1. Before you leave for the airport:
- Decide if you are checking luggage, or only taking a small carry on bag. Organize your packing; be sure that you carry on the plane with you medicines, money, etc anything that would be a true problem if your luggage didnt show up at the same as you (doesnt happen often, but can). Make sure you have your drivers license, ticket and car reservation paperwork, sufficient cash with you. Dont put locks on suitcases; theyll cut them off and check the contents. Not every checked suitcase is physically searched, but many people have had it happen several times. Pack clothes in large clear zip lock baggies (to put in your suitcase, of course!)to eliminate the ick factor if this bugs you.
2. Get to the airport 1 to 2 hours before your flight leaves for U.S destinations. One hour is usually enough, 2 gives you plenty of time to orient yourself to everything. If you dont have seat assignments getting there earlier gives you a better chance at getting an aisle or window seat instead of a middle seat.
3. Go to the ticket counter for your airline. You usually have the option of using an e-ticket machine to get boarding passes or talking to a real person at a counter. I would go to the counter. Tell them its your first time flying. Youll show your drivers license, give them luggage that cant be carried on the plane. Theyll give you boarding passes, usually with a seat assignment, put stickers on that paperwork that are receipts for your luggage and tell you what gate your plane is leaving from.
4. Usually you will then head for a main security check area. Everybody gets in line to go thru metal detectors. Watch what everyone in front of you does, it may vary from airport to airport. Typically youll put carryon luggage, purses, coats, jackets, thru an x-ray screening machine. The contents of your pockets as well, in small bins provided for that. Be prepared to show your boarding pass and your id again. You might have to take your shoes off and them thru the machine too. Dont freak if you set the metal detector off; its probably your belt buckle or something. Dont freak if they ask you to step aside for an extra frisking. Its random only means them waving a metal detector wand close to your body (no actual touching).
5. Now all you have to do is find your departure gate. There are signs everywhere; you got there early, so you have plenty of time. Find your gate, then go explore. You want to be in the general area 20-30 minutes before you leave. In the meantime, you can spend more money than you imagined for a soft drink or use restrooms way more spacious then those on the plane.
6. Theyll call you to board the plane; usually VIPs and those who need help first, then in seating assignment rows from the back to the front. Wait until your group is called. Stuff you dont need to get to should be stowed in the compartments above the seat.
7. When you get there, follow the signs to the baggage claim area. Follow the herd to the right pickup area. The car rental desks will be somewhere nearby. If in doubt there is almost always an information desk in the baggage claim area.
If it is not a direct flight, you will not have to go thru the check in and security process at the middle airport. Just find the right gate to go to; you should already have your boarding pass for that next flight.
Dont be surprised if planes run late, they often do.
If you made reservations well in advance --- call or use the internet to confirm that the flight info is still correct. More often lately weve found that the airline has rearranged flight schedules and we were flying a different flight and time than we originally booked. They always get us there, just not how we thought we were going.
A couple of other tips:
Do not take anything in your carry on luggage, purse, bag, or person that is sharp. It will be confiscated at the screening. This includes scissors, metal nail files, nail clippers with that nail-cleaning piece on the end, metal tooth pick/cleaners, pocket knife, etc. Anything sharp and pointy.
Most airports require adults to remove shoes and place on the screening conveyor belt now. Wear shoes that slip on and slip off for ease of removal.
Sometimes unexpected events require the plane to sit for awhile after you board to double check that everything is in order. Do not worry. If something unusual happens, there are usually people standing by to help -- just tell them you are new to flying and feeling a little confused. Airline people are usually helpful and friendly.
If you are making a connection, ask for assistance as soon as you get off the first plane. There is sometimes a narrow window of time to get to the next gate, and someone's guidance will help you a lot.
If you get your boarding passes before you arrive at the airport, you can go straight to baggage check-in and skip a step at the airport.
While you cannot lock your suitcases, you can slip a twist-tie through the locking device to secure the zipper from coming open. They will not take it off unless they feel the need to inspect it, and if they don't, it will give some extra security to the suitcase not coming open in transit.
Put one of those paper luggage tags (available at the airport baggage check-in) on everything you carry on to the plane. That way if you accidentally leave something on the plane, it will get back to you.
If the pressure builds up in your ears during take-off and decent, pinch your nose tight, close your mouth tight, and blow out. It often works to release the pressure behind your ear drums. Sometimes chewing gum will help, and so will yawning, if you can get one going.
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