We know it’s hard to trust advice for the first time flying from someone who was on more than 160 flights. But trust us – there’s nothing to worry about the airport security check line, nothing to be frustrated with if you follow the common sense. Sometimes it is discouraging to know that there are people who never tried flying just because there was something unclear or too unknown and scary for them.
So we want to put our vast flying experience into use. We did our best to collect memories from our very first flights. We spoke to some people who recently entered the list “first time on a plane”. Here is some more personal and practical experience, tips and tricks for all of you who call yourselves first time flyers.
First time on a plane – what to expect
First-time flyers can be split into two groups – most of the people LOVE their first experience on a plane. Some say flying was natural to them, some say they’re just fascinated by the magic of flying. The second group is those who were kind of OK with the experience – they reached the destination they wanted, time on the plane passed somehow, it was nothing scarier than any kind of other transportation they’ve used before. You probably noticed there is almost nobody to say it was horrible, scare, or worth some hate or worries.
I’ve had much bumpier rides on buses in Bulgaria, in Paraguay, in Peru, etc. Buses tend to be much shakier. Roads are just not that perfect as air is. Remember this. Yes, there are some turbulent areas where it could be shaky for a while, but generally, the plane has so many ways to avoid turbulence and minimize the feeling of it. The cars, buses, and trucks, they have to stay on the road. Otherwise, things can go in a pretty direction.
Space is limited – the faster you get used to that, the better. If you have long limbs, need more space for some reason, or have some physical limitations – you can ask for a seat at the emergency exits, or go for a first or business class ticket. Anyway, space is limited, so don’t think you’ll be able to dance around the cabin or exercise in the toilet. I wish I could do that, especially for longer flights.
Things to do during the flight
There is a nice set of exercises you can do every hour to help blood move through your body. You can invent your own routine or use the one offered by the airline company in the pockets in front of you.
Water, water, water! Before, during, and after the flight! Make sure you drink enough water – the air up there is very dry, so you need even more than you usually do.
🍷 As much as we love wine, beer, and other alcoholic ambrosia, all of those actually dehydrate you – so mind the quantities!
Use the bathroom
When nature calls, nature calls. Check that the seatbelt sign is off and go to the toilet to see what the call was about.
Try to read the magazines, a book, articles you have loaded on your phone, watch a movie, play a game, play cards or backgammon – time passes so quickly when you’re entertained!
Talk to the person next to you
A lot of people met their best friends on a flight. Some people make meaningful working connections while flying. It is always interesting to hear another story, another viewpoint, or just to chat! Consider planes and flying (even for the first time) an opportunity to expand your horizons, make friends, do business, why not something else?
You can find (online and offline) tons of information about airport procedures, specifics for some countries, etc. Anyway, we’ll try to provide some of the most common do’s and don’ts.
The holy trinity – check-in, security checks, passport control
This is where you present yourself and your check-in baggage to the airline. This is the first thing to do when you arrive at the airport. Nowadays most of the airlines offer online check-in (it is the only free option for many low-cost airlines). Some of the airports offer check-in machines and bag drop-off facilities, so you don’t even need to talk to a real person to check in yourself and issue a ticket and check in your baggage.
If you have checked in online, usually you don’t need to go to a check-in desk or machine.
In case you have baggage to check in – you have to find check-in counter or bag drop-off point.
We travel light very often – no check-in luggage, online check-in, so we can head directly to the security checks.
This is where your hand luggage and you are scanned and in some cases – searched. Security checks are always after the check-in counters and baggage drop-off areas. So in the best case, you will line up at the security check having only your hold and hand luggage.
Different airlines allow a different number of hand luggage, some make a difference between hold and hand luggage. In any case, make sure you check what you can and can’t carry with you at the security check.
What not to bring in your hand luggage?
In most of the flights and airports (especially within the EU), it’s highly inadvisable to carry the following in your hang baggage:
- liquids (more than 100ml of liquid in one container, more than 10 containers) – It’s a pity to throw away your new shampoo or deodorant that makes you smell like a rose. Use smaller containers or get small-sized cosmetics. Exceptions are made for baby food and liquids.
- Sharp objects, objects that could harm someone (knives, hammers, screwdrivers) – I know sometimes you need a Swiss army knife – it’s better that you first check if it’s allowed in the hand baggage.
- Fire-producing items and weapon (no guns please, lighters, painting sprays could be easily inflammable)
- Chemical and toxic substances – if you really need that rat poison or the liquid battery, then leave it out of your hand luggage.
- Sports equipment (due to its size and materials, it is often off the list – e.g. they confiscated my walking sticks from Camino de Santiago because there were some metal inside them)
Always read carefully what is and what is not allowed in your hand luggage, even before going to the airport! That could save you a lot of annoyance and trouble!
What if I still have something that is forbidden?
Usually, they give you the option to go back from security check and check in the item. Keep in mind that could be really pricey, so check the luggage fares of the airline and do the maths – is it worth it to check in the item, or is it better to just throw it away (a.k.a. leave it at the airport security staff’s disposal)?
Also, keep in mind that for some of the unallowed items in your hand luggage the consequences could be much worse than just having to throw them away. You might have to deal with customs and police, so be careful!
This is usually applicable for international flights only. If you fly domestic – you can skip that part.
Passport control may occur before or after the security check. People from the border police inspect your travel documents and your ID/passport. If everything is fine, you can proceed further, to a territory which is technically no man’s land. This land is where you’ll board the airplane from.
Depending on the country where the airport is located, your nationality, where you’re going to – the passport control and immigration control procedures vary and can be supplemented by additional checks, interviews, etc.
If you are transiting in any airport, expect passport controls, security checks, sometimes even check-in to occur. Make sure you have your documents easily accessible and check hand and hold luggage allowances in the country or countries where you’re making the transit.
Always ask if you need to re-check in your baggage of it will go to your end destination. At some places, it is not common sense that your bags will fly with you until the end airport. Asking is always the best option to avoid losing your baggage.
A good trick
Make sure you have your passport/ID card and boarding pass (paper or electronic) with you and easily accessible. Sometimes you have to show the above at the airport entrance, at the check-in desk/check-in machine, before security checks, at passport control, at the gate when boarding, and even to the flight attendants on the plane.
Some airports require you to show boarding pass/reservation to enter the departures hall/the airport at all. Make sure you have those documents in order so you can avoid drama. Especially at airports and countries, you don’t know really well.
The golden rule
We have one (but golden) rule here. Follow the others. Do what the person before you do, at the security line, at the check-in desk, at the boarding gate.
Listen to the advice airport stuff gives to the other passengers. They are there to help. They are getting paid to help you get on that plane and free space at the airport.
If you’re not sure about something – ask! Ask the staff, ask the person next to you. If you think they don’t speak your language – it’s still better to ask the one you speak and take your chances. You’ll be amazed by how easy it is to find someone to speak your language, or take you by your hand and take you through all the airport procedures.
Be observant about what’s going on – look, listen, stay awake and aware – everything else will come naturally. In few flights time, you’ll be the one to help other people who are worried about their first flights ever.
First time flying alone
OK, you flew for the first time, then the second, the third. But you were always with someone you knew – your friend, your colleague, the nice lady that started talking to you at the gate waiting hall, the cool gentlemen that helped you put your luggage in the upper compartments.
Now you’re first time flying ALONE. Really alone, and no smiling faces to turn into your friends for the flight. Then it could feel like you’re flying for the first time. But you already know what to do – you have experience. You don’t need to be scared or terrified – there are people around you who probably are flying for the first time. Go and help them relax and enjoy the flight. Or chat with the flight attendants – they’re always happy to bring smiles to your face. Or take a good book (this could make you regret not going somewhere more distant so you have more time to finish it).
The first-time phobia appears
For the last 40+ flights, I developed a terrible fear of flying, a.k.a aviophobia or aerophobia. I’ve read so many articles and research docs on how to overcome it – I’ve read on this topic more than an average student in high school. My phobia appeared about two years ago out of the blue. So it’s really hard to guess how to deal with it. So far I haven’t spoken to a professional therapist or doctor about that, so here are my conclusions of some things I tried myself.
If your flying phobia comes with no special reason – it’s not an accident, or bad turbulence, or any kind of breakdown during flight, then you probably have to battle with claustrophobia or with fear of fatal ending. For me, it’s not the first one, so I had to fight that fear that everything is going to go to the hell.
Flying is the safest mean of transportation
I noticed statistics about how safe flying actually is or learning how the plane works, including every detail, and studying the captain’s resume will not help you feel better. The reason is simple – phobias are irrational, they can’t be logically explained, they can’t be solved as a mathematical problem.
If you developed the flight phobia after an accident or very stressful event onboard the plane – I’ve had this too (we hit a bird with one of the engines and landed safely, the worst 10 minutes of my life though) – then you need to go to a therapist. Actually, in that case – I’m not sure if it’s called phobia anymore. I’m still trying to figure this out. Advice appreciated.
After all, I believe distraction is the best solution. Trying not to focus on the dark thoughts that dance in your head, but trying to do anything else. From my experience here’s what you can and can’t do to help yourself:
- Talking to someone (your companion or stranger) – communicating will rather take you to a different place and time
- Reading/watching a movie/playing games – one thing is very important – nothing related to flying, airplanes, and God forbid – crashes!!!
- Working – at least you’ll get some stuff done.
- Sleeping – best option ever – but the catch is that you need to fall asleep after you boarded the plane.
- I tend to use a lot of alcohol – but can’t recommend this – all the stimulants have this feature of making your fears even worse. There’s a fine line between having a drink to relax the muscles and getting dehydrated and drunk and causing yourself and the other passengers trouble.
This was our attempt for short guide on how to enjoy your first flight(s) and avoid any issues before flying, at the airport, in the airplane, or being alone during any of those times. It is always open to being upgraded with your suggestions and recommendations, or with any new insight we receive.
Happy and safe flying!
And you can read about one of our biggest airports hustles so far.