If you're new to flying or only fly once in a while, read on with care.
This post contains many valuable tips on how to:
- prepare for a flight
- pack efficiently
- navigate an airport
- save money
- make flying comfortable
If you're frequent flyer, cruise through these tips and, hopefully, add a few of your own in the comments.
If you haven't yet bought your ticket read: Get the Best Deals on Flights: Here’s How. And in case you're in the situation read: How to Make Money from Overbooked Flights: 10 Tips.
Now, here are my tips in chronological order.
Before you leave home.
- Get your credentials right. For international flights you’ll need a passport that does not expire for three to six months after your departure. This is determined by your country destination. Check the country’s website to confirm their requirements. While there also check to see if there is also a visa requirement.
- Check in 24 hours in advance. Most airlines send you an email 24 hours in advance to give you a chance to check in on line. If you don’t receive one you may still be able to check in online. Do so and you’ll save lineup time at the airport by either avoiding the lines completely if you just have a carry-on or by using the faster baggage drop-off line rather than the check-in line.
- Get a paperless boarding pass. Rather than print off your boarding pass at home or at the airport, have it sent to your phone. Imagine the savings in paper and ink and the resulting benefit to the environment if everyone did this.
- Take screenshot of your boarding pass. When you receive your boarding pass take a screenshot of it so that the scanning portion is saved to your photos. To do this on an iphone hold the on-off button and your Home button down at the same time until you hear a click. This way you’ll definitely have access to your boarding pass even if you can’t get online to access your email.
- Make dietary needs known in advance. Meals are typically served on long-haul flights but not always. Check to see if your flight includes meals. If you require a special diet such as vegetarian or gluten-free, inform the airline at least 24 hours in advance. Any later and you'll just have to hope that they can meet your needs in flight. While I don’t eat meat I also no longer request vegetarian meals. I have found them to be inedible as it appears that they are trying to meet the requirements of multiple dietary needs in one meal. On most flights there is a pasta option that is vegetarian. I rarely (though sometimes) have to go without.
- Plan on bringing snacks. This is especially important for domestic flights when food is not served or there’s a charge for it. While airplane food is not particularly expensive (they don’t seem to gouge you despite being a captured audience) you will do better in terms of quality, choice and price by bringing your own.
- Pack smart. The way you pack can make a big difference in your airport efficiency.
- Carry-on packing.
- Confirm the size and weight limits for carry-on bags. For some flights I leave my regular carry-on at home (it meets size requirements but makes it difficult to make a 9km weight requirement) and take a light weekend bag.
- For your carry-on packing list read Bare Minimum Packing or Bare Minimum Packing: Urban and Luxury Travel.
- Key to your smooth pass through security with a carry-on:
- Always have the zips of your luggage at the top of your bag for flying.
- Position all your liquids (100ml max for each container) in a one litre plastic bag stored at the top of your bag.
- Have easy access to your computer for removal from your bag.
- Wear shoes that are easy to take off and put on especially if traveling to the United States.
- Checked baggage.
- Confirm in advance what your checked baggage limits and fees are.
- To best handle checked baggage read Checked Baggage: Top Planning and Packing Tips.
- Carry-on packing.
- Schedule your arrival at the airport. The recommended amount of time to arrive before your flight leaves depends on your airport and your destination. A domestic flight from Toronto’s Billy Bishop airline only requires arrival a half hour in advance. An international flight from Pearson airport suggests two hours in advance. A flight to the US from Pearson suggests three hours in advance.
- Research your options for getting to the airport. At major airports there are usually a variety of parking options at various prices. You can usually Uber to an airport but not from an airport as Uber typically doesn’t have airport pickup rights. Having a friend drive you is always a cheap and nice way to go.
- Consider a Trusted Traveler pass. Getting a Trusted Traveler pass is a bit of a hassle but worth it if you travel frequently. I have a Nexus pass. Here's a link to a complete list of passes for American citizens.
At the airport.
- Have your carry-on and boarding pass? You're ready to go directly to security.
- At security.
- Have your boarding pass and ID ready. Domestic flights don’t require a passport though you can use one. They do require photo identification. International flights always require a passport.
- Enter the queue with your boarding pass out and available for review. Listen to determine at what point you no longer need your ID as this can vary depending on the airport.
- Drink your water bottle dry. You can’t pass through security with a water bottle that actually has water in it. Drink it all up as before passing through security and refill it on the other side. Water is the best way of staying healthy while traveling.
- Go to your gate or the lounge. Go and stay near your gate so that if there are any changes to your flight you'll hear them. Alternatively you can pay to go to a lounge. Depending on how long you'll have to wait and how often you fly a lounge may be a good investment. You can get a lounge pass through Priority Pass. You can also look into the cost of a one-time pass purchase to your airline's lounge or an independent lounge if your airport has one. These offer greater comfort and they track what flights people are waiting for so that they can keep travelers up to date.
- Listen to the boarding instructions. When you’re waiting to board you’ll hear announcements telling you when to board by row number or, if you’re on a larger plane, section. Check your boarding pass to determine your row or section you’re in and only line up when it is called. Boarding goes more smoothly for everyone if everyone follows the instructions.
- Always look back. This is advisable every time you leave a seat whether it’s at a restaurant or in the waiting area for your flights. Always look back to ensure that you haven’t left anything behind.
- Last check of your boarding pass. The flight attendant does one last check of your boarding pass as they welcome you on the plane so don't put it away until you're on the plane.
- Stow your carry-on in the right place. If at all possible stow your carry-on above your seat or above a seat in a row ahead of you. Stowing your bag above a seat in a row behind you will have you going against the flow when exiting the plane.
- Advise the crew of special needs. Let the crew know as you board of any special needs. For example, if you have a nut allergy let the crew know as you board. They will likely restrict the availability of nuts during the flight.
- Drink lots of water onboard. While meals are no longer served on many flights all will serve at least water, which is best for you anyway. It is especially advisable on long flights to forgo alcohol and coffee and drink lots of water. It helps with jet lag.
- Time your washroom break. If your flight is long enough that you’ll need a washroom break don’t wait until the end of the flight to do so when the washroom has been well-used and can be a mess. You can also ask the crew if the washroom gets serviced during the flight and time your visit for after that.