This post is part of a series called Travel in (Relative) Style. It is the second post in the series.
Your trip is booked, your bags are packed, your ride to the airport is here. The panic starts to set in, a lot in airports has changed in the past few years, maybe even the past few months. I’m here to tell you Rule #1 of travel:
Well, ok, at least don’t visibly panic. It’ll be fine. Airports can be confusing lines and lanes and terminals, but you’ll be fine. If something goes wrong (which it usually doesn’t), there’s always a way to fix it.
Step #1: Arrive on time and dress appropriately.
I always wear a lot of layers when I travel. Sometimes one part of the airport will be freezing and another part will be hot. If you have a delay while you’re on the plane, it’ll get hot because they’ll shut the system off to save fuel. A lot of times, the plane is freezing once they get the facilities back on.
Most airports have suggested arrival cushions for how long you should arrive before your flight. They usually give you extra time, which is good. They know what they’re talking about, but if you have the option of arriving 2.5hrs early or 1.5hrs early and the airport suggests 2, go for that 2.5hrs. You definitely won’t need more than what they recommend, though.
Step #2: Check-in and check your bags.
Chances are, you’ve checked in online (or tried to), but if not, don’t worry. There’s plenty of places to check you in and you have plenty of time. It’s best to have some kind of ID handy (driver’s license or the like if you’re traveling domestically; passport if you’re traveling internationally) and the reference number from your booking. Also make sure your tags have the information for where you’re going. If you’re staying at a hostel or hotel, put their number on there.
If you’re checking a bag, you’ll need to make sure you haven’t got stuff they won’t let you have in your carry-ons and that kind of thing, but you should’ve at least thought about it before you left the house anyways. A lot of airlines have weight limits where they literally will not take your bag if it weighs too much. The number of people I see who think “oh, it’s extra heavy, it’ll just be oversized” and then find out that it’s extra, extra heavy and the airline won’t take it at all.
Step #3: Security.
This can be like WOAH, super anxiety-inducing. Here’s a tip: if you have nothing to hide, don’t sweat it! You’ll be fine. You’ll have time to fuss around with your things as you’re standing in line, so use that time to:
- Get your laptop, iPad, and liquids out of your bags (not every airport will have you take out the iPad, but it’s better to take it out now than have to do it later)
- Empty your pockets into your bag
- Same thing with jewelry and the like, just pop em in your bag
- Put your passport, ID, and boarding pass somewhere in your bag (you’ll need it at the gate)
- If it’s winter, you can shove all this stuff into your coat pocket because you’ll have to remove your coat anyways
One trick I do is to take my coat off with my backpack. Then, when I go to grab my stuff again, I just slide my arms in the sleeves and go! I did that once with my sweater AND my coat and a little boy getting his shoes back on next to me went “Woah…” Yeah, buddy, I do this a lot.
Step #4: Find your gate.
Sometimes, you’ll arrive earlier than you have a gate, which is fine. It just means you’ll spend some extra time in the food area. Don’t worry about food or snacks just yet. Figure out which terminal you need to get to and get there. A lot of airports will have designated international terminals, so that should be pretty easy. Other airports are the central hub for a particular airline, so you’ll go there. Chances are, your terminal and gate are on your boarding pass, but if the gate isn’t there, the terminal definitely should be.
Step #5: Get some water and go to the bathroom.
If you brought an empty water bottle, fill it. Unless you’re flying to/from Asia, they’ll probably make you dump it out. Or buy a water. Again, unless you’re flying to/from Asia. I’ve gotten bloody noses on flights before, so to avoid that: stay hydrated!
Now that you’re near your gate, go to the bathroom. Airplane bathrooms are tiny and I always have to pee while we’re taxing or the fasten seatbelt sign is on or there’s a line. It’s the worst.
Step #6: Have a breather.
Have a seat! Relax! I like to sit on the floor during this part of the journey because I’m going to be sitting on a plane for the next however long and then the transport to where I’m going. Also, I like sitting on floors.
Step #7: Time to board.
Have your boarding pass and ID out and ready. They’ll board by zone, so if you aren’t worried about there being enough room for your carry-on luggage above you, there’s no need to be That Person standing really close to the gate desk. Seriously, no reason. You’ll just get in the way of people who are boarding or people with stroller or BOTH. Don’t do it. There’s time. They’re not going to leave without you.
When it’s time to board your zone, hand the person your boarding pass and ID at the same time. They might not need the ID, but it’s better to just hand it to them. Sometimes, they’ll tell you to board through a certain door because of where your row is. Sometimes, you’ll have to take a bus to the plane or walk outside for it, so be ready for that.
Step #8: In-flight.
By this point, you’re on the plane! You’ve made it halfway. There’s a few ways this can go:
- You leave on-time and land a few minutes early!
- You’re a little delayed on the runway before leaving and/or in the air before taxying and arrive on time (airlines usually add a bit of time to the estimated landing time for this very reason)
- You’re very delayed on the runway before leaving and/or in the air before taxying and arrive late.
- Everything is so delayed they offer you the chance to reschedule your flight.
In case of the last one, don’t panic. They’ll reschedule you for a flight or figure out a way to compensate you for the flight cost, but they probably won’t get you a hotel for the night. The airline isn’t on the hook for weather.
Once you’ve taken off, there will be a drinks/snack cart coming around. There will be complimentary things (if you’re not flying super cheap) and the longer flights will have a meal. When you booked your ticket, there’s the option to pay extra for the better meals and you’ll be able to buy alcohol, just don’t imbibe TOO much, it’s expensive.
Finally, for plane etiquette:
Don’t be a dick.
There’s going to be people in your space, people making noise, children who are screaming, etc. Don’t be a dick about it, that just makes it worse for everyone. Try to be aware of where you are in relation to those around you, too. Yes, sometimes it’s a long flight, but it’s a long flight for everyone around you. Also, the babies on the planes are literally in the worst pain they’ve ever experienced in their lives, try to have a little compassion for the babies and their parents.
Step #9: Disembarking.
Listen, friends, if you don’t have a connection to make or a screaming baby or a really pressing engagement, sit tight. People are always in such a rush to get off a plane, but then they end up standing there like doofuses for 10min waiting for the plane door to open. Plus, if you checked a bag, you’re going to have to wait for that eventually anyways, so just hang tight. There might be some people in a hurry to catch their next flight or get their poor baby off the plane. If you’re expecting someone to pick you up, they’ll understand.
Step #10: Connections.
Most of the time, you’ll have plenty of time. Sometimes, it’ll be a little tight. It’ll be fine. The gate agents once you disembark can sometimes let you know which gate you need to go to for your connection flight, but your best bet is to check one of the boards. Getting to the next terminal might be a little difficult (LOOKING AT YOU CHICAGO), but you can ask someone who works at the airport for directions. If you’re flying with the same airline and you’re worried about making it to the next flight, you can ask the gate agents to call the connecting gate.
Step #11: Customs and Border Patrol.
If you flew internationally, you might have to go through customs and/or border patrol. There’ll be signs about “EU Passport” or “Non-EU Passport” or something like that, just get in line! Also, be patient. There’s nothing you can do to speed this up and you can’t skip it. Have your passport and any other documents you need ready to hand to the person. They’ll ask things like “What’re you here for? Where are you staying?” That sort of thing.
Step #12: Baggage Claim.
From the plane, follow the signs to baggage claim. Once you’re there, your flight will have a turnstyle that might be shared with another flight. Because of the number of bags you’ll have to glance at to find your own, my family always puts colored duct tape on the handles. Make sure that there’s at least one kind of tape visible no matter which way the bag is laying. I have some striped duct tape on the top, side, and bottom handles of all of my suitcases.
Step #12: Leaving.
However you’re getting where you’re going, this is that time. You might have to go through customs at this point, it depends on the airport. A lot of the airports I travel through Europe have a little like customs box with automatic doors and it’s a breeze. If you’re meeting someone, they’re probably waiting out past baggage claim or out where cars wait. If you need a bus or train, there should be signs. SHOULD BE. There might not be, though, but you can ask airport staff for help.
The takeaways here are:
Don’t be a dick.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help.