How to Prepare for a Flight for New Travelers

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I don’t know about you, but air travel stresses me out. For real!

As much as I have and will continue to travel, I do not look forward to the travel process. If only they could get teleportation working, I’d be in my glory!

Flying, to me, is a necessary evil. Though you have to deal with it, there are ways to make it easier to take.

Here are my top tips for air travel to make it a little easier, which I’ve learned from decades of travel. Pick and choose what will work best for you.

airplane flying

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1. Check-In Before You Head to the Airport

The best tips for air travel start well before you’re on the plane. Maybe it’s just me, but I get really impatient waiting in lines. And I’ll do what I can to avoid them when possible.

So, for me, it’s a no-brainer to check in online before I head to the airport. It’s really easy to do. Each airline has its own process. So, you just need your confirmation number with most airlines and can check in.

This is a big help to avoid the often long line to check in at the airport. Also, another bonus is if you end up hitting traffic on your way to the airport, it saves you time so you can go directly to the gate. A great thing, in my opinion.

Even if you check a bag, this is still helpful. You can check in online regardless of whether you are checking a bag or not. Most airlines have a separate line for people who are already checked in and simply need to drop off their bag(s). So, either way, you save time.

And if you’re flying Southwest or an airline that does “cattle call” where they don’t assign seats but assign a place in line, it’s essential. At least, it is if you care about the seat you get, unless you don’t mind a middle seat at the back of the bus!

One of the best ways to stay healthy while traveling is to start on the right foot. And that includes getting to the airport (of course, if you’re flying!) and when you’re traveling.

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2. Choose Your Seat

As I just mentioned, certain airlines, like Southwest Airlines, don’t assign seats. Instead, they assigned you a place in the boarding line. In that case, you just want to check in as early as you can to make sure you get as high a number in line as possible.

You can generally choose your seat for other airlines when you check in. It’s a good idea to do this unless you don’t care where you are sitting for your flight.

For a short flight, it may not matter, but for longer ones, it sure does. If you prefer a window or an aisle, you’ll want to check in before you get to the airport to get what you want.

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Some airlines offer discounted fares where you either choose a seat closer to the flight. Or, you can’t choose until you get to the airport. I have seen Delta and American Airlines do this, though I’m sure there are others.

It’s something for you to consider if the money off the ticket is worth it to you.

Also, take a look at apps like Seatguru. They go way beyond what the airlines offer by including the seat size, whether it has power available, and more. It also has comparison charts.

This added information can not only help you book your flight but can also make your trip easier.

Why This Matters

Maybe you don’t care about your seat on the flight, and if that’s the case, that’s great! But most people, I think, have a preference. And generally, it’s not a “dreaded middle” seat, which is just no fun, particularly for a really long flight.

And for people who are nervous flyers (can you see my hand raised?!), this is pretty important. I personally prefer an aisle seat as I feel a bit confined in the middle seat or at the window. Though, I’ll admit I love looking out the window.

For me, it depends on the airplane’s configuration. (Sometimes you’ll see three seats or two, which you’ll see on small planes and large, transcontinental flights). Here are some other great tips for flight anxiety.

It may not matter for those airlines that don’t assign seats. But, when you are able to select your seat when you book, it’s a great thing. Other airlines allow you to select your seat closer to the flight.

And sometimes they charge extra for the benefit of a seat selection. In that case, you need to consider if the additional cost is more or less important than your seat selection.

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3. Pack a Carry-on Bag

I’m a huge fan of minimalist travel, and it’s one of my favorite tips for air travel that I use every time. It’s a learned thing, as I laugh when I think of my first trip to Europe. I lugged around two of the hugest bags EVER, which I could barely carry.

And the killer part of that is that I didn’t touch most of the clothes I had brought. But I brought them just in case I might need them. Sound familiar?

Packing Hacks

One trick I have done for a while now is to lay out what I’m thinking about packing and then spend some time going through it. I have found that when I think through my upcoming trip and lay everything out before packing, I don’t need as much as I originally thought.

Since then, things have improved a lot, and I have taken this to the next level! Seeing how few things I can bring is now a fun challenge. Now, I use compression packing cubes and reduce what I bring as much as possible.

I have gone on several trips of around two weeks each and brought an international-sized travel bag. (Hint: even smaller than a regular carry-on sized bag) along with a small backpack.

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Another thing I often do is plan to do laundry while I’m traveling. For a low cost, it really helped me to reduce the number of things I’m carting around while I travel. Try it! You can pack for two weeks in a carry-on bag.

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4. Bring a Snack

Being on a plane can be stressful enough, but it’s compounded when you’re hangry. When you think about different tips for air travel, of course, you think about your time on the plane. You want to make sure it’s comfortable.

It’s a good idea to bring snacks when you fly. You can’t always count on the flight having enough food for sale for everyone, and sometimes they run out. Or you may not like what they are offering or have left.

Another good idea is to bring a water bottle. You can fill it at the airport, and many airports now offer filtered water systems. Make sure it’s empty on your way to the airport, of course, then fill it up before you get on the plane.

If there’s turbulence or if you snooze when the flight attendant comes through, you may be out of luck. Even a short one-hour flight can feel long when you’re parched.

It’s also a good idea to ensure you’re well-hydrated before traveling. I don’t mean downing a gallon of water right before getting on the flight, but drink some extra the day before you travel and that morning in preparation.

5. Leave Enough Time

I used to be the Queen of cutting it close when it came to flights. Thankfully (knocking on wood), I have never missed a flight, but I have sure come close. And nothing says, “Please flag me for a search,” like anxiously running through an airport.

Having said that, I do feel the 2-hour arrival recommendation before domestic flights is a bit more than necessary for most people, especially if you don’t check a bag. However, it’s a good idea to make sure you have more than enough time and not to cut it too short.

And that time is up to your discretion and what you feel comfortable with.

Sometimes, Things Are Outside of Your Control

A number of years ago, I was traveling across the country for Thanksgiving. Then I had a long bus ride ahead of me. I allowed plenty of time, knowing the airport was busy during the holidays.

Well, there was construction on the highway leading to the airport, and traffic was re-routed through the city of Boston. Traffic there is hideous in the best of circumstances.

It was bumper-to-bumper, and we were going surface streets through a congested city, as if that wasn’t enough fun, BAM! We got rear-ended. And not just that, by an 18-wheeler truck. Luckily, no one was going fast, and we were able to drive away after we exchanged paperwork.

I thought the fun was behind us until we got to the airport and tried to open the trunk. You’ve got it! It wouldn’t open. We tried everything we could think of and had no luck—we just couldn’t get the trunk open.

I lucked out that the folks at the check-in desk were willing and empowered to work with me, and one even came out to help. I’m not sure how he managed, but he got the trunk open, and I raced through security with minutes to spare.

I was grateful I had left a little extra time that day.

6. Have Your Identification Handy

There’s nothing worse than standing in a long line to check in, and the person in front of you starts frantically fumbling to find their driver’s license or passport. It was as if they weren’t waiting in the same long line all that time, right?

Keep your identification handy; the same goes for a paper boarding pass. If it’s electronic, consider taking a screenshot as a backup in case you lose internet access.

True story! For some reason, I can’t figure out how to get internet access on my phone at my local airport. The first time I used a mobile boarding pass, I realized when I got to the check-in that I could not access the internet.

I had to run to the desk to get a paper copy and lost my place in line. On a Southwest flight that is done by number and not seat assignment, that s*cks.

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7. Prepare for Security

Ok, you know the drill if you have flown in the last year or two once you get to security. You will be asked to remove everything from your pockets, dump all liquids, and take off your shoes.

Remove your belt and pull your laptop and toiletries out of your bag. Do yourself a favor and plan for it before you get to the belt.

Ideally, wear shoes that are easy to slip off and on so you’re not fumbling with them. Make sure if you are carrying a water bottle that it’s empty. And make sure your laptop and toiletries are reasonably accessible.

Planning before you get there can go a long way to reducing your stress when traveling. It will also keep you from being that person that annoys everyone behind you. (You know who I mean!)

If you have TSA Precheck or Global Entry (which comes with TSA Precheck), you don’t have to worry about some of these things. However, getting your license and boarding pass ready is still a good idea.

Don’t know about TSA Precheck or Global Entry and want to learn all about the programs? Read more about these helpful and time-saving programs in my detailed articles by clicking the links!

8. Consider the Trusted Traveler Programs (U.S.-based Travelers)

I mentioned that I am super impatient waiting in lines, right? Well, one great way to reduce your wait at airport security and immigration returning to the United States is to join one of the Trusted Traveler Programs.

These are designed for United States citizens. However, depending on the program, some other countries’ citizens may be eligible. There are several to choose from, and you can select which makes the most sense for you based on your typical travel.

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The benefit of the Trusted Traveler Programs is that you get expedited times at the airports or for border crossings.

Trusted Traveler Programs Available

There are four Trusted Traveler Programs that are currently available in the United States:

  • TSA PreCheck—Expedites security screening in United States airports for domestic or international travel.
  • Global Entry—Offers expedited passport control so you can shorten your time going through immigration and customs upon entering the United States.
  • NEXUS—Provides expedited border clearance between the United States and Canada when crossing by land, air, and marine ports of entry.
  • SENTRIAllows expedited entrance to the United States from southern land border ports.

The programs have certain eligibility requirements, require an application and an interview, and are subject to availability. They are a great idea to save time and reduce stress.

There is a cost to these programs, and they take time to get approved. However, if you’re looking for tips for making your air travel more convenient, this is a good one to consider.

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9. Pack Necessary Items for Convenience

If it’s something you may want or need while on the flight, pack it in the bag you stow under your seat. And make sure it’s easily accessible. There’s no point packing it in your under-the-seat bag if it’s at the bottom and you can’t easily reach it!

Also, that way, you don’t have to go rummaging through your bag in the overhead. Or worse, you need to take it down and open it up trying to find what it is you’re looking for. And if you’re “height challenged” like me, this can be tough!

If you can’t fit all that you need in your smaller bag, try to put it in an outer zipper or at the top so it’s easy to access. And don’t forget, use jacket pockets if you need to.

10. Bring a Jacket

If you’re the type of person who tends to get cold easily, grab a jacket or a sweater to wear on the plane. There’s nothing worse than shivering through your entire flight (who, me?) because either you didn’t think of it or you were too stubborn to pack an extra item.

It’s a good idea to have something in case you need it, even if it’s just a long-sleeved shirt you can put over your top.

Since I’m now so into minimalist packing, I am very careful with packing just the minimum amount that I need for my trips. But, even if I’m going to a hot-weather destination, having something for the flight or even air-conditioned restaurants is a good idea.

I pack a light wrap if I don’t want a jacket or a sweater.

The Top Tips for Air Travel for New Flyers

These are the tips for air travel that I consider when planning every trip. They have been beneficial to me, and I hope they are helpful to you as well.

What do you suggest for top tips for air travel, given what you do to prepare? I’d love to hear!

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  1. Eli Richardson says:

    Wow, it really helped when you talked about avoiding long waiting lines when traveling by airplane. My wife and I want to travel for our anniversary, so we think it’d be beneficial if we bought plane tickets instead of driving. We think your tips will help us have a pleasant flight, so we’ll read them carefully. Thanks for the advice on how we could check-in online before we arrive at an airport.

    1. So glad this will be helpful for you. Enjoy your coming trip!

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