Are you coming or going through an American airport? Flying can be stressful even if you have experience. It can be even more stressful if you are flying in or out of a foreign country. There are a few things you can do to make things go more smoothly.
The busiest airports are Atlanta International Airport, Los Angeles International (LAX), O’Hare International (Chicago), Dallas/Ft. Worth International and John F. Kennedy International (JFX). Sadly, bigger and busier are not always the best.
Minneapolis, Minnesota is said to be one of the best airports in the U.S. but many international fliers don’t land or take off from there!
Some airports, like others around the world, are so big that they have moving sidewalks and trams. So how do you know how to navigate your way?
AS SOON AS YOU BOOK
Check the entry requirements. For example, if you’re flying to the U.S., you will need to apply for a visa waiver. Click here to see if you need one. Check your passport. Is it about to expire? Some countries require a certain amount of time left on your passport in order to even enter the country. For example, according to the U.S. Embassy in Spain, “Entry into any of the 26 European countries in the Schengen area for short-term tourism, a business trip, or in transit to a non-Schengen destination, requires that your passport be valid for at least three months beyond your intended date of departure.” They suggest that you have six months remaining on your passport just to be safe. There’s nothing worse than being turned away at the gate. It’s always a good idea to make a few copies of your passport. Keep one at home and one with you.
THE NIGHT BEFORE YOU FLY
Go online and confirm your flight the night before your departure. If there is a change, make sure it doesn’t affect any connecting flights.
Have all Documents Ready
You must have your ticket and identification (including your passport) when you check in or you will not be allowed to board the plane. You may also be able to check in online and print your boarding pass. Some airlines are 24 or 48 hour check-in.
It takes time to complete check-in, check baggage, and clear security, so it’s best to arrive at least two (if not three) hours before your departure. Make sure you give yourself enough time to return a rental car or take a shuttle to the airport. You also want to give yourself time in case you get lost.
Start with knowing if you are going to Arrivals or Departures. In other words, Coming or Going. If you forget the words, look for the symbol of the airplane symbol which shows an airplane taking off or landing. Next find your airline.
As soon as you arrive, check the flight status again to make sure it has not changed. This is especially important during the winter season as well as summer storm season. You will find the statuses on television screens around the airport.
If you are checking a bag, go to the counter and give them your ticket and identification. They will print your boarding pass. If you do not have bags to check, you can use a check-in kiosk.
Be prepared to stand in a long line! You will need to remove your coat, shoes, belt, and jewelry. You can do this while you wait so that you don’t take too long when it’s your turn. Take your laptop (if you have one) and place it in a separate bin. Buying water can be expensive at an airport. Remember, you can bring snacks but you can’t bring a filled water bottle with you so drink up or empty your bottle before you go through security. When you make it through, step aside to collect your items and put your shoes back on. The only thing left is to follow the signs to your gate!
WHAT IF YOU’RE LATE
Stay calm. There is usually an airline employee standing at the start of the check-in line. Go up to them or any other airline employee and say something like, “Excuse me, I’m late for my flight. It’s scheduled for xx time.” They will usually help you get to the front of the line. Do the same thing when you get to security. They can help you get to the front of the line or to another gate with a shorter line. Make sure to thank the people who are helping you and then be prepared to run as quickly as you can.
Know What Items You Can Bring
It’s also important to check what you can and cannot bring with you. For a complete list, visit the TSA website http://www.tsatraveltips.us/can-i-bring-it-on-an-airplane/.
Here is a list of items allowed in Carry-on or Checked from the TSA website:
- Electronic Cigarettes (E-Cigs) and Vaping Devices: Carry-on Only
- Lighters: Carry-on Only (Ok in checked bags if they are empty)
- Axes and Hatchets: Checked Only
- Drills and Drill Bits: Checked Only
- Saws (handsaws or power saws): Checked Only
- Tools under 7 inches in length (including wrenches, screwdrivers, and plies): Checked AND Carry-on OK
- Tools Over 7 inches in length (including wrenches, screwdrivers, and plies): Checked Only
- Baseball Bats: Checked Only
- Bow and Arrow: Checked Only
- Golf Clubs: Checked Only
- Hockey Sticks and Lacrosse Sticks: Checked Only
- Ice Skates and Roller Blades: Checked AND Carry-on OK
- Ski Poles: Checked Only
- Spear Guns: Checked Only
- Box Cutters: Checked Only
- Knives: Checked Only
- Scissors: Checked Only
- Any type of Sword or thrusting Weapon: Checked Only
- Brass Knuckles: Checked Only
- Mace, Pepper Spray or other Self Defense Spray: Checked Only
- Stun Gun or Taser: Checked Only
- Firearms and ammunition: Checked Only
Have your liquids (3.4 oz or less) in a clear plastic zip-locked bag on the top of your carry on and ready to remove for security.
Also before you go, check the weight and size of your bags. Different airlines have different size and weight restrictions. This can be frustrating if you take a carry on that is within the limits of an international flight but is too big for inter-Europe flights. You may be charged extra if your bag is over the limits. You can find the size and weight restrictions on the airline’s website.
to your gate. If you miss the flight, ask the first person you find for help. You can say something like, “Excuse me, I missed my flight. Can you tell me where to go?”
WHEN YOU ARRIVE
When arriving in the U.S. from an international location, follow the signs to Baggage Claim. There will be television screens that show the flight numbers and belt numbers (the moving machine that moves your luggage). Collect your luggage and go to Immigration/Customs. If you’re flying internationally and connecting to another airline, check the Customs procedures to determine whether checked baggage needs to be re-checked with the other airline upon arrival into that country.
To find out what to do if you lose your luggage, read our other blog!
Finding your way around an airport and flying don’t have to be stressful. Give yourself enough time, plan ahead, and enjoy the adventure.