Our Guide to Your First Flight

Part of the fear of flying is actually a fear of the unknown. If you are flying for the first time, this includes not knowing what to expect at the airport or while you are in the air. This step-by-guide spells out everything the nervous first-time flyer needs to know, from booking the flight to navigating the airport to getting situated onto the plane. We’ve packed in our best tips for first time flyers based on the collective experience of our staff, so climb aboard and let’s get you ready for the flight!

Computer Keyboard, Passport, Airplane and Map

 

Step 1: Booking the Flight & Checking In

Booking the Flight

The first step in the flying process is booking the flight. Most people purchase their tickets online through airline or travel sites or their mobile apps. The only thing you have to fear in this step is expensive ticket prices. Otherwise, it is a relatively easy process that you can handle yourself.

Alternatively, you can purchase your tickets from the airlines via the phone. If you haven’t purchased tickets and/or checked in online or by phone, you will need to begin at the ticketing counter at the airport.

Getting the Best Deals on Flights

I usually get the best deals directly through airline websites (Delta, Southwest, etc.). But if you have time to look around, you should also check travel sites such as OneTravel.com and Booking.com. If you signup for a free Ebates account and book through them, you can earn cash back. Plus, Ebates has offers from many travel sites such as Booking.com. These sites are especially helpful if you want a package deal on a flight, hotel, restaurants and car rental. You can often get “early bird” pricing if you don’t mind booking a bit further in advance of your trip. Also, prices fluctuate on trips, and an airline may post “web special” pricing for a limited period. If you start looking early, you can catch these deals.

Checking In

Before the flight, you are also required to “check in,” which just acknowledges you are still planning to make the trip. If you booked online, you’ll get an email or text prompting you to sign in. This is usually about 24 hours before your flight. If you didn’t do so during the booking process, you can usually choose a seat during the check-in process, or pay for your checked bags (if applicable).

As part of this process, you receive a boarding pass—a document that proves that you have purchased a ticket and contains information about you and your trip. You can choose to have the boarding pass emailed or texted to you in a digital QR code format that the airport staff can scan. (More on that in the next step). You can also download and print the physical document and bring that to the airport if you prefer. Additionally, you have the option to obtain your boarding pass at the airport, which we will also cover in the next section.

Plane Taking Off From Airport

Step 2: Arriving at the Airport

Timing

Plan to arrive at least two hours prior to your departure time, especially if you are flying for the first time or if it is your first occasion flying at a particular airport. You want to have ample time to be able to find parking (if you are leaving your car), get checked in and go through security before your plane departs. You don’t want to add the anxiety of being late for your flight if you are also experiencing a fear of flying.

Parking

Airports have parking options if you will be leaving your car there during your trip. Long-term and short-term is available, depending on the length of your trip. Long-term generally has cheaper daily rates but is farther from the terminal. Short-term is usually for shorter trips or for picking up other travelers from the airport. The airport site will have parking rate information available on its website, along with maps displaying the parking areas. You can often specifically find an airport’s parking locations in GPS apps like Google Maps, allowing you to navigate directly to the parking area.

Ticketing

The section of the airport for all preflight activity is usually labeled “Ticketing” on airport signage. If you haven’t done so online, you can purchase a ticket, check in, and receive your boarding pass at the ticket counter. If you have already booked your flight, you can use kiosks in the ticketing area to check in and/or print a boarding pass.

If you have “checked” baggage (the kind that you don’t keep with you on the airplane), the ticket agent will weigh this (it generally has to be under 50 lbs. or so) and tag it to make sure it ends up on your flight. The agent may receive your bags then or direct you to a nearby dropoff station.

If you have already booked your flight, checked in, have a boarding pass and are not checking baggage, you can head directly to the security area, usually labeled something along the lines of “Security Checkpoint.”

Baggage Scanner at Airport Security CheckpointStep 3: Security

Depending on the airport, there may be a central security checkpoint for all gates—like in the Atlanta airport—or there may be separate checkpoints for each set of gates, like in the Tampa airport. Airport personnel can help you find security, and there is generally ample signage to point you in the right direction. When you reach the security area, you’ll generally wait in line anywhere from no time to an hour or more. Once you get to a security agent, they will check your boarding pass and I.D. You will need a government issued I.D. such as a driver’s license.

Next, you will place your personal belongings and any carry-on bag (the one(s) you will keep with you on the plane) in bins that roll along a conveyor belt and under the x-ray machine.

This includes the contents of your pockets, belt and shoes. You then walk through a type of scanner that checks you personally for weapons or anything else you are not allowed to fly with on the aircraft. After that, you collect your belongings from the bin and head to your gate area.

Permitted and Prohibited Items

Airports have strict requirements regarding what you are allowed to have on your person and in your carry on bag.

Airplane gate with view of plane taking off outside

Step 4: Heading to the The Gate (Or Concourse)

The “gate” is the area where you wait until time to board. Each concourse in an airport houses several gates. A concourse resembles a mall in that it usually contains restaurants and gift shops.

There are several gates, one for each flight. When it is time to board, passengers line up and present their boarding pass to a gate agent. You walk through a “jetway,” which connects the gate to the plane outside the gate.

Airplane in flight with view of city

Step 5: The Flight

Now for the fun part, the flying itself. For some people, this is where the fear and anxiety begins setting in. But if you know what to expect when you fly, you will hopefully be able to better manage the fear before you are in the air.

Passengers board the plane, find their seats and store any carry on baggage in the storage bins above the seats.

The crew gives safety instructions (or they are presented in a video on screens behind each seat) and the Captain gives a brief message to passengers along the lines of the weather in your destination city, any expected weather or turbulence issues expected and how long the flight is expected to take. People that already experiencing fear and anxiety when they fly tend to fear the worst during safety instructions.

But this is something you can learn to overcome by educating yourself on flight safety statistics and recognizing that the fear is irrational. Accidents are very rare, so safety measures are seldom needed; the crew address them in the unlikely event they are necessary. If an emergency does occur, the crew is well-trained and equipped to assist passengers.

The Captain then “drives” the aircraft on the ground to get in position for takeoff. Before takeoff, passengers must fasten their seat belts and remain seated until instructed otherwise. When the plane reaches a certain altitude, passengers are free to move about in the cabin and use the restrooms. If there is turbulence and moving around is not safe while in the air, the crew will instruct passengers to remain seated until notified otherwise. Turbulence is nothing to fear—it is caused by fluctuating air pressures and is a normal experience of flying.

Likewise, when you are close to landing, the crew will require that passengers be seated and buckled in. Some people fear this part of the journey, because the plane will often slightly roll (turn) and change altitudes in preparation of the descent. When the plane lands, the Captain drives to the gate, where passengers use the jetway to exit the aircraft and enter the destination airport.

If you checked baggage, you will then head to the baggage claim area. Airport signage will direct you to baggage claim, or you can get assistance from airport staff. Shortly after landing, luggage is placed on a carousel for passengers to pick up.

Once you have experienced the air travel process for the first time, you will at least have addressed the fear of the unknown, and hopefully will enjoy any future flights. Good luck, and add a comment below if you have any questions.

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Showing 22 comments
  • Frequent Flyer
    Reply

    Nice Article….

  • Kyle
    Reply

    this is very helpful and i will use this for my upcoming flight, quick question im flying with someone who has a State-ID , is that accepted for check-in process?

    • Darrell Davis
      Reply

      Hi Kyle, yes, a state i.d. is accepted. You’ll both need your own i.d. Most people use their driver’s license.

  • julie
    Reply

    This is my first time flying!!! Do they have discounts for first time flyers an will someome be able to help like a guide I get confused an nervous

    • Darrell Davis
      Reply

      Julie,

      I’m not aware of any discounts for first time flyers, but if you book your flight through a free services like Ebates you can earn cash back each time you travel. Most of the time if you ask the airport staff they are more than happy to help guide you. Usually even fellow travelers are happy to point you in the right direction should you need help.

      Thanks
      Darrell

  • julie fairweather
    Reply

    Hiya, thanks for this useful info. Just concerned about the Government issue ID I’ll be asked for with my boarding pass as I do not have a driving license. What other document will be acceptable? Maybe passport?
    Thanks

  • Darrell Davis
    Reply

    Hello Julie,
    Your government ID and Password should be fine.
    Here is a link that lists all acceptable forms of identification

    https://www.tsa.gov/travel/security-screening/identification

    Thanks
    Darrell

  • Libby
    Reply

    Will my luggage be transferred to next plane or will I have to pick it up and start over?

    • Darrell Davis
      Reply

      Hi Libby,

      Yes your luggage will be transferred to the next plane, you won’t have to pick up your luggage until you reach your destination.

      Thanks
      Darrell

  • Joshua
    Reply

    This is a great article. I’m flying for the first time ever out of Atlanta in March and pretty nervous.

    A couple of quick questions. If i check in from my computer the day before my flight and print out my boarding pass do I still need to check in at the front desk? I will have some luggage I need to check?

    I will be flying first class and I keep hearing about something called Sky Priority which means faster check in, security screening and etc. How does that work?

    How do I know what my gate will be? My current flight online just says something like Terminal S? but doesn’t list a gate?

    Is it hard to find your gate? Are their easy signs that let me know how to get there?

  • chris
    Reply

    Um what if you arse taking two flights
    im going from boston to California

  • cara
    Reply

    I feel like a big weight been off me ive been so nervous to fly alone and im 23! Been on about 10 flights and never alone this really helped!

    • Darrell Davis
      Reply

      Thanks Cara,

      I’m glad our site was able to help you!

      Darrell

  • Chandra
    Reply

    I will be flying for the 1St time with my husband in 2 weeks and we are going to Las Vegas from Florida. I was nervous but this has helped me alot and it’s a 5 hour flight. We will be celebrating our Anniversary over there for 4 days. #24yearstogether

    • Darrell Davis
      Reply

      Hi Chandra,

      Thanks I’m glad we were able to help you. Hope you and your husband had a great trip!

      Darrell

  • Britt
    Reply

    Thanks for this article. And the video. I will be flying for the first time ever and on top of that internationally with my 3 children who have never flown either. We will be leaving out of Atlanta. There are closer airports to us but no direct flights to our destination so we will travel 5 hours to Atlanta. I didn’t know it was so big and that there was a train to take you to the gates. I’m soooooo nervous. Your video has helped so much. I know more now than I did before. We have about 39 days til the trip. I’ll keep educating myself on the topic. Thanks again.

  • Angel
    Reply

    Can I bring my tablet on board and do most airlines have wi-fi?

    • Darrell Davis
      Reply

      Yes you can take your tablet on board and most airlines do have wi-fi

  • Anxiety girl
    Reply

    Thank you for this detailed, informative article! I’ve wanted to travel for ages now but I’m too scared. I have general anxiety with a strong leaning toward social anxiety so I’m generally scared of crowds and new situations when I might make a fool of myself, which triggers a fear of looking suspicious because I’m nervous. I also have a terrible phobia of dogs so I’m not exactly jumping at the opportunity of being sniffed by search dogs. And lastly, I’m terrified of the flight itself because I’ve heard people comparing takeoff to being in a rapidly accelerating car and landing to being on a swing and both of these movements trigger my panic attacks.

  • Telynn
    Reply

    Thank you for the well written article! I am flying for the first time and I am a few months from being 50! Still nervous but this article has helped.

    • Darrell Davis
      Reply

      Your welcome Telynn and I’m glad you found our article helpful. Good luck and safe travels to you luck to you on your first flight and hope you have a fun trip.

  • Jeri Frances Burch
    Reply

    If I make first time flight reservations by phone to Delta –going alone from Charleston,SC to Atlanta—do I go to ticket couonter first and someone will help me print my tickets and boarding pass? Can someone help me get to the correct gate once I go through security. Thanks and I like your article. Unable to sleep and getting nervous about flight in September and have phone number for Delta.

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