From Checking-Off to Liftoff: What You Need To Know About Navigating The Airport
According to Covington Travel, approximately 18 percent of Americans have never flown on a commercial aircraft. An even larger amount rarely fly or have spent years in between flights. No matter what age you are or how long since your last flight, airports can be hectic, frustrating places. In 2018, new technology, security measures, and other regulations have made transportation hubs run somewhat smoother. Still, getting overwhelmed is not an uncommon feeling. If you’re getting ready to take flight soon, read on for our road map for navigating the airport, and you’ll be on your way like a pro in no time.
Some of the most important things to check off your packing list are any documents you might need to travel. If you’re taking an international flight, you’ll need your passport along with your license or another form of identification. If you are taking an extensive trip, you might need some other documents too. Check out our article on what to pack for your international trip and see if any of the additional documents may apply to you.
In addition, if you haven’t traveled recently, you may want to investigate your airport to check for policy changes. Starting this year, to get past security checkpoints, even on domestic flights, some states may require that you carry a passport, green card, or military ID in addition to your regular form of identification. Currently, 9 states, including Pennsylvania, require a passport in order to board any flight. The new policy went into effect on January 22. If you plan on flying domestically from one of the listed states, be sure that your passport is up-to-date several weeks ahead of your scheduled trip.
Besides making sure you have the right documentation for your flight, you’ll also want to consider the type of baggage you’ll be bringing as well. While some airlines, such as Southwest, offer cheap deals on bags, others can charge you expensive fees if you choose to check a bag or if your bag weighs more than the allotted measurement. For most airlines, the standard maximum for checked baggage is about 50lbs, however you should confirm this amount with the airline before departure. Research the checked and carry-on bag policies for your flight before packing so that you save the most money.
In addition to making sure your bag is the right size, you’ll also want to attach a large and easily-visible luggage tag to all your bags, even your carry-on. By having a tag that is easily visible (my father, who travels often for work, has one that lights up), you will be able to quickly locate your suitcase at baggage claim and be able to avoid some of the hassle.
When packing, one of the last things you should do is make sure your liquids (even moisturizers, lotions, etc.) are in the correct travel-size containers. Each passenger is allotted a quart-size bag to fill with liquids, gels, and creams. Each container can be no more than 3.4 ounces, or 100 milliliters. You should also avoid bringing anything flammable or any aerosol containers (small 3oz aerosol containers are usually fine), as security will make you throw them out anyways. By planning ahead and double-checking your liquids and cosmetics, you could save yourself both time and product when going through security!
Finally, the night before your trip, lay out a comfortable travel outfit. Dress in layers, as airports have a tendency of being cold. Pick out layers that are easy to remove in case you must take anything off during security. Also, don’t forget to wear comfortable walking shoes that are easy to remove. The airport is not the place to be trendy or fashionable, so just focus on staying comfortable!
One of the most crucial aspects of ensuring your flight is as stress-free as possible is to leave yourself enough time. Between check-in, baggage organization, security, and navigating to your gate, a lot of time-consuming steps are built in the process. While timing may vary depending on the airport and destination, most places suggest arriving 90 minutes early for domestic flights and 120 minutes, or two hours, for international flights (due to the increased security and document checks required for flying out of the country). By leaving yourself plenty of time, you can prevent frantically sprinting around the terminal when time is running short.
Once you’ve figured out how much time to leave yourself, the next step is your airport transportation. Will you have a family member or friend drop you off? Make sure you’ve coordinated arrangements ahead of time. Planning on taking a taxi, Uber, or other ride service? Consider when you are ordering your ride, so as not to waste a ton of time waiting for the vehicle to arrive and cut out airport time. If you are planning on driving yourself, investigate what the options are at your airport for parking your car. Most airports offer long-term parking options for the duration of your trip for a reasonable price, which gives you a hassle-free way to stow your vehicle while you’re away, and a guaranteed ride when you return.
When you arrive at the airport, you’ll be required to check in with an airport official and scan your boarding pass. However, some airlines, such as Southwest, allow you to check in up to 24 hours before your flight, which determines your ability to choose your seat. While choosing your seat may not be a priority for some people, if traveling in a group, the option to select your seat could be more important, so don’t forget to research the check-in policy for your specific airline ahead of time!
While most people nowadays use electronic boarding passes, if you prefer to go the traditional route and use a paper ticket, be sure to print it out beforehand. In a pinch, some airports may have kiosks that you can use upon arrival, but you should try to come prepared. If you’re using an electronic boarding pass downloaded on your phone, make sure to also screenshot the scanning code, which will allow you to move through security and boarding without having to worry about finding an internet connection to pull up the page. When you arrive at the check-in desk or kiosk, have any necessary ID ready in case you are asked for it. If you are checking a bag, be sure your baggage tag is secured and visible, so you can access it easily when you arrive at your destination. Double-check ahead of time that your bags (carry-on or checked) meet the size and weight requirements to avoid any extra fees or charges.
After you’re all checked in and ready to go, you’re ready to hustle to security.
Security can seem like an intimidating and lengthy process, but for most airports, they have a solid system down and things move quite smoothly. However, you should allow at least 45 minutes for security alone, just as a precaution, especially during the holiday season or other popular travel times. Come prepared by having your boarding pass and identification ready at the entrance. Place liquids (all within the allotted size) in a plastic bag so they can easily be checked and put back into your carry-on. Remove any laptops or electronics (including your cell phone) into one of the bins. Chances are, you will also have to remove your shoes and jacket, so make sure to keep this in mind when selecting your outfit, as mentioned previously. Recently, airports have begun doing random screenings of people, so don’t be alarmed if you get pulled aside for additional checks – it’s just a precaution!
After you’re all checked and ready to go, try your best to move out of the way of other travelers as you gather your belongings, and be sure to double check that you have everything before moving. Once you’ve caught your breath, you’re ready for the next and final stop: your gate.
Finding Your Gate
When I was traveling around Europe last spring, I wove my way through my fair share of airports, and finding my assigned gate was always my least favorite part. Between the different shops, restaurants, and flashy promotion deals, getting distracted and losing your sense of time and direction can happen easily. However, if you leave yourself plenty of time, you’ll be able to browse and grab a bite to eat before boarding.
As soon as you leave security, double-check the departure boards to make sure your flight is still on time. Depending on weather and other unforeseen circumstances, your flight could be delayed or cancelled, so you’ll want to stay updated. After you’ve figured out where your gate is, make sure you take into account how far away it is before you start exploring. In addition, try get to your gate at least 20-30 minutes before your flight time, as boarding will begin before and the doors will close 10 minutes prior to takeoff.
Phew! It’s a lot of information– we know! Hopefully, you’ll be able to sail through the airport with ease, and you’ll be able to sleep a little easier the night before your trip, but if you have more questions about airline travel, Ask a Pup! We’d be happy to help!