I’ve been a frequent flyer for the past seven years, but I still remember my first time at the airport terminal. A timid 16-year-old who spoke English but not yet fluently, I had to get on a plane for the first time to go from Sofia to Boston. Not only did I feel like a fish out of water at the airport, but I also had to get on a connecting flight in Paris. I was anxious as it was, leaving my parents for the first time to live with complete strangers in a foreign country as an exchange student, but on top of all, I was absolutely oblivious to the airport rules and regulations. Looking back on it now, I shouldn’t have worried. I should have done research. Giving advice to my mom on the phone yesterday, who’s about to take her first international flight (and second ever in her life) to see me in Bali next month, I complied the most important airport rules + tricks for flying comfortably.
The sequence of events
- CHECK-IN: First you’ll walk up to the desk of the airline you’re flying with at the check-in desk to check in. You’ll show them your flight reservation and passport (ID if you’re within the European Union). They’ll measure the weight of your suitcase and send it off on the conveyor belt to be loaded on the plain. Yay, you don’t have to worry about your suitcase anymore! SUITCASE WEIGHT: the allowed weight varies by airline, but it’s typically 23kg (50lb)
- The check-in agent will print out a BOARDING PASS for you. Put it in your passport, so that you don’t lose it. The pass will say what GATE your plane leaves from and your seat. If you can’t find it or don’t understand ask the agent.
- Next, you’ll go to TSA. This is the most tedious part of every flight, but if you follow my tips you’ll be fine. Line up for the security check. They will ask you to take off your shoes, jacket and jewelry. You’ll put your carry on luggage (small suitcase, handbag, clothes) in a bin, then wait until the officer calls you to go through the scanning machine. NOTE: all electronics (phone, laptop, camera, GoPro) need to be out of your bag and into a separate bin. IMPORTANT – you can’t put liquids in your carry on. A small amount is allowed, it varies but typically 100 ml (3.4 oz), which would be just about as much as a bottle of foundation and the container for your contact lenses. There are a few types of machines you’d go through, the old ones you just walk through slowly. In the new ones, you spread your feet apart, lift your arms above your head and wait until the machine scans you. Don’t worry, there’s pictures indicating what to do and the officers will give you instructions. In case it beeps, you may have to be patted down. That’s totally normal, don’t get freaked out.
- After you’re out of the scan machine, you’ll get your things from the bins on the conveyor belt and go find your GATE. The gate is an area with a kiosk and chairs where you wait for the plain to get ready for boarding. The plain would be parked right outside the gate. After you’ve gone through TSA, you’ll be in the area of the airport with all the bars and restaurants, so feel free to eat something and definitely go use the bathroom. (Try to stay away from greasy and sugary foods – those will cause you to crash and feel sluggish on the plane, where you won’t be able to move around freely.)
- BOARDING: when the airline agent says it’s time for boarding, take out your passport and boarding pass. Look at the number on the pass. They board first and business class first, followed by families with children and then based on number. If you’ve got a small number (1-20), you’ll go first, followed by the rest. Have your pass out for the agent to scan. Get on the plane and locate your seat. It will say something like “25A” or “36C,” so just look at the numbers above the seats. You can either put your carry on luggage in the compartment above your head, or under the seat in front of you.
These are tried and true things that help me fly comfortably, so here you are:
- Wear COMFORTABLE CLOTHES. I go for a cozy, stretchy dress and tights with a jacket. Don’t wear sweatpants. You never want to look like a slob, trust me.
- Bring a JACKET/sweater. Even if it’s the dead of summer outside, the plane will always get cold.
- SHOES: I wear Ugg slippers. They are cozy and warm. I’m not a big fan of flip-flops, because it gets cold. You can spice up your shoe game by wearing some thick platforms.
(I’m experimenting with Teva sandals this summer. I’ve heard good things and will get back to you on how it goes.)
- LIQUIDS: if you have any in your carry on they have to be sealed in a plastic zip-up bag (Ziploc).
- WATER: I always bring a plastic bottle with me. It goes empty through TSA and I fill it up after. NEVER bring a full bottle before TSA. You’ll have to chug it and piss like a horse. Not pleasant.
- Wear socks for TSA, regardless of what shoes you’re wearing. They’ll make you take your shoes off and you don’t want to be stepping on airport bacteria with your bare feet.
- SNACKS: I normally eat something at a restaurant after TSA, but I always have packed bags of nuts with me. CVS sells almonds, sunflower seeds, mixed nuts, etc., for $1 each. I also bring an apple or banana with me. These things are OK, just don’t go crazy on it. If I had my way, I’d bring smoked salmon and avocados, but that would be too ambitious/messy.
- MAKE UP – confession: I like to look pretty when I travel, because that way people help me with my heavy carry on, haha. Plus, if you look good (dressed up with makeup + hair done), you might get bumped to business or first class if economy is all sold out. The air in the plane cabin is VERY dry. I typically take my contacts out and wear glasses for long flights. Put foundation or sunscreen on your face. These things trap the moisture and don’t let your skin dry out. Do not touch your face during the flight. Every time I do it, I get breakouts.
- Blanket + pillow: I normally don’t bring those because I like to travel as lightly as possible, but if your neck/back hurts and you like to be extra cozy, definitely bring them.
- MUSIC – download music ahead of time. I listen to Soundcloud, but when I fly I resort to my downloaded tunes.
- Have all of your electronics in your carryon. A blogger shared that Air China had taken out the lithium battery of her GoPro from her suitcase recently. We don’t want that to happen.
- MONEY – put a travel notice on your credit/debit card before you leave, so that it doesn’t get blocked. By the way, food on the plain is free. Some companies offer free wine as well, others charge. They’ll let you know if you ask.
- Hair (for girls): I normally straighten mine, because that way it stays in shape longer. If it goes flat, I just put it up on a pony tail. Note: bring a pony tail.
- Bring a pen – this may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s extremely easy to forget. Sometimes you’d have to do paperwork (even before you land if you’re headed to the US), so it’s always necessary to have one handy.
- Language: as you know, English is the universal language used in travel, but you can get by very well with Spanish and even Russian nowadays.
- Headphones + sleep mask – there’s always the one child screaming for a good hour on a long flight. Do yourself a favor and cancel the noise out with some headphones.
- Electric converter – if you’re flying internationally (USA -Europe/Asia), you’ll need a converter in order to use your appliances. Get a whole power strip and a converter for it. That way you only need 1 outlet and converter to charge 5 devices.
And there you have it. Happy travels, everyone, let me know if you have any questions with a comment below.