This rendition of So You Think You Can Fly, a Twenties Hacker series for first-time flyers, focuses on a single question with a multi-faceted answer. Stephany, who hopes to make her inaugural flight this year, asks: “Once I’m at the airport and past security, what do I do? Check in, check my bags, what? What is the process of getting settled to wait for my flight?”
Good question! There are a few things that come before security, actually, and because they may be overwhelming to a first-time traveler, let’s go through them one by one (written in the spirit of a Choose Your Own Adventure novel):
Checking In Online
Twenty-four hours before your flight, your airline will email you saying it’s time to check in for your flight. Simply follow the directions included in the email and print out your boarding pass at home. Some airlines will even let you to check in on your phone and use it as your boarding pass without ever printing a hard copy.
Arriving at the Airport
If you’re flying out of a large airport, like in NYC or D.C., check online ahead of time so that you know what terminal your airline is located in. This will be listed on the airport’s website and will help you figure out where to park. If you’re taking a taxi to the airport, just tell the driver what airline you’ll flying, and he or she will drop you off at the correct terminal.
If you print your boarding pass at home and do not have luggage to check, skip to “Security-Bound”.
Checking In at the Airport
If you have luggage and/or have not printed your boarding pass at home, head to your airline’s ticket counter. Large airports offer electronic kiosks for self check-in, where you’ll follow the kiosk’s instructions. At the end of the process, it’ll spit out your ticket(s), including tickets for any connecting flights (assuming you’re flying on the same airline for both legs of your trip). At smaller airports, where there are no check-in kiosks, head to your airline’s ticket counter with your photo ID at the ready; hand it over and say, “I’m checking in for the 8:00 flight to Atlanta.” But, um, use your own flight info.
If you’re not checking any luggage, skip to “Security-Bound”.
If you have luggage to check, you’ll have to check in at the airport regardless of whether you’ve also checked in at home. Each airport handles luggage check differently: At some, check-in at the kiosk and then an airline employee will hand you a luggage tag and ask you to drop your bag off at a luggage center nearby; at others, you’ll give your luggage to the employee at the ticket counter. Your best bet is to ask an airline employee what you should be doing. Don’t be overwhelmed – and if you feel confused or bullied, politely tell the airline staff that it’s your first time flying and you could use some guidance!
Checked in? Checked your luggage? Congrats, you’re on your way to… wherever you’re going! Head for the security checkpoint closest to your gate: The gate will be listed on your ticket and/or on a flightboard (giant TV screens displaying flight info), and each security checkpoint will have the gates within listed on a sign above it. (At small airports, there is only one security checkpoint; no confusion there!) Have your ticket and ID ready, take your shoes off, etc., and make your way through the line like this.
Gettin’ This Show on the Road!
OK, now you’re really on your way. It’s all smooth sailing from here, so locate your gate and have a seat, or browse the shops nearby and grab something to eat. Take it easy until the airline steward/ess announces that it’s time to board your flight. Mazel tov! You’re about the take your first flight!