If you’re new to flying, the whole boarding process can be a little confusing. Luckily, it’s not that complicated once you get familiar with how everything works. Here’s our step-by-step process to boarding with ease.
Step 1: Reconfirm your flight 24 hours in advance online
As seasoned travelers, this is travel pro 101 territory. You can check-in for most flights these days from the comfort of your home, 24 hours prior to departure. Take advantage of this convenient way to re-confirm and check-in for your flight if you can. It’s easy. You can also print boarding passes to avoid the lines at the traditional airport check-in counters.
There’s been quite a bit of volatility with airlines canceling flights this year, so taking this extra step is always a good idea. The airline will let you know if there’s been any changes to your itinerary and you’ll be ready to depart with correct information.
Step 2: Get to the airport with plenty of time to spare
Once you get a few flights under your belt, you can consider cutting the time that you allow to arrive at the airport and get through security. But for your first flight, you’ll want to arrive with plenty of time to spare. In fact, for a domestic flight we recommend arriving at least 2 hours before your flight is due to leave.
Step 3: Drop your bags off or wait in line if you need extra help
Again, these days a lot of the airlines have no-contact, convenient kiosks where you can print baggage tags. Then, you can easily drop them off with a baggage agent. These self-service kiosks are very clearly labeled most of the time. If you don’t know where to go, there’s usually a few airline employees standing around to direct passengers.
Follow the directions on the screen and print baggage claim tags. Then, simply take them to the baggage counter for drop off. If you have any special circumstances, you can wait in line at the airline counter. Usually these days, most people opt into the self-service route.
Step 4: Keep your I.D. handy and head for TSA/Security
When you pack your carry-on bag, make sure you are aware of what acceptable items can be transported inside the plane’s cabin. Even if you don’t plan to get into your carry-on bag (and the vast majority of people do not), there are a bunch of rules about what you can and cannot bring in a carry-on bag.
Keep your I.D. and boarding pass handy. You’ll need to show them to a TSA agent before going through security. Many people swear by this or that strategy for getting through security faster, but in general, just plan to wait a while in line.
Step 5: Go through TSA screening procedures
Then, you place your loose items (including sweaters, shoes and jackets) in bins that slide on a conveyer through a scanning device with your carry-on bags. Most of the time, you will be asked to remove laptops from their cases and send them through the scanner too.
You’ll also need to remove any metal on your body, as well as your phone and coins.
Most major airports now have some sort of screening scanner that you have to walk through (and sometimes stand in). A TSA agent will explain how this is done if it isn’t clear to you. Once on the other side, it’s time to pick up your bags from the other side of the screening machine.
If there has been any issue with your baggage, you will be asked to step to another table. Usually it’s in the same area, but off to the side, where an agent will go through your bag and remove anything that is prohibited.
It’s important that you don’t bring anything liquid in the carry-on that is larger than 3 ounces. Even though I travel a lot, I have been caught more than once with a souvenir that I forgot was forbidden. Just last year, I had to give up a $30 bottle of maple syrup from western New York. I had planned to bring it home for my parents. I cannot stress enough – give the ole’ carry-on a thorough review before you get to security. They will not let you through with prohibited items. The heartbreak!
Step 6: Hurry up and wait at your gate
It’s always a good idea once you’re through security to confirm your departure gate. There are always large monitors with all departure and arrival gates around security. Sometimes the airlines change things at the last minute. You don’t want to find yourself in the wrong part of the airport close to departure time.
Once you’ve confirmed your gate, head to that location. Look around, double-check the departure information at the gate and then figure out where you’re going to wait. Once you’re sure the airlines haven’t pulled a gate switcheroo on ya, that’s when you can relax. Go grab snacks/drinks/magazines/use the bathroom, etc. But, unless you’re traveling with a friend, you can’t just leave your bags at the gate. It’s good to make sure you have a “waiting strategy” before you do your pre-flight business.
If you’ve done this right (as a novice flyer), you’ve got some waiting time ahead of you. So this is why you’ll want to have a book or a fully charged phone or a laptop to keep you busy while waiting. Most gates have charging stations for people, but if the airport is busy you probably won’t be able to snag one. Just make sure your phone is fully charged before you leave the house to be safe.
Step 7: Lining Up and Boarding Order Procedures
Finally, about 30 minutes before your flight is scheduled to depart, the gate agent will announce pre-boarding procedures and any special information you might need for this flight. If the flight is expected to be choppy or there is some kind of issue at the arrival airport, they start making announcements about these kinds of things too.
If the flight is running late, they’ll give you updates as to when the flight may be leaving (usually these announcements come every 15-20 minutes or so). It’s (unfortunately) not that uncommon to have a flight be delayed. Mechanical issues, staffing shortages, and bad weather are just some problems that can impact whether a flight will leave on time.
Most airlines have a similar boarding process. Keep in mind, as soon as the gate agent announces that they are about to begin boarding, a lot of people will leap up. They’ll then start to inch closer to the jetway (that’s the entrance to the airplane). Don’t be one of those people. The flight crews hate it when people do this.
Step 8: Who gets to board first? Probably not you!
Everyone has been assigned a flight group based on the kind of ticket that you bought, and you should see that printed somewhere clearly on your boarding pass. When they call that group, you get to board. Not before – hence the weirdness with people trying to crowd the jetway. In fact, don’t be surprised if you have to ask people to move out of the way for you to board when it comes time for you to do so. Don’t worry about it, just politely and firmly get to the front of the line when your number is called.
Step 9: Show your boarding pass and finally get on the plane!
This is the last time anyone is going to ask you for your boarding pass. You’ll either scan the paper boarding pass or the version on your smartphone just outside the door to the jetway. Then you’ll walk down the jetway (which is usually a tunnel). On some flights in smaller airports, you might actually still walk outside onto the tarmac and board through a little staircase. But that’s a bit more rare these days. Usually you’ll wait in the jetway a little longer as people put their luggage in overhead storage and get settled on the plane.
Step 10: Stow your bags and settle in for takeoff
Once on the plane, look for the row and seat you’ve been assigned, and try to put your bags in the bin overhead where you’re sitting. That’s the most polite thing to do. If you’re one of the last to board the flight crew may ask you to put your luggage somewhere else on the plane. The worst case scenario is when the plane already is full and you have to check your bags anyway. Don’t worry – the flight crews will just take them from you. They’ll hand you a baggage check tag, and you’ll pick them up on the jetway when you depart the plane. It’s perfectly normal, but it can be irritating when this happens.
That’s about it! Get settled in your seat and get ready to fly!