You might be in heaven or scared and nervous for your first time flying. And that is why this step by step guide will help you! Because flying is a beautiful new and safe experience that brings you to new adventures worldwide. But before arrival, you will experience a whole different and new world; the airport and airplane! Things go differently compared to other ways of transportation you are used to. You need to prepare more, have more steps along the way, might need to communicate in a different language, and often also due to more regulations and safety matters. Let us introduce you to all the important first time flying tips. From before all preparations, on the airport to high in the sky!
Tips for your first time flying
I am writing this while sitting on a plane on our way to Mallorca. Next to us a family with young children. They were flying for the first time and very excited but also overwhelmed at the same time by everything that was happening. The lovely curiosity of the children made me think. Of course, there are still many people flying for the first time and who could use some help!
In general, there are multiple important tips to share with you. All on flying for the first time and what to expect. Firstly before departure, you will need to check your documentation, book your trip and pack your bags. Secondly is the visit to the airport, where you will go through several processes before you can actually board the airplane as the third phase. Followed by the final step of all things to consider after arrival. During these steps, you might go out of your comfort zone, or get nervous from all the intimidating security. Do not stress or worry at all! This step by step checklist comes in very handy to make sure you are well prepared.
We will cover the following topics to make sure you do not miss out on anything:
- Book a flight
- Before departure
- Pack your bags
- At the airport
- In the airplane
- After arrival
Do note that your flying experience will most likely be different when travelling by airplane during the COVID-19 pandemic. For more tips, please see Coronavirus travel advice you must know to travel safely
1. Prepare all documentation, vaccines & insurance
To have the correct documentation is the first step you need to do before you will even be allowed to get on your flight. Always check this per country that you will visit. We always check the websites of local governments or embassies to find the most updated and accurate information. And do not worry, just double-check and you will be more than fine for your first time flying and your next destination. Please see below all documentation options listed:
- Identification & expiry date: depending on your nationality and final destination you will need to have a passport of ID card. Check if your identification is still valid on the day of travelling, but also on the validity duration after departure. In general, passports should have an expiry date at least six months after the last day of travelling. Otherwise it could happen that you will not be allowed to enter the country. Make sure to renew your passport before you go if it does not meet this requirement. Also double check the regulations per country of arrival.
- Visa: always check if you need a visa for travelling, and also the type of visa you need. This will most likely be a tourist visa if you go on a holiday. But if you are going to work on location, there are other visa requirements. You can check this on the government or local embassy websites. Another tool is the Passport index where you can check the requirements per country when you select the passport nationality you are travelling with. Do note that the government websites are always most up to date.
- Travel insurance: never travel without travel insurance. Yes, it will cost you a bit more, but covers a lot of all the unwanted situations that might occur while travelling. Think of theft, loss of luggage, travel cancellation, medical costs or worst case, death. Working with a travel agency for some time, I’ve seen some very unfortunate accidents and situations happening where clients were smart enough to have insurance. Otherwise, it would’ve cost them a lot of money on for example medical costs or repatriation.
- Travel vaccines or medication: In some countries, there are more health risks that require you to take a vaccine before travelling or medication. Think of Hepatitis, Malaria, yellow fever or Typhoid fever. Always check with your GP or local health services what you should do and how long in advance you should take the vaccines. Important for your travel planning.
- COVID-19: Since the pandemic, many countries introduced more strict travel requirements and documentation. Think of a COVID-19 test or other passenger locator forms and health checks. Please check our blog Coronavirus travel advice you must know to travel safely for tips on requirements country-specific.
2. Booking your flight for your first time flying
There are different ways to book your flight. Firstly, if you do not feel confident doing it all on your own, it might be best to ask for help from an experienced flyer or to go to a travel agency. Travel agencies might have suffered a lot in the last years due to the growth of the digital world and online booking. However, we highly recommend to still visit for that extra personal touch and ability to answer all of your questions on the spot.
Secondly, you could book your flight online. We use several websites, for example:
- Website of the airline
- Website of a travel agency/tour operator
- A website that functions as a search engine over all the world wide web and finds the best tickets for you.
Without a doubt, the search engines are definitely our favourite. It provides you with exactly what you need without too much effort and time.
We love to find good deals and share these with love. Keep an eye on the Travel deals like Most wanted travel deals: Summer holidays in Europe
Our favourite websites to book tickets online
Find below a list of the websites we use to find the best ticket deals and options. You will find your ticket for your first time flying here in a few single clicks.
- Kayak.com: the number one tool! You can search so easily on dates, as well as fixed as flexible. It provides a great overview of all airlines and options. You can filter on numerous options like cheapest flight, direct flights or with connections and the duration. If you would like to go a bit more advanced you can also add multiple stops or work on your own trip planner.
- Skyscanner: a popular website for many travellers. It works the same as Kayak. Also here you can do great searches with different filters and options. Skyscanner offers also a great monthly overview with the flying costs per date. This way you can (if flexible) select the cheapest flights easily. Surely it is worth it! Flying one day earlier or later can make a big difference.
Would you like to know more about stopover flights? A great travel tip! Check out Stopover flights, a must know Travel tip
Picking an airline
It is important to pick a good airline for your first time flying. And keep in mind: flying nowadays is very safe! Even though we flew many kilometres around the world, flying safely is still our main focus when booking a ticket. We rather pay more flying with a decent and safe airline, than going for the cheapest option but not feeling comfortable during our flight. And to be honest, most places visited were easy to reach by trustworthy (national) carriers that never gave us any doubts or concerns.
Most of the airlines provided on these websites above are perfectly fine and safe to fly with. Do you have doubts about a specific airline? Just double-check the airlines on the blacklist. These lists include airlines that do not meet international safety standards as an airline in general, or per specific aircraft type. For Europe see the EU Air Safety list.
What is included in a flight ticket?
When you book a flight ticket, you always need to check what is included. This varies per airline and also per booking class. Airlines offer nowadays different options in booking class like economy, business, first-class etc. However, even within these classes, there might be more options like the budget economy and standard economy. The difference here could be the luggage allowance or flexibility in the terms & conditions if you would like to cancel or change your flight.
KLM is a perfect example. If you check the ticket options, you will see the different booking classes and the differences per flight by continent. For an economy flight within Europe, they have the options for light, standard and flex. The differences here can be found in for example the luggage allowance, the option to pick your own seat or refund options. There is also a difference if you fly a low-cost carrier. In Europe for example EasyJet or Ryan Air. The service is different and this could include that you do not have food or snacks in the ticket included, but often you can buy this separately during the flight.
3. Before departure day
It is nearly time to take off for your first flight! How excited are you that new adventures are waiting for you? But, sorry still some preparation to do! Let’s continue below:
- Change cash in the local currency: depending on where you are travelling, always bring some local cash with you already. In general, this is also an option at the airport, but it might comfort you to have this arranged already. In some cases, like when travelling to Cuba, we could not arrange this outside Cuba already. When arriving in Cuba there were several money transfer agencies available to fill your wallet.
- Check bank/credit card options: not all cards allow you to withdraw money from an ATM in other countries. And on the other hand, not all countries accept all cards (like Visa, Amex, Maestro). Double-check with your bank before you are left without any money.
- COVID-19: ensure that you have all covid-19 requirements like the correct face mask or for your own hygiene like disinfection wipes for in the airplane.
- Check airport services and procedures: How does it work at the airport? Where is the departure terminal? Can you park for the short or long term? Is there a drop off location if someone will bring you? What restaurants are in the airport for when you need to wait etc. It is an easy task by just going to the airport website and surf around the pages a bit.
- Shop: buy small reusable travel bottles if needed for your shampoo and other liquids. Make sure you have all the outfits and medication you would need.
- Entertainment: Also think of entertainment for during your flight or for your trip. Download Netflix episodes beforehand, which you can watch on flight mode, or get some nice books to bring. Note that not all airplanes have in flight entertainment like shorter flights. Longer international flights often do have a tv screen per seat with movies, music and digital games.
- Learn the local language: It can be so fun and convenient to exchange words with locals. At least it would be highly recommended to know the basics like toilet, hotel, food, airport and asking for directions to ensure you can travel around smoothly. But of course, nowadays we also have google translate or ourther dictionaries travel-specific in any language that you could use.
4. Packing your bags for your first flight
After checking your luggage allowance you can start packing. Before flying for the first time it is important is to understand the difference between carry on or check-in (hold) luggage. They both usually have a maximum of kilo’s allowed and maximum sizes. Make sure you weigh your luggage at home to make sure you do not have any surprises at the airport. Also, put a security lock or belt around your suitcase. This can also be helpful to recognize your suitcase from all others if you pick a specific colour for example.
In general, hand luggage should fit under the seat in front of you but that does mean that you have less legroom. However, there is also overhead storage. Even though you might be sitting close to your cabin luggage, we always recommend keeping your valuable belongings with you at your seat. It is important to note that you are responsible for what is in your own suitcase. Do not let anyone else pack your suitcase or leave it with a stranger or unattended in public or at the airport.
Hand luggage is to bring with you on the airplane. Always check the size you are allowed to bring and the number of pieces. Some airlines allow you to bring a hand luggage suitcase and a laptop bag, while others only allow 1 piece as a small backpack. In general, hand luggage should fit under the seat in front of you but that does mean that you have less legroom. However, there is also overhead storage. Even though you might be sitting close to your cabin luggage, we always recommend keeping your valuable belongings with you at your seat. For this, we always bring a small bag (that easily fits in the bigger hand luggage). Another important rule is that you are not allowed to bring any product bigger than 100ML in your hand luggage. This should go in the cabin luggage.
Check in luggage
Luggage that you will need to hand in and will be transported in the aircraft hold. This also has a maximum of kilos, sizes and pieces. The crew member at the check-in desk will check if your luggage is meeting the requirements. It can otherwise be declined for the flight or you need to pay extra fees. After leaving your luggage at the check-in desk or “bag drop off” desk, the airport staff will make sure your luggage will be transported to the airplane and you will see it again on the luggage belt at your final destination. In the check-in luggage, you also have restrictions on what you can bring, like specific electronics. Always double-check. There is no maximum on the millilitres in bottles, so your shampoo and tanning oil can be packed!
5. Check-in for your first time flying
The best moment is when you receive a notification email from the airline that you can now check-in! Your trip is now coming really close. Checking in for your flight can be done from home online or at the airport itself. It is completely up to you what you prefer. The benefit of doing it online is that you know you will be on time, you can often pick your own seat and add extra luggage or other services if needed. Once you completed your online check-in, you will receive a boarding pass via email which you can print or show on your phone.
Sometimes airlines charge you extra if you would like to pick your own seat, other times it is free. The seat selection is always important for us and should be for you as well. Mainly to consider the reason for your trip. If we have a business trip with only hand luggage we prefer to sit in the front of the airplane so we can quickly leave once the door opens, instead of waiting for everyone in front of us. If you feel you go to the toilet often, it is recommended to sit at the aisle so you do not have to disturb others sitting next to you each time you need to go. But if you want the show with spectacular views, you definitely need the window seat for your first time flying!
Do note that if you still have luggage that needs to be checked in you are still required to go to the check-in/bag drop off desk. So in this case you will not win much time as you will likely still be in a queue. If you only travel with hand luggage, we do recommend you to do an online check-in so you can go through security and the gate right away. It will definitely save you time!
6. At the airport
It is departure day for your first time flying! It is often recommended to be at the airport 3 hours before departure for international flights, and 2 hours for domestic flights. Do not stress and rush for your first time flying and make sure you stick to this. Did you check already if your flight is on time or if you received any other update emails from the airline? If all is going well you can continue for the check-in!
Airport notification boards
First of all, you should go and check the airport notification boards that show all departures and arrivals. Here you can see the desk number you should go to for check-in and also to which gate you should go afterwards for boarding.
Check-in or bag drop off
Once you are at the check-in desk you will need to provide your passport/ID to the airline crew member who will look into your booking. You can put your check-in luggage on the belt and you will see the weight of the suitcase. The crew member might ask you specific questions if you need a visa or other documentation. Often they will not allow you on the flight if you cannot show the documentation on the destination of departure already. If all is well, you will receive the boarding pass that you need to keep with you. This pass also shows the departure time, the final time for boarding the airplane and to which gate you should go.
Go through security
The next steps are often considered most stressful. Just take it easy, it is not difficult. This can also be the part where it can get busy with long waiting lines so head towards security after your check-in. You can prepare yourself by checking the information on the airport’s website, like for Schiphol in Amsterdam. First of all, you will need to go through a security check for your boarding pass and your identification, depending on your trip and final destination. For example: when flying within the EU you do not have a passport check.
After that, you will have a luggage check. Check the local regulations on the luggage check. You can place your luggage on a belt which will go through a machine. Sometimes you do need to take off your shoes, sometimes you do not, Other cases you do need to take off all your electronics and in other cases not. The complete security checks very much depend on the airport and its technology.
Enjoy the shops and restaurants
If you still have time left over you can enjoy the duty-free shops and restaurants before you head towards your gate of departure. Do keep in mind that you do not exceed the hand luggage requirements massively with duty-free shopping!
Find your gate
Always keep an eye on the time that your gate opens. For your first time flying you rather wait longer at the gate than rushing through the airport or spending too much time shopping. Sometimes the airports are rather big, like Amsterdam, and you need to walk quite a bit to your gate. You can find your gate number at the boarding pass or notification boards.
Wait at the gate & boarding
You always have seat around the gate to wait for the moment you can start boarding. Once you can start boarding the airplane the crew members will announce the order of boarding. Keep your identification and boarding pass with you. Often families with children or priority flyers go first. After that, it is open for everyone, or it is done in groups depending on the seating row numbers.
You will notice that people sometimes get very impatient or all try to be the first in line. There is a good reason for this as the overhead luggage space can sometimes be full quickly. If you board as one of the first, you are pretty sure of a spot for your luggage. However, we only do this if we bring a small suitcase as hand luggage. If we bring a small backpack we take the risk and put it under the seat if there is no more space available.
7. In the airplane
Find your seat
Ready for take-off! Slowly you will enter the plane together with many others boarding. At the door, you will be welcomed by the airline crew. Depending on the type and size of the airplane, they will show you which direction or aisle you should take. Show them your boarding pass if you are not sure and they will be happy to help you. The aisle is narrow, do not bump into other people sitting on their seats already. Carry your luggage carefully while looking for your seat.
On top of the overhead cabin, you will see the row numbers and seat letters. Often this is A, B, C etc. Besides that, it also shows which one is next to the window and aisle. It can happen that someone else is sitting on your seat. It won’t be the first time that people are mistaken. Although sometimes they just give it a try to sit on their preferred seat or closer to friends or family. You are entitled to your own seat, and can therefore request to do sit there.
Once you find your seat, put your luggage in the overhead cabin or the seat in front of you. Remember, it is highly recommended to bring a small bag to keep your important belongings or entertainment close with you. Do not start unpacking or organizing as you might be blocking other passengers in the aisle behind you. Best to ensure you have this arranged before boarding. During the flight, you can always access your luggage. But do remember that you might not want to disturb others in your row, who will then each time need to stand up for you if you are having the window seat. Now it is time to relax. Take your seat, enjoy all that’s happening around you or start your movie.
Once the doors are closed, the flight crew will start the safety instructions. Either in person or via a video on your screen. You will also have a safety card in front of your seat with all instructions on it as well, as shown in the pictures below. In all cases, they will share what you need to do in case of an incident, and other tips all safety-related. To summarize:
- Use of your seatbelt
- Emergencies: use of life vest and oxygen masks
- Emergency doors and ways to find the exit
- Always be careful when opening overhead luggage cabins, it might fall out due to turbulence.
- Use of electronics
- When sitting in an exit row, you need to be aware of your responsibilities of handling the emergency door.
If you would like to have an idea already, check out the video below, an in-flight safety demonstration. We would like to emphasize here that flying is a very safe way of transportation. The crew also had extensive training to guarantee your safety and deal with any possible situation happening. If you are in for a little humour but also honesty already, it will also be nice to watch this video “the honest pre-flight safety video“.
Take off when you go first time flying
Time for fun! The airplane is on the runway and ready for the signal to take off. Engines start running and the airplane will start speeding more and more. You will feel that the nose of the airplane goes up and that you are being pushed into your chair, but not in an uncomfortable way. Taking off for the first time might be a bit scary, but really enjoy the ride! Especially if you have window seats when you will see the world becoming smaller bit by bit. You might feel a few bumps due to wind or at one point a short descending feeling. Which is all perfectly fine and normal as this is considered the end of the climb up. And here you are, high up in the air for your first time flying!
Food and drinks
Also here it differs per airline and flight if food or drinks are included. Mainly for flights with low-cost carriers do not offer anything included. However, you will be able to buy snacks on board. If you do have food included, the type of food depends on the destination. Depending on your flight times you will receive breakfast, lunch and/or dinner. For example: when flying to South Korea from Amsterdam with Korean Airlines with had typical Korean food. On the other hand, flying from South Korea back to Amsterdam with KLM, we had pasta. It also depends on your preferences. While booking, or in your online profile, you can inform the airline that you need, for example, Vegetarian or Halal food.
In general, we’ve been satisfied with the food we had on the airplane. But must admit that we also had an experience with Air France that the service was very limited and somehow breakfast was not served before arrival on the night flight. We were happy that we always ensure to bring some snacks or food ourselves. Food that is filling or some chocolate for during the movies. You cannot bring drinks from home, due to the maximum of 100ML per bottle in your hand luggage. Therefore we always buy a bottle of water at the airport near the gates to bring on board.
Toilet on the airplane
Of course, there is a toilet in the airplane. Often in the back and front of the airplane, but depending on the type of aircraft. In general, you can use the toilet at any time, except during landing, take-off and when the seatbelt sign is on due to for example turbulence. And to be fair, turbulence is not the best experience on a toilet – speaking from experience haha.
The toilets are cleaned by the crew but I feel they are still always uncomfortable due to the limited space. You can flush the toilet and wash your hands as well. When using the toilet just check before going if people are waiting already. It can be annoying to line up in the aisle for passengers sitting close to the toilet. And please, always try to do the “big” one before departure at home or the airport. It’s not pleasant to smell your dinner or lunch from that day throughout the airplane. To be honest, we make sure to not eat specific food before flights, like satay sauce, which makes some people run to the toilet. Sharing tips in detail you can see haha.
Comfort on the airplane
Yes people, you can put your seat behind for a more relaxing and comfortable position. Especially if you would like to sleep. Many hesitate as they do not wish to bother the person sitting behind them. However, it’s there and they could do the same thing. Especially on long haul flights, you would like some comfort right.
Walking around in the airplane is recommended for your body, to stretch your legs and for blood circulation. But often the crew is not all too happy with this as you might be blocking them in the aisle, preventing them from doing their work properly. Just see if it’s the right timing or not.
There is no trash bin close to your seat. Once you receive your on-flight food you will need to wait a while before everyone else on the airplane is served before the crew picks up all trash again. That can sometimes be a bit annoying if it takes longer, even though we fully respect the process. It just means that you will have less space for a while with a full table tray in front of you.
Depending on the airline and airplane type you will have entertainment on board or not. This is a tv screen right in front of you and for everyone individually. You can pick movies, music, games and much more. We always bring our own earplugs that you can connect. However, often airplanes also hand these out to all passengers – which are not always comfortable.
Approximately 40 minutes to half an hour before arrival you will notice a difference in the airplane. It feels like a little drop of speed and pressure where you can feel that you slowly go down. I always love this because it is the confirmation that we are getting ready for landing! The crew will update you and will instruct you to put your seat and tray tables back up. You feel that you are descending. At one point you will hear some noise from under which is the landing gear followed shortly by a bump when the wheels touch the ground. Touch down! We hope you enjoyed your first time flying!
8. After arrival
Leaving the airplane
Keep in mind that you need to remain seated until further notice from the airline crew. Mostly this is from the moment that the airplane reached the gate at the airport. Once you reached the gate, and maybe already after landing, you will notice that people are getting a bit stressed and impatient. Right away people start packing their stuff, switch on their phones, stand up to get luggage from the overhead cabins and wait in the aisle to leave the airplane as soon as possible. This will only be possible once the crew opens the doors and gives the signal to start departing. So I would say just chill and relax, everyone will get off. Unless you are in a major rush for a connecting flight, just ask if the crew can help you upfront.
Once arrived you should follow the signs for the exit and baggage claim area. Check the status of the luggage arrival and the baggage belt where you should go to. In a bit, all luggage will be released to the belt. Always make sure that you only take your own luggage! We always add something to recognize our suitcase easily. We also have a label on it with personal details in case the luggage get’s lost. Do not stress if your luggage is not released on the belt right away, it always comes one by one. Especially if you have big and packed airplanes, the luggage will be released in batches.
Depending on the country of arrival, you will go through immigration. Here the officer will check your identification and visa if required. The queue here can get long sometimes. So we either move forward to immigration quickly or take a bit more time with a toilet break if we see many waiting already.
Welcome to new adventures!
We hope you had a great experience for your first time flying! And of course that these first time flying tips were helpful. A whole new world is opening up for you with many new adventures. You will see that flying can get addictive and before you know you will book your new flight ticket again. Don’t we all like some good ticket deals?
And do you know what could happen after your trip? Getting caught with the travel blues! Like to know more?
Check out The Travel blues – 6 effective ways to overcome