Airports busy places with lots of intense activity happening in tight quarters. It helps to know ahead of time what order to do things in and the timing of your day.
Check your Flight Status
On the day before your flight and also a few hours before you leave your house on the day of your flight, check the status of your flight online on your airline's website. On their homepage, look for a "flight status" link. If your flights is delayed, you can adjust your timing accordingly. If your flight is cancelled, you should contact your airline to make other arrangements (and they might have called you by now anyway).
Make sure you have all of your essentials
Then, before leaving the house, double-check that you have your passport, your wallet, and either your plane tickets or your reservation/confirmation number. Your luggage should be packed a day or two before all this using the detailed packing list provided by the Learning Abroad Center.
Leave with more than enough time to get to the airport
Arrive at the airport three hours before your flight's departure time if not a little earlier. Make sure you go to the terminal for your airline--going to the wrong terminal can waste a lot of valuable time.
- Follow signs for "departures" (not "arrivals") as you enter your terminal in your car or as you exit the parking or public transportation area on foot.
- Assuming you have bags to check, go first to the ticketing counter--you likely will see signs for ticketing/bag check. Behind all the counters in the ticketing area are large airline logos, so find the counters in front of your airline and get in line.
- A note on long lines: if there is less than an hour to your flight and you are in a long line, tell an employee of your airline that you have to board soon and see if they can help you get further up in the line.
- A note on check-in kiosks: Most airlines offer self-check-in at kiosks located near the ticketing counters. These are a great option, even if you have bags to check.
- For more detailed information on checking in, visit our Airport Check-In page
- For newer travelers: When it's your turn, the agent will want to see your passport and might need to know your reservation/confirmation number or see your ticket. They will print boarding passes for you and will help you check your luggage. Do not lose your boarding pass, and also do not throw away the little stickers they give you that are keyed to the stickers they put on your luggage. These will help the airline locate your luggage should it get lost in transit. The agent will tell you your gate number, and it should also be printed on your boarding pass. But as you progress through security and to your gate, it helps to check the display monitors regularly to make sure your flight has not been delayed or changed gates.
Going through security
- In deciding which security line to go through, know which concourse you need (this is on your boarding pass). If you have to get to gate A12, go through the security line closest to Concourse A.
- Keep your boarding pass and passport handy and get into the security line.
- Show your boarding pass and passport to the agent at the little podium, and then get into line again for the actual security check.
- You will have to throw out any liquids or gels you still have on you that are over 3oz. The rest can be placed in the ziplock bags provided by TSA in the security line (liquid items less than 3 oz can also be packed in quart sized ziplock bags before you leave for the airport).
- Get ready to take off your shoes, unpack electronics, take off jackets and bulky sweaters, and remove all metal objects from your pockets and everywhere else. All of these items should be placed in the bins TSA provides and then placed on the rollers to go through the scanner.
- Place your carry-on bags on the same rollers.
- You probably will have to go through some kind of body scan or metal detector and might be randomly selected for an individual pat-down. It will depend on the status of international safety concerns at the time of your trip.
- Make sure you collect all of your things from the bins and all of your bags.
Getting to your gate
- Once you are through security, find the nearest monitor so you can again make sure your flight is on time and that your gate has not changed.
- Find an overhead sign that lists gate numbers and reorient yourself to how you will get to your gate.
- Very large airports often have trams within concourses to help you get from, say, gate A1 all the way down to gate A62.
- It is best to go to your gate so you know exactly where it is (some airports have unusual locations for some gates) before you stop for a snack or beverage or to buy a book or magazine.
- When you find your gate, check the display behind the desk to confirm your flight number and time--these displays might get updated before the monitors in other parts of the airport. You should also listen carefully to the public address system whenever you are near your gate, since the announcements they make are likely to affect your flight.
Missed flights and connecting flights
If you are through security but miss your flight for whatever reason, go to your gate agent and ask them to assist you. If you miss your flight before you go through ticketing or security, go to your airline's ticketing desk for assistance.
If you have a connecting flight, you might have received your boarding pass for the second flight when you first checked in, or you might have to get a boarding pass when you arrive at your connecting airport. If the latter, find out ahead of time where at the connecting airport you need to go to get your second boarding page. In either case, try to find out the gate number for your connecting flight so that when you land and de-plane you know whether you have to switch gates, concourses, or even terminals (which is likely with international flights).