed during a flight so you can get some shut eye, pick a window seat. If you think you will need to get up and use the bathroom often, choose an aisle seat. If you want the most leg room, the first row and the emergency exit row often have the most room.
There are some strategies you can follow to help your airport experience go smoothly.
- Have Important Documents Handy – One way to save time shuffling through your bags at the airport is to keep important documents and identification—like your boarding pass and ID—in an easy-to-reach place. Keep them in an outside zipper pocket of your carry-on or in your purse or backpack so you can quickly pull it out when you need it. Avoid keeping it in your checked luggage in case your luggage is delayed or lost.
- Go Through Security and Find Your Gate as Soon as You Get to the Airport – You may show up to the airport early enough to get some breakfast or browse through a couple of stores. However, before doing anything, make your way through security and find your gate. Busier times can cause longer lines and large airports can make it tricky to find your gate. Getting this out of the way before grabbing snacks or taking a bathroom break will ensure you have plenty of time and don’t stray too far from your gate.
- Check Your Flight Status Frequently – Flights can often become delayed or canceled due to various reasons like weather. Check your airline’s website frequently to verify the status of your flight.
- Charge Your Electronics – Be sure to fully charge any electronics while you’re waiting to board your plane. Not all plane seats offer electronic outlets and USB ports, and the last thing you want is to run out of battery on a long flight.
Are you worried about dealing with a flight delay or cancellation? Discover the best strategies for handling a delayed or canceled flight before your next trip.
Tips for the Plane
Use these strategies to make your flying experience more comfortable.
- Dress Comfortably – Choose a comfortable outfit for your flight. You will be doing a lot of sitting very close to other people, so many prefer not to wear tight or uncomfortable clothing. If you plan to sleep on the plane, a comfortable outfit can also help you sleep more comfortably. Bring a sweatshirt or jacket so you can add or remove layers based on the temperature and make sure you wear slip-on shoes – it makes going through security just a bit easier.
- Bring Entertainment – It’s best to bring a few options for entertainment during your flight, especially if you will be flying by yourself. Consider bringing music (with headphones), a tablet for movies and TV shows, or a book to read. Fully charge any electronics before your flight and be sure to pack your charging cables in your carry-on luggage, as some airlines have power outlets and USB ports in their planes’ seats.
PRO TIP! Wi-Fi is not always available on flights, and your airline may charge a fee to use it if it is available. Make sure you download any movies or TV shows before departing.
- Hydrate – Airline air tends to be very dry, so staying hydrated is important. Bring a reusable water bottle you can fill up after going through security to help you hydrate and prevent headaches. A good hand lotion and lip balm can go a long way to prevent dry skin, too.
- Listen to Pre-Flight Security Procedures – If it’s your first flight, it’s especially important to listen carefully to the pre-flight security procedures. Don’t be alarmed, though. These measures are for your safety in the event there is an emergency during the flight.
- Choose a Window Seat – Choosing a window seat means you are less likely to be disturbed by a neighbor needing to scoot by to use the restroom or an airline attendant handing out food and drinks.
- Bring a Travel or Neck Pillow – A pillow can really help you get comfortable during a flight. Your flight may or may not provide pillows for you to use, so you may want to bring your own. Some people might come away from a flight with a stiff neck from sleeping wrong, but a pillow can help you fall asleep more quickly and sleep more soundly.
- Avoid Caffeine or Alcohol – According the Mayo Clinic, the stimulating effects of caffeine often take hours to wear off and can make it more difficult to fall asleep during a flight. Additionally, alcohol may make you feel sleepy, but it can lead to poor quality of sleep.
- Create the Ideal Environment – The Mayo Clinic states that creating a cool, dark, and quiet environment can help improve your quality of sleep. Airplanes tend to be cool, but feel free to turn on the vent above you if you feel stuffy or warm during your flight. Also bring an eye mask or put a blanket over your face for a dark environment. Then, make sure you wear ear plugs or noise canceling headphones to ensure there is little auditory distraction.
- Find Calming Activities to Do Before Sleeping – If you are having trouble sleeping, try to do some calming activities before getting some shut eye. Practice meditation or listen to calming music to help quiet your mind.
Aerophobia, or fear of flying, is an anxiety disorder that involves the intense fear and panic some people experience when flying or anticipating a flight, according to PSYCOM.
DID YOU KNOW? Approximately 40% of the general population experiences some degree of aerophobia, or fear of flying, according to the Washington Post.
Though it is a fairly common anxiety disorder, only about 2-6% of the population qualify for a clinical diagnosis of this type of phobia.
Most people can overcome their fear of flying by taking necessary personal steps to educate, calm, and distract themselves from the anxiety. Let’s look at some tips for managing mild forms of this anxiety:
How to Get Over the Fear of Flying
- Educate Yourself – Many people find education to be very helpful in overcoming their fear of flying. Educate yourself on the basics of how an airplane works and all the safety features that are in place to prevent disasters from happening. Once a person understands the mechanics of an airplane, it often makes them feel better about the whole experience.
- Ask Yourself Questions – Many psychologists recommend considering questions like “What am I afraid of?” or “What do I think is going to happen?” Many people can work through their fears by realizing their nerves aren’t logical when answering these questions.
- Distract Yourself – If you get nervous during take-off or descent, distraction can be a helpful tool to get through these tough moments. Have a conversation with your travel partner, read a book, or listen to distracting music to help keep your mind at ease.
- Meditate – Psychologists recommend deep breathing exercises to help calm the body in times of anxiety. Meditation and deep breathing can be a great way to relax your mind and body before or during a flight.
- Choose the Right Seat – Those who experience claustrophobia may want to choose an aisle seat instead of a window seat. This will allow you to easily get up and walk around if you feel you need to.
When Is It Time to See a Professional?
Sometimes the above techniques aren’t sufficient to calm your anxieties about flying. You may be part of the small percentage of people who qualify for the clinical diagnosis of aerophobia.
Licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Margaret Wehrenber, PsyD says, “If you’re losing sleep, feeling sick with anxiety, or avoiding travel at the expense of your own or other people’s convenience,” then it is a good idea to see a licensed therapist who can help to treat your anxiety.
Check out these additional resources before your flight:
- Delayed or Canceled Flight? Here’s What to Do
- How to Fly with Kids
- How to Cancel Your Trip: A Comprehensive Guide
- How to Travel During Hurricane Season