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Heading to the Airport? Here’s Everything You Need to Know

Heading to the Airport? Here’s Everything You Need to Know

Heading to the airport soon? We've got everything you need to know about traveling through an airport right here. From arrival to departure, follow our guide to have the best experience possible.

Key Points

  • Put essentials in a carry-on, but don't put anything especially fragile or valuable in.
  • Don't put a lock on your suitcase; it will more than likely get cut by security.
  • Don't make jokes or quips while going through security. Remain quiet and cooperate with TSA.

Airport Checklist

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 you put any necessities in a carry-on. Medicine, a change of clothes, important documents, and anything that would be devastating to lose in lost luggage should go in a carry-on.
– Make sure you have your driver's license or passport, boarding pass and car reservation paperwork, and sufficient cash with you. If you're using a digital boarding pass, make sure you can access it.
– Don't put locks on suitcases; they'll 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 eliminate the ick factor if this bugs you.
– Do not put items you really care about in your carry-on. TSA is not required to handle them carefully, and will dismantle them as much as needed to check for drugs or weapons.

2. Get to the airport one to two hours before your flight leaves for U.S destinations. One hour is usually enough, but two gives you plenty of time to orient yourself and get through security. If you don't have seat assignments, getting there early gives you a better chance at getting an aisle or window seat instead of a middle seat. If you're traveling at a busy time, such as around the 4th of July or Christmas, give yourself extra time to get through security.

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. You'll show your driver's license, give them luggage that can't be carried on the plane. They'll give you boarding passes, usually with a seat assignment, put stickers on your luggage, and tell you what gate your plane is leaving from. Alternatively, you can use a digital boarding pass. You'll still need to check your luggage in, however.

4. Usually you will then head for a main security check area. Everybody gets in line to go through metal detectors. Watch what everyone in front of you does; it may vary from airport to airport. Typically you'll put carry-on luggage, purses, coats, jackets, the contents of your pockets, and your shoes through an x-ray screening machine. You'll have to remove your belt. Be prepared to show your boarding pass and your ID again. Don't freak out if you set the metal detector off; sometimes the machine becomes faulty. Don't freak out if they ask you to step aside for an extra frisking. TSA will randomly do extra checks on passengers.

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. They'll call you to board the plane; usually VIPs and those in a wheelchair will go first, then in seating groups from the back to the front. Wait until your group is called. Stuff you don't need to get to should be stowed in the compartments above the seat.

7. When you get to your destination, 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 through 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.

Don't be surprised if planes run late; they often do. Try to book a ticket that gives you a layover that's at least an hour long, if your flight isn't direct. This will help account for potential delays.

If you made reservations well in advance — call or use the internet to confirm that the flight info is still correct. Sometimes, gates or itineraries change.

Other Tips for the Airport

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..

Wear shoes that come off easily. TSA and other passengers will not appreciate you taking a lot of time to take off your shoes, especially if lines are long. Slip-on shoes are best.

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 workers 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.

Get your boarding pass in advance. If you get your boarding passes before you arrive at the airport or use a digital boarding pass, 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. If your luggage is lost, then at least it will remain secure for as long as it's in the airline's network.

Use luggage tags. 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.

Know how to manage ear pressure. If the pressure builds up in your ears during take-off and descent, 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. There are drops to help relieve pressure if you find that your ears are still messed up several hours after landing.

Do not make jokes or quips while going through security. TSA is required to take every threatening or potentially threatening statement seriously, even if it's a joke. You will be pulled aside and questioned, potentially causing you to miss your flight. Remain quiet and get through the line in an orderly fashion; save the jokes for after you've arrived at your destination and left the airport.

Cooperate with TSA. TSA may make demands of you that are unexpected or that you feel are unjustified. Do not argue with them or make a fuss. You'll only hold up the line, angering both the agents and other passengers. You may even be pulled aside for further questioning if TSA determines you're a hostile individual.

Wear pants that don't require a belt. You'll have to remove your belt while going through security. If this would cause your pants to fall down, wear different pants. Even better- avoid the belt entirely. It will make the process of going through security just that much faster.

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