Are you a first-time flier or just a researcher looking to freshen up on your knowledge of how to navigate airports? If you are, this article is for you.
Let’s start with the basics.
If it is your first time flying, navigating the airport is not that difficult as most airports are marked well and your only job is to know what to look for and to keep time.
So, here are the key steps to navigating an airport for the first time;
- Arrive on time at your departure airport
- Check-in your luggage
- Go through security
- Find the gate
- Lounge around as you wait for your flight
- Board the plane and fly
- Arrivals – get your luggage at the destination airport
- Exit the airport
These 8 steps are critical and will explain each in detail.
Step 1: Arrive on time at your airline terminal:
Depending on the airport, there are multiple terminals and you must know which one your airline is in.
For example, if you are flying out of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), there are 9 terminals and you must know which one to go to.
The best way to do this is by checking your boarding pass or online before you leave for the airport.
Tell the taxi that’s taking you to the airport which terminal your airline is.
When they drop you at the gate of the terminal, find the entrance gate to the terminal and get in.
Because of COVID, some airports now have a screening at the entrance and they will request to see your COVID vaccination certificate and the test results which should not be older than 72 hours.
Make sure you do not have any COVID-19 symptoms such as a sore throat, runny nose, fever or difficulty breathing.
Step 2: Check-in your luggage:
Most airlines allow passengers to bring one carry-on bag and one personal item, such as a purse or laptop, on board the plane.
If you are flying on an international flight in the economy class, most airlines allow you to check-in two bags with weights not exceeding 50 pounds(23 kgs). The dimension of your bags should not exceed 62 in / 158 cm. If you are flying international in first-class, you may check-in bags weighing up to 70 pounds(32 kgs).
When you are at the terminal of your airline, you’ll see airline staff dressed in airline uniforms. Sometimes there is a line and may have to wait.
Present your documents and the luggage for check-in. You can mention to them that it’s your first time flying and it is totally fine.
They will help you with the process and once you’re done, they’ll give you a boarding pass.
Your documents should include a passport (for international flights) or government-issued ID (for domestic flights), and your ticket.
If you have any special needs such as traveling with an infant or carrying musical equipment, make sure you mention it to the staff during check-in.
They will give you further instructions.
After the process of check-in is complete, you can proceed to the next step.
There is another way to check in which is by using automated machines but don’t recommend it for first-time fliers. With this option, you can check-in your luggage without any assistance.
However, if you run into any problems, there’s no one to help you and it may cause delays.
So it’s always better to check-in with an airline staff member the first time around.
Step 3: Go through security:
After you have checked in your luggage, it’s now time to go through security.
At the entrance of the security line, they will ask to see your boarding pass and ID.
They will also ask you to put all your belongings in a tray and send it through an x-ray machine.
Make sure you take everything out of your pockets such as your phone, wallet, keys, and coins.
You’ll also have to take off your shoes and jacket and put them in a tray.
If you have any liquids such as water or perfume, they will need to be in a clear, plastic bag.
And it is advisable not to bring any food items as they may not be allowed through security.
Once you have gone through the x-ray machine, you will be asked to step aside for a random security check.
They may ask you to open your luggage or do a pat-down search.
All passengers must go through security before they are allowed to board their flight. At the security checkpoint, you will be asked to put your carry-on luggage and personal items, such as your coat and shoes, through an X-ray machine. You will also be asked to walk through a metal detector.
Before 911, the security measures at airports were very relaxed. But since the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, security has been tightened. Now, all passengers are required to go through a security checkpoint before they are allowed to board their flight.
When you alight from a train or your taxi that brought you to the airport, first look for the terminal that your flight will be departing from. You can ask security or airport personnel to guide you on where to find your terminal. Your taxi driver could also drop you closer to your terminal.
You’ll find signs that say “Security” or “Checkpoints.”
Follow the signs to the security checkpoint.
When you get to the security checkpoint, a TSA (Transportation Security Administration) officer will ask to see your boarding pass and ID.
After your bag and belongings have been scanned, you will be asked to walk through a metal detector. If the alarm goes off, you may be required to undergo a secondary screening, which may involve a pat-down search.
Once you have cleared the security checkpoint, you will be able to enter the departure lounge and wait for your flight.
Step 4: Find the gate
This is the area where passengers board the plane. Your boarding pass will have the gate number on it.
At the gate, airline staff will check your face if it matches with the records they have and the picture on your passport.
Your boarding pass will have your gate number and you’ll also see signs pointing you in the right direction.
If you’re having trouble finding your gate, ask one of the airport staff members for help.
They will be more than happy to assist you. Sometimes, the gate for your airline is far from the terminal, and may even have to connect using a shuttle or an air train. This is why it is important to arrive early.
When you’re at the gate, find a seat and relax until it’s time to board the plane.
Step 5: Wait for your flight near the gate
The departure lounge is an area where passengers wait for their flight. The departure lounge typically has seating, restrooms, shops, and restaurants. Some lounges also have showers, TV rooms, and play areas for children.
Once you have found your gate, take a seat and wait for your flight.
Your boarding pass will have the boarding time and it is important to be at the gate on time.
Sometimes, the plane may board early so it’s always better to be at the gate earlier than the boarding time.
When it’s time to board, they will make an announcement and you’ll see people lining up to get on the plane.
If you need any assistance, don’t hesitate to ask one of the flight attendants. They will be more than happy to help you.
Some airports have lounges such as Centurion Lounge or airline-operated lounges with food, drinks, and comfortable seating.
If you have a lounge pass, you can use it to access these lounges and relax before your flight.
Most airports have designated smoking areas where you can smoke cigarettes or cigars.
These areas are usually located outside the terminal.
You can ask one of the airport staff members for directions to the nearest smoking area.
If your flight is departing from an international airport, you will need to go through customs and immigration before you can enter the departure lounge.
At the customs and immigration area, you will be asked to present your passport and boarding pass. The officer may also ask you a few questions, such as where you are going and how long you will be staying.
Step 6; Wait for your plane
Once you have cleared customs and immigration, you will be able to enter the departure lounge and wait for your flight.
Just to clarify, the security checkpoint at the initial entrance of the airport is being managed by each airport and the second screening is managed by airlines. The second screening done before entering the waiting area is done by airlines for security reasons and to also ascertain that you have the right travel documents and have actually paid and are on the rooster to travel. A further check is done at the airline gate.
What if my bag exceeds the weight limit of 50 pounds?
If your bag weighs more than 50 pounds, you will have to pay an overweight baggage fee. The fee varies from airline to airline, but it is typically around $100 for the first bag and $200 for the second bag.
What if my carry-on bag exceeds the size limit?
If your carry-on bag is too big to fit in the overhead bin or under the seat in front of you, the airline will ask you to check in your bag at the gate. You will have to pay a fee for this, and your bag will be placed in the cargo hold of the plane.
What is pre-boarding?
Pre-boarding is when airlines allow passengers with special needs, such as families with small children, to board the plane first.
If you are flying with a small child, you can ask the airline staff if they offer pre-boarding.
Most airlines also allow passengers who need extra time to board the plane first.
Step 7; Board the plane:
When it’s time to board the plane, they will make an announcement and show your boarding pass to the staff at the gate.
When it’s your turn to board the plane, have your carry-on luggage and your travel docs including the passport in hand. You’ll be ushed to the plane by the airline crew who will guide you to your seat. If you have any problem locating where your seat is located on the airplane, ask them. They’ll be happy to assist.
Before you sit, stow your carry-on bag in the overhead bin or under the seat in front of you. Stuck your passport and boarding pass in the seat pocket in front of you so you can have easy access to them when the plane lands.
If you are traveling with a small child, you may want to keep a few essentials.
Before take-off, an airline crew member will explain the safety procedures you can take in case of an emergency landing. Listen carefully.
Make sure your tray table and seat belt are in the upright and locked position during takeoff and landing.
The crew will tell you when it’s safe to move around the cabin and use your electronic devices.
If you need to use the restroom, make sure to check that the “Fasten Seat Belt” sign is off.
Toilets are usually located in the back or front of the plane.
There is usually a sign on the door that indicates if it is occupied or not.
If the sign says “occupied,” wait for the person to come out before you go.
Another thing you need to understand about flying is turbulence:
Turbulence is when the plane hits pockets of air that cause it to shake.
It is normal and nothing to worry about.
The plane will always fly above the clouds, so you will not be able to see the ground during turbulence.
If you are worried about turbulence, try to relax and take deep breaths.
Once the plane has landed, wait until the seatbelt sign has is off before you unfasten and remove it.
If you are feeling tired, there are a few things you can do to stay awake.
You can walk around the cabin, drink water, or eat something.
If you are really tired, you can ask the airline staff for a blanket and duck yourself in, and take a nap.
If you are flying into a different time zone, it is important to try to stay awake until it is nighttime at your destination.
This will help you adjust to the new time zone more easily.
When you are ready to leave the plane, follow the other passengers to the exit.
They will scan your boarding pass and let you through.
Once you’re on the plane, find your seat and put your belongings in the overhead compartment or under the seat in front of you.
Make yourself comfortable and wait for the plane to take off.
Connecting in a different city:
If you have a connecting flight in a different city, you will need to go through security again.
You will also need to find your next gate and wait for your flight.
It is important to give yourself enough time between flights in case there are any delays.
Step 8; Prepare to alight at your final destination airport and exit the airport
Once you have arrived at your final destination, it’s time to gather your belongings and leave the plane.
If you have any checked-in luggage, you will need to go to the baggage claim area to collect your bags.
And that’s it! You have now arrived at your destination.
Things to keep in mind to get through the airport by yourself
– It is always better to arrive at the airport early. This way, you will have plenty of time to go through the process without feeling rushed.
– Listen to the announcements carefully. They will provide important information such as gate changes or delays.
– Follow the instructions of the airline staff and security personnel. They are there to help you and keep everyone safe.
– Be patient. Air travel can be stressful, but it is important to stay calm and courteous.
If you’re driving to the airport, you will need to find a parking spot.
Most airports have short-term and long-term parking options.
Short-term parking is usually more expensive but it is closer to the terminal.
Long-term parking is usually cheaper but it is further away from the terminal.
You can also find off-airport parking options that are often cheaper than the airport’s parking options.
If you’re hungry, there are plenty of food options available at airports.
You can find fast food restaurants, cafes, and even sit-down restaurants.
Some airports also have food courts where you can find a variety of different food options.
If you’re looking for something healthy, you can usually find salads, fruits, and yogurt at most airports.
If you need to sleep, there are a few options available.
Some airports have sleeping pods that you can rent for a few hours.
You can also find hotels near the airport that offer shuttle services to and from the airport.
Another option is to bring a travel pillow and blanket with you so you can sleep on the plane or in the airport.
Things to do during layovers:
If you have a long layover, there are a few things you can do to kill time.
If you’re in a major city, you can take the opportunity to explore the city.
Some airports also have lounges where you can relax, work, or watch TV.
You can also bring a book or your laptop so you can work or watch movies.
TSA PreCheck is a program that allows low-risk travelers to go through security faster.
If you are a US citizen or legal resident, you can apply for TSA PreCheck online or in person at an enrollment center.
Once you have been approved, you will be given a Known Traveler Number. PreCheck is available at most major US airports.
To find out if your airport has TSA PreCheck, check the TSA website or ask a member of the airline staff.
If you are traveling to a country that requires a visa, you will need to apply for one before you travel.
You can usually do this through the embassy or consulate of the country you are visiting.
When you are packing for your trip, make sure to pack your passport and visa.
Global Entry is a program that allows low-risk travelers to go through customs and immigration faster. If you are a US citizen or legal resident, you can apply for Global Entry online or in person at an enrollment center.
Once you have been approved, you will be given a Known Traveler Number. Global Entry is available at most major US airports.
To find out if your airport has Global Entry, check the CBP website.
I hope this guide was helpful in understanding the basics of flying and navigating through airports. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask a member of the airline staff or a fellow passenger. Have a safe and enjoyable flight!
My name is Alex Mutuma and I founded this blog, Airport LLC as a way to document and engage with clients in my travel consulting business. Airportllc.com is the only source of over 2,000 fun things flyers could do during layovers.
Over the past 7 years, I have designed and planned tour packages for hundreds of clients and have recently focussed on the mission of changing boring layovers to excellent mini-vacations by giving you the best suggestions on must-do activities when flying over different airports.
Next time you or your friend is looking for suggestions on what to do in some airport, remember Airports Do or Airportsdo.com. On this site, you’ll get the best suggestions available on the internet regarding hand-picked activities that will fulfill your airport experience.
I currently reside in New York City and has obtained a license to provide professional tour guidance on Airports in the US and across the world. Why should you listen to my suggestions? I have flown through more than 100 airports in the world and fortunately, I have pictures, stories, and tips to share with you regarding all the fun stuff you can do as you wait for your next flight.
Aside from gaining thousands of flying miles, I am also a travel consultant assisting clients with bookings and specifically advance tour bookings of things to do at airports when the layover is longer than 5 hours.
To make a 15-minutes free things-to-do consultation with Alex, use my email, email@example.com.
This is only recommended for flyers with long layovers of over 5 hours. If your layover is 3+ hours, you can still reach out but we cannot guarantee the ideal package that will change your flights to mini-vacations. I only support clients flying through US airports and a select number of cities across the world.
Name: Alex Mutuma
Profession: A professional travel consultant with a focus on airport activities to do during layovers
Phone: +1 945 348 889
Location: 322 Main Packway Street, Boston, US