Air travel tips for the inexperienced

I haven’t been on an airplane since 1996, so I am completely igorant of how airports and air travel have changed since 9/11, and also just through a decade of (debatable) progress. In a couple of weeks, I will be flying from Syracuse, NY to Key West, FL, with a layover each way in Atlanta. Having read the recent Pit thread about how badly screwed up people’s trips can get, I’m nervous. Not about crashing or hijacking or anything silly like that, just about how complicated and uncomfortable it can be, whether something goes wrong or not.

Do any of you seasoned air travelers have some tips to make the whole experience go better? They aren’t very long flights, but there is a plane change and several hours waiting around. Also, any specific info about the Atlanta or Key West airports would be helpful if anyone has experience with them.


Get to the airport early, and find out where and when you need to be ahead of time. Allow extra time for the ‘moron factor’. It’s better to have to wait than to be late. If you don’t know, ask, there are people at the airport just for this, and most of the time people in the general area can help.

Bring a book, something to drink, and something nibble on. iPods or portable DVD players are good too. You’ll prolly have to wait at one point or another, and the airport is expensive. Have some cash in small bills just in case. These things should be in your carry on.

Do not joke with the TSA people. Really. Just do what they say and get through quickly. Do not take anything that might get confiscated, and realize that you will have to empty your pockets before you go through the metal detector. If you really don’t know what to do, watch someone else.

Just remember, millions of people do this every single day without horrible mishap, and you can too.

Is arriving at the airport an hour before a domestic flight is scheduled to leave early enough?

Are you allowed to bring your own food and beverages on the plane, or should they be disposable things I can eat and toss before boarding?

Hasn’t this changed recently, what a person can bring on a plane? Or is it that dubious items, like nail clippers and stuff, should be packed in your suitcase and not kept in the carry on bag? Also, how closely to they observe the 3oz. rule? Where you can only bring 3oz. containers of shampoo, lotion, etc?

  • Wear comfortable shoes that are easy to get off and on. I prefer sandals.

  • If female, a purse to hold all your change and other things that may set off the metal detector saves a lot of time at security.

  • Be patient, pleasant, but professional with security folks. Let them do their job. Have enough time that there’s no rush, and don’t sweat it if you get picked for a random search.

  • Always bring multiple things to do. I bring at minimum a couple books, an MP3 player and a handheld video game. You might prefer newspapers and magazines.

  • Carry a snack. You may be able to stop between connections to eat in theory, but delays can cause rushes. Drinks are easy to get on the aircraft and not likely worth the security hassle.

  • Bring gum for popping ears.

  • Give plenty of time in advance. An hour minimum for a domestic flight - if you tend to be a person who runs late, I would budget 1.5 to 2 hours just in case.

  • Leave extra room in your bags as you will inevitably have more stuff on the return trip.

I believe the liquid rules are only for carryons. To save time and hassle, I would likely just put items like shampoo in the suitcase. I always take a change of clothes with me though, in case my bags are delayed (but avoid the epic sized carryons, they’re a hassle for others and yourself, and take up too much room).

Probably. I would get there a bit earlier if possible.

You can bring your own food, but I would stick to carrying little things. I’m not sure how they would respond if you busted out a big meal on the plane. Candy, granola bars, resealable bottles of water or juice, etc. Something that isn’t messy and can be put back in the bag in a hurry.

The liquid is mainly for while you’re waiting. I don’t think they let you take liquid on a plane anymore. Basically, if you want to bring it and youre not sure, put it in the suitcase. It’s not worth the crap you might have to go through for something iffy. This is a short trip, just endure without it for a bit.

Hey, I travel frequently :slight_smile:

If you are bringing toiletries as carry on, you have to do follow the 3 oz, 1 quart, 1 bag rule. You can bring anything, as long as each individual item is less than 3 oz (you can’t bring a half full 5 oz bottle!), it all fits into a 1 quart bag and you get 1 bag per person. If you are packing your toiletries to be checked, you don’t have to worry about this. Never had any problems with nail clippers, but matches/lighters can not be checked or carried onboard. If you don’t have a quart bag, they will give you one at security.

You can bring food (as long as it isn’t liquid - I saw a lady pitch a container of apple sauce at security, and I’ve heard the security people say that yogurt is not allowed through). I’ve seen people eat big meals on planes, it’s completely fine. Most often, people buy personal pizzas or salads or stuff like that from places at the airport and then eat them while flying. You can’t bring any liquids through security (except for the 3/1/1 stuff) but you can buy drinks after you get through security and take them on the plane no problem. You can take an empty water bottle through security and fill it at a water fountain (since giftshop bottled water is spendy). I would definitely bring some kind of snack, the last 2 flights with United, we got drink service but not even a pack of peanuts.

Everybody has to take their shoes off through security now.

I budget 1.5 hours for domestic travel, the lines for security can get really long and I’d rather sit at the gate and read my book than be anxious waiting in a long line. For a lot of airlines (United and Alaska definitely) you can check in online 24 hours before your flight and print your boarding pass in advance. That’s nice, because you can maybe change your seat assignment to something better. When you get to the airport, you’ll stand in the “have boarding pass, must check bag” line, which tends to be a little shorter.

Keep your photo ID handy with your boarding pass until you get through security. You will need your boarding pass at the gate, not your ID (so you can put it away after you get through security). You can use your cell phone after the plane has landed, so keep it handy if you want to make a call when you land (you won’t be able to stand up and get your phone out of overhead until the plane is at the gate).

If you are checking bags, put something easily identifiable on your bag, since a lot of bags look alike. I always carry a toothbrush, toothpaste (less than 3 oz), clean shirt, clean pair of underwear, deoderant in my carryon. I’ve had lost luggage a few times and just those few things can really make a difference until the luggage shows up the next day.

Do not check prescriptions or anything you would be heartbroken to lose.

I always go to the bathroom one last time before the plane begins its final descent (20-30 minutes before landing). One time, I was on a plane that landed and taxied and sat on the ground for almost 2 hours before we got off. I didn’t go to the bathroom because I thought “oh heck, we’ll be on the ground in like 20 minutes! I’ll just go then!” Learned my lesson!

In random order:

Arrive at the airport early. I would say that I don’t consider 1 hour early enough. A little bit of traffic on the way in, and now you are pushing the envelope. Some airlines close checked bagaage check in 45 minutes before fllight time. Personally I shoot for 1.5-2 hours for a domestic flight.

If you are going to check luggage, put all your liquids in your checked luggage. If you ckeck luggage, when they tag the bags look at the airport identifier code on the luggage tag and make sure it is going to the correct airport. (agents can and sometimes do grab the wrong tag off the printer)

If you are traveling with someone, and you want seats together, don’t forget the airplane is numbered seqentially and alphabetically. 13B and 36E are not next to each other. If you want seats together, get to the airport extra, extra early and ask. Acting shocked when you get on board that 13B and 36E and not side by side will not make you the most popular person on the aircraft. if you want to know what the seating arrangement is for your flight go to

If you are taking a bottle of wine or booze as a gift you will have to check luggage.

Books and MP3 players are wonderful. Bring more than you think you will/can read.

Don’t lock your suitcase. If you do, and TSA wants in, they will break it. You can buy TSA approved locks if you wish.

You can carry food through security, but not more than 3 ozs of liquid. All of your liquids must fit in a 1 qt. ziplock bag (available at some some security checkpoints, not at all). If you are checking luggage just put all your liquids there and save yourself some hassles.

Never board the plane hungry.

You will have to take your shoes off. Wear shoes that are easy to take on and off.

Despite its rather misleading name, the metal detector detects metal. Do yourself a favor and empty all your pockets into your carry on before you get to the metal dector. It will make the process go faster. Along the same lines, leave the clothes with the metal studs in the suitcase for wearing when you get there. Likewise don’t wear 14 lbs of bling (Jewelry)

Do not put your ticket into the bin to go through the X-ray, the TSA person will want to see it. I know you showed to someone 10 yards ago, doesn’t matter. If you are traveling with someone, hold your own ticket.

You can buy sodas and bottled water after security to carry on a plane.

You must turn off your cell in the aircraft. Some alirlines permit use of your cell after landing before you get to the gate. Others don’t.

If you are renting a car, make damn sure you get all of your stuff out, and leave the keys in the car!

Some of this is duplicative of earlier posts but here you go:

Since you haven’t flown in over ten years, you should plan on being in the terminal at least 1.5 hours before the flight.

Pack a toothbrush, medications, glasses, and anything else you absolutely couldn’t survive a night without in your carryon bag. You might also want to have a change of clothing–I’ve run into lots of problems with lost bags and missed connections lately so knowing I have clean underwear and a change of clothing makes things a bit easier.

Wear a light sweater or pack one in the carryon–planes tend to be cold once you’re in flight.

Check your layover time–if it’s less than one hour, you might want to pack more in your carryon because that’s not a lot of time for bags to get transferred, especially if the incoming flight gets delayed.

I think the limit on liquids is 3 or 4 ounces and you must put all liquid or gel items into a one quart ziploc bag. This includes toothpaste, lip gloss, etc. It’s easier to pack this in advance because you may need to put the plastic bag through security outside of the carryon.

When you go through security, you’ll have to take off any jackets and belts and probably your shoes, although that isn’t uniformly enforced in my experience.

Until you are through security, have your boarding pass and photo id easily accessible. Typically, these get checked at the end of the security line and again once you go through the actual security check.

I don’t have one but my sister swears by those doughnut shaped travel pillows. Your flight is long enough that you might want to get one.

Most airlines have touch screen self-service kiosks for check-in. I think they are a godsend. The machine scans your credit card or passport to find your reservation, and then you proceed step-by-step to generate your boarding pass. You also identify how many bags you have and an airline employee will print and put the tags on your baggage. Much quicker than standing in the line.

Most airports and airlines now have self-service checkin. This is roughly equivalent to self-check at grocery stores, with the same ease of use if you follow instructions, and the same problems if you can’t. You can either go online to your airlines website within 24 hours of departure and print out your boarding pass (a plain sheet of paper is fine, son’t worry) or you can use your credit card at the airport. If the former, you scan the barcode at the machine, up pops your name, answer a few questions (are you checking any bags? Do yopu want to pay us $60 more for two more inches of legroom?) and then you take your bags to the counter. Since most people still do the full service wait in line thing, there should be minimal or no wait at the counter. They will call your name or you can stand at the counter, and the attendant will put the bag tags on your bag, look at your ID, and tell you what gate your plane departs from. This is NOT the place to ask questions. If you have a lot of questions, go to the full service line or ask at the departure gate. Then go to security.

You need to show your boarding pass and ID to get to the security area. Only passengers can go through (some exceptions for kids travelling alone or elderly). Take your shoes off as you approach the X-ray machine. Laptops have to be in a bin by themselves (out of the bag). Take loose change out of your pockets (I put mine in my shoes), if you have a coat or bag, put that in too. Also your watch, jewelery and your belt if you are a Texan or a rodeo champion. One thing that will set off the alarm is gum in foil bubble packs. Small stuff like earrings and and normal belt buckles are OK. Don’t come with biker clothes and a wallet on a chain. Put those in your checked bag. Don’t have a nalgene bottle full of water - it will get confiscated - you can’t just dump it out. Take the studs out of your lip/eyebrow/nose/nipples. etc.

What else? Don’t engage the TSA folks in conversation unless they ask you a question. Don’t tell jokes. Make sure you have ID that isn’t expired. Don’t lose your boarding pass. Most airlines will have a number or letter on your boarding pass and you board when your number is called. Flights these days are really full, so don’t expect to have an empty seat next to you or be able to change seats.

Don’t worry about your luggage. I’ve flown hundreds of thousands of miles and only had my luggage not show up three times. Each time the bag was waiting on my doorstep or at the hotel when I woke up in the morning. Save that baggage claim stub. Very rarely do bags get sent to the wrong destination.

It might look like a ton of stuff, but it really isn’t. It is all common sense. You would think that frequent fliers would have more problems since they take so many flights, but they really have less, in my experience. They just know how the system works and plan ahead.

P.S. 50 pounds is the weight limit for checked bags. You will have to pay extra for more weight, or redistribute it to your carry on in front of everybody.

Thanks for all the excellent tips. This is exactly the kind of stuff I wanted to know.

How large can/should a carry on bag be? Last time I flew I had a military back pack, which was quite large. Have the size requirements changed?

I booked my flight online, so I don’t have a paper ticket. I can print out the info they gave me, but they claim you don’t actually need a piece of paper, that you can check in once you get there. I’m not sure how that works, exactly-- with the credit card, photo ID, and trip ID#, I would be OK, right? Anyone else book flights through Travelocity? Any problems with checking in that I should anticipate?

Also, what is the Atlanta airport like? I’ve heard it’s huge.

ETA: Previous poster answered some of these while I was writing this.

You should check with your airline. I usually have a rolling suitcase with me that’s larger than the rules say is allowed, but I’ve never had a problem.

You should be fine with credit card AND photo ID BUT it wouldn’t hurt to print out your confirmation e-mail.

Never been there.

I would DEFINITELY get there 2 hours before your departure time. JetBlue, for one, usually stops boarding the plane 15 minutes before departure time. If you only have an hour, that only leaves 45 minutes to check your bags, get through security, and find your gate. Getting through security can take 45 minutes or more during busy hours.


I book all of my flights online, although not from travelocity. Using one of those self-service kiosks, all I need is the credit card I used to purchase it and my confirmation number. I print out the itinerary beforehand, but I’ve never had to use it.
One time I booked tickets through and shortly after, my credit card was stolen. I couldn’t use a kiosk, but there were no problems at the counter. I verified who I was, they took my bags and I was off!

Look on your airlines website for the details of carry on size. I’m not sure what a military back pack is, but a duffel bag is too large. If it’s too big, they won’t let you take it on. Check the dimensions of your bag and if there is any question at all, buy or borrow one.

Atlanta is huge, and busy. Are you flying Delta? Usually, the flight attendants will announce what gate connecting flights are leaving from about 20 minutes before landing, so pay attention if you are running late. I rarely go through Atlanta, but I do remember walking a lot.

I was in your position last year, when I flew from LA to SF. That’s a very short flight, obviously, but I hadn’t flown before that since 1996. A few things I noticed:

Your wait to reach the security checkpoint will vary widely by airport and time. At L.A. early Friday morning we had to wait over an hour to get through, but returning from SF Sunday night we waited less than a minute. In this regard I think LAX in the morning may be especialy bad due to geography and that won’t apply to you.

Your metal belt buckle will trigger the metal detector, as will coins in pockets and rivets on jeans. This is no big deal, but just something to be aware of. IIRC that wasn’t always the case but the machines are much more sensitive now. If you’re wearing a belt you’ll have to take it off. You will also be asked to remove your shoes.

The flight itself: I always hear of how cramped and uncomfortable coach class has gotten, and I just don’t see it. It seems the same to me now as it did 11 years ago, as it did numerous times over the 10 years before that. On the other hand, you might not get food on your flights, whereas 12 years ago that might have been different.

I still rather enjoy the process of flying, so the hassle doesn’t bother me too much.

I am flying Delta. They say check in time is 45 minutes in the Atlanta airport, on Delta’s website. One layover is 2:15 long and the other is 1:40, so if the flights are on schedule, we should have enough time to get where we need to go, right?

What happens if your flight is delayed and you miss your connection? Totally screwed, I guess.

You should be fine.

The benefit of flying Delta through Atlanta is that Atlanta is a Delta hub, so the chances are good that there are several flights a day to your destination. You’ll usually be able to get out later in the day. If you were flying Continental or Frontier, there’s a good chance that you’re screwed until the next day. Airlines don’t give hotel vouchers for weather delays, either.

Another thing - If there is a delay and it becomes obvious that you won’t make your connection, don’t wail and gnash teeth like everyone around you - get on the phone to your airline and explain the situation and get your name at the top of the list for the next available flight. Ask if they’ll book you on another airline, too.

Re: the “taking your shoes off” thing–I like to wear slip-on shoes with socks underneath. I’ve gone through wearing sandals, and it totally skeeved me out to be walking around on that carpet barefoot while my shoes went through the scanner. YMMV.

Repeat after me:
Flights are NEVER on time.Flights are never on time…Flights are never on time…
Flights are never on time…Flights are never on time.
cite with official government statistics

The airlines pride themselves on statistics like “70% of our flights were on schedule last year, the highest in the business”. That means that 30% were NOT on time…
Is there any other industry where the leading corporations take pride in selling products which are consistently 30% sub-standard?
Imagine if 2 bottles in every six pack was leaky… or 16 cards in every deck were printed wrong… or 3 songs on every CD were unplayable…or 2 of the spark plugs in your car don’t work on Wednesdays…

It is natural to expect to arrive at your destination on time and with all your baggage.
And you should realize that it often happens that way.
But you should NEVER depend on it.

The Transportation Security Administration has a website that spells out luggage and carry-on restrictions pretty clearly.

Most folks have already covered the basics very well. Most of the snacks you can buy at the airport are over-priced junk food. I’d take some fresh fruit or granola bars with you.

The circulating air in plane cabins is very dry, and you can easily become dehydrated. If you’re at all prone to headaches, I’d avoid caffeine and alcohol on the flight completely. Stick to water and fruit juices. I always take a big bottle of water (purchased after you go through security) on the flight with me.

Definitely pack a toothbrush, clean underwear, and any meds you’ll need in your carry-on.

If your flight is delayed and you miss the connection, the airline will attempt to put you on a later flight. It’s not quite “screwed” but it’s not great either. You might end up standby (hoping that other people won’t make a flight for some reason or another) or routed through another city or even on another airline! Your layovers sound fine (I routinely travel with less than an hour between flights) and you are going to sizeable destinations, I doubt you will miss your flights!

I just wanted to point out that a poster above said that all food would be confiscated at security, that has not been my experience at all. I always travel with tons of snacks - fruits, nuts, snackbars, sandwiches, I have never had a problem with any solid food items. I definitely second the recommendation to travel with a sweater or cardigan, planes are either too hot or too cold. Comfy pants/shoes are good too.