Airport Etiquette

If it’s your first time engaging in air travel, rest assured that it’s not as difficult as you might think. I’ve been flying solo since I was sixteen and have been to the biggest airports in the U.S. including JFK airport in New York and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta, GA. It can be a little daunting if you are experiencing your first flight, especially if there’s a layover, but fear not, for there are tips and tricks on how to get around fast and find your gate.

Baggage Check

So first thing’s first- when you get to the airport to get your ticket printed, the self-automated machine or attendant will ask you if you are checking any bags. Most airlines allow one carry-on and one personal item that is free of charge.

The first free piece of luggage you have is called carry-on and is IN MOST CASES complimentary- this is your bigger, heavier luggage. Before you even pack, make sure your carry-on bag is within the dimension specs of whatever airline you are flying with. The typical carry-on dimensions are 22″ by 14″ by 9″. International flights might have a different size allowance.

The second piece of luggage is a personal item- a purse, backpack, pet carrier, or even musical instrument case. Any additional luggage you have is going to need to be checked in- and usually, it’s about forty bucks for the first checked in bag, which is pricey.

It’s important to note that different airlines have different limits to what luggage is free and what needs to be paid for. Most, but not all, allow one carry on and one personal item. Some airlines don’t allow any carry-ons while some allow two complementary ones. Please go to the website of whatever airline you booked with to see their specific guidelines. If you booked with Expedia, your booked flight should tell you what luggage is complimentary.

A note on personal items- strollers, breast pumps, assistive devices for special needs, diapers, canes, and child restraint seats do not, in almost all cases, count towards your personal items.

If you have any bags checked in, they will give you a slip with the number for your bag. Once you reach your final destination, you go to baggage check and take your bag from the carousel of luggage. Make sure the number on your ticket matches that on the suitcase- some may look exactly the same on the outside.

Note on the luggage: sometimes, the airplane staff will tell you there’s no room for your carryon in the cabin- so what they will do is check your bag for you for free, and you will claim it when you get to your final destination.

Attire and Luggage

When you get to the airport, you are going to go through TSA, where they check your carry-ons, your backpacks and purses, your ID (driver’s license or passport) and things on your person. For international flights, passports are also going to be checked.

The entire process takes anywhere from ten minutes to an hour. So, one of the best ways you can prevent a bottleneck in the TSA line is making sure your electronics are easily accessible from wherever you packed them, because they will need to go into a separate container to be scanned. That includes your iPad, your laptop, your Nintendo Switch, your phone, and Apple Watch. If you are packing them away in a luggage, pack those last so they are easy to get out when the time comes to put them on the conveyor belt to be scanned.

Second thing- TSA hates liquids- that’s right, you cannot bring water, soap, lotion, or your grandma’s handmade BBQ sauce on the plane unless it’s in a checked bag- well, it’s a bit more complicated than that. You CAN bring liquids in your carry on if they don’t exceed 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) per individual container. The total weight of the liquids together cannot be more than a quart- so if you have a 3 ounce shampoo, a 3 ounce conditioner, and a 1 ounce lotion bottle in a ziploc bag, that shouldn’t cause issues. That is why travel size shampoos and conditioners and lotions exist- because they are right under that volume threshold for liquids allowed on the plane.

Empty out your water bottle and made sure you don’t have any food such as soup or sauce in your bags when you are in TSA. Only solid foods are allowed, and the rules are different for international flights, where some might not even allow foreign food to enter another country at all.

Make sure to read up on what the country you are going to allow before you pack. Most international flights don’t allow food, plants, or animals- alive or dead- to enter foreign countries and the U.S.

Sharp objects and weapons are a given- they are not allowed. I had my X-acto-knife confiscated last time I was in the airport because it was deemed a weapon, even though it had a cap on. So whether it’s widdling supplies, a hand-me-down pocket knife, or kitchen cutlery, it’s not allowed in TSA. It will have to be in a checked bag if you can’t bear to part with it.

The rule for razors is a it tricky- safety razors- the ones with the replaceable blades- are only allowed WITHOUT the blade in the razor. The razors that have the disposable head are allowed, because the individual razors cannot be taken out. Electric razors are also allowed.

According to the TSA website, certain types of batteries are not allowed such as car batteries, or wet batteries- unless those are used to power a wheelchair, in which case you will want to notify the airport staff so they can help you pack them properly. Portable battery chargers are allowed in carry on bags only as well as lithium ion batteries. For more detailed information, go to this article.

Last thing- what you wear also will affect your experience to the airport. Not only should you wear comfortable clothing, but you should also abstain from wearing any large bits of metal like heavy jewelry or a big ole Western style belt, and try to come in slip-ons or velcro shoes.

The reason I say this is because they will ask you to take your shoes off during the screening, and you don’t want to be THAT person struggling with their laces and buckles. Just wear some casual loafers.

Pets

Oh, yes. What if you are traveling with a pet? To put it simply, any pet that’s coming with you will need to be screened just like you.

Whether it’s a dog or cat, or even an iguana, it will have to come out of its carrier and go through the metal detector machine, so please have a leash ready. If you are carrying a fish, you have to have it in a baggie of les than 3.4 ounces of water.

There are two ways your pet can travel with you on the plane- in a carrier under your seat, or in cargo, which might require a health check by your veterinarian.

Different airlines have different rules for what animals they allow in the cabin. Some allow small cats and dogs, while others only allow service dogs, no exceptions. Make sure to go on the website of whatever airline you booked to look at the rules.

If you are buying cargo for your pet, know what there is almost always a fee associated with that- and it runs as high as $150 for some airlines. If you are carrying your pet with you, it is counted as one of your two free carry-ons by most airlines, so pack accordingly.

Do your research when traveling with a pet- some airlines allow up to two animals inside a carrier, or kennel, while others limit it to one animal, with minimum measurements for the animal’s well being. For example, United airlines requires that the kennel fit under the seat, but be big enough for the animal to stand up and turn around in.

Due to recent events (as of summer 2021), the CDC has suspended the transportation of cats and dogs internationally from high-risk countries, including service dogs, unless they have an Approved CDC Dog Permit.

Beware the Kiosks

Okay, this might be a well known fact, but I still feel the need to inform the stragglers out there- airport kiosks and cafes and restaurants are VERY pricey and will take advantage of hungry people.

I spent about fifteen dollars on a day old sandwich and some Brookstone chocolate covered blueberries last time I was at an airport. The water there can be as much as three dollars, and the alcohol is even more ridiculously priced.

My advice- eat your heart out right before coming to the airport, and hydrate, too. Last I saw the water fountains in most airports are turned off thanks to Covid.

There’s not only cafe’s and snack bars, but souvenir shops and tech stores offering only the finest selection on wireless earphones, neck pillows, and commemorative shot glasses.

My advice here is to get all the knick knacks out of the way beforehand and come prepared with whatever pillow or blanket you will take on the plane with you. They are way overpriced in the kiosks and honestly, you can do better in the touristy parts of whatever city you’re in anyway.

Last thing about the kiosks- oftentimes they are very small and tightly packed, and, if you’re like me, and if you are a solo traveler, you will want to have your bags with you at all times, which means dragging them behind you. It’s really nerve wracking trying to maneuver around the teetering towers of champagne bottles and t-shirt displays, so do yourself a favor and avoid that at all costs.

Navigating the Terminals

Your airplane will arrive at a designated gate, which resides in a terminal, which is basically a segment of an airport. The number might look something like this- G5. The terminal letter is G and the gate number is 5.

So every airport that I’ve ever been to has alphabetical terminals, and they are often grouped together, for example, one exit will lead to terminals A through D, the other F through H, and so on.

Your ticket will have the gate number of your flight and your plane’s seat number on it, but if you’re not sure, ask an agent at any active gate and they can look it up for you. This comes in handy when you have a layover and your gate is not yet determined on your ticket. That also happened to me- I was in a time crunch in one of the biggest airports in the U.S. Luckily the gate I came out of had an agent who helped me find my way.

So now that you know what terminal and gate you need to go to, you gotta get there. Some airports are so big that they have miniature subways to get you to the right one. Usually, the subway is very well streamlined and clearly states (visually and verbally) what terminal they are approaching. I am visually impaired so hearing aloud what terminal is next is very helpful for my navigation.

When you are in the airport, you will want to pay attention to the flight arrival and departure charts, which are displayed on large monitors in central areas right before or right after TSA. Sometimes, there are delays or cancellations, in which case you will likely receive credit for the flight.. In most cases, the credits are restricted to the airline that you chose to fly with, so choose the airline carefully.

Once you are at your gate, you will want to have your ticket on hand because a staff member will scan it before they let you on board. If you have priority seating, such as coach, Veterans, or Comfort Plus, you get priority boarding the plane, so listen for that cue from the gate announcements.

In Conclusion

Air travel can be exciting and fun, and if you prepare properly for it, you will have a seamless experience. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and get to the airport early. Make sure to keep your ticket with you until you are at your final destination and have all your bags with you. Get plenty of rest before your flight and allow yourself some time to readjust to the new time zone if you are traveling far. Good luck and safe travels!

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