First time flying tips – all in one

First-time flying tips from an ex-flight attendant, what more can you wish for?

I’ve been giving advice and tips to so many of my friends, family, and acquaintances lately, that it just seemed like a good idea to put a whole article together.

It turned out quite comprehensive really!

So here are my first time flyers tips – from general to tips for reducing anxiety!

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Is it “flyer” or “flier”?

The same as for the first time flying – step by step article, let me explain to you if it’s flyer or flier.

And actually, it’s both!

Both “flyer” and “flier”, among other things, mean a “person who flies”. It’s just, as usual, the difference between spelling in U.S. and British English.

So, this article is full of tips for those of you who are flying for the first time. Flying for beginners, so to say.

I’ll probably stick to the British spelling, as I’m more used to it, but don’t be confused if you see the U.S. spelling, too.

And with this out of the way, let’s see what you should know before

Some general first time flying tips

a rainbow seen from a plane's cockpit

Some of these first time flying tips might get mentioned another time somewhere else in the article, but I’ll put them here as well, for good measure.

You generally don’t need to be in the airport like 6h in advance, even if you’re a first-time flyer

The airports usually have a preferred time that you should arrive written on their websites, so check that out.

The rule of thumb is, usually, 2 or 3 hours before the flight depending on whether it’s an international flight, if you need passport control or not, if you have checked baggage, and what time of day it is.

For a normal international flight with passport control during the morning rush hour with a piece of checked-in luggage, I’d probably arrive 2,5 to 3h in advance. The checked-in luggage desks generally don’t open earlier, anyways.

But again, CHECK THE WEBSITE of the airline or the airport.

The airline, actually, will probably send an email before your flight with all the info you need. The time to arrive might be there as well.

Make sure you’re checked in

check in desks in the bratislava airport

The best idea is to check in online at home. There are airlines that charge you for checking in at the airport! If you can, print or at least save the ticket somewhere besides the app – just for the safety.

Check in online and save the ticket

I generally suggest printing the ticket, as sometimes the apps or phones glitch and the tickets disappear. My phone died on me before the airport, and my friend’s ticket disappeared just before getting on the plane. It’s quite stressful!

If you don’t want to or can’t print the ticket, make sure to take a screenshot of it so that it saves on the phone.

Get travel insurance that includes flight coverage

It’s important to have some insurance when travelling, no matter what is the way you travel. But when flying, make sure your insurance covers such things as flight delays and cancellations, lost luggage, etc.

If you’re travelling in Europe, generally, you’ll probably be protected by the EU rules (EC261), but it might be a hassle to get the compensation or you might even be denied. Having insurance will definitely give you that extra safety that you might need.

Make sure your passport/ID is valid

a ticket and a passport - important to prepare, even if you're not flying for the first time

And check it a reasonable time before your flight, not the night before. If the validity is running out or there might not be a place for a visa stamp, make sure to get a new ID. And be aware that some countries require at least 6 months’ validity after the END of your trip.

If you need to make a new ID and your passport office requires you to bring a picture with you, it’s possible to make the process faster by using PhotoAiD.

If possible, join a loyalty program

Join a loyalty program that will give you perks for flying. It’s the most useful if you’re flying frequently, of course, but why not join just in case?

Many airlines have their individual programs, but there are some alliances that have common, such as Star Alliance.

Even some credit cards offer points if you buy a flight with them, so check what yours offers.

Wear appropriate clothing

By appropriate clothing I mean – casual or even smart casual. A t-shirt and jeans, for example. Or trousers.

If you’re too uncovered, such as in a crop top and a mini skirt, or let’s go to the extreme, a bikini, you might be denied boarding.

On the other hand, if there’s an upgrade to a business class available, the gate attendants will probably look for someone who is in smart casual (after checking the frequent flyers, of course).

A couple of airport tips for first-time flyers

departures screen at the maui airport

Follow the signs

Usually, the airports are well-marked and the signs are in multiple languages. It’s not hard to navigate.

If you don’t have checked-in luggage and have your boarding pass already, head straight for the security.

Don’t leave your luggage unattended

It’s not just so that your luggage doesn’t get stolen, although that is an important thing.

In the airports, unattended luggage will be removed – possibly by a bomb squad. Security is taken very seriously.

Don’t say “Hi!” to “Jack”

If you didn’t catch it, “Hi, Jack” sounds like “Hijack”. This is another thing that is taken very seriously – if a security guy hears this, you’ll probably end up being questioned.

Don’t worry about security checks

The people there are just trying to keep everyone safe. They’ll most probably be helpful and understanding.

Even if you’re selected for a random check, it’s nothing bad. You might get swiped by a wand or a little paper strip that detects the remains of narcotics or explosives.

In some airports, you might get taken to a different room and your luggage might be manually checked.

In London, once, I had a roll cake in my luggage. The whipped cream apparently looked like a liquid in the scanner, so I got pulled over to look for it in my bag. I was as surprised as the security guy when we found it, haha. Really, be cooperative and unargumentative, it will be completely ok.

Don’t wait in line before your boarding is announced

Emma waiting for our plane in vienna airport

There’s just no point in that. Everyone will most probably get on, eventually.

When everything is ready, your boarding will be announced and then you can form a line. If there is business and priority available, those will be called on first. Usually, families with kids get to board first, too.

Sometimes, the boarding happens in zones – check your zone on the ticket and then wait for it to be announced. You’ll not be able to board before your zone, but you can board after.

When boarding, have your boarding pass and ID on your hand

Nothing worse than someone trying to find their ticket and ID when at the gate already. Both for the one who is searching and the others who are waiting on them. Don’t be that person.

Some packing tips to make your first time flying as unproblematic as possible

Types of luggage, what you can and can’t take, how to pack, and more first time flying tips about packing.

Know that there are different types of luggage

two suitcases - one bigger, one smaller - side by side
The left one is a checked-in baggage sized suitcase, and the right one – hand baggage sized

Personal item

It’s a small bag, such as a little backpack, purse, laptop bag, or even a duty-free bag. A personal item is taken with you in the cabin. It’s convenient to pack things such as your passport or wallet in the personal item.

Be aware that some airlines, such as Ryanair or Wizzair, allow only a personal item for free in the cabin.

Cabin baggage – known also as carry on

A small suitcase or a bigger backpack. Generally, the cabin baggage can weigh up to 10kg, sometimes it’s 8kg – so make sure to check your airline’s restrictions. There are size restrictions as well, but those are too diverse to put in a single article. There are things you can’t take in the cabin bag and things you definitely should – I’ve mentioned some in the flying step-by-step article and here as well.

As I mentioned, for some airlines, you need to pay for a cabin bag. On some, it’s included, but you can pay a small sum to upgrade the weight allowance in case you’re just a bit short and don’t feel like buying a checked-in bag.

Checked in baggage

a kid sitting on a checked in luggage suitcase

Speaking of checked-in bags, those are bigger bags that you leave at a check-in desk and that are placed in the aircraft’s hold. These bags are not accessible during the flight and sometimes can go missing, so make sure to pack them accordingly.

Check-in bags have different prices and different size allowances. Some airlines include them in the ticket price, but for many, you actually need to purchase a checked in bag if you wish to use it.

Special items and sport’s equipment

Going for a sport’s holiday? Skis, hockey equipment, scuba gear, and other things are considered sport’s equipment. There are size and weight limitations, as well as restrictions on what can actually be taken with you. Sometimes, you have to pay an extra fee for taking these things with you.

And special items include things such firearms, musical instruments, and mobility devices among others. Some airlines include things such as infant seats in these. Rules, exceptions and packing instructions apply to special items.

Kid’s equipment

Many airlines, even Ryanair, allow you to take things such as strollers, travel cribs, and other kid’s items for free when you purchase an infant or child’s ticket. Some even have checked-in luggage for free for a child!

Make sure to double-check what is included.

Pack the night before

a full suitcase

Don’t leave packing for just before leaving for your first flight. Even now, after having flown many, many times, I tend to forget things when I pack at the last moment, haha.

I have many packing lists available, with the most important being the essential things to pack with you, that you might find helpful. I still use them every time I pack.

Check what the destination country allows to import

For example, the USA doesn’t allow any fresh food items to be brought into the country. We actually forgot about an apple that somehow had fallen to the bottom of our bag and almost got in trouble with customs! There are customs agents with dogs waiting when you exit the plane.

Check laws to make sure you’re not packing any dangerous goods in your luggage

Pretty much – look up “dangerous goods” or “forbidden items name of your airline” and read what’s there, that’s the safest option.

Check restrictions for how much liquids you can pack into your cabin bag

Many countries, or rather airports, now are cancelling the restrictions for liquids, but many still allow only one litre of liquids, where one container cannot be larger than 100ml. And yes, that’s a container, not how much liquid is left in it. For example, if your shampoo bottle has 500ml written on it, but there’s only like 10ml left, it doesn’t matter, it will be thrown out.

Wear your heavier clothes on the plane to save space in your suitcase

a family at the airport happy to be travelling

I feel like I’m countering the “dress appropriately” part that I mentioned previously, but one does not exclude the other.

It’s actually quite a good idea to wear pants and layers on the plane – always. I’ll forever remember the island hopping we did in Hawaii where we were freezing on the plane because the air-conditioning was so strong.

But make sure that you don’t overdress – it’s better to be comfortable than have to carry a ton of stuff.

Tips for making your first time flying more comfortable

You might not think so just yet, but know that flying can get quite uncomfortable. The difference in pressure, the dry air, the small and narrow seats, and so many other things make it hard. Especially if the flight is long!

So here are some tips to make your first flight more comfortable.

Hydrate a lot

To feel good during the flight, it’s important to keep hydrating. Of course, it might mean that you have to go to the lavatory (wear your shoes!), but it’s better than feeling ill.

On that note, have a hand cream with you that you can use. The skin can get dry, and it’s not a pleasant feeling.

Pack an empty water bottle with you

a water fountain in Riga airport

Many airports now have water fountains or water-filling stations. Usually, the tap water in the toilets is ok to drink, too.

I have Owala bottles which I really like. They have both a straw and a normal opening for drinking.

Be careful if consuming alcohol

Because of the pressure differences in the airplane, you’ll get intoxicated much sooner. And if you were drunk the night before, the hangover is much worse.

Consider getting compression socks, especially if pregnant

Compression socks help prevent thrombosis, which is an even bigger concern for pregnant people. But the pressure differences and sitting for longer periods make it riskier for everyone.

If you’re pregnant, it’s a good idea to book an aisle seat for yourself so that you can get around and stretch your legs more easily. It’s not comfortable, trying to squeeze in and out of a window seat.

Pack some snacks with you

Yes, it is allowed to take food with you on board. It might not be allowed to import it into the destination country (check the rules!), but on board, food can be taken. Of course, if it’s not liquids, so don’t take soup.

So even if there’s going to be food served during the flight, it might be not tasty or there might not be enough food. It’s a good idea to have something with you just in case.

You can get something at the airport (more expensive) as well, of course.

Not all flights give free food!

having food on the plane
Meal that I bought on board

On that note, check on your ticket what’s included. Mostly now, on short-haul flights, food is not included and if it is, it might just be cookies.

Organize your things before sitting down

Before you sit down for the flight after boarding, put your things away.

I usually take one bag with me, which has my food, drinks, entertainment, and medicine. If the seat next to me ends up being empty, I’ll leave my clothes and everything so that it’s easier to pack everything before disembarking.

Bring some entertainment

I usually have my Kindle with me and some movies on the phone. Even if there should be in-flight entertainment (IFE) on board, it doesn’t mean that it will work or there will be something interesting on it.

You can download movies for offline watching on most of the streaming services, including Netflix and Youtube Premium.

Emma sleeping on the airplane

Bring headphones with you

It’s always a good idea to have headphones. Again, there might be IFE, but no headphones. You will probably need ones with a headphone jack!

When we were flying just the two of us with Michal, I actually carried a headphone jack splitter with me – that way, we could watch a movie on one screen.

Another thing about headphones – if you have noise-cancelling headphones, your flight will be that much more comfortable. My Samsung noise cancelling earbuds work quite well, too. Just remember to remove them for the safety briefing.

Which seat to book?

Well, there are usually two main options if your plane is a narrow body (that is, just one aisle between the seats instead of two). Those would be either aisle or window. On wide-body planes, there are two aisles, which means there are 4 seats without a window seat. For those, it’s either the aisle or middle seats.

Isle seats are better if you like to walk around or are anxious to ask people to move if you need to go to the toilet. It’s better if you’re tall, too, as you can stretch your legs in the aisle – when no one’s moving there.

The window seat is better for that view and if you’d like to sleep during the flight – you have the wall to lean against and, well, the window.

Then there’s the dreaded middle seat. It’s not so bad if you’re sitting in-between friends, family, or even acquaintances. It’s quite uncomfortable if you need to sit with a stranger.

For the love of all that’s holy, do not walk around in your socks

The carpets on the plane are not clean – they don’t get washed after every flight, and even if they did, you have no idea what people have stepped into before going to the airplane.

And no, that wet stuff that’s on the floor in the lavatory (toilet)? That is not water.

What to do if something goes wrong – and tips for preventing it

A delayed flight? Or even cancelled?

Maybe you were denied boarding?

Or your baggage was damaged?

There are things that can be done for this, even at the time that you’re buying your flight.

First and foremost – make sure that you have insurance

Yes, in most cases, the airline is responsible for any problems and will try to fix them. But it’s definitely safer to have insurance as well that covers things like broken suitcases. It’s just safer.

For comfort, it’s nice to have lounge access in case of a delay. Services such as Revolut (payment cards) and AirHelp offer it, among other good things.

Sardinia as seen from an airplane - for first time flying tips

Second, if you’re flying on connecting flights, make sure they’re connecting or you have enough time to account for delays

When buying your connecting flights, it’s always a good idea to have them on one reservation with one reservation number. If you must buy separate flights, have enough layover time to account for any possible delays.

Some things to keep in mind are:

  • Disembarking and taxiing might take even half an hour – that means that if your flight’s planned arrival time is, let’s say, 12 o’clock and it lands on time, it might be that you’re out of the plane at 12:30.
  • You might need to go through security again which takes more time again.
  • Boarding generally starts some 45 minutes before the planned departure time. And the gate closes 15 minutes before – you might be denied boarding if you’re at the gate later than that.
  • So if you’re buying connecting flights, buy them on one reservation (doesn’t mean it has to be one airline). As that means that the airline will protect you in case of a delay and will help you get to your destination.

There are many factors that the compensation depends on. Those are the departure/destination country, the reason for the delay, as well as how long the delay was.

And third, generally, compensation is available only if it’s the airline’s fault

a glacier in iceland as seen from a plane

So, weather conditions, airport staff strikes, and other unforeseen circumstances? Sorry, nothing.

But if the plane is broken down or the airline’s crew strikes? You can get compensation.

If there’s a delay, you have options!

Generally, the airline is responsible for providing you with care. Just make sure that you check out what your airline offers before you get to the customer service desk.

Usually, you get some food coupons and free communication, such as calls, fax, and similar. If the delay is long, especially overnight, you can get a hotel and transfers as well. Save the receipts! And generally, airlines will cover only reasonable costs.

Depending on how long the delay is, you can try and ask to be put on a different flight by a different airline or to be rerouted to a different destination. Check what flights are available before asking for these, though.

If you arrive at your destination more than 3h later than planned, in Europe or with a European airline, you can get up to 600 euros in compensation.

In Brazil, you can get compensation up to 1300$ if your flight was delayed at least 4 hours. The timeframe for requesting compensation is 2 years for international and 5 years for domestic flights. In case of a shorter delay, the airline must take care of you – with access to communication and meals appropriate for the time of day. In case the delay is long and overnight, accommodation must be provided as well.

The US, unfortunately, doesn’t protect passengers’ rights in case of general delays so extensively. You can read up, though, on your rights in case of tarmac delays.

If your flight gets cancelled, there might be a chance to get a compensation

In the EU, if your flight is cancelled less than 2 weeks before the date, you are most probably going to be covered by the EC261 regulation. That means, in addition to the airline needing to offer you an alternate way of getting to your destination or reimbursing the flight cost, you are entitled to up to 600 euros in compensation. Of course, that is, if the cancellation happened not because of extraordinary circumstances.

Unfortunately, the USA, just like with delayed flights, doesn’t have such rules.

Brazil, though, is quite close to the EU in protecting the rights of its airline passengers. If the flight is cancelled, you are entitled to compensation of up to 1800$ per passenger per flight. And the airline must offer you the 3 choices – a ticket for another flight, an alternative means of getting to your destination, or a refund of what you paid for the ticket. And it must be offered for free.

a tarmac with the airport building and airplanes in tenerife

What to do if you’re denied boarding because the flight was overbooked

Airlines in the EU are less likely to overbook flights than in the, let’s say, US, but still, it happens.

Usually, volunteers are asked who, in exchange for compensation, surrender their tickets. If you surrender your seat voluntarily when the gate attendant asks for volunteers, you don’t get a compensation!

In the US, the compensation for a denied boarding can be up to 1350$ depending on the one-way ticket fare, if it was an international or domestic flight, delay in reaching the destination, and other factors.

In the EU, if you are bumped off a flight through no fault of your own, you get a compensation immediately. That is, in the airport. And that’s even if you’re put on another flight.

In Brazil, if you’re denied boarding, you get a compensation of 345$ for domestic and 690$ for international flights.

Damaged or lost suitcase or other luggage items

a damaged suitcase
A reallly bad picture, but the point is, I hope, clear

In case your luggage is damaged:

  • Hold on to your ticket and luggage tag
  • Report the damage as soon as possible – it’s best to do this at the airport so that the bags can be inspected by an employee. It’s possible to do it at home as well (generally up to 7 days after the flight), but it’s better in the airport.
  • Fill out the forms – you’ll need to state the approximate age and purchase price of the suitcase, as well as some other things. You might be able to negotiate a compensation, repair of the suitcase, or even a completely new suitcase.
  • If things in your bag were damaged, file a claim for those, as well. It might not do anything, but sometimes, you might get compensated.

If your bag doesn’t arrive

  • Again, have your boarding pass and luggage tag on hand
  • Go to the lost and found at the airport and fill out the forms. DO NOT LOSE THE FORM.
  • You might get a “vanity kit” type of baggy that usually includes hygiene items and a t-shirt.
  • But keep any receipts for the first necessity items that you buy, such as toiletries, underwear, or anything else that you can’t live without. The airline should reimburse you for those.
  • Once your bag shows up, you can file a claim for any first necessity things that you got.

If your bag doesn’t show up (or is delayed more than 21 days in the EU), file a claim with the airline for compensation. Make a list of items that were in the bag and the expenses for replacing them. There are things that the airline will not cover, of course, but you should get reimbursed for at least most of them. And any receipts for things that you had in the bag are always helpful.

How to get the compensation

Usually, the airline has a page where you can make a claim for a compensation. The information about what you’re entitled to has to be given to you as well, either in a paper form or in an email.

If you’ve written to the airline and they deny your claim, try again!

If they’re still not budging and you’re sure you’re entitled to a compensation for the disrupted flight, you can try making the claim through companies such as AirHelp. They’ve helped quite a few people I know get the compensations that the airlines were refusing.

Tips to combat anxiety on your first flight

rainbow as seen from a flying airplane

When working as a flight attendant, I’ve seen all kinds of people. Some were feeling so safe and sure of themselves that they decided to ignore safety procedures, and on the other end of the spectrum – I was holding a lady’s hand during the flight because she had such anxiety.

So here are some of my tips to combat flight anxiety that might help you.

Distract yourself

Movie, music, book – prepare a lot of entertainment so that the time… ekhm.. flies.

Ask the flight attendants for help

Once, we had a girl on the flight with crazy anxiety. We paid extra attention to her, made sure that she was ok, and I even sat with her for the landing.

But she got intoxicated, which made things only worse.

On that note…

Don’t use alcohol

It might seem like a good idea to get some calming juices in you, but be aware that alcohol acts differently on a plane – you get intoxicated much faster. You will most probably still be scared, but louder and more annoying to others.

Consider some calming medicine instead

a plane shadow flying in a circular rainbow in a cloud - also known as halo

My mom always uses pills for motion sickness when flying. They have some calming herbs in them, and generally, she sleeps for the whole flight.

Talk to your doctor or pharmacist, and they might be able to suggest something that might help you with flight anxiety.

Know that planes are the safest mode of transportation and the crew is trained for emergencies

Crews are trained for any kind of emergency that might happen during the flight. Cabin crew go through extensive training – everything from medical emergencies to fighting fire on board to bomb threats. And the same is true for pilots – they know what to do if the engines don’t work, there are problems with fuel, and everything else that could happen. They have recurrent trainings every year where these things are repeated and pilots have simulators twice a year where they train for emergency situations. They know how to protect you.

If you’re afraid during the turbulence and think that the wings might fall off, know that they are bendy on purpose.

Answers to some questions that I’ve seen asked

a thunderstorm cloud as seen from a cockpit of an airplane
Pilots have the best views, huh

How to find the best flight?

Usually, I use Kiwi, Momondo, or Google Flights to find the most convenient flight to a place I want to fly to. Recently, I’ve started using WayAway – it’s quite good, too. And they give cashback!

My favourite is actually Kiwi. Since I live within 200km of 3 international airports, it’s easy for me to just set one as the main one, give a 200km radius, and Kiwi gives me flights – and sometimes even transfers! – that would work for me.

Afterwards, though, I make sure to check the airline’s (that the flight aggregator offered) website and I buy the flight there. Even if the price is a bit higher than through some 3rd party, it’s just that much safer in case something goes wrong.

When is the best day to fly/the flights cheapest?

There’s usually not one best day to fly.

If you’re looking for the cheapest flights, those will usually have the most inconvenient departure or arrival times. Or they’ll be in the off-season.

The most expensive flights will be when there are, for example, school holidays somewhere near one of the airports.

Momondo, WayAway, and many other aggregators and even airlines let you sign up for price alerts. I know that some airlines even let you hold the price for some time (paid service, of course), which might let you get a cheaper rate if it appears.

When should I buy the tickets?

You should buy the tickets at such a time when the price seems reasonable to you. That’s the best answer, in my opinion.

There are some people saying that “this day/time” is the best, but it’s impossible to rely on those things. If there are a lot of people buying tickets to a destination, the price will go up. If there are just a few, it might go down. Sometimes, buying at the last moment is the cheapest time, but sometimes, even Ryanair basic tickets will cost 400 euros and more if you buy at the last moment.

So, if the price seems good, buy the tickets!

When to buy checked-in luggage?

a flight attendant on the stairs of an airplane in the airport - giving out first time flying tips

If you have doubts about whether or not you’ll need a checked-in bag, think of these things:

  • What’s the weather going to be? If it’s hot, you’ll need just lighter items and might not need the extra space.
  • Do you want to carry back some souvenirs or food/drinks? Probably a good idea to get a checked in bag.
  • Do you need bigger toiletry items? Sunscreen, shower gel, or anything else more than 100ml – get the checked in bag.
  • Be aware that the later you get the checked in bag, the more expensive it will be.

And another thing – you don’t need to get it for both flights! If you have a smaller suitcase or bag that fits in the cabin bag sizes, you can get your checked bag for just one direction.

So, in conclusion about first-time flyers tips…

I got quite deep with writing out these first time flyer tips, huh?

Well, that’s because I really wanted to be rather comprehensive. There are quite a few little things to know and I wanted to share what I’ve learnt over the years.

I hope you found this helpful! If you need more information, don’t hesitate to ask me.

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