15 Essential Tips for First-Time Flyers + Must-Know FAQs to Navigate the Skies with Ease

Gearing up for your first-ever flight? Whether you’re headed international or somewhere closer to home, taking your first flight can feel a bit daunting. Of course, that doesn’t mean it has to be. Flying isn’t half as scary as some first-timers think it is. But we’re all about making travel easier, including for the uninitiated. So, we’ve compiled a list of the best tips and answers to the most frequent questions for first-time flyers. It doesn’t matter if it’s your first time at 30,000 feet. This essential guide for first-time flyers will make it feel like the 30th time.

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15 Tips for First-Time Flyers

Flying comes with its fair share of do’s and don’ts, and figuring out what they all are can be super stressful when you’re thinking of flying for the first time. So rather than scouring the internet, we’ve compiled a list of 15 of the most essential tips for first-time flyers to help you conquer your first flight with ease. 

10 DO’s for First-Time Flyers

From the obvious to the obscure to the easily forgotten, here are ten tips every first-time flyer can do to make their first flight more stress-free before even leaving the house.

Do: Check-in Online 

Make your trip easier by checking in online. Most airlines allow you to check in 24 hours before your flight. You’ll then receive a digital boarding pass with your flight number and gate. A digital boarding pass allows you to skip the long check-in lines at the airport and will often update itself if your gate number changes.

Do: Arrive Early at the Airport

Unexpected traffic delays and long security lines are just a few reasons you should plan to arrive at the airport early. The rule of thumb is it’s best to arrive at least two hours before your flight. However, this can change depending on several factors, like whether the flight is domestic or international and what time of year you’re flying. Plan to arrive even earlier if you’re heading out on an international flight instead of a domestic one. Big international airports can be a hassle due to their sheer size. In addition, longer check-in and security lines can make navigating the airport a slog. In short, it’s better to be safe than sorry. 

Do: Keep Your ID Handy

From check-in to boarding the plane, your ID will make an appearance several times as you make your way through the airport. So it’s important to have it readily available. The last thing you want is to be fumbling to get your ID out of however many zippered pockets it’s tucked away in while the TSA officer stares you down and the growing line behind you starts grumbling in your ear. Having your ID easily accessible will speed up the process of moving through the many checkpoints and help you get through security faster.

Do: Wear Shoes That Are Easy to Remove

Unless you have TSA PreCheck, you must remove your shoes during the security check. Wearing shoes that easily slip off, such as sandals or sneakers, is a must for saving time and getting through security quickly. While you’re at it, plan to wear socks with your shoes if possible so you’re not walking over the cold and presumably dirty airport floor with your bare feet.

Do: Pack Essentials in Your Carry-On

This is one of the most essential tips for first-time flyers we can share. Imagine the airport loses your luggage; just like that, your laptop, contacts, medicine, and all your clothes are gone. That’s why it’s a good idea to pack all those essentials in a carry-on so they travel with you on the plane. If you don’t have a carry-on, try fitting these items and a few clothes in your personal bag, which all airlines allow passengers to bring aboard. A personal item must fit under the seat in front of you. While it doesn’t seem very impressive, you may be surprised just how much you can fit in such a small space.

Do: Check That Your Baggage Fits the Airline Requirements

Baggage requirements differ by airline, so unfortunately, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all you can apply to every flight unless you’re always flying with the same carrier. That goes for checked baggage and carry-on luggage, but almost all airlines allow a personal item that fits under the seat in front. As for checked bags and carry-ons, it varies. Sizes, weights, and what is included for free can change from carrier to carrier and based on your ticket fare. Always look up the requirements and double-check that the luggage you bring fits them so you don’t have to pay a fee or throw things out because you’re over the weight limit.

Do: Pack Layers for the Plane

Airplanes can often get chilly, especially if you have a seatmate with the air on full blast. Plan to bring a few layers, such as a cardigan, jacket, or even a blanket, onto the plane with you. Another thing to keep in mind is where you’re flying to. Suppose it’s a pleasant 69 degrees in Florida, and you’re heading to a frigid 19 degrees in New York. In that case, you’ll want to have something for deboarding and heading to the parking garage. The reverse is also true. Being able to shed some layers in the airport restroom before heading outside into the blistering heat will make your weather transitions more comfortable.

Do: Stay Up-to-Date on Your Itinerary and Flight Status

Flight statuses change all the time. Sometimes, your plane might be delayed getting in, or it could be delayed at the gate. Whatever the case is, it can affect when you’re scheduled to depart. So, it’s best to keep an eye on your flight status. The most convenient place to check is online/on the airline app. It’s helpful to know before you leave the house and even while wandering the airport if your flight is on schedule so you can be at the gate when it’s time to board. 

It’s also helpful to provide your flight information to anyone picking you up. By tracking delays and your estimated arrival time, they can coordinate when to arrive instead of being forced to circle the lot while waiting for your plane to land.  

Do: Bring Your Own In-Flight Entertainment and Comfort

Flights can be long, and not every flight or every airline promises in-flight entertainment—unless you’re flying JetBlue. So bringing your own is a must. Pack your phone or tablet with your favorite movies or shows already downloaded so you can watch offline. Not every airline provides free Wi-Fi either. This is also a great time to download your favorite playlist, podcast, or audiobook, and nothing beats a good old paperback. 

If you plan to sleep the hours away, don’t forget the little things to make nodding off a bit easier, like a neck pillow, noise-canceling headphones or earplugs, and an eye mask. You can spend your first time at 30,000 feet nodding off among the clouds.

Do: Pack Food and Water

Hydration is key when traveling, especially on long international flights. Pack an empty water bottle, plastic or metal, and fill it up after security. Just be sure there’s nothing in it on your way through, or you’ll have to dump it/throw it away. This can also help you avoid purchasing water at the airport, where it’s more expensive—and if this is your first time through the airport, you’ll be unpleasantly surprised by how much. Additionally, you’ll have a full bottle of water for the airplane, so you don’t have to rely on the flight attendants for a drink.

Speaking of which, if the idea of pretzels or nuts as a complimentary snack doesn’t make your mouth water, consider bringing some of your favorite snacks aboard the plane. Homemade trail mix, your favorite cereal in a baggie, granola bars, and even candy bars can be brought through security in a sealed bag or container. 

5 DON’Ts for First-Time Flyers

Just as every good list of tips has its do’s, there are quite a few important don’ts that all first-time flyers need to keep in mind. So before you buckle up, and even before you pack up, here are five key tips for things that first-time flyers should NEVER do.

Don’t: Forget Your Travel Documents

Your travel documents are your gateway to the world. If you leave them behind or lose them, you could be denied boarding or barred from entering your destination. So before you leave, do a document check. 

  1. Driver’s license (or other accepted REAL-ID)
  2. Passport
  3. Travel visa

In addition, double-check that you have digital versions of your boarding pass, travel itineraries/confirmations, and travel insurance. Keep in mind that while you can get a physical copy of your boarding pass printed at the airport, some airlines charge a fee to check in and have your boarding pass printed at the airport.

Don’t: Overpack

Overpacking is a cardinal sin of flying. And while it’s easy to forget, this is one thing that immediately costs you—quite literally. Airlines love charging overweight baggage fees; you could even get stopped at security if your carry-on bag is too overstuffed. So, to avoid the additional fees and added stress, be meticulous about your packing list, even downright cutthroat if you have to. Focus on reusable pieces you can layer or mix and match, and don’t pack twice as many outfits as you’ll actually need for your trip. 

Don’t: Forget to Weigh Your Bags at Home

This tip for first-time flyers does a bit of piggybacking off the last one: Don’t forget to weigh your bags at home. If you overpack, you risk exceeding the permitted weight limit and getting hit with excess baggage fees. These often cost more and sometimes even double the original baggage fee! You don’t need anything fancy here, just a regular scale to give you a ballpark estimate of how much your bag weighs and ensure it’s coming in under the weight limit for your airline. 

Don’t: Leave Your Bags Unattended

This is a universal rule you’ll hear shared over the airport loudspeakers from time to time. And while it seems pretty commonsense, you may be surprised how often it happens, between quick trips to the restroom and last-minute food runs. Leaving your bags unattended may seem innocuous, but it poses a major security risk to the airport and could result in security confiscating your bags. So, to prevent that and avoid getting caught up in security issues, always keep your bags with you at the airport. 

Don’t: Ignore the Safety Briefing

If it’s your first time on a plane, then one thing you shouldn’t do is ignore the safety briefing. Flight attendants go over this before every flight. While you might see seasoned flyers checked out during this time, the information conveyed is invaluable for first-time flyers. The safety briefing outlines what to do in case of an emergency and where the exits are located, a key piece of information to know in the unlikely event that the plane is evacuated.

First-Time Flyer FAQs

Now that you’re well-versed in all the must-know tips for first-time flyers, you may still be left with some questions. That’s normal. Flying can be a lot, and it’s not always easy knowing what you need to know. So here are some popular questions that often come up for first-time flyers.

Do I Need Travel Insurance?

After all the time and money you put into your trip, you don’t want it all to go to waste. In that regard, travel insurance is a great addition to any flyer’s checklist, especially if you’re dealing with the anxieties of your first flight. Travel insurance can offer added peace of mind as you try to navigate this new experience. 

Some travel cards come with insurance coverage for travel purchases made on that card. However, it’s important to note these insurances often have limited coverage. You might feel more comfortable getting separate travel insurance for your trip depending on the amount of time and money you put into it.

Next Vacay Pro-Tip: Travel insurance isn’t the only way to protect your trip. Set yourself up for success by arriving early, planning for possible setbacks like missing your flight, and setting aside an emergency cash fund for any unforeseen expenses that crop up.

What’s the Security Screening Process Like?

First-time flyers might be anxious about the screening process, but in truth, it’s nothing to be nervous about. Travelers without TSA PreCheck enter the standard line and must present a license (or other approved form of ID) and their boarding pass to the TSA agent. Have these out when you get there. After getting waved through, you’ll go through the screening process. This involves removing your shoes and putting your items on the conveyor belt to pass through the X-ray.

Once all your items are prepped for screening, you’ll wait for the TSA agent’s OK and step into an X-ray machine. Directions are usually posted on the machine so you know exactly where and how to stand. If there are any bulky spots on your clothes or you’re wearing your hair in a bun, you may be waived to the side for a pat down. Don’t be nervous. This happens more often than you might think. Once you’re checked over and cleared, you can gather your items, slip into your shoes, and you’ll be on your way.

How Do I Get Through Security Screening Faster?

Making sure you’re ready to go through security ensures you get through smoothly when it’s your turn. Double-check that your liquids don’t exceed 3.4 ounces and all fit in a clear, quart-sized bag. Don’t forget to empty your pockets and remove any extra layers before going through screening. Electronics and your personal item go in security trays. Shoes go directly on the belt. In addition, try wearing an easy hairstyle and non-bulky clothing to avoid a pat down.

What’s the Best Luggage to Travel With?

The best luggage to travel with is a carry-on bag. Why you might ask? The answer is many reasons. The first is that carry-on luggage goes on the plane with you, thus eliminating the hassle of checking a bag, including picking it up upon arrival or having the airline lose it entirely. It also cuts down on costs, as flight prices rarely include baggage. Lastly, it’s a great reminder to pack light and only take what you need on your vacation. 

Where Should a First-Time Flyer Sit?

There’s no one-size-fits-all seat for first-time flyers. It all comes down to what will be most comfortable for you. If you’re worried about turbulence, try nabbing a seat in the middle over the wings of the plane. If you want more legroom, try the emergency exits. However, bear in mind that you have to be over 16 years old to sit in the emergency exit rows, and you’ll be expected to assist in case of emergencies. If you’re worried your seat could make or break your first flight experience, check out these pro tips for choosing the best seats on a plane.

What’s the Difference Between a Nonstop and a Connecting Flight?

Despite both getting you from point A to point B, nonstop and connecting flights offer very different experiences. Nonstop flights mean exactly that. There are no stops between your first and final destination before you arrive at point B, meaning you travel in a relatively straight line. On the other hand, connecting flights often involve a detour, a point AB if you will, at which you usually have to deboard and board another plane to reach your final destination. 

As a first-time flyer, purchasing your first flight and choosing between a nonstop flight and a connecting one can be challenging. While nonstop flights offer convenience and less stress, they can be pricier, and depending on the route, there are fewer available. In contrast, connecting flights provide many more options and flexibility with departure and arrival times. Still, the stress of having to catch a connecting flight could get your vacation off to a shaky start.

How Does the Boarding Process Work?

Most flights begin boarding 30-50 minutes before departure. Domestic flights usually board closer to the departure time. In contrast, international flights begin boarding a bit earlier to accommodate the larger plane sizes. 

Airlines often board in groups, which they designate on your boarding pass. When your boarding group is called, you’ll line up with other passengers in your group to board the plane. You’ll scan your boarding pass one last time with the gate agent and then pass through the door to the jetbridge to board. Most airlines will close the gate door 15 minutes before departure to ensure they remain on schedule, so here’s an important tip for first-time flyers: Don’t be late!

4 Tips to Go from First Timer to Frequent Flyer

Travel pros can make flying look effortless. Want to know how they do it? It doesn’t take much to get good at flying. And once you’ve ingrained the tips for first-time flyers into your brain, all that’s left is a few extra steps that can take you from an anxious first-timer to a calm and collected frequent flyer.

1. Join an Airline Rewards Program

Airline loyalty programs deliver significant perks, including free checked bags, priority seat selection, complimentary upgrades, and more. If you plan to turn your first flight into the first of many flights, joining an airline rewards program, or several, will ensure you get the most out of your miles. Joining is free and usually hassle-free. You can get set up in minutes and immediately start earning points with your very first flight. Some airlines, like Delta, even let you do it before by earning miles through partners, online shopping portals, and more. An airline rewards program is the way to go if you want to make future travel more comfortable and rewarding.

2. Get a Travel Credit Card

Travel credit cards are even more flexible than airline rewards programs, allowing you to earn points on travel and non-travel-related purchases. Travelers can choose between airline credit cards, hotel credit cards, and non-branded travel cards. Non-branded are the most flexible for earning and redeeming points as they work with various partners, not just one specific airline or hotel. While utilizing travel rewards is a bit of an art, it’s one worth learning to save hundreds of dollars on your future trips. 

3. Apply for TSA PreCheck / Global Entry

Signing up for TSA PreCheck and/or Global Entry is your ticket to a stress-free security check and customs process. These government programs require an interview and application fee but include noteworthy benefits, like expedited security and customs lines and reduced wait times. If you want to decrease your time at the airport, TSA PreCheck and Global Entry are the way to go.

If you’re considering both, Global Entry is the better option. The application fee costs $100, only $22 more than TSA PreCheck, and includes TSA PreCheck as one of its benefits. So, whether you’re leaving the country or coming home, Global Entry makes getting through the airport a breeze.

4. Sign up for Next Vacay

Want to save big on your first flight and every flight after? Here’s the biggest tip for first-time flyers: Sign up for Next Vacay. 

Rather than stressing over finding the perfect flight—on top of taking your first flight and making sure it all goes off without a hitch—leave the flight searching to the professionals. Next Vacay has an entire team dedicated to finding the best deals to destinations all over the world and screening those deals for price, comfort, flexibility, and more. On top of all that, our team delivers those hand-vetted deals directly to your inbox, so you don’t have to do anything except book.    

It’s never been easier to save money and travel the world. So start dreaming bigger and traveling farther than ever before…with Next Vacay.

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