Your First Airline Flight? Check-in through boarding...
According to the US Department of Transportation* approximately 82% of Americans have flown on an airliner at least once in their life. In 1975, when I started flying that number was about 10% as I recall.
So, what can you expect when you go to the airport and fly on an airliner to another city?
Well, that depends on a few things: If you're flying out of the country you'll need to take care of customs and airlines handle these particulars differently so, it's best to contact the airlines to cover their requirements and checkout the US state departments website for a handy international travel checklist, precautions, and restrictions. For that matter, any of the information presented in this blog may be out of date, or incorrect your particular instance. The purpose of this blog is to present a typical airline travel experience. It is your responsibility to check with the airline for any irregularities.
Parking - Most airports that have airline service have some sort of paid parking. The cost of parking generally varies between a few dollars per day for remote parking with bus service to the terminal,, to parking costing around $30 per day which is closer to the terminal. Generally, you will park your car, collect your bags,, catch the bus or walk into the terminal. Some parking lots nowadays only accept credit or debit cards for payment as you leave. Most up close parking areas also have rates to park by the hour with a maximum per day. Many airports have cell phone lots which are free to park in as long as you are attending your vehicle. Cell phone lots are intended for people to wait in until an arriving passenger calls them to come to the terminal and be picked up. This reduces terminal congestion.
Checking in –A few domestic airports have unique facilities and requirements, but in general you should expect to show up at least an hour before your scheduled flight time. If you have purchased your ticket beforehand and are sure you will not be needing to check any bags, AND you have your BOARDING PASS you can usually proceed through security and to your gate. If any of these particulars are not complete, you'll need to check in with the ticket desk outside of security. If in doubt always check with the airline. Checking in at the ticket counter can take upwards of an hour during peak travel times, even at smaller airports. Many airlines allow the option of checking in online within a few hours of flight. Also, it is very important that you check with the airline and TSA (Transportation Security Administration) for any prohibited items that may not be carried on board***
Going through security –during busy periods passing through security may take several minutes. You can expedite the process and make it easier by doing a few things: first, remove all your metal objects, wallets, headphones, earbuds, cell phones, and large items from your pockets, and place them in your carry-on baggage. I generally do this while I'm standing in line. Your checked baggage will have to go through a scanner to be x-rayed for security reasons. Camera film usually does not need to be removed from your checked baggage unless it is very high-speed, high-sensitivity film. I've taken standard 35mm film through many times with no issues. When you get to the x-ray scanner you will be required to remove your shoes and outer wear such as jackets and coats and place them in plastic tubs so they could be x-rayed. You will be required to remove laptop computers and other various electronic equipment and place them in bins to be x-rayed separately. You will be required to remove your shoes and have them x-rayed separately, however, at many locations shoes can go through the x-ray scanner without going into a plastic tub. Occasionally, the technician cannot see something in a bag and may have to run a bag again. This does not necessarily mean they found something suspicious in your bag.
After you have placed your items on the x-ray machine, you will be asked to proceed one at a time through either a metal detector, or millimeter wave detector. When you're next to go, wait until the agent asks you to proceed through the device. The millimeter wave detector will require you to hold your hands above your head for a few seconds as it scans you from head to foot. comply with TSA agent requests, and happily and you should have no problems. If you have any prosthetics, or metal implants make sure you let the TSA agent in the early and they can hand wand you which takes about 10 to 20 seconds as they pass a point metal detector over your body. Collect your valuables and proceed to the gate. There are usually signs overhead that indicate the you need to go.
At the gate – If you have a seat assignment card which lists the row and seat letter that you are assigned you can generally just take a seat and wait for your zone or row to be called. You may notice that some passengers board the flight with their cell phones. This is because their boarding pass is stored electronically on their cell phone. Usually, when they call your row or zone, you can show the agent your boarding pass and proceed onto the aircraft. If you're flying domestically you will not need to show proof of identification at this point. A few airlines hand out plastic boarding cards with no seat assignment. Check in with the counter at the gate to pick up your boarding card. Since luggage space is limited on the airplane, you may be asked to gate check in the large items. If this happens, the agent will attach a tag to your bag, usually the roll-aboard.
Boarding -You will continue down the jetway which is a long, metal, telescoping tube that connects the building to the airplane, so you don't have to go out in the weather. Watch your step! Jetway's usually have uneven surfaces to walk on and on rare occasions may move slightly if it's windy outside. Also, watch your step as you step from the jetway onto the airplane, there may be a gap of a few inches between the jetway and the airplane.. Watch your head! The doorway to some airplanes is lower than you might expect. If you forget to watch your head, watch your language.
On board, you will usually be greeted by a crew member. If you have an assigned seat on your boarding card for boarding pass,, proceed down the aisle to the correct row and find your seat. Row and seat numbers are usually found about eye level at the bottom of the overhead luggage storage bins. Place your smaller items that you will not need immediate access to in the overhead bin, and larger items that fit under the seat in front of yours. you will only be able to access items in the overhead bin prior to aircraft movement, and in smooth air during the cruise portion of the flight. After you've stowed your pertinent belongings, take your assigned seat and fasten your seatbelt. On most airliners, the back three fourths of the airplane is considered coach.The front portion of the main cabin is called first class. You may see passengers in first class enjoying a beverage prior to departure. This is a perk that is not normally available in coach,, so if you are seated in coach it is impolite to ask for a beverage or snack at this time. Generally, a snack and a beverage, or a small meal will be provided to coach passengers during cruise flight. It is polite to step out of the aisle as quickly as possible during boarding to allow other passengers to pass. Once you are in your seat it is wise to turn your cell phone to airplane mode. If you are not sure how to do this a fellow passenger or a crewmember can help you.
Usually there is a button on the armrest to allow your seat to recline about 15°, but your seatback should remain in the full upright position until the airplane is safely airborne. Also, usually above your seat, you will find lighted signs to indicate when you need you seatbelt fastened, and that there is no smoking aboard US aircraft. There will also be above your head a passenger convenience panel which has three items: the first is a red button to call a flight attendant which should be used sparingly;secondly there's a button to turn on a reading light; and finally a knob that you can turn to provide a little cooler circulated air.
The flight attendants will provide a demonstration of the various safety components of the aircraft including: normal exits,, emergency exits,, flotation devices in case of emergency landing on water,, emergency lighting, and other items unique to that airplane. Please pay attention! There will also be a passenger briefing card in the seatback in front of you. Take a look at it. As an airline pilot, I've noticed that every time I take the briefing card out, another passenger will also.. So, taking the card out and paying attention to the safety briefing is not just about you. Your actions have an influence on those around you.
Come back soon and check out the rest of the blog:" Your first airline flight? Takeoff through Touchdown!"
Did You Know?
According to Joe Brancatelli of bizjournals** the cost of flying is about 40% more expensive now than it was back in 1975 adjusted for inflation, if you include excess baggage fees. Lighten up, Joe.