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Understand that this is just another form of Transportation
If you are a first-time flyer, I would recommend that you do not panic. It may seem daunting when you don’t know what to expect when flying for the first time. I get it because I was nervous my first time too.
I’d imagined every possible adverse scenario – from the take off to the landing and everything in between. I was sure that I was a goner. But not surprisingly, everything worked out. No one got hurt; it was all in my head. I had created all of this doom and gloom in my overactive imagination because I didn’t know what to expect. So, I expected the worst.
Since then, I’ve learned to enjoy the ride, open the window and take in the view. But it took time. And it will take you time. Until then, busy yourself with your favorite music, book, or sleep.
We can’t always control those fears that creep up, understand that they are as real as you imagine them. You’ve got this. You can do it. Now let me show you first-time flyers how to get through an airport by yourself.
Take advantage of Curbside Check-in whenever possible
Once you arrive at the Airport terminal, find the area where your airline is located. You might see a counter with Airline employees outside of the airport terminal.
You can check in your bags (if you have any) at this counter. The attendant will weigh them to make sure that you are not over the standard 50-pound limit. Once your bags are squared away, they will print out your boarding pass.
Any weight 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, they may saw them off to inspect them.
All inspected bags should have a TSA sticker on it. 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.
If it’s valuable to you, keep it with you in your carry on
My advice to a first-time flyer 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 need. This will bring you untold freedom because heavy luggage will become an albatross quickly.
Do not check your iPod, camera, laptop, expensive jewelry (which should be left at home anyway) or the like. There is an excellent 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.
How to check in and get your boarding pass
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.
Or you can do it online via your mobile phone or a desktop (where you can print it out) 24 hours before your plane departs. 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.
How to go through Airport Security
Remember from that point on to have a piece of ID and your boarding pass in hand until you reach the area or gate where your flight leaves. Even as a first-time flyer, after dealing with the TSA, you will learn the value of signing up for the Global Entry Program.
The TSA (Transportation Security Administration) agents will need to review, scan, and mark your boarding pass and confirm that your ID matches the boarding pass 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 conveyor belt. Select a few bins or containers to place on the belt that leads to the x-ray machine.
Place your shoes, jewelry, gloves, handbags, coats, belts, coins, hats, sunglasses, and backpack in the gray containers. Do not overcrowd the containers; use as many as you need. If you are carrying a laptop, place that in a separate container. Ditto for any medical aids like a C-pap machine, which you should take all of its components apart and place in a single container.
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!
Don’t panic if you have to go through a more advanced screening
Once you are cleared, proceed to the area where your bins have now exited. Do not be alarmed if security pulls you or your container (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 walk through again. It is standard procedure and happens to almost everyone at some point, so don’t get flustered and always be polite. Walking through the metal detector is what to expect when you are a first-time flyer; eventually, you will get used to it.
What you cannot bring through Security
You can’t carry any weapons (sounds obvious, huh?). You will be surprised at how many people have done just that. Do not bring any liquids (there are exceptions) that are over 3.4 ounces in volume which must be placed in a ziplock bag and placed in a separate bin from your carry-on. Full water bottles will be confiscated. Not being allowed to take liquids through security is something to expect when flying for the first time.
How to find your departure gate
Once you have made it past security, you will need to locate your gate area. This info will be on your boarding pass right next to your seat number. It will usually consist of a letter and a number, for example, Gate A23 which will be in Concourse A, gate # 23. The airport signage will guide you where to go to get to your gate.
Sometimes, the terminal where your plane leaves is in an entirely different building (concourse), so an airport will provide several ways to get there. There may be 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.
There may be subway-type trains (or automated people movers) to get you from one concourse to the next. The “plane train” at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Airport 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. Allow yourself some time to get there and get settled. The seats at your departure gate can fill quickly 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 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 attempting to hold to that schedule is what to expect when you are a first-time flyer.
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.
How to board a plane
As you go through the gate to board, have your boarding pass (not ID) ready to give to the attendant. Once you have given them the pass, they will scan it and give you your portion. You can then proceed to the airplane to locate your seat.
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. There an attendant will make sure that it is stored 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 cost 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.
What to expect when you are a first-time flyer? Meals aren’t included in the fare
Please be aware that if you order meals/food after the plane takes off, you will have to pay for it. The exception is when you are traveling internationally where the flights are longer. Most airlines will serve you a beverage refreshment and a small snack for free on domestic flights.
If you didn’t bring a snack, be sure to visit one of the airport restaurants beforehand or eat before you leave home. But if you plan to travel internationally, please bring snacks.
Now that you have taken your seat and listened to the flight attendants’ emergency instructions sit back and enjoy your first flight to your destination.
Your flight attendant will instruct you where to pick up any checked luggage once you arrive there. If you are a first-time flyer, this is pretty much what you can expect. Happy Travels!