The day has finally come. All of your months of filling out applications and meeting with advisors and finding subleases and crying because you’re really going to miss your dog− have culminated to this. An international flight. Perhaps this will be your longest flight, your first international flight, your first flight without mom or dad, or even your first time flying.
Of all the steps you have taken and obstacles you have overcame…this should be the easy part right? Right?? Well, that’s what I thought too, until I had to spend an hour on the phone with United’s customer service in the middle of the night begging them to get on another flight when I missed a connecting flight in Ontario because I thought I had to go to the check-in desk again.
To make your experience better than mine was, here’s a few tips and strategies to have a successful international flight.
Things to know before you leave the house
- Bring your passport. This one is obvious but people have left theirs at home before. Always have a printed copy of your passport in your carry-on bag, and maybe even in your personal item. It will come in clutch if your passport gets lost or stolen.
- Bring some cash. It might come in handy. You can usually exchange cash in your host country airport for the local currency. Sometimes people order currency early while still in America.
- Beware of over packing. If you didn’t know, there is a size limit on carry-on bags and personal items, and a weight limit on checked bags. A friend of mine intentionally over packed and just accepted they would have to pay the overweight fee, but what they didn’t know is that there is a maximum weight your bag can be, and you can’t pay your way out of it.
- If you need any medication, this should be packed in your personal item or carry-on bag. Leave all medications, prescription or not, in their original packaging. If you get searched and you have prescription labels, it will be a lot easier to explain.
- Airlines usually require that electronic devices such as laptops or cameras be packed in your personal item or carry-on bag. Check your individual airline’s requirements, but be prepared to stuff some electronics in your backpack.
- Wear loose clothing, and dress in layers. The plane might be cold, and the country you are going to might be hot. For example, while the USA is in winter, it is summer in Australia.
- Pack a change of clothes, extra contacts or your glasses if you wear them, and maybe like, a toothbrush or something. Occasionally your luggage will come in later than you and you should be prepared for that delay.
- Bring an empty reusable water bottle. Dehydration will make you more cranky, and you can’t bring any bottled drinks past security. Also, bring snacks. Airport food is expensive and sucks. Also, chewing gum can help with ear-popping.
- You will want to get to the airport 2-3 hours early. It takes a while to say goodbyes, get through security, and find everything you need.
- If you are going to use your phone to show your boarding pass, take a screenshot in case your service sucks.
- Consider packing headphones, an eye mask, a travel pillow, a pen and paper, a phone charger and portable battery pack, lip balm, or other little travely things.
- Put a picture of your dog in your wallet. If you don’t have a dog, bring a picture of my dog. She’s perfect.
At the airport and throughout the flight(s)
- Once you are at the airport, look around for a big screen that has arrival and departure times. This will tell you when the check-in counter opens, and where it is at. Go there with your luggage, flight ticket, and passport.
- At the check in counter, they will check your ticket, weigh your bags, and ask some security questions, mostly about if you have any banned items in your bags. At this point they will put tags on your checked bags and send them down a conveyor belt, relieving you from carting them around anymore. Thanks check-in counter people. They will also give you your boarding passes for this flight and any connecting flights you may have.
- Note: You may only go to a check in counter and go through this process once. The airport I got stuck at did not have an intuitive layout and I didn’t realize you only check in once, so instead of taking my already-in-hand boarding pass to my gate, I found myself waiting to check in for 45 minutes of my hour long layover. Yeah, I missed my flight. Don’t be like me. However, when returning to the US from an international destination, you have to pick up your bags and recheck them. This usually happens without even leaving security. Double check before your flight if you will need to transfer your own luggage or not.
- After checking in, you will follow the airport signs for flight departures. This path will lead you through security. Remember that you cannot take any containers over about 100ml (again, check your airlines specifications) with you past this point. You will probably have to take off your shoes, belts that have metal, and anything in your pockets and put them into a tray for screening through an x-ray tunnel thing. Your laptops, cameras, and other devices will also need to be removed from your bags and put into their own tray.
- After security, and maybe passport control, you will find yourself in the main area of the departure terminal. Big screens will tell you the gate your flight leaves from, and whether or not the gate is open. While you are waiting, feel free to get some food or eat some of your pre-packed snacks, go to the bathroom, stretch your legs for what might be the last time in hours, and check out the shops if you want, but remember to leave enough time to walk to your departure gate before it closes.
- In the gate, there will be a waiting lounge where you will sit. You will probably be assigned a letter on your boarding pass. When they call your flight, and group letter, it is your time to board. Have your passport and boarding pass out and ready to show them.
- Stay hydrated throughout your flight. Take advantage of free beverages and meals offered if there is any.
- Be respectful of the other passengers. This should go without saying.
- If you have a connecting flight, upon arrival at your connecting location you will likely be guided to that airport’s departure gates. If you aren’t guided, find it yourself but again, do not get in line to check in. You already have your boarding passes.
- Your layover could be really long or short, know this ahead of time and be ready to get to the right gate on time in any scenario.
- Upon arrival to your host country, follow the airport signs for immigration and passport control, and then head to the baggage hall to collect your luggage. Watch the screen to make sure you are waiting at the right conveyor belt.
- Once you have collected your luggage, you will go to customs. After clearing customs, you will follow signs to arrival halls, where you will see signs for taxis, buses, trains, etc.