A beginner’s guide to traveling by air

For many people, traveling by plane can be a terrifying experience. If not the actual flying, then at least the anxiety of a potential hectic process of checking in, finding the correct gate and waiting. This guide will help ease your worries of traveling by air and even before that, at the airport.

A) Preparation & Checklist

Each airline has roughly the same checklist of things you need to bring with you on the day of your trip. However, check with your travel agent or the airline for exact details.

– One carry-on bag like a small carriage to be carried onto the plane with you
– One personal item like a purse, small backpack or laptop to be carried onto the plane with you
– One or more suit cases to be checked-in when you get your boarding pass. They might also allow more than one suit case if it doesn’t go over a kg limit. IF it does go over, they will charge you for every kg that goes over.

Liquid/cream amenities
Like toothpaste, lotion and cough medicine, most airlines allow you to bring up to 100mg of each item, so long as they all fit inside one sandwich bag (about 6-1/2 inch x 5-7/8 inch). Note that common sense means you can’t bring dangerous chemicals aboard like compressed gas cans, gasoline, explosive material, etc.

Razors, Knives, etc
You can not bring them with you on personal bags and carry-on, but you can leave them in your suit case to be checked-in. Some airlines require that you tell them about such items if you have them in your suit cases.

Domestic Flights Identification
– In Canada, all you need to fly between provinces or within provinces is your ID card or your driver’s license. This is true for Canadian citizens. If you’re a visitor from abroad, then you will need to bring your Passport and/or Visa ID.
– Bring your ticket and have it checked-in at the kiosk machine or one of the airline agents at the booths. They will take the ticket and give you a boarding pass.

International Flights Identification
– You will need to bring your passport. Make sure your passport has a healthy length of time before it expires. Usually, this means it has at least 6 months left before it expires. If not, I suggest you get it renewed. Some airport Customs Agents are more lenient than others, but I suggest you don’t take the chance and just have a refreshed passport.
– Bringing an extra ID like an ID card or driver’s license would be a bonus. You might as well, in case they ever need an extra item for identification.
– Bring your ticket and have it checked-in at the kiosk machine or one of the airline agents at the booths. They will take the ticket and give you a boarding pass.

B) Domestic VS International

For most international airports, the Domestic and International gates are completely separate. So make sure to find this on the airport map. Fortunately, once you cross the doors into the X-ray line-up, everything is roughly the same between the two.

C) From leaving your house to boarding the plane

1) Traveling to the airport
Make sure to plan beforehand how you will go to the airport and how much it will roughly cost. If you don’t have a credit card, bring enough cash to cover two trips on the taxi. When you call the taxi service, I suggest you ask them how much it generally is, then double what you bring in cash.

If someone is going to take you, make sure you note the time of day and traffic conditions. The rule of thumb is be at the airport 3 hours in advance of your flight time.

Make sure they drop you off at the Departure area. It’s split between Domestic and International and if the airport is large enough, it may be split up between destinations and/or airlines.

2) First thing to do at the airport
Head over to either the Check-in Kiosk or Check-in counter for the airline you’re flying with. If you don’t want to line-up for the check-in counter, then do the kiosk. It’s normally faster. However, if you have baggage you need checked-in, then do the check-in counter route. If you only have carry-ons, then go to the kiosk. At the kiosk, just follow the instructions on the screen, then stick your ticket into the slot and have it scanned. It will also ask for your passport if you’re flying International. If you’re uncomfortable with the Kiosk, just do the counter line-up. At least if you have any questions, you can ask the check-in counter agent.

Note that the check-in counters are grouped by airline. So make sure you’re in the line-up for the correct airline. My friend once lined-up thinking it was for Cathay Pacific, but found out he was in a line-up for Air China. -_-

Once you get your boarding pass, it will tell you the Flight Code/#, your seat # and the Gate where you depart from. Make sure you take your carry-on luggage with you as you leave the counter or kiosk.

3) Say goodbye to your friends and family and head to the Departure area
Find the Domestic or International doors that lead into the Departure gates. When you enter this area, you cannot go back out. So make sure you have everything with you.

Once you enter this area, you will go through a line-up that leads you into a large room with baggage x-rays, police officers and other security personnel. Don’t panic and stay calm. Take slow deep long breaths if you’re nervous. Just look around you and remember that everyone has to go through the same thing and it will only take a few minutes.

While you’re waiting in line, note what everyone is doing at the X-ray machines. They are taking trays off a stack and placing them onto the counter top. Note what they are placing in them. For both Domestic and International flights, you need to put the following in the trays:

– Your jacket, empty them if you have keys, cellphone, MP3 player, wallet, etc.
– Your carry-on bags.
– Your shoes.
– Your belt.
– On a separate tray, your laptop if you have one.
– Your hat, scarf and gloves.

Make sure your pockets are emptied into the trays. That’s why it’s better to not carry so many things with you. Keep it simple.

At this point, it’s just a domino effect of people doing what they need to do. So just follow what everyone is doing and don’t panic, just calm down. Once it’s your turn to cross the X-ray frame, give your boarding pass to the airport agent on the other side of the counter. S/he will scan it and give it back to you.

Walk through the X-ray frame when the airport agent on the other side signals you to. Just walk through it normally. If something goes wrong, it will buzz. Just wait for the agent to tell you what to do. If it doesn’t buzz, just head over to the other side of the X-ray machine counter and wait until your stuff goes through. Then take everything, put it back on and make sure you have everything including your passport, boarding pass, etc.

4) After the X-Rays, Going to the Departure Gate
Once you have everything triple checked, you will find yourself in the International Zone where all the gates are. There will be shops, cafes and restaurants, maps and lots of airport staff running around. If you need help, do not hesitate to ask an airport staff member. They are there to help you. Make use of them.

Note the Departure Gate on your boarding pass and note the signs that tell you where each gate is. They are all sorted by letters. To double check if they changed the Departure Gate, you can go up to an electronic flight board and check your Flight # and which gate it will be at. Once you get to the gate, you can check again by looking at the monitors at the booth. It will tell you the airline’s name, destination and time of departure. Ask an airline worker at the booth for clarification if you need to. Do not be embarrassed because no one cares. Everyone had their first times.

Once you find your Departure Gate, find a chair to sit on and wait. Don’t fall asleep. ^_^

5) Boarding time
When it’s near boarding time, airline agents will go to the gate booth and start doing things. An announcer will call out boarding priorities. It normally starts with those that are seated in First Class and Business Class, then next are the parents who has young children, afterward, they will call out groups of passengers by airplane rows. Eg: “Rows 20 to 30, please line-up.”

For Domestic flights, get your ID card and boarding pass out. For International, get your passport and your boarding pass out. The airline agent will scan it at the booth when it’s your turn.

6) Boarding the plane and finding your seat
Once they scan it and give it back to you, just go through the doors and up the ramp and onto the plane. If you’re boarding a large plane that normally has two walkways, just show your boarding pass to the airplane steward and ask which side you would sit. They will direct you and you would just walk down to the row you’re at.

At this point, find an empty spot at the top baggage storage and shove your bag in there. If not, there is an empty space large enough for a backpack or laptop bag under the seat in front of you. You would slide the item under the chair in front of you from your side of the seat. So while you’re in flight, you can easily take it out if you need something. Don’t worry though, if you need something from the over top storage, you can grab your bag when it’s safe to do so.

After you get your bags sorted out, sit down on your seat and put your seat belt on. Adjust the tightness so it’s snug but not too tight.

7) On board entertainment and food
For domestic flights that last an hour or more, they usually serve you a snack and a beverage. For my flight from Vancouver to Calgary, they gave me a small bag of pretzels and a cup of tomato juice. There are other beverages to choose from like orange juice, apple juice, tea, water, coffee and you can also ask for ice or hold the ice too.

Note that if you’re flying Economy on domestic flights, ear phones will cost you money. Extra food will also cost you money.

On international flights, they normally off you one meal and one snack. This is dependent on the distance though. So if you’re flying from Vancouver to Portland, they may not offer a full meal. However my trip from Vancouver to Hong Kong, they did offer one meal and a snack.

Note that if you’re flying Economy on many International flights, ear phones come free and you can always head into the kitchen to get snacks and drinks for free as well. Wine and beer is available.

Most airlines offer on board movies, television shows, cartoons and music. Some even offer games, but I find them pretty lame and unplayable. There are many movies and television shows to choose from. All you have to do is plug your earphone into the jack on the side of your chair on the inside and touch the screen in front of you. Follow the instructions accordingly. Make sure to adjust the volume before you shove the earphones in your ear. I find them more often than not, the volume is super high.

Also, note the controls above your seat on the ceiling. There is an air conditioner fan and a light. The air conditioner is normally a twist knob to turn on or off. The light is just a button. Also note if you need assistance, there is a button on your chair next or on the ceiling that calls for a steward. Press it again if you want to cancel it after pressing it for a call.

8) The washrooms
If you’re flying Economy on a large plane, the washrooms are located at the back and middle of the plane. For large planes, there are normally 4-8 washrooms for Economy class: 2-4 in the middle and 2-4 in the back. The ones at the front are reserved for First Class or Business Class passengers.

Once you go inside, make sure to lock it and the light will go on. DO NOT drink the tap water. The flushing button is near the toilet on the wall. Besides toilet paper, don’t put anything else into the toilet for flushing. For hand towels and other items, put it into the trash bin next to the towel dispenser, next to the sink or under it. NO SMOKING at all times.

Note that to open the washroom door, you just need to either a) push on it or b) rotate the knob and push on it.

9) Sleeping
Most planes that fly domestically don’t have the same features as those for international flights. On large planes for international flight, note that there are head-rest flaps that can be adjusted forward, so your head don’t roll off to the side. Just pull them forward from the side.

Also note that your seat can decline a bit. There is a button somewhere you can press and you just push against the seat to decline it. Press the button again and stop leaning against it to incline it again.

International flights normally leave blankets on the seats. While it’s time for sleep, it’s a good idea to put it over you. If not, use it as lumbar support. I find plane seats uncomfortable when flying Economy class.

D1) From leaving the plane to exiting the airport

1) Arriving at your destination
During the flight, you will be given a Customs form. If you didn’t get one, ask for one. You need it, otherwise, you can’t enter the country.

Fill it out accordingly. It will ask for your boarding pass and passport information, as well as the amount of stuff in cash value you’re bringing into the country.

Roughly 30 minutes before the plane arrives at its destination, an announcement will periodically come on until you do arrive. Make sure at this point, all your bags are packed in and double check all your belongings on you, eg: passport, wallet, etc. For international flights, you can take the earphones with you, but you have to leave the blankets.

Also, if you have a bottle of water you didn’t drink during your meal, don’t bring it with you if you need to board another flight. Bring it with you if you’re not doing a layover if you want to.

Once the plane lands and the seat belt lights shut off, you can either start unloading your stuff or wait until most people are gone. I normally like to wait until the plane is more empty for me to get my stuff. Make sure you don’t have a tight time layover.

Make sure you have everything!

You will then make your way out of the plane, down the ramp and through some doors. Just follow the crowd and read the signs.

2) Customs
This is probably the scariest for International travelers, but if you’ve done everything correctly, you have nothing to worry about. Just line-up accordingly. There will be two distinct groups: Foreigners and Canadians.

At the Customs booth, the agent will be serious. Just stay calm and smile. Make sure your passport and your Customs form is on hand. Once you step up to the booth, give them both to the agent. The agent will ask you a few questions. Answer them truthfully and clearly and always make sure the agent can see your face. If you’re wearing sunglasses, take them off.

Once that is done, head through the booths. If you have suit cases to get, head to the baggage claim area with a cart. Find the baggage belt and take your items with you. Do NOT leave them lying around. ALWAYS keep an eye on your belongings. Be cautious of people near your stuff.

Afterward, just find the exit and head out. You will go down a hallway and out a set of doors. Note that there are usually a lot of security here. Just stay calm and breath in slowly.

Once you pass this area, you’re at the destination country. Welcome! ^_^

D2) From leaving the plane to boarding your next flight (layover)

1) If you’re flying to another International destination
You’re already in the International zone, so just find your gate and wait for the announcement. If however, the arrival path seem to lead you outside, speak with an attendant and ask her/him for directions. There is a chance you may need to go back out, then go through the whole X-raying process again.

2) If you’re flying to a domestic destination after an international flight
Unfortunately, I do not have the data for this. If someone can be so kind to fill me in with this, that would be great. Otherwise, for the rest of you looking for this info, you will need to ask your travel agent.

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