Flying can be an overwhelming experience for so many. With a little leg work before your flight, you’ll be able to help ease some of that anxiety. I’m going to walk you through the entire process from booking your flight to get off at your final destination.
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Booking Your Flight
There are so many different ways to book flights these days. Some ways include:
- Calling the airline directly to book your flight
- Booking through the airline’s website or app
- Booking through a travel agent
- Booking through a discount travel site
Booking your tickets (and other vacation accommodations) using Ratuken can help you earn cash back on your purchases.
Regardless of how you book your flight, you’ll want to consider some things to help affect the cost of your flight:
- Travel dates – if your dates are flexible, that could have an impact on the price of your flights
- Times – not only does changing the dates help, but changing the times you’re flying can have an impact as well
- Location – flying into bigger airports can be easier and often come up first in searches but smaller airports may have different availability and different pricing
- One way flights – booking a round trip ticket can make it harder to get flights to line up with your schedule or to be flexible with your dates and times to get the best deal
- Number of stops – being willing to take different flights may be more affordable than choosing to take a direct flight to your destination
If you are booking flights and need to sit with your travel companions and have the ability to pay an additional fee to choose your seats, you will want to strongly consider that. If you don’t make this choice when booking (or checking in for your flight if that’s an option), there’s no guarantee that you will all be seated together, regardless of passenger age. Yes you read that right – you could be separated from your child and you’d be at the mercy of another passenger switching seats to allow you to sit together.
To save the most on your flight, you’ll want to book about three months in advance. There are last minute fare sales often so you can sign up for emails from your preferred agencies to be alerted about these deals. You might have also heard that Tuesday afternoons are the best time to buy plane tickets as inventory is often refreshed then so keep that in mind while shopping.
If you’re looking for flights to try and track prices, make sure you clear your cookies on your computer or use an incognito window to search. Flight prices can be higher if you continue to search for the same flights over and over again. The airlines know you really want the flight so they’ll willing to raise the price a bit.
Be sure that everyone in your travel party has copies of the paperwork for your flights should they need them during your travels. Everyone will also want to keep a copy of their tickets and other important papers with them.
Preparing before Your Flight
Prior to leaving for the airport, there are several things you’ll need to do to help make your trip a bit easier:
- Packing carry on bags – many airlines allow one carry on bag per passenger.
- Pack your personal item – airlines also allow a personal item such as a purse or backpack for each passenger (I recommend not using your actual purse as your personal item for safety reasons)
- Packing your checked baggage – be sure to check the airline’s requirements about the number of check bags allowed, weight of the checked bags, and any fees associated with the checked bags.
Be sure to review the list of items allowed through security before packing any carry on bags or personal items. Items that are not allowed will be removed when going through the security screenings.
Arriving at the Airport before your flight
Prior to arriving at the airport, get your plan together on how you’ll be getting to the airport. If you’re driving, be sure to look into the parking structures and pricing so you’re aware before arriving at the airport. For travelers using a car service or having a friend drop them off, you’ll want to be sure that’s all arranged well in advance.
Every passenger needs to go through a TSA security check in order to board the plane. During this process, your carry on bag and personal item will go through a scanner. Electronic items such as tablets and laptops also need to come out of any bags and go into the provided bins for the items to be screened. You’ll also need to empty your pockets and remove your shoes prior to going through the x-ray machine. Be sure to listen to the TSA agents and overhead announcements so you don’t hold up the lines or need additional security measures.
Occasionally travelers will be selected to have their bags (or themselves) actually searched by a TSA agent. This doesn’t mean that you’ve done anything wrong or packed something that wasn’t allowed, it just means that it’s just an extra check that needs to be done.
You can check estimated wait times on the TSA website to help you get an idea of the amount of time you can plan to wait at the airport for the security portion of your travels.
Travelers who fly frequently may also opt to be part of the TSA PreCheck program. For an additional fee, some travels can be granted access to a shorter security line. Not all travelers will qualify for this program.
Keep in mind the items that you’re traveling with and who’s traveling with you. If you’re traveling by yourself with two checked bags and two carry on bags, it could be hard to juggle everything getting into or out of the airport. Keep that in mind while packing and making plans for your travel.
Carry On Bags
Carry on bags will stay with your during your travels. These are smaller suitcases or bags that can fit in overhead bins on the plane. Sometimes before boarding the plane, airline representatives may make an announcement to ask people to gate check their carry on items to save space on the planes. This means that your bag will be put under the plane with regular checked luggage for free of charge. Choosing to do this can be helpful if you don’t need anything in the bag until your final destination. Just be sure to double check your bag before agreeing and having it tagged.
Gate Checking Items
Some items aren’t allowed to be carried on the plane but airlines understand that they’re helpful to have navigating the airport as well as while waiting for your flight. They’re also items you might not want to be handled with regular checked luggage. These items may qualify to be “gate checked”. Common examples of these items are strollers, car seats, and medical equipment (walkers, wheelchairs, ect). When you’re boarding the plane, you’ll leave these items on the jetway as you step onto the plane. These items will be waiting for you when you get off the plane.
Take some time to investigate the airports you’ll be visiting during your travels. If any of your flights will be boarded outside, directly up steps into the airplane, you’ll also want to check the weather. Having these items sitting outside in the rain may make them unusable to you when you’re able to get off the plane and retrieve them.
Large bags will need to be checked in when you arrive at the airport. Depending on the airline and airport, you may be able to check your bags at the curb when you’re dropped off the airport. You may also have the option to check your bags yourself (at least partially) by using a kiosk to print out the tags and put them on the suitcases before handing those bags over to an airline employee. These bags will not come back to you until you reach your final destination so it’s important not to pack anything in them that you’ll need on the plane or while you’re waiting at the airport. You also need to know that these bags are stored under the plane and are not always handled with care. There’s a good chance they could wind up on the tarmac, get wet if it’s raining, or get tossed around for example.
Before packing, make sure you visit your airline’s website for size and weight requirements on luggage. Another thing you can do when you’re packing is to include your contact information if your suitcase is lost or misplaced for any reason. It’s also helpful to have a bag that stands out in some way. Bright colors or patterns or a fun luggage tag or ribbon on the handle will help you ensure you’re grabbing your bag when it’s time to pick up your luggage.
Boarding refers to the time that you’re actually getting on the airplane. On your ticket you’ll notice that you’ll have a boarding group. These could be letters or numbers depending on the airline. When it’s your turn, you’ll line up at the gate. Keep your boarding pass handy as it will be scanned before you’re allowed on the flight.
Prior to Boarding
Your boarding will begin about 30 minutes prior to the time the flight is scheduled to depart. Before getting on the plane, you might want to do a couple of things:
- Bathroom break – head to the restroom before boarding the plane so you hopefully don’t need to use the tiny one on the plane (be sure you leave the restroom with whatever you bring into the restroom – I’ve forgotten my phone before and had to go back for it).
- Grab a drink or snack – if there’s something specific you’d like to enjoy on your flight, grab it before it’s time to board. Do keep in mind that bringing something smelly or messy on the plane is not likely a good idea.
- Charge electronics – in case your plane doesn’t have the ability to charge devices during the flight (or you need to use the port for headphones), you’ll want to charge your devices in the airport.
- Check in with family and friends – if there’s anyone you need to check in with prior to leaving, now is the time to do so. While you’re flying you’ll have a more limited means of connecting with people.
While waiting at the airport, you’ll need to keep all your belongs with you. You can’t leave any of your belongings unattended. Keep this in mind while you’re packing because if you have to use the restroom, get food, or just get from one spot to another, you need to take your personal item and carry on with you. Never ask someone else to watch your bags for you and politely decline if someone else asks you to watch their bags unless you know them.
For families with younger children or travelers who need some additional time to board, most airlines allow an early boarding group. You should not need to provide any kind of physical proof for your request for early boarding but the agent at the gate may have questions related to your request you would need to answer. Not all requests may be granted (obviously if everyone on the flight asked for early boarding, it becomes pointless).
On the Plane
One you’re on the plane you’ll want to find your seat and get yourself comfortable. You’ll need to put your carry on bag in the overhead bin, put your personal item under the seat in front of you, and find and fasten your seatbelt. Before your seat mates sit down, get out your items out you’ll want for your flight. Not all items will be able to be turned on and used right away, but being prepared while you have time and space will make your flight easier.
When you’re sitting on the plane, you’re likely going to be sitting next to a person or two you may or may not know. There are generally seats on both sides of the plane with an aisle going down the middle. Each row of seats off the aisle has two to tree seats. When you’re purchasing your tickets or check in for your flight, you may be given the option to select your seats. If knowing where you’ll be sitting is important to you, paying extra for this option may be worth it. Some airlines (like Southwest) have a boarding system with open seating. This means that you’ll be allowed on the plane in the order that you checked in for the flight. At the gate, you’ll board the plane and choose whatever seat you’d like to.
Choosing Your Seat
Where you sit on the plane can have an impact on your flight experience. A lot of this is preference for each passenger. Personally I prefer the window seat because I like to look out the window or have space to rest my head if I want to try and sleep. Some people prefer to sit on the aisle (especially for a longer flight) to have additional leg room or if they’ll be getting up during the flight to walk in the aisle or use the restroom. For me, the middle seat is my least favorite seat because I’d prefer not to be stuck between two people I don’t know.
In some cases, your flight isn’t full so there might not be someone directly next to you which is always a nice surprise. Also, if you weren’t able to sit with your family or friends during your flight, you can always ask another passenger if they would switch seats with you. They don’t have to, but most people will. Flight attendants can also help facilitate this process if needed.
For flights with three seats per row, it can be challenging for a family for four for example to choose the best seats for them. One option would be to take all the seats in one row and have someone sit on the aisle directly across from them. Another option would be to split two and two in rows right in front/behind each other.
In Flight Comfort
There are a few things you may find on your plane to help make your flight a bit more comfortable for you and other passengers on the plane.
Some things you might find:
- Air vents – usually above your seat you’ll find a vent that you’ll be able to turn to change the amount of air flow or turn to redirect the airflow
- Call button – should you need something during your flight, push this button to call a flight attendant to your seat
- Window shade – if you’re sitting in the seat next to the window, you’ll have control of the shade on the widow so you’ll be able to close the shade if it’s too bright for your liking
- Charging docks – some flights have USB chargers at each seat to allow you to charge devices during the flight
- In seat entertainment – some flights have screens in the seat back that you’re able to use to watch television shows or movies, play games, or listen to music
- Internet connection – some flights have the option for travelers to purchase a pass to have internet access during their flights (if you have an airline credit card or account these might be available to you at no additional cost or a discounted rate)
- Restrooms – planes have very small restrooms available to passengers on the flights and the captain and flight attendants will let you know when it’s safe for you to use the restroom
In Flight Service
Your seat will likely have a tray table that you’ll be able to fold down to put your snacks, drinks, and other items on. This tray will need to be folded up during take off and landing. The flight attendants and captain will let you know when it’s ok to put the tray down or put it back in it’s upright position.
When you book your flight, you should learn what kind of service will be given on your flight. Shorter flights may not offer any kind of service because of the length. Flights that are a bit longer will have drink and snack services. Soft drinks, coffee, tea, and water are generally offer at no additional cost. Alcoholic beverages may also be offered at an additional cost.
In Flight Entertainment
Prior to your flight, spend some time gathering things to keep you entertained during your flight. This might mean downloading new books, music, shows, or movies to a phone, tablet, or laptop. You can also purchase books to read, activity books, or magazines to physically take on the plane to read or do.
Getting Off the Plane
When you arrive at your destination, it’s time to get off the plane. The general process is the plane will empty row by row from the front to the back of the plane. Flight attendants or captains may make an announcement prior to landing if there are people who need to exit the plane first (military members or people trying to make a specific connecting flight for example).
The captain or flight attendants will make an announcement to let you know you’ll be landing soon. They’ll also go over some directions with you (shutting down electronics, putting your tray table back in the upright position, etc for example). Once you’ve landed you’re able to reconnect to wifi and connect with family and friends and make phone calls as needed.
After you get off the plane at your final destination, you’ll need to collect your checked bags. Before you disembark the plane, the captain or flight attendants will make an announcement about where you’ll need to go to pick up your bags. There will also be signs within the airport to help direct you to the appropriate location to pick your bags up.
As bags are unloaded from the plane and brought back into the airport, they’ll be put on a turn style moving belt to be picked up the passengers. Having brightly colored bags or something on your luggage to make it stand out (stickers or a scarf for example) can make your bag easier to spot. Trying to find your bag in a sea of black bags can be tricky.
If you’re looking to cut down on your time in the airport, only traveling with a carry on bag can help you save some time. Because you’ll take your carry on bag on and off the plane with you, you won’t need to wait at the baggage claim area for any luggage.
A layover is the time you’re waiting at an airport between flights. Depending on the flight you book you may or may not have a layover. You’ll be responsible for your carry on and personal items during this time. Any checked bags you have will be transferred to the correct flights so they arrive at your final destination. You are not responsible for getting those bags from baggage claim and rechecking them for any additional flights. Layovers are a great time to use the restroom, grab a snack or drink, charge your devices, or check in with loved ones.
An hour layover might sound like a long time. Remember that flights board 30 minutes prior to their scheduled time so you’re now down to half an hour. And when your flight lands, you’re not getting off the plane right away. Plan for at least 15 minutes to get off the plane. That leaves you now 15 minutes to get from one gate to another. If you’re traveling with kids or can’t move that quickly (or just want more time), look for a longer layover so you’re not as stressed.
As early as possible – book your flight to get the best deal.
After flight’s booked – confirm the luggage you have meets your airline’s requirements for carry on or checked luggage. Order or purchase luggage or bags as needed.
Prior to trip – purchase any additional items needed for your trip and arrange transportation to the airport if needed.
Day prior to your trip – gather all your luggage, carry on bags, personal items and put them by the door so you’re ready to go.
Day of travel – pack the car and head to the airport. Plan to arrive three to four hours prior to the time your flight is scheduled to leave (if you live near or are traveling in an airport that is busier, you may need to add additional time; the opposite is true for smaller airports – you may need less time built into your schedule).
What else should someone know before their flight?