If you’re flying for the first time or haven't flown in a while because of the pandemic, you might be excited, a little nervous or a combination of the two. But honestly, being a passenger on a plane is no stress. All you have to do is gather the right documents, turn up on time and sit back and relax.
Having said that, we understand that — as with anything that you do for the first time — you might have some questions. That’s why, at Alternative Airlines, we’re giving you 19 travel tips for first time flyers that will fully prepare you for the flight ahead and leave no surprises for when you take-off for the first time. It's also tips for those who simply have forgotten how flying felt pre-COVID.
Update: The world has changed since this blog was first written. On top of the questions surrounding flying for the fist time, many travellers are now asking what to expect during the coronavirus pandemic. Check out our blog on whether it's safe to fly during the pandemic for all the answers!
1) Learn the airport procedures
The first step that any first-time flyer should take is to learn the airport procedures before taking their flight. Watch our handy video that will take you through each step.
COVID update: Since COVID-19, some of these airport procedures may have changed slightly. For example, before or at check-in, on some airlines or on flights to certain countries, you may be required to provide special documentation in order to board the flight. This can include: a negative COVID test, a health declaration or a passenger locator form. Before your flight, it's important to check the rules of the airline that you're flying on, as well as the travel restrictions of the country you're flying to before.
Additionally, in many airports, it's required that you wear a face-mask when you're inside the airport and for the duration of your flight.
2) Check-in online
Many airlines offer online check-in for their flights. This allows you to check-in for your flight and print off your boarding pass from home through the airline’s website or mobile app.**
If you’ve checked in online, you can skip the check-in queues and go straight to security, which is a massive time-saver.
However, it’s worth noting that not all airlines will allow you to check-in online. And, if you need special assistance, you’ll have to check-in at the airport.
** If you’ve bought your flight with Alternative Airlines, we give you a direct link to the airline’s check-in page, which can be found on your e-ticket.
3) Arrive in good time
Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to go through airport procedures. This is especially important if you have to check-in at the airport or drop checked baggage.
Airports are unpredictable. You can never know for sure how busy it will be or how long it might take to get through security. And, if it's your first time visiting an airport, you might want to spend some time looking around it, do some shopping or grab something to eat.
Tip: If you’re checking-in at the airport or have baggage to check, you don’t want to arrive too early! Check-in counters will usually open 2–4 hours before your flight, depending on the airline and the destinations that you’re flying between. If you arrive before check-in opens, you’ll be stuck waiting around landside with not a great deal to do other than to wait. So, make sure to look up when the check-in counter will open for your flight.
COVID update: While it's still important to arrive in plenty of time as to not miss the check-in deadline, due to COVID-19, it's not advisable to arrive for your flight too early and hang around the airport.
4) Learn the different types of baggage and the rules
Checked baggage, carry-on baggage, personal item. What’s the difference? If you haven’t flown before, you should take some time learning about the different types of baggage and which items you’re allowed to bring. A great place to start is our guide on the difference between carry-on baggage and personal items. But we’ll also give you a breakdown here too:
Checked baggage — checked baggage or hold baggage is an item of baggage that is stored in the hold of the aircraft and can’t be accessed during the flight. The weight and size allowance for checked baggage is bigger than the allowance for carry-on baggage and personal items and there are generally fewer restrictions as to what you can put in a checked bag. Checked baggage has to be weighed and dropped off at the airline's check-in desk at the airport. Some airlines will give complimentary checked baggage included within the price of your flight ticket, whereas others (usually low-cost airlines) will give you the opportunity to purchase checked baggage at the airport or prior to the flight, with the latter being the much cheaper option.**
Carry-on baggage — carry-on baggage or hand baggage is an item of baggage that is kept on-person during the flight and is stored in the cabin of the aircraft, where the passengers sit. The carry-on baggage size and weight allowance is usually less than the checked baggage allowance (half the size or more) but bigger than the personal item allowance. Carry-on baggage has to be taken through security and there are a number of items that can’t be stored in your carry-on baggage and taken with you on the plane.*** For example, liquids over 100ml and items that can be used as a bludgeon are prohibited from carry-on baggage. Carry-on baggage is almost always included within the price of the ticket and costs no extra, although there are exceptions on some low-cost airlines, such as Ryanair.
Personal item — a personal item is a small item of baggage, such as a handbag, laptop or small rucksack. Like carry-on baggage, a personal item is kept on-person during the flight and has the same security regulations in regards to which items can be stored in the bag. The size and weight allowance for a personal item is much smaller than the allowance for checked and carry-on baggage, only allowing you to hold a few items. Not every airline will allow you to carry a personal item. Instead, you’ll be asked to place the items from your personal item in your carry-on bag.
The weight and size allowance for each type of baggage will differ from airline to airline, so you’ll have to check with the airline that you’re flying on to find this information out.
Tip: If you purchase any liquids from duty-free and have a connecting flight, you’ll have to consider whether you’ll be allowed to carry it on to your second flight. There are different rules depending on where in the world you’re flying from. Find out more our duty-free rules page.
** Here’s how you can add baggage to your reservation at the time of booking with Alternative Airlines, as well as the list of airlines we offer baggage for.
Break out the scales and weigh your baggage at home to avoid a nasty fee at the airport. If your baggage is over the permitted weight allowance given by the airline, you’ll be charged an excess baggage fee which can sometimes amount to more than the cost of checking the bag in the first place!
6) Make your baggage easily identifiable
Wrap a coloured ribbon or belt around your baggage. At baggage reclaim, instead of having to pull piece after piece of baggage from the conveyor belt to check if it’s yours, you’ll be able to quickly and easily identify your baggage and will save a load of time and hassle.
7) Keep checking your itinerary and flight status
Keep checking your itinerary and make sure that all the details of your flight are as you expect. Some cities, such as New York City, have multiple airports and you’ll want to make sure that your travel plans are in-line with that airport.
It’s equally important to continually check the status of your flight in the week leading up to it in case of any schedule changes — these occur more frequently than you might expect. This can usually be done on the airline’s website.
Tip: If you’re worried about your flight being delayed, take a look at our flight delay advice.
COVID update: This is especially important during the coronavirus pandemic. Because travel restrictions are constantly changing, airlines might be forced the cancel flights with little warning. You should keep checking the status of your flight up until the day of the flight.
8) Remember all travel documents & passport
Not all travel documents are essential, but if you leave behind your passport, ID card or a required visa, you will be refused boarding or not let into the country that you’re travelling to. If you’re checking in at the airport, make sure you have your flight PNR number** ready to give to the check-in agent. If you’re checking-in online, make sure you have your boarding pass printed out or saved on your mobile.
Regularly check for your travel documents before and during your trip as to make sure you haven’t misplaced them or left them behind anywhere.
** Your PNR number is a unique code that allows the airline to access information about your flight and the reservation that you’ve made. You can usually find your PNR number within your booking or booking confirmation. At Alternative Airlines, you can find your PNR number at the top your e-ticket, titled ‘Airline Reference’.
COVID update: As mentioned earlier, due to COVID, you may be required to provide special documentation for your flight. This can include: a negative COVID test, a health declaration, a passenger locator form or any other documentation that is requested.
9) Buy travel insurance
Buying travel insurance is very important, especially for longer trips. Not only does it provide cover if the airline that you’re flying on goes bust but it also covers other travel disruptions, as well as emergency medical expenses, lost or stolen baggage and personal liability.
Each insurance company offers a different type of cover and you can add and remove the bits that you need to give you peace of mind.
At Alternative Airlines, we offer our own flight insurance, which covers for you a range of different reasons.
10) Dress comfortably
Dress in clothes that are unrestrictive and make you feel comfortable. Sitting on a plane for hours in clothes that give you discomfort can be a nightmare, especially on long-haul flights.
If you’re meeting someone that you’d like to impress when you land, you can take a change of clothes in your carry-on baggage and get changed at the airport when you land.
If you’re someone that might need to use the toilet often, choose a seat next to the aisle. If you’re someone that wants to catch some sleep and doesn’t want to be bothered during your flight, choose a seat by the window.
Pre-selecting a seat is also a great way to guarantee that you’ll be seated next to the person(s) that you’re travelling with. The airline will often try and sit you together by default but depending on the availability, you might be seperated.
12) Bring some in-flight accessories
In-flight accessories can really make the difference. Bring a travel pillow, sleep mask, blanket, ear-plugs or whatever you need to stay comfortable.
13) Bring your own entertainment
Create a music playlist on your phone, take a book to read or bring a device to watch your favourite TV shows and films on. It’s especially important to bring your own entertainment on medium-haul flights (between 3–6 hours), as these flights are long enough for you to get bored on and usually don’t have an in-flight entertainment system.
Tip: Although the list of airlines that offer Wi-Fi is growing, Wi-Fi is still not available on many airlines or won’t have the capability to stream music, TV shows or films. As a result, we suggest downloading any music, TV shows or films to your electronic device before your flight as to avoid disappointment.
COVID update: many airlines have disabled their own in-flight entertainment on flights as part of their COVID-19 safety measures.
14) Consider the climate of where you’re flying to
Wearing a jacket and jeans might seem a good idea when leaving a colder country, but you’ll quickly regret it when the destination you arrive in is in 35ºC heat. And it’s the same vice versa. That’s why it’s best to bring some removable layers or even pack a change of clothes in your carry-on baggage, especially as you might feel colder on the plane than you will at your destination.
15) Bring your own food
Some people get on with airline food better than others. And the truth is, you won’t know if you like it until you’ve tried it. If you’re flying for the first time, we suggest bringing some back-up food so that you’re covered if you discover that it’s not your thing and you have to go hungry for the whole flight.
This also applies if you’d like a special meal type. Many airlines provide the option to pre-order a special meal, but some won’t have every meal type. So, you might need to bring your own if there’s a lack of choice.
COVID update: many airlines have stopped serving food and drink during the flight to limit contact.
16) Stay hydrated
High altitude and low cabin humidity might cause headaches and dizziness if you’re not used to it. The best way to combat this is by drinking lots of water and staying hydrated.
You should also be careful with alcohol. We’re not saying to avoid it completely — if you’re on holiday and a flight attendant comes down offering a free cold alcoholic beverage, we won’t stop you! But it’s worth noting that alcohol will make you more dehydrated.
17) See your doctor if you’re anxious
If you’re nervous about flying, consult your doctor prior to your flight. They’ll be able to give you advice and might prescribe you with medication to help you with anxiety.
If you’re taking any other medication, it’s important to note that there are restrictions regarding what you can and can’t take. Take a read of our guide on flying with medication to gain a better understanding.
18) Exchange currency beforehand or online
If you’re flying with money and exchanging your cash into another currency, don’t use the currency exchange companies at the airport as they usually give terrible exchange rates.
Instead, exchange your money with a reputable currency exchange service before the day that you fly. The only time it might be a good idea to use the currency exchange companies at the airport is if the company you use allows you to pre-order your currency online and pick it up at the airport. When you pre-order online, these companies usually offer a better exchange rate which is more in-line with what other companies outside of the airport are offering.
19) Don’t panic over the security procedures
Before the flight takes off, the cabin crew will take you through some procedures that you need to know. This includes some of the cabin rules, how to fasten your seatbelt as well as some information on what to do in case of an emergency. But, don’t be alarmed! This is a standard procedure that every airline undertakes for every flight and is put in place to reassure you.