Traveling can be fun, but going onboard a plane for the first time can be pretty daunting. I was 16 years old when I flew abroad for the first time and although it was a mere two-hour flight to Hong Kong, I remember being a little apprehensive over not knowing what to expect.
Thankfully, the flight went along rather smoothly and turned out to be the first of many down the line. These days, I find myself on a plane several times throughout the year, courtesy of a long-distance relationship and my family’s annual vacation. I’m quite familiar with the procedures involved, but I understand that they can be quite intimidating if you’ve never flown your life.
Now, let’s say you’re probably about to embark on your first vacation abroad, or at least, are acquainted with someone who is and would like to lend them a hand. What sort of tips can help a first-time flier have a pleasant experience once they take to the skies?
1. Have your paperwork ready.
Your passport is the most important document if you’re getting on a plane. Is it valid for at least six months? Does it have the necessary visas for where you’re going?
The same goes for your airplane ticket. Unless you’re migrating or are planning to stay abroad indefinitely, you should have arranged for a round-trip flight. Also, the name on your ticket should match the one on your passport, otherwise you could run into unnecessary delays when you check in.
If you purchased travel insurance, don’t forget to print out your policy documents and bring them with you. You may also want to take note of the emergency number for medical assistance, along with everything that your chosen policy covers.
2. Double-check your flight details.
I know of someone who almost missed his flight simply because he had his driver drop him off at the wrong terminal. You can avoid that potentially costly mistake by taking a moment to scan your plane ticket for key info, such as your departure time, flight number, and terminal number.
Bear in mind that some countries have multiple airports as well. For instance, if you’re flying to London, check if you’ll be landing at Heathrow or Gatwick. This is especially important if you’re arranging to be picked up at the airport once you arrive. You wouldn’t want your relatives to drive all the way to one, only to find out that you gave them the wrong information now, would you?
3. Pre-book your seat, if possible.
One of the best ways to ensure a comfortable flight is to get a good seat beforehand. Aisle or window seats both have their merits, so do take advantage of your airline’s online seat reservation features or online check-in if you can.
Furthermore, some airlines provide inflight entertainment, but it would also be a good idea to bring your preferred reading material or to load up your phone or tablet with shows or movies you plan to catch up on. Neck pillows and earphones can help you sleep comfortably upright and block out any noise (or discourage your overly friendly seatmate from trying to chat you up) too, so consider having them with you.
4. Make sure your luggage is of the right size and weight.
Even the most seasoned travelers can still get confused by airline rules about baggage allowance, so let me break it down for you.
There are generally two kinds of luggage you can take onboard: checked baggage and a carry-on. The former is handed over at the check-in desk and is loaded by the airline’s baggage handlers. It should re-emerge at the baggage carousel of the airport at your destination once you arrive. Carry-ons refer to bags you can, well, carry on your person when you board the plane. You usually stow these in the overhead bins above your seat.
Most airlines allow each passenger one piece each of the aforementioned kinds of luggage, but the maximum weight allotted can vary, so read the fine print on your ticket to avoid overweight charges.
5. Go to the airport early.
As a rule, it’s best to be at the airport at least a couple of hours before your departure time for local flights and at least three hours prior for international ones. You want to make allowances for road traffic, checking in, and clearing immigration and security.
As my significant other’s mum likes to say, better to get there too early and end up waiting a bit for your flight rather than arriving once the check-in counter is closed and missing it altogether.
6. Wear comfortable clothes and walking shoes.
Celebrity IG accounts might be littered with selfies all dressed up in leather jackets and thigh-high boots at the airport, but a lot of those folks fly private and probably don’t have to go through airport security.
We common plebs do, unfortunately, so unless you want to hold up the line as you shimmy out of your laced-up gladiator sandals and corset belt or whatever is considered au courant these days, stick to the jeans and a shirt combo. The airport really isn’t the place for breaking in your spanking new pair of kicks as no one wants to get blisters from walking across its vast hallways.
As a bonus, trading your platform heels for sneakers makes for a more comfortable flight. Don’t forget to bring a jacket onboard too!
7. Confirm that you’re at the right gate.
You can find your gate number once you get your boarding pass, but do check the departure monitors from time to time for up-to-date information. Asking the ground crew if you’re at the right gate for your outbound flight also helps.
8. Occupy the right seat.
As with your gate number, you can find your seat number on your boarding pass, provided that you were unable to pre-book your seat. Once onboard, you can find the row and seat numbers above the seats or on the armrests. When in doubt, seek assistance from one of the flight attendants.
Don’t be one of those obnoxious passengers who just plop onto a random seat and then get all up in arms when a fellow traveler actually comes along and politely insists on claiming their seat.
9. Observe proper safety protocols.
Stow your carry-on luggage into the overhead bins and fasten your seatbelt once you are settled. Remain seated once the plane has started to take off; get up for a stretch or go to the loo only once the captain makes the announcement that it’s safe to do so.
Oh, and for the love of all that is good and pure, don’t remove your shoes at any time throughout the flight, lest an irate passenger takes it upon themselves to knock you out for being so gross. Yowch.
10. Do let the flight attendants know if you have any dietary restrictions.
Some airlines allow you to indicate such when you book your ticket, but in case yours doesn’t, feel free to speak up when the stewards and stewardesses begin rolling out the inflight meals. There are usually two dishes served for meals like breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and they’ll be better equipped to suggest one for you if you fill them in on what you’re not allowed to eat.
Above all, don’t forget to relax. Things can feel a little strange once the plane takes off (I would describe it as being akin to riding a car where the driver is going at full speed, but with the vehicle going upwards instead of forwards), but there’s nothing more to it than sitting around until you get to your destination.
So long as you did the necessary preparations, you should be just fine. Have a happy flight!