Top Things to Know Before Flying for the First Time

I remember the days before I had my first flight how nervous I was. It happened five years ago and since I had more than 60 other flights on more than 3 continents. Now I think I mastered pretty well everything that is related to flight logistics, at least from a passenger’s perspective.

Lots of studies are telling that in the next few years more and more people will travel for the first time. Even if flying is not that difficult for a passenger  – there are rules and procedures that you should know for a smooth passage through the airport.

Below you will find pretty much everything you will need to prepare for your first flight.

If you don’t find your answers to the questions – don’t be shy and ask them in the comments. I will reply to you as soon as I can at the best of my knowledge.

Buying the Airplane Ticket

You should know that in the vast majority of cases you can buy the airplane tickets from three major sources: airlines website (our top recommendation), online travel agencies such as Expedia or from an offline travel agency. Usually, the best prices are offered on the airlines’ website, especially for point to point tickets.

From my experience, the best moment to buy the plane tickets in a budget/pricing point of view is around two or three months before the flight. If you are flying transatlantic or on a long haul flight you could extend the period to around six months before the actual departure time.

You can use services such as Google Flights to help you monitor the best prices and get alerts when prices drop.

It shouldn’t be too difficult to buy online a plane ticket, especially if you are familiarized with online shopping. Just be very careful on the selected dates and be sure to insert full details on your reservation.

If you have two surnames, be sure to write them both. Of course, if you are doing a typo some airlines may allow free changes of the names, but don’t rely on that. Just be extra careful when writing all the details on your reservation.

A vast majority of airlines during the buying process will ask you the number of the travel document – which can be (depending on the region you are traveling) an identity card (Schengen trips) or a passport.
It is wise to have always the passport valid for more than 6 months after the date of your arrival at the selected destination. Of course, you will be able to buy a plane ticket without having a passport.

If you are traveling with a low-cost airline be sure to book all the services right from the beginning. Low-cost airlines made a practice of charging you more if you add a checked luggage after having bought the plane ticket.

Check-in Procedure

The check-in is a procedure that confirms your flight and validates your travel documents and itinerary.
After completing the check-in you will be issued a boarding pass with which you will actually board the plane and clear security at the airport.

Usually, the check-in procedure opens up for passengers a couple of days before the flight. However, low-cost companies tend to open the procedure even with a month in advance. It is useful to check-in early to select your preferred seat if it is available for free.

If you are afraid of turbulences, usually they are less felt in the front of the plane. In the middle and the back the noise can be louder from plane engines, but usually, if it is a crash after some studies it was concluded that the back rows are safer.
First-timers, however, are afraid of turbulences, so I would recommend a front row window seat if you can choose.

Most of the legacy carriers (such as British Airways, Lufthansa, Air France or KLM) have free check-in even at the airport. Low-cost companies will demand you a fortune for check-in at the airport, so it is better to make your check-in at home, online and just print the boarding pass with which you will head to the airport.

Checkin at Bucharest Otopeni Airport for Blue Air domestic flights
Check-in at Bucharest Otopeni Airport for Blue Air domestic flights

Arrive at the Airport at least 2 hours before the scheduled departure of the flight

Arriving at Sofia Airport Terminal 2
Arriving at Sofia Airport Terminal 2

Before heading I strongly advise checking that all travel required documents are with you: passports or other documents, credit cards/cash and of course your belongings. 🙂

Depending on the departure airport usually, it is a very good idea to arrive at the entrance of the airport at least two hours in advance. This timing can be adjusted depending on the usual volume of the airport, seasonality and hour of departure, but in 70% of cases, two hours at the minimum should be enough. Adjust the timing if you have to drop baggage and need to stay at an extra queue for baggage drop or airport check-in.

Check-in counters and baggage drop counters open up at the airport three hours before the scheduled departure time of the flight.

If you don’t have checked baggage (the larger ones) and already printed the boarding pass you can head directly to security even before this timing.

I would strongly advise avoiding carrying any kind of liquids in your carry-on luggage – even if the size is under the 100ml regulation stated in EU. Take with you the smallest cosmetics that you would use on the trip and if you are staying longer you will most probably have a carry on luggage – so place cosmetics there.

Baggage Drop

At the airport, you can also use baggage wrapping services for checked baggage, in order that the baggage deteriorate less in the cargo hold of the plane. I am not a big fan of this service especially because it is quite expensive, not because I don’t appreciate it.

Baggage wrapping services at Bucharest Henri Coanda Airport
Baggage wrapping services at Bucharest Henri Coanda Airport

Take into consideration that if you are traveling with a transfer with the same company and/or same airline alliance your baggage will be transferred most probably to the final destination of your flight. There is no shame in asking the personal at the baggage drop/check-in counter more precisely where you will get back your baggage, so don’t be shy and always ask everything you are not 100% sure it is that way.

As a handy tip – don’t ever place in the checked luggage expensive things such as laptops, smartphones or objects that are fragile. Always take the valuables in your carry-on luggage.

Security Clearance and Passport Control – Take One Step at a Time

Many people are nervous about their first flight because they don’t really know how to act once they get to the security check. Usually, at this point, everyone is on the rush and you can feel a little pressure for those standing in the back of the queue if you don’t move as they would expect.

However – take one thing at a time no matter how in a rush are people behind you, there is no reason for you to feel uncomfortable – in time you will get used with everything related to air travel.

Basically, once you arrive at the security check you will have to put into a separate tray your large electronic devices such as DLSR photo cameras and laptops and separately your carry-on luggage. Also, if you are wearing a belt, take it off and place it in a separate tray with your jacket, wallet and eventually other smaller devices or accessories such as a hand watch. Regulations usually say that every electronic device should stay in one tray, but you can put your smartphone in the same tray as your laptop.

If you are wearing boots, you will most probably be asked to take them off. Don’t take off your shoes until a security personal clearly indicates you that. If you are wearing sandals or trainers the chance to need to take them off is very low.

Passport Control

If you are traveling internationally you will have to pass through passport control both at the departure point and at the arrival. I don’t understand why people are feeling nervous about the passport control.

You just simply give to the officer your travel document and the boarding pass, they will check it and usually in less than 30 seconds you are cleared.

There is really nothing here, just usually another long queue.

Finding the Gate and if You Have Time Some Duty-Free Shopping

After going through the passport control and getting cleared you basically entered a no man’s land, an international place not belonging to any country legally. That’s why there are lots of duty-free shops where there is no VAT and you can buy almost everything cheaper.

Personally, before doing any kind of shopping I find first the departure gate. After I found the departure gate and made my way through the airport I can evaluate how much time I have until boarding.

Boarding usually starts 30 minutes before the scheduled departure time, although it really depends on the flight, airline and airport. Boarding time as gate closed is usually printed on the boarding pass, but be there at least 10 minutes before that.

Find the airport map and make your way with it

Usually, every airport has a map of the gates, and if it is a larger airport you will have more concourses stated as letters.

Time for Boarding

So, hopefully, you made through the duty-free shops and you are waiting in front of the gate, on one of the not so comfortable seats in the waiting area. Now personnel from the airline is announcing the boarding and asking passengers to present themselves to boarding. Usually, boarding starts with first and business class passengers, frequent fliers, priority fliers and the last ones are those flying on simple economy class.

There can be times when the boarding is done based on seat rows. You can find the seat row number on your boarding pass. Listen to the airline personnel to know when to board. There is, however, no rush to be the first to board the plane.

Before boarding the plane you will have again checked the boarding pass and passport. If you are really unlucky you can get again a security check (especially for flights to the United States). This is a random check and is nothing special (I had one). It’s just suspicious that it is done before entering the plane in front of other passengers.

Entering the Plane and Taking Your Seat

When you enter the plane you will be greeted by flight attendants. They will check your boarding pass and indicate your direction. If it’s a double aisle airplane, they will indicate you more details.

Place your luggage in the overhead compartment, close to you. If there is no room enough and your luggage is small you can eventually place it under the seat in front of you, if it is a short flight. For longer flights request assistance from the flight attendants to place your luggage.

Also, before taking the seat, I would recommend getting somehow at hand everything you will need during the flight – such as headphones, books etc.

The Flight: Take-Off, Cruising and Landing

Well, finally, you are prepared to fly! Stay comfortable in your seat and enjoy. If you are lucky enough and you are not claustrophobic you have a window seat and can admire nature’s beauty.

Before take-off, the flight attendants will brief passengers about the safety features of the airplane, or if not – you will maybe see a nice video on one of the screens in front of you.

I would recommend that at all times stay buckled up because turbulences are really unexpected and unpredictable. Even if the seatbelt sign is off, there is no guarantee you will not encounter clear air turbulence.

During take off if you feel the pressure in your ears just open your mouth for a couple of seconds and you will start hearing better.

The take-off is one of the most beautiful experiences

Just one hundred years ago even in Jules Verne’s stories you couldn’t find any references to mass air travel for the upcoming generations. Today, you are sitting on a plane and taking off to the air with more than 800 km/h – that really is a miracle. And you feel this only at take-off. Take your time to reflect on this technological advancement and enjoy the moment.

In cruising there arent many interesting things, maybe the views from the window or the movies in the in-flight entertainment system.

Depending on the airline you are traveling, class and journey length you will receive meals and drinks during your flight.

Landing is again an interesting experience

For first time flyers most probably the landing is the most scaring experience. Often, pilots jobs about landings that they are nothing but controlled crashes. And on some level they are right. Landings can be intense because the plane will loose altiTUDe and speed in order to prepare the landing. Also, when flaps are extended or gear down – you will feel it like a brake in a car. But it will be somehow unexpected.

Sometimes, even after my more than 60 times, I find some landings to be scaring. So, if you are a little scared, just take it, there is nothing you can do. The chances to go something wrong are at minimal levels.

With about 15 to 20 minutes before landing, you will see that the flight attendants are starting to prepare the cabin for landing. This means that the toilets will be locked, window shades should be up, also seats in the upright position and the front tables folded inside.
With 2 to 5 minutes before actual landing flight attendants will sit down on their specially designated seats across the airplane cabin.

During landing you will feel some sort of brakes, turns, you should not worry – everything is under control.

Landing will be very special – enjoy it. There is no rough landings and smooth landings, a landing is a landing, every time. Pilots often say that any landing you can walk away is a good landing.

I strongly advise you that you not buckle up until you are notified that the airplane stopped. You will see around you that generally, people tend to neglect these instructions, but you should not forget that you are a first-time flyer and most probably don’t know what you are doing.

Deboarding

After the plane completely stopped it will head to the terminal or the designated parking space. When you are notified that you can leave the plane you can take you luggage from the overhead compartments or the seat in front of you.

Do not hurry – especially if it is a bus waiting and you are not transferred to the airport via a jetbridge. Everyone will have waited. Even if you have a connecting flight – take your time.

After getting out of the plane, you will most probably head to passport control, if you had an international flight. After clearing immigration you will have to pick-up you checked luggage if you have any. And so after you are out of the airport.

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