You booked your tour and it's been confirmed. Your trip is months away so you purchase your flight. Before you know it, you're one week away from departing and you realize you should probably start packing. It's the night before departing and you're scurrying around last-minute to find your passport, converter, and whatever item you previously thought you didn't need but now you're not sure so you pack it anyways. Those final few hours before your flight are the moments you realize you may not be as prepared as you'd like to be, so here are some essential tips on how to prepare for your international flight.
1) Get to the airport early
Obvious to most, but arriving at the airport early will allow you more time to check through to your flight without the stress of worrying if you're going to miss your flight. For international flights, arrive at least 3 hours before your flight. For domestic flights with bag check, arrive 90 minutes before a departure. If you just have a carry-on only, arrive 60 minutes prior.
2) Pack light or just a carry on
Especially if you're in a rush, packing light will allow you to move swiftly through the airport. An added tip is to make sure your luggage has wheels. If you choose to just bring a carry on, you can check into your flight by using the carry-on only airport kiosk (or online) and go straight to security.
Images courtesy of phasinphoto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
3) Make sure your checked bag makes it on the conveyor belt
Ever arrived at your final destination without your luggage? Chances are there wasn't enough time for your luggage to make it to your connecting flight, but in rare cases the airline representatives delay placing your checked bag on the conveyor belt! Always stay to make sure your bag leaves the counter.
4) Check into your flight(s) online
Even if you are checking your bag most airlines allow you to skip the line and simply head to the bag drop area. By checking in online (up to 24 hours before) you can also check your flight status and plan your travel arrangements accordingly. Most airlines now have an app you can download and pull up your boarding pass. Screen shot your boarding pass in case you do not have internet at the airport.
5) Wear comfortable clothes
Another obvious tip, but wearing comfortable clothes when you have an 8+ hour flight ahead is key to making your trip enjoyable. Bring an additional layer (or scarf) as flights, especially if you are seated in an exit row, can get cold. Your feet may swell on board your flight so I recommend shoes you can loosen or slip on and off comfortably.
6) Get to know the airport
Whether you've arranged for a ride or plan to drive yourself, it's essential to know where you're going. If you take a wrong turn, chances are you will have to circle around the entire airport. Don't waste your time and "wing" it - look up an airport map online and find where you need to go.
Image courtesy of artur84 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
7) Wear glasses, not contacts
Your eyes dry out very easily on a plane, especially on a long flight. Glasses are much more comfortable.
8) Bring an eye mask and neck pillow
For longer flights, chances are you will be provided with a pillow and blanket. However, I've found that for a good night sleep an eye mask to block out the bright airplane light and my own pillow are key to get a few hours of sleep. You can buy inflatable neck pillows to save room in your carry-on bag.
9) Tag all of your bags
I once left my laptop at airport security without a tag. I didn't realize it until we were ~1 hour to the destination, so you can imagine the panic that slowly set it. Once I landed, I got a call from TSA saying they had my laptop. I'm still unsure how they knew it was mine and how to contact me, but moral of the story: tag ALL of your bags! My laptop was returned one week and $80 later. For checked bags, you can buy a tracer (similar to those for your keys), which is especially useful if you are returning to the US and have a connecting flight and need to transfer your checked bag to the bag drop area. I also strongly recommend to tag your carry-on items as it's very common to forget them upon landing.
10) Request wheelchair assistance
I only recommend this if you have trouble walking long distances, are injured, or are mobility impaired. If you have a very short amount of time to make an international connection (~ 1 hour), and are unsure if you will make your connection, request wheelchair assistance to meet you upon landing. This can also be useful if you have elderly family members traveling alone and you want to make sure they make it to their connecting flight safely.
Bonus tip: an airline crew may sometimes allow people with a short connection time to leave the flight first, but this usually only happens if the flight you are on was delayed. Listen to announcements before landing, or ask a flight attendant if you can be given priority.
11) Prepare your documents early
Locate your passport at least 3 months prior to departure to ensure its expiration date is NOT within 6 months of your travel dates, otherwise you will have to follow these steps to renew your passport. For international travel, you will need your passport handy to make an intermational flight booking, and during check-in and for TSA security. Even though most airlines have mobile boarding passes, I find it easier to have a printed travel document and place it with my passport rather than fumbling around for my phone.
Image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
12) Stay calm
Delays, bad weather, canceled flight, lost baggage... it happens, and no one likes it. But also realize that an airline makes decisions for the safety of its passengers. It's important to remain calm and know that in one way or another, the airline will do everything in their power to get you to your final destination. If you had a bad experience, for whatever the reason, contact the airline and explain your situation. They like to keep their customers happy.
13) Wait to board your flight
If you have an assigned seat and are in no hurry to place your bag in the overhead bin, there's no rush to join the hundreds of people that line up before their boarding group is called. Relax, have a drink, read a book, but whatever you do stay close to the boarding area so you can keep an eye on the lines.
Did you like this post? Read my other airport tips: