In March 2011, after I already made quite a few miles traveling, I finally went on a trip which included a plane ride. My first flight! I have always been attracted to the airplanes and I wasn’t worried about the flight itself, but the thrill has quickly turned from „yaaay“ to „naaah“ when I realized how much I did not know about flying.
When do I need to get to the airport… and what I should do then?! The more I read the forums and articles, the less I knew and I had more and more questions. The possibility that I will finish on another continent instead of in Rome was increasing. So here are some first time flying tips, I hope they are going to be helpful if you are about to start your flying career.
When should I be at the airport and what do I need to do next?!
The time required to complete all the formalities at the airport depends on the size of the airport and the country where it’s located. It is recommended to come at least two hours earlier, but in Zagreb even an hour and a half would be enough (especially if you don’t have a morning flight). In the other hand, if you depart from the airport in the United States or some other very big airport, you should definitely come three hours earlier due to more comprehensive security control and larger distances within the airport.
Before going to the plane, you need to check-in to the flight (or do it earlier online and just drop off your baggage), go through security check and wait for your boarding time to get into the plane. All this can be done in 15 minutes, but also can last longer than an hour. Larger airports are more likely to be crowded, so adjust your arrival time according to that. For example, security check in London Heathrow can take more than 30 minutes (on a good day), while I usually need less than 5 minutes to pass the same control in Zagreb.
Read more: 6 websites you should know about when flying
How my plane ticket looks like and what is a “check-in”?
Today’s plane tickets are generally electronic so you can come to the check-in counter with the printed purchase confirmation, or even without it. Upon the arrival to the airport, you need to go to the check-in counters and find the right one (look for it on the screens above the counters and search by the airline’s name or the destination). Check-in usually starts 120 minutes before the flight, for an international flight. The domestic flights often start a bit later.
In most of the cases, it is enough to hand over your documents to the counter person and place the luggage on a track. After the luggage is weighted, it receives the tags and it is taken away by the conveyor belt so the airport personnel can put it into the plane bunker. The counter person issues the boarding pass and checks you into the flight. The boarding pass contains your personal information and flight data and usually states the gate number, boarding time and seat number.
Read more: How to pack for your first flight
If you do the check in online, you will need to print out the boarding pass on your own. To do so, you just need to follow the instructions on a web check-in section of your airline. When you come to the airport, you can go directly to the baggage drop counter (which are usually less crowded) – if you have any luggage to drop, or go straight through the security to your gate.
What happens at the security check?
The security check consists of passenger and baggage control. Passing through the security check can be quick and painless if you follow the next tips.
- While waiting in a queue please remove your watches, belts and all the metal you are wearing. Do not do that when is your turn because you are creating a crowd unnecessarily.
- Jewelry usually doesn’t need to be removed, but if you are not 100% sure should you remove it, ask the staff.
- If you have any metal on (piercing) or inside you (metal plates, etc.) be prepared to show it to the officers or bring your medical records.
- Wear clean and untorn socks. Sometimes you will need to take off your shoes, especially if you are wearing the boots a lot of metal on them or if you fly from the U.S. People are ashamed very often.
- Before passing through a metal detector empty all your pockets.
- All the items you need to put in the plastic containers, but do not overcrowd them.
- The laptops need to be removed from the bags and put into a separate box, with no other items in it. Lately, they ask to take out other electronic devices too, like iPad, Kindle and cameras.
- If you are dressed in layers (for example a shirt, a sweater and a jacket), you need to take off the sweater and the jacket. You shall not wear thick layers of clothing when passing through the detector.
- You cannot have more than one liter of liquid when passing through the control. All the liquids must be in packages up to 100 ml and placed in one one-liter plastic bag with zipper. Do not forget to take out that bottle of water from the bag.
After you put all the things in the containers, your stuff passes through the scanner and you go through the detector. If everything is okay, you can take your items and get dressed. If the officers notice something suspicious or the detector sounds, they could ask for a more detailed luggage or personal examination and ask you to open the backpack. Show them without the complaint.
Read more: Useful tips how to minimize jet lag symptoms
What can I do at the airport after security control?
Everything! You can have a coffee, pour water into an empty bottle that you had in your backpack (the best advice ever, trust me), read the newspaper, eat, surf, shop at the duty free store (you can buy even liquids, everything you buy there will be packed in welded bag which you are not allowed open until you land!).
Depending on the size and equipment of the airport, the time before the flight can be shortened by the various activities. With its numerous restaurants, shops, and awesome waiting rooms airports can be an oasis of entertainment. Some of them even have a casino and mailboxes.
When the boarding starts and how does it look like?
Boarding usually begins 30 – 45 minutes prior to the flight (for long haul flights even 60 minutes before). The time is usually stated on boarding pass and departure screens at the airport. Sometimes the gate and boarding time have not been assigned yet at the moment of issuing the boarding pass, in that case, you can find all the information on screens.
The boarding is announced by ground staff at the gate assigned to this flight. At the gate, the staff will check your documents and boarding pass so don’t put them in the deepest part of your backpack right after the security control. Sometimes they will check the dimensions and (or) hand luggage weight. This usually happens when traveling with low-cost airlines, but even the “regular” companies sometimes check that you are not traveling with more pieces of luggage than allowed.
Depending on the airport, you go to the plane on foot or by bus. At Zagreb’s airport, there is an airport bus in front of the gate which takes passengers to the plane. Then you climb the stairs to enter the plane. My favorites are those cases where you can get to the plane by the big tunnel which connects gate with the plane.
Upon entering the plane cabin staff will greet you and, if necessary, help you to find your seat. If you have the assigned seat, you must sit right there and place the hand luggage in the overhead compartment or under the seat in front of you. During the takeoff and landing, you are not allowed to have anything in your lap (like purse or laptop).
There is a reason why you shouldn’t spend too much time taking pictures in front of the plane, even though it’s the first time you will enter it. If the plane is small and the flight is full, there probably won’t be enough space for all hand luggage. So if you have a larger piece of luggage and if you don’t want to spend few hours with a suitcase below your legs, hurry up to the plane and take place for luggage. Otherwise, it could happen that you are sitting in the fourth row and your luggage is placed in the compartment above the 30th row. Long story short, you would need to wait for all people exit the plane before you could reach it. In the event of a lackage of space for carry-on luggage, larger pieces are sent free of charge to aircraft bunker.
Once you’ve placed the luggage, tie yourself and listen carefully what the cabin crew will have to say. The pilot’s greeting contains some basic information such as the duration of the flight and weather conditions in a destination and the flight attendants are going to give you safety instructions. Listen to them carefully so you know what to do in case of an accident and where are the emergency exits.
If I forgot something, you can ask in the comments…
Did you ever have any problems at the airport?
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