Flying can be stressful – even if you have experience. It can be harder if you are traveling to a foreign country and don’t speak the language. These tips will teach you how to get around a U.S. airport.
The busiest airports in the U.S. are Atlanta International Airport, Los Angeles International, O’Hare International, Dallas/Ft Worth International, and John F. Kennedy International. The bigger and busier ones are not always better. One of the nicest airports is in Minneapolis, Minnesota, but many international visitors don’t fly there! Some airports, like others around the world, are so big they have moving sidewalks and trams. So how do you know how to navigate your way around?
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. Is your passport about to expire? Some countries require a certain amount of time left on your passport to 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 you have six months remaining to be safe. You don’t want to get turned away at the check-in counter! It’s always a good idea to make a few copies or take a picture of your passport.
The Night Before You Fly
If possible, go online and check your flight details and terminal the night before your departure. If there is a change, make sure it doesn’t affect any connecting flights. If you can, check-in online and print your boarding pass. Some airlines offer 24 or 48-hour check-in. Some apps like Kiwi’s give you a very detailed timeline and allow you to download your boarding pass.
Also, screenshot or take a picture of the address of your accommodations. You may be asked where you plan to stay by Customs and Immigration. It will also help if you cannot get Wi-Fi at the airport and need to give the taxi an address.
Finally, check the weight and size of your bags. Different airlines have different restrictions. You may be within the size limits for an international carry-on, but not for a European flight. If that is the case, they could charge you extra if your bag is over the limit. You can find the size and weight restrictions on the airline’s website.
Know What Items You Can Bring
It’s also important to know what you can pack. For a complete list, visit the TSA website. Here are some of the items allowed in carry-on or checked bags:
Electronic cigarettes (E-cigs) and vaping devices: carry-on only
Lighters: carry-on only (OK checked bags if empty)
Baseball bats: checked only
Golf clubs: checked only
Hockey sticks and lacrosse sticks: checked only
Ice skates/rollerblades: checked & carry-on OK
Ski poles: checked only
Knives: checked only
Scissors: checked only
Mace, pepper spray or other self-defense sprays: checked only
Stun gun or taser: checked only
Be sure you check carefully if you want to bring any food products. They will be destroyed if they are not allowed. However, you can bring a sandwich and snacks.
Have your liquids (3.4 oz or less) in a clear plastic zip-locked bag ready to remove for security. If you forgot your bag, they sometimes have them available.
It takes time to check-in and clear security, so get to the airport at least two or three hours before your flight. Also, give yourself enough time to return a rental car or take a shuttle to the airport if necessary.
Start with finding the departure area. If you forget the words, look for the symbol of an airplane taking off. Check the flight status on the television screens to see if your flight has changed. This is especially important during the winter and summer storm seasons.
Next, find your airline check-in counter. Have your boarding pass (if you printed it) and reservation number as well as your passport ready. If you are checking a bag, go to the counter. If you are traveling with hand luggage, you can use a check-in kiosk. This is especially good if you think your carry-on may be too heavy!
Be prepared to stand in a long line! You will need to remove your coat and belt. Some airports require you to remove shoes and jewelry as well. You can do this while you wait so 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. You can bring an empty bottle with you as well as snacks. When you make it through, step aside to collect your items. The only thing left is to follow the signs to your gate! Sometimes you have to take a train to get there.
If You Are Late
If you’re late, stay calm. There is usually an airline employee standing at the check-in line. You can say, “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 may find you a shorter line. Make sure to thank the people who help you and then run as quickly as you can 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. Look for the screens that show the flight and belt numbers (the machine that moves luggage). Collect your bags and go to Immigration/Customs. If you’re international flight changes airlines, find out if your baggage needs to be re-checked with the next airline.
When you get to your final destination, ask for help if you get confused. Most people at the information desk speak more than one language and can help you find your hotel, a bus, or taxi. Don’t wait until you arrive to book a hotel or rental car. Here’s more information on renting a car. If you wait, you may miss out on discounts, pay more, and have fewer choices. For more transportation ideas, check out this blog.
Any of the Camino English teachers can give you more tips on how to get around a U.S. airport. Join us today!
One of the best things you can do if you are checking a bag is to take a picture of the suitcase and the contents. That way, if your bag is lost, they can identify it by the contents. To find out what to do if you lose your luggage, read our blog: Lost luggage. Finding your way around an airport and flying doesn’t have to be stressful. Give yourself enough time, plan ahead, and enjoy the adventure.