First time flying: tips for navigating through the airport without a hitch
Finally you’ve made it to the airport but the last time you were there was a few eons ago or maybe it’s your first time.
How does this go again? When do I go through security at the airport? How far in advance do I have to be at the airport before my flight? What is and isn’t allowed in my luggage or carry on? What is the difference between customs and immigration?
These are all questions I will help answer plus a few hacks that will make your transition to the boarding gate and in the air a whole lot smoother.
If this is your first time flying I also recommend you read this article Travel hacks and apps every frequent flyer needs to know
Let’s not beat around the bush — flying is whole ordeal that can take up a good portion of your day.
Even if you book a flight in the late afternoon you don’t get to enjoy even half the day before you have to get in a cab or navigate through public transport with your luggage.
Let’s hope you packed the night before because doing last minute packing can bring on a whole new level of stress (I’m very familiar with the “sit on my bag to close it technique” with weapons grade tonsillitis or with a sick hangover). So here is my first set of tips before you even get to the airport.
This may seem like a big “DUH” but pack the night before. Get all of you effects together and keep any loose items like toiletries and chargers close to your main bag as not to forget them in the mad rush.
Have a sheet face mask in your carry on or 100ml of moisturiser in a clear bottle. If you are on a long haul flight or doing multiple layovers you will want to keep your skin moisturised. Airplane air conditioning tends to dry out your skin.
WET WIPES. If you have to ask then you don’t know.
Have a lock on your bags. This is to prevent people from planting things in your bag or taking things out. As bad as this sounds; it’s been known to happen.
Grab some snacks for the ride the day before. Also make sure you have a good breakfast lined up.
ALWAYS PACK YOUR OWN BAG
*The reason your baggage is weighed so meticulously has to do with the amount of fuel the plane needs to carry. If everyone bought on however much weight they wanted there would be aerodynamic engineering issues. Of course, there is a mathematical leeway that the airlines account for but that comes at an extra cost to you. Don’t be caught out. You may end up paying hundreds of dollars extra.
Liquids or creams that exceed 100ml (3.4 ounces) are not allowed in your carry on. Any liquids should be presented in a clear container. Even if there is a small amount of liquid in a container that exceeds 100 ml in total volume you will be asked to discard it.
Agricultural materials such as fruits, meats and vegetables. Of course you can bring a snack with you but make sure to consume it on the plane or discard any materials in the bins provided at your destination. Some countries have strict customs laws that prohibit the importation of any such materials as they may carry harmful insects & viruses. Something as small as a rogue bug can wreak havoc on fragile ecosystems. Countries including Australia & New Zealand are very strict with these laws. You can face serious penalties or jail time. Avoid bringing any food on the plane with a strong odor as you will not be favourable with your neighbours.
Any weapons. This includes but is not limited to self defence weapons like tasers, brass knuckles, baseball bats, scissors, guns, explosives and knives. This also includes any sporting equipment and tools.
Lithium batteries (only allowed in your checked baggage)
Samsung Galaxy Note 7
Things you SHOULD pack in your carry on luggage:
Any medication you will be taking in its original packaging accompanied by a Doctors certificate. Make sure to check the drug laws in the country of arrival. In Japan you need to get strict permission by the Government to be allowed to have certain medications in your possession.
A pen to fill out any immigration and customs forms.
A spare set of clothes. Having a set of underwear or a spare shirt if your checked baggage goes missing.
Lighters. If you have a lighter in your possession you should put it in your carry on. Only one lighter per person is allowed. Although I have been told contradicting information at one security kiosk in Kuala Lumpur airport. Despite this I still stand by the information presented to me by the staff at many check in counters around the world.
Water bottle. Be sure that your water bottle is empty when going through security. Fill her up to your heart’s content once you are at the boarding gate.
Snacks. Be sure to finish all your snacks on an international flight or be prepared to declare / throw them out at customs.
Toothbrush for that long haul flight.
Anything you don’t want to lose in your checked baggage.
Any documents. This includes Visa applications, medial certificates, extra visa photos, health insurance, emergency numbers and your itinerary. Keep them on hand if you need to present documents to Immigration Officers
WHEN TO ARRIVE AT THE AIRPORT
Depending on which airport you depart from you should arrive 90 minutes before a domestic flight and 3 hours before an international flight.
I say depending on which airport because not all airports are created equal. Some are a lot busier and disorganised than others. Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur were some of the worst I have seen, whilst smaller airports like Chiang Mai and Phuket are like a ghost town.
At the bottom of your flight itinerary or booking you will find the corresponding airport arrival time recommendations. If you are not sure take a look at the airport website, they will have relevant information about the logistics of the airport.
Make sure to factor in the time it takes you to get to the airport. Google maps is a good resource to use as it gives up to date traffic advice; showing congested roads in red.
If you are in South East Asia using the app Grab is the safest and cheapest way to get to and from the airport. In some countries you can even book a car in advance if you are worried about not being able to find a ride. Say goodbye to haggling with the taxi driver through the window. Google maps and Grab work seamlessly together and you an book a Grab taxi straight from Google maps.
HOW TO CHECK IN
Once you have arrived at the airport take a look at the big screen displaying all the flights. Take a look at your itinerary and find the flight number. Locate your flight number on the big screen. Beside your flight number (if it is displayed) there will be a prompt to “CHECK IN”. Find the corresponding check in counter and head towards it. Depending on your itinerary/airline you may have to check yourself in or you can go to the front desk.
If you can check in online DO IT. Most airlines have a seperate VIP line for people who are smart enough to check in online. Leave the plebs behind by streamlining the most annoying part of flying!
Now thanks to technology you can check yourself and your bag in with no help from staff at the airport..Kind of like the check out machines at grocery stores now; crazy huh!?
If you are checking yourself in you will find a few kiosks scattered around the corresponding airline check in counter. Input your booking number and any other information required. You will then be asked to insert your passport for it to be validated. After this step the kiosk will print out a tag to attach to your luggage and your boarding pass. After this is done, take your luggage towards the bag drop area where you will be prompted to scan your tag and send your bag on its way!
If this process is all a bit much or it doesn’t work (“unexpected item in the bagging area”) then just make your way to the humans at the check in counter/bag drop.
Keep your boarding pass safe. I repeat DO NOT LOSE YOUR BOARDING PASS.
If you feel a little overwhelmed with all the flight itineraries and booking information you have to remember take a look at this blog post : APPS AND HACKS EVERY FREQUENT FLYER SHOULD KNOW
When checking in, dropping your bag off, going through security or immigration choose the most left line. The majority of people are right handed and will thus favour the right hand side. The line on the left hand side will be shorter.
DO NOT LOSE THE STUB OF YOU BAGGAGE STICKER. IF YOU BAG GETS LOST (yes this happened to me so talking from experience here!) HAVING YOUR BAGGAGE STUB REALLY SPEEDS THE PROCESS UP.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SECURITY, IMMIGRATION AND CUSTOMS?
After a while all of the formal proceedings of an airport melt into one. It can feel like a wild goose chase to the boarding gate; but let's not get ourselves all muddled up. Here I will explain each process in detail.
When you arrive at the airport you will firstly need to go through security. This is where you present your bag to be inspected in an X-ray machine and by security officials. Here are some tips to streamline your processing:
If you have a pacemaker please let security officials know before you enter the metal detector
While you wait in line, remove any computers or smartphones from your carryon bag. You will need to put them through the xray machine separately from the rest of your luggage.
Also take out any liquids and put them together.
Before entering the metal detector you will need to put anything metal like jewellery or belts into the buckets provided. If you cannot take off your jewellery please note that you will set off the alarm and will be patted down. You will also be asked to take off your shoes. If you know you will set off the alarms you can make it easier for yourself and security officials by taking your shoes off and putting them through the xray machine before your proceed through to the metal detector.
At some airports you may be randomly selected to be bomb tested. Likewise you can also be selected to be put into a full body scanner. Don’t be alarmed (unless you have something to hide!). The bomb test only takes a few seconds; your belongings will be swabbed and the sample will be inserted into a portable machine. During the full body scan you will be asked to stand in a chamber with your arms raised. The full body scanner looks at the contents of your stomach (to make sure you are not trafficking anything illegal) as well as taking your temperature. Taking your temperature is to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. This method can single out individuals who are carrying the latest deadly virus as well as identify the tell tale signs of someone who may have something inside them that has burst. If you have a pacemaker it would be wise to alert security staff at this point.
While in line at security you may come into contact with a sniffer dog. Do not touch the dog as it is a working dog. If you want to know why you shouldn’t pat or distract working dogs look to this video
CUSTOMS & IMMIGRATION
After arriving at your destination and claiming your bags you will proceed through customs and immigration.
Customs is where you declare any items in your possession that are either a controlled substance or an undesirable item. This includes but is not limited to, prescription medication (Yukon Shoumei), duty free alcohol, cigarettes, wooden items, food, herbs, plant material and bio hazardous material. It is imperative that you declare anything that falls into these categories — even if you are not sure it is better to declare than to be caught out and face prosecution by the country you arrive in.
Using SMART TRAVELLER IS ADVISABLE FOR ALL AUSTRALIANS TRAVELING OVERSEAS. Although this resource is Australian it is very useful in understanding common laws and practises, customs policies and other useful information about your travel destinations. Please note that, unless you hold an Australian passport the visa requirements will not apply to you. Please always check visa requirements with your government agencies before booking a flight overseas.
After passing through customs you will proceed to immigration. Here your passport will be stamped, your fingerprints and photograph taken and some general questions about your intentions in the country will be asked. Answer truthfully and concisely to the best of your ability. On the plane you may have been handed an arrival and departure card and a customs declaration. Fill these forms out clearly and truthfully to the best of your ability.
THATS A WRAP
Hopefully some of these hacks can help your time at the airport be a little bit more enjoyable. If you found this post helpful please give it a share!