Ahoy Pirates! Flying for the first time can be intimidating! Don't let the TSA (transportation security administration) rules and regulations scare you from taking your must needed and earned vacation. We've broken down the entire process into steps so you'll know exactly what you need to do throughout each stage of your journey!
- Preparation & Planning
- T'was the Night Before Vacation
- Welcome to the Airport
- Time to Wait
- Avoid Committing a Passenger Faux Pas
- Arrive Alive
- Heading Home
You've picked the destination, you've booked your flight, now what?
Your trip begins tomorrow!
- Check-in for your flight online, and if possible, print your boarding pass (airports have self check-in kiosks available for passengers who are not checking bags). It is also a good idea to have your flight confirmation email easily accessible on your smart phone as the bar codes can be utilized at airports in place of paper tickets. Do not post pictures of your boarding pass online- your passes contain sensitive information that should be kept private.
- Stay hydrated. This is the best way to prevent jet lag.
- Double check that you've packed everything you'll need to enjoy your trip (the best make list few days before the trip). Ensure all liquids are in TSA-approved containers and placed separately into a large, clear Ziplock bag in your carry-on luggage.
- Plan on arriving to the airport 2 hours before domestic flights, and 3 hours before international flights. Keep in mind traffic jam, it's always good to be at the airport too early than too late!
So close, but so far away
- If you are checking luggage, many airlines offer curbside check-in. By doing this, you will not have to bring your checked bags into the airport and wait in line. Should you choose to skip the curbside check-in (or if it's unavailable), just head to the desk for your respective airline and hand your baggage to the airline representative. They will tag your bag, and give you a receipt or reference slip. Do not lose this slip! Should your bags go missing, it is much easier to locate your luggage with a reference number.
- If you are not checking any luggage, either proceed to the self check-in kiosk to print your boarding pass, or have your confirmation pulled up on your smart phone and head straight to the TSA security line.
For your own protection
- Wear shoes that are easy to take off and put on to save time in the security screening process
- Wear a jacket or coat that is also easy to remove as you will be required to take this off for screening
- If possible, wear something that does not require a belt (or be sure to remove your belt while in line for security) and make sure to leave your spare change at home, and take everything out of your pockets
- Flying can be uncomfortable, but you shouldn't be. We recommend wearing layers on the plane as temperatures can swing from hot to cold quickly.
- Have your laptop in an easily accessible place as it must be placed into a separate bin from the rest of your carry-on luggage for screening
- Have your Ziplock bag of liquids in an easy to reach place. This will prevent you from wasting time digging through your bag in line.
- Be patient, and remain calm. Certain precautions are necessary to maintain a safe environment. If a TSA agent does pat you down, take it in stride as they are only doing their job.
- Most importantly, relax. Travel is fun
Entertain yourself at your gate
- You've checked your bags (if necessary), cleared security and now you're at your gate. Keep an eye on your luggage and do not, under any circumstances, leave it alone or allow a stranger to watch your belongings while you run into an airport shop or restroom. Do not offer to watch a stranger's bags for them either.
- Keep your boarding pass in an accessible place as this will need to be scanned before getting on the plane
- For a small fee, you can obtain a Priority Pass VIP Lounge Membership. This allows you access to a relaxing area filled with comfortable & quiet spaces, complimentary refreshments, and other amenities to kill time before a flight.
- Use the restroom prior to boarding the plane if possible
- If you see something, say something. As with anything, if you see something that looks suspicious or out of place, be sure to report it to TSA or the nearest customer service representative.
Don't be a nightmare at 20,000 feet
- Greet your flight attendant with a smile, and be polite throughout the flight. Remember they have a high-stress job, and there's little they can do if the plane gets delayed or the white wine runs out. If you get nervous, tell the flight attendant it's your first time flying.
- Listen to the safety demonstration. While you'll hopefully never need to follow these instructions, don't distract yourself or other passengers from learning how to behave in an emergency.
- Observe seat etiquette, and be conscious of your neighbors in front of and behind you. Don't recline your seat all the way back, and make sure that you (or any children/traveling companions) don't kick the seat in front of you.
- If you're sitting in a middle or aisle seat, be prepared to move in case one of your neighbors needs to stand up.
- Free soda and alcohol on many flights may be tempting, but both dehydrate you. Avoid alcohol and drink water to stay hydrated and to stave off jet-lag.
Let Your Vacation Begin
- If flying internationally, a flight attendant should have provided you with a customs form to fill out.
- Once you deplane, you will need to recover your checked baggage and head to the Customs line. Have your passport ready, and your form filled out.
- The Customs Officer will ask you several basic questions (to determine your reason for travel, where you are coming from, where you are going, and the length of your trip) before stamping your passport, and allowing you to continue onto your vacation destination
There's no place like home
- If you are bringing back gifts for friends or family, please keep in mind that TSA may unwrap them for inspection whether they are in your carry-on or checked baggage. Please do your research before investing in certain items (such as exotic plants, bushmeat, animal bones/hunting trophies, taxidermy pieces, etc) as there is a chance you will have difficulty leaving your international destination with these items, and an even more challenging time bringing them back to the U.S.
- Keep in mind the same rules and regulations regarding checked and carry-on baggage as they will apply on your return journey as well. TSA may require you to power up electronics during security scanning. Make sure your devices are charged before making your way to the airport.
- If returning from an international destination, you will be required to fill out another customs form prior to entering the United States. In some scenarios, you will not be required to complete a form on the plane before returning. Here is a list of places where you will clear U.S. customs prior to boarding your return flight.
- Some items must be claimed for customs purposes. This is a straight forward process. You will claim your items on the customs form, obtain your checked baggage, and head to the line for Customs. The Customs agent will ask you a few questions regarding your vacation, and if you have any items to be claimed upon re-entry.