Documents to take. Click to see info on proper ID requirements.
Confirming your Flight. If you fly on any one of the major US carriers or their large alliance partners, you don't have to worry about calling to confirm your flight. However, if you're flying Air Zimbabwe or other less-known carrier, its a good idea to call at least 24 hours prior to your scheduled departure. Use this handy list of airline phone numbers to check with your airline a day before your departure.
Checking on the Status of your Flight before you Leave? It is definitely a good idea to check the status of your departure prior to leaving for the airport. Check on iFly's live departures to see the status of your flight. NOTE: remember, if your flight is listed as 'on-time 3 hours prior to your boarding time, that does not guarantee that by the time you get to the airport parking lot that the flight status will not have changed to 'delayed'.
When to Arrive at the airport? After you've familiarized yourself with the directions to the airport, seen what the average drive time is, and viewed the parking options, you will probably now be asking: "when should I arrive at the airport"?. The TSA recommends arriving at least 2 hours before your flight. You might also want to check the average security wait time to see how long the lines are at the time you'll be arriving.
Airport parking options. Airport parking can be very frustrating, and very expensive, if you're not prepared. It is very common for passengers to miss flights because they could not find appropriate parking, or getting stuck with huge bills because time ran short and the only option left was the high-priced short-term parking garage. Know your options. Check out iFly's section on Parking Advice and Tips.
Public Transportation Options If you live in an area which has public transportation, often this can be the cheapest and most reliable way to get into and out of the airport. Trains are not affected by rush hour (they only run more frequently), and often take you very close to your departure terminal. Check if the closest airport to you for info on ground transportation options.
Checking In for your Flight? Checking in with bags: If you've decided to check-in your bags, then you must proceed to the check-in counter for your airline. There you will wait in-line until its your turn to heave your bag on the scale, present your airport ID, and get your boarding pass issued, along with a baggage tag receipt. Make sure your bag is unlocked, or has a TSA-approved lock. Once you have that, you're set to pass through the security checkpoint and on to your departure gate.
Checking in with only Carry-on Bags. Should you be traveling light and have only a carry-on bag, your best bet is to look for one of those nifty self check-in ticket kiosks (machine) - most major airlines have them at most airports. That way you can avoid the lines at the check-in ticket counters.
What happens if I carry my bags on-board, and there is no space? You've made it to the airport, your flight is set for an on-time departure, and you've started the boarding process - only you're in the back of a long line of fellow passengers, and by the time you get on board, there is no space left in any of the overhead bins! Well what happens in that case is the flight attendants take your bag into the cockpit, where the pilot gets first dibs on your stuff...ok, what really happens is that they take your bag off the plane and check it in. So now you have to go to baggage claim when you arrive at your destination to pick it up at the baggage carousel. No big deal, right?
Self Check-in Ticket Kiosks. These are machines which allow you to insert your ID - usually a valid credit card for validation - and print a boarding pass without having to wait on line at the check-in counter. Located near the airlines' ticket counters, these great time savers also allow you to view your itinerary, select seats, and print boarding passes for all your flight segments. Note: if you're checking bags, you will still have to go to the ticket counters - but many have ticket kiosks right in front of the counter, and prompt you "Are you checking bags?". If you select yes, you will be assisted by an airline ticket counter agent.
Getting thru Airport Security. The next step after getting your boarding pass will be to proceed through airport security. Follow the signs to your gate, as there may be a security checkpoint at the entrance to several groups of gates.
To avoid any delays, here is what you should be prepared for when entering the airport security checkpoint:
Be prepared to remove your shoes, belt, watch, and anything that has a substantial metal content. Bins are provided to keep lose items together. Remove your laptop from its case or bag, and place that in a separate bin. Keep your airport ID and boarding pass available to show any of the TSDA security screeners.
2. Before you board. Should you get something to eat before you catch your flight? Its no secret that after 9/11, most airlines began cutting back on many in-flight services, such as food service. Many offer what is now referred to as 'buy on board' - where meals and snack boxes are sold, depending on time of day and duration of flight. You might want to know in advance what the on-board options will be, otherwise you might have to make-do with what is offered, and shell out the $5 or $10 for your mile-high box.
3. The Boarding Process. Once past the airport's security checkpoint, proceed to your gate's boarding area. Look for departure monitors as you proceed, checking on the latest status and gate (yes, they can change) of your flight. Boarding typically begins about 30 mins prior to the scheduled departure time, so be sure to arrive there in time. You may risk losing your assigned seat (or even your flight) if you show up too late.
4. Check your boarding pass. Most airlines board by zones or rows. Listen to the announcements regarding boarding, and proceed when your row section or zone is called. You will pass an airline gate agent, who will take your boarding pass and may ask for ID. If you printed out a boarding pass at home, you will surrender it there for a bar-code scan. Embark the plane, find your seat, and make sure you do not put anything too large under the seat in front of you, as the flight attendant may ask you to put it in the overhead bin. Then fasten your seatbelt... the flight attendant will show a video (its done manually on some aircraft types) explaining the safety features of the aircraft prior to takeoff.
Dealing with Delays. Cancellations and other "Joys of Travel". Missed or cancelled connections. If you arrive to your connecting city late, or your connecting flight was canceled outright, here is what you can or should do. First, its a good idea to have your travel agent or airline's 800 number with you. If you have that, you can call them and find out what your options are, usually they can rebook you on another flight that day. This might save you a long line at the boarding gate counter, waiting in the queue to have your ticket re-booked on another flight. Otherwise, as soon as you learned that your connecting flight was missed or cancelled, you should seek out the airline's customer service counter, or the gate agent at the gate where your departure was scheduled for. Get more canceled flight tips.
Connecting Flights. Once you land at your connecting city airport, you will disembark, taking all of your belongings with you. Just because you are traveling on a direct flight, you may still need to change planes, gates and possibly terminals even though your connecting flight may show the same flight number as your flight from your origin had. Check the departure monitors when you de-plane to check on the status of your connecting flight.
Arriving at your Destination. Finding your bags. Once you have disembarked from your plane, follow the signs to Baggage Claim. Once you arrive there, check the monitors to find the carousel that corresponds to your flight number. Be prepared to surrender your luggage tags to any security personnel (to check that you haven't walked off with somebody's Luis Vuitton bag). In most cases, nobody checks anyway.
Lost luggage? You've made it through all of this, only to be left as the last person standing at the baggage claim carousel. Horrible! Well, as you've probably figured out, you've been a victim of lost luggage. Don't panic. Look for the airline baggage office, usually located right there at baggage claim, and be prepared to fill out the paperwork. Usually they will tell you when you can expect your bag to arrive, and will provide transportation for your bag to your home or hotel.