Since the tragedy of 9/11, there have been numerous safeguards put into place by the US government. Some would argue, many of them are unnecessary and only serve to create longer lines than greater security. Whatever your position on the matter, suffice it to say that these rules are here to stay and will only become more intrusive as time goes on. So, how do you as a new traveler deal with so many unknown variables? First, I would recommend that you do not panic. My advice would be to travel smart. If you plan to do any consistent traveling, you should get into the habit of packing light. Only bring what you know you are going to absolutely need which will bring you untold freedom as you begin to understand how heavy luggage becomes an albatross all too quickly.
Once you arrive at the terminal (You will see the signs as you are transported there) where your airline is located, you may see a counter outside of the airport terminal. This is where you can check in your bags (if you have any) and where they will weigh them to make sure that you are not over the standard 50 pound limit. Any overages will result in additional fees beyond their standard checked bag charges. Be sure to use TSA approved locks on checked bags, if you use the lock and key or combination locks, be aware that they will saw them off in order to inspect them. All inspected bags will have a TSA sticker on it indicating that they were randomly chosen for that honor. One caveat about checked luggage. Do not put anything that is of particular value to you in a checked bag! I can’t stress that enough. Do not check your ipod, camera, laptop, expensive jewelry (which should be left at home anyway) or the like. There is a very good chance that you will never see them again.
If you do not see an outside counter, you will need to go inside the terminal to check in (if you have not already done so on the airline’s website). Most airlines make it easier to check in and print out your boarding passes if you do not have checked luggage. Just walk over to your airline’s nearest free standing kiosk and input your info. Your boarding passes will print out on the spot. If you do have checked bags, you will need to stand in line and the counter agent will take your checked bags and print out a boarding pass for you. Remember from that point on to have a piece of ID and your boarding pass in hand until you reach the gate where your flight leaves from. The TSA (Transportation Security Administration) agents will need to review, scan and/or mark it as you go through the next step for you which is security.
Make sure that everything that you are carrying through the security checkpoint that is run by TSA is legal. At this point, you should be prepared to remove your shoes as soon as you get to the point where you can get one of the bins that you place on the conveyor belt that leads to the x-ray machine. Place your shoes, jewelry, gloves, handbags, coats, belts, coins, hats, sunglasses and backpack in the gray bins. Do not overcrowd the bins; use as many as you need. If you are carrying a laptop, place that in a separate bin. Ditto for any medical aids like a C-pap machine, which you should take all of its components apart and place in a single bin. Once you have placed your items on the belt and they are going through x-ray, you will have to walk through their metal detector when prompted. Be sure to keep that boarding pass and ID in hand!
Once you are cleared, proceed to the area where your bins have now exited. Do not be alarmed if security pulls you or your bin(s) aside and do another thorough check. If a beep goes off as you walk through the x-ray, you may have forgotten a coin or something else in your pocket. The agent will use a wand detector to figure out where the beep emanated from and once it is found you simply walk though again. It is standard procedure and happens to almost everyone at some point, so don’t get flustered and always be polite.
Do not bring any weapons (sounds obvious, huh?) because you will be surprised at how many people have done just that. Do not bring any liquids (here are exceptions) that are over 3.4 ounces in volume which must be placed in a zip lock bag and placed in a separate bin from your carry-on. This includes your faithful water bottle. This will be confiscated.
Once you have made it past security, you will need to locate your gate area. This info should be located on your boarding pass right next to your seat number. The airport signage will guide you were to go to get to your gate. Sometimes, the terminal that you need is in an entirely different building (concourse) so an airport will provide several means of getting there. They may have people movers that resemble escalators that move forward, not up or down. They may have air-trains to get you from point a to b. They may have subway type trains (or automated people movers) to get you from one concourse to the next. The one at Hartsfield Jackson is one of the best, in my opinion.
Once you have reached your designated concourse, you will need to review the overhead signs to locate which direction your gate will be. Be sure to allow yourself some time to get there and get settled because the seats fill quickly especially if the flight is full. If you are there early enough, look around, there are plenty of places to eat, get a beverage or take a bathroom break. Remember to always keep your eyes on your carry-on. You will hear plenty of warnings about keeping your luggage with you at all times over the intercom system. You will find the boarding times on your boarding pass. Unless the plane is late showing up at the gate, the airlines attempt to hold to that schedule. Take note of which zone you have been assigned. Typically, the airlines will allow passengers with children under the age of two, infirmed passengers or first class passengers to board first. Next, the people in zone 1, etc. will be called to board.
As you go through the gate to board, have your boarding pass (not ID) ready to hand to the attendant. Once you have given them the pass and they give you your receipt proceed to the airplane. If your luggage is deemed to be too large to fit in the overhead bins, they may ask you to leave it at the doorway and an attendant will make sure that it is placed with the rest of the checked luggage. Usually, they will not charge you for this service. However, given their propensity to charge for fees at will (See Spirit Airlines new fee for CARRY-ON luggage) don’t be surprised if that changes.
Once you have located your assigned seat, place your carry-on in the bin overhead or wherever there is a space for it. Just remember where you put it. If you have a handbag, you may place that under the seat ahead of you. Please be aware that if you order refreshments after the plane takes off, you will have to pay for it. Free food is practically non-existent these days unless you count pretzels as food. Be sure to visit one of the airport restaurants before hand or eat before you leave home. Now that you have taken your seat and listened to the flight attendants’ emergency instructions, sit back and enjoy the ride to your destination. Your flight attendant will instruct you where to pick up any checked luggage once you arrive there. Happy Travels!