What do I expect when traveling by airplane?
September 1, 2009 6:34 PM   Subscribe

I am an air-travel virgin and I'm flying out of JFK (NYC) to Charlotte this Saturday and I'd like to know what to expect.

What is aircraft etiquette that I'm not familiar with due to not having flown in a plane before? What should I know before I roll into the airport regarding packing and carry-on stuff. How is the security at JFK? Should I expect to be detained due to my beard and unkempt appearance?

What are things that you have done in the past that resulted in a more enjoyable flight experience? My flight is two and a half hours on US airlines
posted by fuq to Travel & Transportation (53 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Well, for starters you need a government-issued photo ID to get on the plane.

Familiarize yourself with the TSA regulations: http://www.tsa.gov/travelers/index.shtm

Don't act stupidly in an airport. Comport yourself in a manner commensurate with the respect you want.


It's mostly common sense.
posted by dfriedman at 6:37 PM on September 1, 2009

Honestly, there is nothing enjoyable about flying any more. From walking through security with your shoes off to sitting with your knees jammed up into your chest it all sucks. I guess I'd advise not checking any luggage as it makes it harder for them to lose it.

If you expect it to be a rotten experience you won't be disappointed when it is.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 6:40 PM on September 1, 2009

Arrive at the airport three hours before your flight is scheduled to leave.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:41 PM on September 1, 2009

Get on the plane and don't be a dumb ass. Don't be the person who talks about bombs, or killing people, or plane crashes. I had one of those on the way to Charlotte from Gatwick. Made the last bit of the flight not very fun.

JFK to Charlotte might not have any meals. So make sure you don't need them on the plane.
posted by theichibun at 6:42 PM on September 1, 2009

I just flew 1st time in 30 years so it was all new. Check in is self serve. be ready to pay for your checked bags (with a credit card). Make it easier & don't carry a large carry on bag. travel light. wear NO metal & easy to get on & off shoes. get there early! get a window seat. relax & enjoy the flight. If a obnoxious 11 year old boy sits next to you & won't shut up , stuff a sock in his mouth!
posted by patnok at 6:43 PM on September 1, 2009

You can't take a drink through security so don't bother trying to bring your own from home, unfortunately. Don't check anything irreplaceable. My very first flight they 'lost' my bag until the next morning. Put your important shit in your carry-on.
posted by CwgrlUp at 6:45 PM on September 1, 2009

I just saw the unkept part. do everyone a favor & bathe before flying. use deodorant. Also looking "normal" & "neat" goes a long way for a smooth trip through security.
posted by patnok at 6:49 PM on September 1, 2009

Should I expect to be detained due to my beard and unkempt appearance?

Probably. If you don't get delayed for that, you'll get delayed (not necessarily by TSA) for some other reason. Flying is a regular festival of delay.

Avoid checking a bag if you can; it is just another way for things to go wrong.

Remember not to bring any sharp stuff in your carry-on, and the rules about liquids are so convoluted you probably shouldn't bother with them.

You will have your ID and boarding pass checked by TSA before you get in line for the x-ray machine. When you go through the metal detector, and later at the gate, you will need only your boarding pass.

Do not lose your boarding pass.

You will need to take off your shoes to send them through the x-ray machine in one of those plastic bins; the same for other outer garments, i.e. jackets, sweatshirts, hats, etc. Similarly, take your laptop out of its bag and put it in its own bin.

Bring a book, or have fun looking at all the crazy crap in the SkyMall catalog they give you on the airplane. If there isn't one in your seatback pocket, ask the flight attendant for one.

When the flight attendants tell you you're not allowed to get out of your seat, they really mean it.

It's not really very different from taking the train except everything is much, much more regimented, and you will need spend much more time in the airport before your departure time (you'll need to arrive at least an hour ahead of time; if you have a big scruffy beard, you'll probably want more.). Mostly, just relax; the airport keeps such tight control over you, you will basically never be in a position where you have to make a decision. Just go with the flow, ask airline employees for directions if you need them, and you'll be fine.
posted by Commander Rachek at 6:51 PM on September 1, 2009

Basically, follow instructions and be curteous to people and you will be fine. Don't leave your junk on the seat, and don't hog the armrest. Don't act strangely, and don't leave your bags unattended.

Don't be surprised if the departure is delayed (while you are on the plane). The three NYC airports are the most congested in the world. Make sure you have backup plans if someone is picking you up in Charlotte.
posted by kenliu at 6:51 PM on September 1, 2009

As far as carry-on is concerned, don't make it more than a book bag. Don't be one of those jagoffs that tries to pack two tons of crap into a 5 lb. bag. If you have to check your luggage, check it, it'll be there in Charlotte when you get there.

The most important things:

1) get to the airport at least two hours early. The check-in and security lines can be quite long, even when in Charlotte on your way back to New York. Just because Charlotte is smaller, it doesn't mean that the waits will be shorter.

2) bring valid, government issued ID with you.

3) bring a boatload of patience with you.

4) bring a good book with you. There will be plenty of time for reading, so make the best of it with something good to read.

I'm actually a big fan of flying. There's nothing like the rush of take off. Seriously, it's an awesome feeling going that fast and then looking down on the earth while climbing higher and higher.
posted by NoMich at 6:52 PM on September 1, 2009 [4 favorites]

Before my first flight, I somehow expected flying to be very steady and stable - "you won't even know you're flying" someone told me.

Totally incorrect. You will feel bumps and turns and wheels dropping before landing. The plane will make steeper ascents and sharper curvy-turns than what you expect. It's all normal. Turbulence is normal; actually, wind with all its bumpiness makes it possible for the airplane to fly.

An ipod and/or good book will definitely make the flight more pleasant. Also airport food is ridiculously expensive, if you like to snack it's cheaper to buy or make it before you go to the airport. (You can't bring liquids like bottled water, coffee, etc. through security though).
posted by txvtchick at 6:53 PM on September 1, 2009

Getting to JFK via the AirTrain is pretty simple. Depending upon where you're coming from, the A or the E goes to the AirTrain and, from there, the terminals are a breeze to reach.

Bring something to read 'cause you'll sit around for forever. Bring snacks, too. Once you're beyond the security gate, you can buy a bottle of water/whatever and take it on board the plane. (Remember that JFK is notorious for letting planes sit on the tarmac, full of passengers, for hours).

I tend to pack light and just carry everything onto the plane. It's served me well, considering how often flights are delayed or canceled these days. (My last flight out of Newark was canceled outright. Fortunately, I had my bag with me and was able to jump on a different flight without worry).

Expect the interior of the plane to be smaller than you expect. If you're big hipped, you'll find the seats just a bit uncomfortable (/sarcasm - you'll find the seats damned near impossible). And you'll be begging for mercy if some bulky torsoed fellow sits next to you.

Have a good flight!
posted by LOLAttorney2009 at 6:55 PM on September 1, 2009

Best answer: Any liquid in your carry-on has to be in 3oz or less containers, and all of those containers have to fit in a quart-sized plastic bag, which you have to pull out of your carry-on to be Xrayed separately.

You will have to take your shoes off to go through security.

Flying out of JFK is AWFUL. It is chaos, utter chaos -- a total madhouse in there. Allow plenty of time; 3 hours is a good call.

You will definitely not be fed on a flight between JFK and Charlotte. Don't get on the plane hungry. Always carry a cliff bar or something, in case of delay.

Tip: carry an empty water bottle through security. After security, fill it up at a water fountain. Hey presto! You just saved the $3 you would have spent to buy a bottle of water -- which you can't take through security -- and thereby defeated The Man.
posted by kestrel251 at 6:56 PM on September 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Honestly, there is nothing enjoyable about flying any more.

Sad but true. Nothing special to know other than it's a giant hassle. Read up on the TSA regulations and follow them and you won't have any trouble. Bring an ipod and a good book. Do not wait until you get to the airport to find reading material, or you will be stuck with Anne Rice. Don't be smelly (you'd think this would be common sense, but you'd be surprised). Most likely you won't be detained because of your appearance. I generally fly unshaven and in sweatpants. People who dress up to fly never cease to boggle my mind. Snacks are important. Delicious snacks.

Lastly, I arrive early and pay a visit to the airport bar. Drinks are spendy but most airport bars have specials on doubles (ahem...ahem...). YMMV, but I find flying stressful and irritating and a good glass of scotch is downright helpful, and much better than eating ambien or some such crazy thing.

And have fun. If nothing else, airports are incredible places to people watch. I've met random people at airports and on planes that I'm still good friends with today.
posted by Lutoslawski at 6:56 PM on September 1, 2009

Take a book and an iPod. Don't assume anyone wants to chat, but don't be rude. For the most part, people who fly regularly don't see the plane as a place to make new buddies, so be cordial but don't try and pull conversation out of anyone. Wear shoes you can slip off and on quickly, because you have to put them through the x-ray machine at security. Don't wear a belt if you can help it. You might have to remove it. If you have to get past someone in your row to get to your seat, give them plenty of room to get up so you can get in; don't crowd them in the aisle while you maneuver.

For the most part, despite all the annoying aspects of flying, passengers are generally pretty well behaved, all things considered. I don't think I've ever had anyone be truly rude to me. There seems to be an understanding that we're all in this together, and we all know it sucks, so let's just do what we need to do.
posted by The Deej at 6:58 PM on September 1, 2009

Avoid checking a bag if you can; it is just another way for things to go wrong.

Cannot. Emphasize. This. Enough. If you can, do not check a bag. 1) it will cost you money; 2) it will take longer on both ends of your flight; 3) the airlines will probably lose it, and you will have to go through rigamaroll hell to get it back, if you get it back.

Also, pee and whatever before you get on the plane. Many years ago, I had a genius friend I was flying with decide he really needed to take a crap right before the plane took off. To make a long story short, he was trapped in the bathroom throughout take-off. When he came out, the flight attendants railed him and threatened to sue, for reasons which were apparently legit but I still don't understand.
posted by Lutoslawski at 7:01 PM on September 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

Check in is self serve. be ready to pay for your checked bags (with a credit card). Make it easier & don't carry a large carry on bag. travel light. wear NO metal & easy to get on & off shoes. get there early!

These things really cannot be overemphasized. I flew a couple weeks ago for the first time in years (into and then out of JFK), and baggage check-in is almost completely automated now (at least for Delta), whereas before you'd walk up to the check-in counter and hand them your bag and get seat assingments and boarding passes (the things that actually let you get on the plane - you can't get on with just your ticket) at that point. Now, you'll have to go to a kiosk and enter your ticket number in there, as well as pay for your baggage if your airline charges for them; the kiosk will give you your boarding pass. Once you have your boarding pass, you either go to the gate if you've only got carry-ons, or go to the baggage drop-off counter to give them your bag if you're checking baggage. With Delta, arriving less than an hour before your flight will make you unable to check baggage without highly sympathetic counter personnel (more on this later). Since most carriers now charge for any checked baggage, a lot of people try to get away with just carry-ons, which should make the airlines more vigilant about maximum carry-on size - Delta allows one bag for the overhead bin and one smaller bag to go under the seat in front of you, like a backpack, purse, or messenger bag.

After dropping off bags and getting your boarding pass, you procede through the security check, where they'll check your boarding pass and your photo ID. You'll need to remove all metal objects from your person - belt buckles, keys, coinage, etc. - as well as take off your shoes. All your carry-on items and items that you've removed from yourself will have to go onto the conveyor belt through the x-ray scanner (they give you trays to put things in) while you go through the metal detector. You'll have to remove all electronic devices from your bags and have them out in the open when they go through the x-ray machine. The procedure itself doesn't necessarily take too long, but if there's a lot of people a line can form, and this is where getting in early is key.

After security check, you'll go to the gate listed on your boarding pass and wait to board. When your section of the plane (or registration group if you're flying a free-for-all carrier like Southwest) is cleared for boarding, you'll go to the entry of the walkway to the plane and give your boarding pass to the agent there, who will scan it and allow you on the plane. Then you get on the plane and go to your seat and put your carry-on bags away.

Once you arrive at your destination, you'll gather your belongings (once cleared to do so by the captain) and get off, and head towards baggage claim if you've checked bags. Once you have all your bags, you're done and can go find a cab or get into your friend's car or whatever.

When I flew out of JFK a couple weeks ago on a Saturday, we left my friend's place in Queens at 6:30 am for a 9:30 flight, expecting to take the subways (about 7 stops total)and the airtrain and still get to the airport a couple hours early. Unfortunately, the subway system was seriously F'ed up that morning, and we had to wait more than twenty minutes for a train at one point, and had the train stop on the tracks multiple times en route, getting us to the ticketing kiosk at 8:32, two minutes past the deadline to check bags. Luckily, we had sympathetic counter personnel.

I'm 6'5", so I normally try to get an exit row or window seat. Once the plane is in flight, I take my bag out from beneath the seat in front of me to give myself more leg room. I've been plenty scruffy looking in the past (still post-9/11), and been able to get on the plane with no problems whatsoever. Generally etiquette dictates that you don't make other people wait needlessly - be prepared for the security check before you get to it; don't try to carry on an oversize bag and take up other people's baggage space or block the aisle trying to get it in/out of the compartment; stuff like that. Seating can be cramped - try to stay within the confines of your own seat and yield the armrests from time to time.
posted by LionIndex at 7:08 PM on September 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

@Lutoslawski, don't forget: 4) Any valuable electronics will be stolen from your checked bag.

A laptop and brand new cell phone stolen from checked bags via JFK on two separate trips.
posted by sharkfu at 7:12 PM on September 1, 2009

Basically what others have said:

Don't check a bag if you can avoid it. Wear easy-to-remove shoes and have them off when you're going through security (also take your jacket off, if you're wearing one). Also have your laptop out, if you have one. And put your liquids in a bag (most airports will provide them), if you're bringing them. Move quickly out of the security area -- there are usually chairs on the other side so you can put your shoes back on.

Get there much earlier than you'll need to be -- it's always better to wait at the gate than be worried about getting through security on time.

If you get motion sick easily, you probably won't be able to read on the plane (I get sick almost instantly on planes), so think about audiobooks or other such entertainment. Sleeping is also good, if a little uncomfortable.

Stay calm, mostly. I am a stressy traveler, but I usually manage. Give yourself enough time that you don't have to rush. Flights can be bumpy, sometimes, but it's usually nothing to worry about. Relax, if you can, and it will all be OK. Good luck.
posted by darksong at 7:13 PM on September 1, 2009

What everyone else said, plus: flying is awesome. Get a window seat and watch the city disappear beneath you, the clouds or stars become your vista, the views of the land or the city lights below you, feel the awesome power of the airborne whale whose belly you're in, and enjoy the experience.
posted by notashroom at 7:15 PM on September 1, 2009 [5 favorites]

Check in and pay your checked bag fees online. (If you don't have a printer print out your passes at the check-in kiosk when you get there.) Some airlines (including US Airways) are charging extra to pay for checked bags at the airport.

Put all your keys, coins, and other metal crap in your bag before you go through security. Try not to wear steel-toed shoes or a metal belt.

The planes will be super-cramped and if you're especially unlucky, full of screaming children. There is nothing more miserable than flying domestic coach. Seatguru will help you avoid the really crappy seats, but at this point they all suck.
posted by calistasm at 7:16 PM on September 1, 2009

God, you people are joyless. Try for a window seat, the weather in NYC is supposed to be clear on Saturday and, depending on the flight path and time of day, the views from takeoff at JFK can be spectacular. Bring a snack, buy a bottle of water once you are through security and relax. Bring some gum and chew it during take off and landing to help equalize the pressure in your ears. I find yawning, and blowing my nose work too.

It's might be worthwhile to dry run your "take everything out of your pockets, take off your shoes and belt, walk ten feet and put it all back" technique, but lots of people stumble their way through this.

The flight to Charlotte can't be more than a few hours. Ling enough to enjoy, but not so long you'll be too miserable. Enjoy it!
posted by dirtdirt at 7:16 PM on September 1, 2009 [8 favorites]

Repeating a few things here.

Don't check bags unless you cannot avoid so. If you must, check as few as possible.


You cannot bring any water or drinks through security. You CAN bring empty water bottles though. I do, and then fill them up.

Rules for Liquids

How to pack.

Prohibited Items.

Wear easy to remove shoes. And Socks.

Most importantly: Don't expect anyone to treat you like a human being.
posted by strixus at 7:19 PM on September 1, 2009

I think the main points have been covered, but I would just emphasize that you should take whatever time you need at each step. Everyone gets cranky, especially in the security line. Try to ignore the frequent travelers who give you dirty looks. If you make a mistake, like forgetting to take your keys out of your pocket, it's really not a big deal. You'll get a do-over. But, these are all reasons why you need to allot extra time.
posted by cabingirl at 7:22 PM on September 1, 2009

Also, are you bringing camera film with you? (I realize it's unlikely these days, but the consequences of screwing this up are horrendous; if you aren't, then disregard).

If so, do NOT check it in your luggage; it will be destroyed by the super-duper x-ray machines. Carry it on the plane. Going once or twice through the carry-on x-ray machine won't hurt it, but if you're a serious photographer and want to be sure nothing gets altered, you can ask to have it hand inspected. If you do the latter, make sure they do it in your presence. My brother once nearly lost an entire box of exposed 4x5 negatives when the TSA guy started to open the box; as it happened, only about half of the sheets were damaged, but still.
posted by Commander Rachek at 7:27 PM on September 1, 2009

I get really claustrophobic if I'm in the window or middle seat. The aisle is where it's at. Nowadays you can go online and reserve your seat, or you might be able to request it when you check in. But two hours is nothing. You'll be up and down before you know it.

Also: I used to think the rule-of-thumb that you get to the airport an hour before a domestic flight and two hours before an international flight was overkill. It used to be overkill. Now it takes so long--mainly because of the security checks--that I would get there an hour and a half earlier. If it's slow, then wait at your gate and catch up on some reading.
posted by zardoz at 7:28 PM on September 1, 2009

You will easily figure out the logistics - just pay attention to your surroundings and follow the signs and the directions of the airline and airport staff.

When I fly, which is often, the best thing I bring is a bit of good humor. You will need it when something inevitably goes wrong. Just remain calm and patient and try to smile a little; it will help both you, your fellow passengers, and the staff get through the morass that is air travel these days.
posted by gemmy at 7:33 PM on September 1, 2009

I would suggest going up to a staffed counter at check-in rather than a self-serve kiosk, if you have a choice. There, as the counter person is checking you in and getting your boarding pass, you could mention that this is your first time flying and I'll bet they'd be willing to explain everything you need to know to get to the gate in greater detail than they would normally.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 7:36 PM on September 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Be a regular human being and you should be okay. I don't get to the airport 3 hours ahead of time (even for international flights) but going through security can take you a while, remember to have my boarding pass and ID available somewhere easy to get to (most places want you to keep your boarding pass in your hand as you go through the metal detector). I don't take off my jewelry or watch to go through security. Be prepared to sit (or stand) and wait in various places.

I'm not sure what you mean by unkempt, but if you're just a dude with lots of hair and a full beard you should be fine. Wear clean mostly hole-free clothes and also bathe properly and you should be fine. Normal hygiene standards, that sort of thing.

However, the thing that tends to get me every time I get on a plane is this: once they've climbed high enough, the engines turn down. Just like it takes a car more power to get up to speed than to stay at the same speed, the plane takes more power to get far enough off the ground than it takes to keep it at the same altitude. So if you have the tendency to notice sounds change, you'll notice the pitch of the engines change as the RPM does. Every time this happens I get a little wave of anxiety, even when I know what it is. Planes may also get a little bumpy going through clouds, and also when there's nothing at all. The captain will generally provide some warning about any particularly strong level of turbulence.

Also planes are loud! You won't be able to hear much of people outside of about a 2-seat radius (except for the occasional baby that is going all out). The engines produce a lot of white noise. I like having earplugs or noise-canceling headphones, they help a lot.

Airplane bathrooms are tiny and a little public-toilet-sketchy. Don't climb over your row-mates to go to the bathroom too many times, but be nice if it happens to you. Don't watch porn or do things that would make your neighbors uncomfortable. Do chat with your neighbor if you and they are up for it. Keep your seat belt on when you're sitting down, there's no real reason not to, and it'll keep you from smashing into your neighbor if there's any bad bumps.

Mostly flying is boring (except for the conceptual HURTLING THROUGH THE AIR AT 300 MPH part). Having something to do is good. If you go into it with a negative attitude you'll have a negative experience. Going with the flow, following instructions, and keeping relaxed will allow you to have a significantly better time.

Enjoy your amazing journey through the sky!
posted by that girl at 7:38 PM on September 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

And, after enduring all of the hassle outlined in detail above, when (if!) you get to Charlotte and walk from your gate to the main terminal area, take a minute to relax in one of their comfy rocking chairs while listening to the grand piano player, all the while thanking your lucky stars that you finally made it to your destination. With that, enjoy your first flight!
posted by ourroute at 7:41 PM on September 1, 2009

I just recently discovered that you can take your own airplane bottles of liquor with you, provided, of course, that you put them in a 1qt. bag (since they're all less than 3 oz.). You'll save a shitload of money on overpriced airline drinks!

I'm agreeing with everyone here in that checking a bag sucks big time.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 7:42 PM on September 1, 2009 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone.
posted by fuq at 7:57 PM on September 1, 2009

Oh here's a small one - don't lean your seat all the way back without checking to see if someone is behind you first. If someone's there, then you can do a small tilt only (unless it's a screaming child then all bets are off - oh I keed, I keed...).

Earplugs, Xanax, and (a small amount of) booze = happy plane time. Don't forget to look out the window as much as you can. It's damn amazing.
posted by Kloryne at 8:09 PM on September 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Geez, don't let all these Negative Nellies get you down. As has been mentioned once or twice upthread, flying is really awesome. Anytime you get a mass of people together, however, things can get sour. I've found if you smile, sympathize with the baggage checkers, thank the flight attendants, and have an upbeat attitude, your journey will be much more pleasant than if you hoard your valuables like someone's going to rip them out of your cold dead hands after cramming you into a sardine can while making you wait 6 hours just for the fun of it.

And, I would tell people it's your first time flying! If you're nervous, you'll get reassured, and if you're excited, your excitement will spread. Win-win all around.
posted by kidsleepy at 8:13 PM on September 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

I fly all the time and I don't mind it. I have a routine and my basic deal is that I assume everything will be a toal headache and so if it's not, I feel that I come out ahead. Here's how your trip should go...

- Exactly 24 hours before your flight takes off, check in online. Look around to see if there's a better seat than the one you got when you first got yout ticket. Good seats are often exit row [legroom] aisle seats [not having to climb over anyone to go to the bathroom] or near the front [get off the plane more quickly]. Some airlines only let you take some seats if you pay extra.
- Print your boarding passes from home. If you do not have a printer, go somewhere to print them, this is totally worth the hassle.
- On the day of your trip, pack everything into a carry on if you can. You get usually one carry on and one "personal item" but this can be something big like a laptop bag. I'd suggest not checking bags if you don't have to.
- Don't bring anything liquid or gel-like over 3 oz. Everything you DO bring needs to fit in a quart sized ziplock. Yes, this is undignified. So is taking the bus. Put this bag someplace easy to access because you'll have to drag it through airport security.
- Get to the airport two hours early, in my opinion, unless you're travelling during some crazy rush hour. Have shoes that are easy to remove, and a minimum of metal. Take everything metal in your pockets and put it in one of your bags before you get to security.
- Go to the airport. Make sure you go to the terminal that your flight is actually leaving from. Check the monitors before you go to security to make sure you are going the right way and make sure your flight is not delayed. If you are drinking anything, finish it before you get to security and get rid of your container.
- When you get to the security area you have to show them a govt. ID [license or passport] and your boarding pass for the trip you're getting on. Have this out and available. Once you pass this checkpoint, put away your ID, you don't need it again.
- While in line at the x-ray machines, do this
-- take off your shoes & belt
-- take your laptop out of your bag
-- take the little plastic bag of your toiletries out
-- put these in the plastic tubs they have available. Ignore the people shouting at everyone.
- Hang on to your boarding pass as you put your stuff through the x-ray machine. Keep track of what you have [I usually think of the number of things I have so I remember to get them all] and walk through the x-ray machine with your boarding pass in hand to show to the person on the other side. If the x-ray machine beeps, you'll have to get wanded. Keep an eye on your stuff and get this over with as soon as possible
- Get all your stuff, get dressed and walk to your gate and wait for your flight. Boarding will start 30 min before the plane is supposed to take off and is often by sections. Charge your laptop, there will most likely not be outlets on the plane. You can buy food now if you're hungry.
- Get on the plane and put your bigger bag in the overhead compartment and your smaller bag under the seat in front of you. You can't have any bag on the floor in front of your feet, it needs to be under the seat.
- Take your seat on the plane, listen to whatever instructions they have to tell you, turn off your cell phone. They will ask you to turn off all electronic devices [this includes ipod/laptop, you can turn them on again after you've reached cruising altitude]
- The pilot will usually let you know when you're about 20 min outside of wherever you're landing and this is often your cue to start putting electronic devices away and etc.
- right before the plane really lands there is a huge scary *clunk* which is the wheels descending that always used to scare the crap out of me [I guess it's there on takeoff too] Do Not Worry About This, it's okay.
- Once you're on the ground, you'll see people whipping out their cell phones and in a few minutes they'll say "hey it's okay to whip out your cell phones" at this point it's a good idea to call or text your ride and say "hey we've landed!"

I always bring ear plugs and a few cough drops/gum [helpful for if your ears need popping] and a book and not much else. Flying is pretty routine for a lot of people, so follow the cues of those people around you. Feel free to talk or not talk to the person next to you [but don't talk their ear off, oh please] and expect to maybe get talked to a little. Once the flight is over, follow everyone else to the "out" area. All the ground transportation and baggage claim is in pretty much the same place.

Basically, try to be patient and good humored and treat it like an adventure and you'll probably be fine. Everyone's got their own little routine, that one is pretty much mine. Have fun!
posted by jessamyn at 8:14 PM on September 1, 2009 [6 favorites]

Keep valuables with you in your carry-on. This includes medication!

If you're flying out of JFK you probably have enough street-smarts to keep your stuff from getting stolen in the airport. Don't ever let your bag out of your sight!

Try not to lose your boarding pass, obviously, but actually it's pretty easy to get them to print you another one if you misplace yours.

Definitely take advantage of checking in online!
posted by radioamy at 8:27 PM on September 1, 2009

There's no reason to line up when boarding is called. Just sit there and read your Kindle or whatever, and when the line is all past the gate and out in the jetbridge, wait a minute longer — then just stroll right onto the plane. I aim to be the last passenger to board.

Then, I tend to put my carry-on in the first overhead compartment at the front of the plane as I get on, even if my ticketed seat is further back. During the flight it's often easy to switch to one of the bulkhead seats in the front row, either by asking the stews or just going up to get something from your bag and sitting down — or, since I'm the last passenger on, if they're empty I just take one and let the stews assume that the gate crew told me to sit there.

The bulkhead seats are often assigned last, or only assigned by the gate crew in case someone shows up with a cast on their leg or something; but grabbing them offers many advantages: 1. more leg room, 2. sexy-stew flirting or extra-coffee-requesting opportunities, 3. easy bathroom access, 4. proximity to only half as many potentially-annoying passengers, 5. you'll be first off the plane and, since you didn't check a bag, out of the airport and on with your life.

And even if you can't switch seats, you won't have to fight for your bag when you first stand up, and by the time you get to the front the overhead is otherwise empty and you can just grab your bag as you walk by.
posted by nicwolff at 8:32 PM on September 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Everyone has pretty much covered what I was going to say, but I'll add that my husband has a big beard and a sometimes generally scruffy appearance and he gets nary a second look at JFK. We haven't been to Charlotte, but we've been to Nashville and they still don't really give him a second glance. Of course, you may get a TSA employee with something to prove, but I wouldn't worry excessively about that.

In fact, I wouldn't worry much about it at all. I fly into and out of JFK a few times a month, and it's pretty smooth. Check US Airways' rules about the size of carry-on baggage and try to just bring a bag that fits the guidelines and skip checking a bag. Being prepared about shoes and liquids will save you time and hassle. And most terminals in JFK have pretty decent amenities like magazine shops and snack places, so you should be fine if you get there early and need to kill time.

US Airways is not the most... amenity-filled airline, but they are okay. You'll be fine, and try to enjoy the views out the window as you take off from JFK! It's pretty cool to see the whole city from above.
posted by bedhead at 8:34 PM on September 1, 2009

Should I expect to be detained due to my beard and unkempt appearance?

Yeah, probably. I'd clean yourself up; shave, pull your hair back, basically try to look like a respectable, GodTSA-fearing, tax-paying member of society. The less intimidating you look, the less reason you'll give the goons to mess with you.

This goes double if you're non-white; triple if you're Middle Eastern. (Funny how those "random" additional screenings work.)

Don't argue with the TSA people. The more deference you show them, the better you will do. If you have problems dealing with authority, practice. Being a smartass will get you nowhere. (Literally; you may not leave the airport.) The free country you thought you lived in stops promptly at the airport's door; pretend you're in Stalinist Russia and trying to escape past some inept border guards—I always find that helps put me in the right mood.

Wear slip-on/off shoes, and be sure to wear socks. Wear pants that will stay up without a belt. If you have non-visible body piercings, remove them if you can. If you have a metal plate or similar, bring documentation of it.

Don't pack anything you care about in your checked baggage. Don't pack weird stuff in your carry-on. Here is the official list of contraband, but basically don't bring anything that a typical business traveler wouldn't have on them, if you want to avoid problems. If you're bringing a laptop, make sure it's in a case that's easy to get it in and out of, because you'll have to pull it out and put it in a separate "bin" to go through the X-ray machine. Don't bring weird homebrew electronics or shit made out of PVC pipe. Make sure your toiletries are all under 3oz and that they all fit in a 1 quart Ziplock bag. (This will, like your laptop, also go separately through the X-ray machine.)

If you're slow (taking your shoes off or getting your laptop out or whatever), expect people behind you in line to just go around you. Try to move out of the way; getting as many people through as quickly as possible is more important than maintaining the order of the queue.

Buy your meal in the airport and eat it there; your flight probably won't have food. Technically it's allowable to bring food from the gate area onto the aircraft, but I think this is sort of a dick move if it's anything that smells strongly.

If you're sitting next to someone you don't know, a few minutes of polite smalltalk are acceptable, but if it seems like they want to read or sleep or use their laptop or whatever, don't be "that guy" and just keep talking. Also, don't hog the armrest; the inner ones belong to the guy in the middle seat. Try not to spend a lot of time standing in the aisle putting your stuff away, if there are people behind you trying to get to their seats. If you're in the aisle or middle seat and the person sitting outboard of you needs to get up to use the bathroom during the flight, it's polite to get up and move out into the aisle (in the opposite direction from the toilet), so that they don't have to play the "ass or crotch" game with you.

In short, flying sucks. It's not supposed to be pleasant anymore, it's just a way of getting somewhere quickly when you're too poor to fly GenAv like the aristocracy does.

There is only one thing that I still—after hundreds of flights—find cool, and that's the feeling you get as you're pressed back into your seat during the takeoff roll and initial climb. Depending on the airport you can get 30s or more of decent (feels like a quarter to half a G sometimes) acceleration. Despite my hatred for all things related to modern commercial air travel, I still sometimes find myself smiling during that part, and no matter how many flights I take I probably always will. Enjoy it.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:35 PM on September 1, 2009

In most large airports, there are security areas for various sections. Make sure you are entering the right section of the airport when you get in line for the security screening.

More of an issue for women, but avoid wearing garments with metal parts through the metal detector. Saves a lot of hassle. Don't be alarmed if you are asked to stand and be wanded or if your bags are pulled off after the x-ray machine for extra screening, this is an inconvenience but normal.

Even if you look a little unkempt you should be fine going through security as long as you look calm and a little bored. It's not the time to look around nervously, even if you feel that way about flying.

On your boarding pass there will be a flight number. After you go through security, somewhere, there will be banks of monitors in the airport with each bank labeled "arrivals" or "departures". Find Charlotte and your flight number on the departures board, and you will be able to see whether your flight is on time or boarding at a different gate than expected.

If you have checked luggage, listen for an announcement after the plane has landed with the luggage carousel number. If you miss this, when you go to the luggage area things will usually be identified by flight number. Find your number and wait for your bag.

I recommend not checking luggage. You can avoid packing liquids and go to a drugstore after you arrive.
posted by yohko at 9:34 PM on September 1, 2009

Let me join those few here saying - jeez, it's not *that* bad. Airlines lose luggage once in while (maybe more than they should). People get hassled by security once in while (maybe more than they should). Airline employees maybe aren't as polite/helpful as they used to be or should be.

But by far the most likely outcome is - you'll get through security fine even if you look like hell, if you check your bags, you'll get 'em back reasonably promptly on the other end. And for all the genuinely helpful guidelines paople have offered here, remember - if you do something wrong (other than, say, joking about bombs w. the security people), it will still be okay. It also does not seem bad to say to people (staff, etc) "this is my first time flying" so they don't rush through all the details they might oterwise assume you'd know.

And then you, are you know, SITTING IN A CHAIR IN THE SKY. I fly maybe a dozen or so times a year, and it still seems pretty cool to me. If you're going to be in an airplane for your first time ever, the fact that you may have to wait in a 30-minute line or may not get a complementary meal probably won't completely ruin that awesomeness.
posted by ManInSuit at 10:12 PM on September 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

You've gotten probably as much advice as you can handle, but I'll echo the folks saying it's not that bad. I used to fly a fair amount for work and vacation (20-30 times a year, lots of international flights) and now fly maybe 6-8 times a year. I always check my bag. I've never had a bag lost (knock on wood!) - so yeah, it definitely happens, but if you're on a direct flight from JFK to Charlotte, chances are your bag will be fine. For me the wait on the other end is fine compared to the hassle of lugging a bunch of shit around the airport and onto the plane with me. I'd much rather just have my book bag with me. But, that's personal preference. I also like not having anything stored beneath the seat in front of me. I'm tall, so that little bit of space helps a lot.

RE 3 hours - I'm not that familiar with JFK, so maybe this is airport specific, but normally two hours is plenty unless you're fine with sitting around in the airport. I usually show up to (admittedly not JFK) my airport about an hour and fifteen minutes, maybe an hour and a half before departure. I've never missed a flight, but this is your first flight, so better to be early, but in general three hours is a LOT of time. Better safe than sorry, but if you go the three hours route, be prepared for some sitting around once you've gone through security. Security lines, etc in my exp have gotten a lot more efficient, but who knows, maybe JFK is still bad. I fly in and out of BWI a lot - this airport used to be terrible - but even there, two hours seems like plenty of time.

As for security check points - if you get randomly selected for the extra screening - this is NO BIG DEAL. You won't miss your flight and you won't have anything with you that will raise any eyebrows, so don't sweat it. I don't know how much profiling is done, but I'm not bearded and have short hair and am white and have been pulled aside for the security screen a few times - again, it's no big deal.
posted by drobot at 11:06 PM on September 1, 2009

The fastest, and easiest way to pop your ears is to close your nose and mouth, and blow air through your nose while it is closed. (You'll look like this.)
posted by Solon and Thanks at 11:18 PM on September 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Since so many people are recommending you not check any bags to make your life easier, here's One Bag's guide to packing light.
posted by IndigoRain at 11:23 PM on September 1, 2009

One way to pass the time when you're aboard the plane is to check out the magazines in the little pocket in front of your seat. You'll often find maps of the major airports the airline flies to in the corporate magazine, as well as - if you're lucky - the SkyMall catalog, which is so full of ridiculous and crazy gadgets that I think it's one of the best things about flying domestically.

The posters above who said it's like being corralled are right. It's pretty tough to get lost. Do be conscious of your gate number and take a spin over there to see what the latest status on your flight is as soon as you get through security, since most flights do arrive and depart on time. Look for landmarks near the gate in case you need to get back in a hurry from somewhere else.

Finally, it's worth having the reservations phone number for your airline in your phone, so if things go wrong and you need to be put on another flight or rerouted, you can make your arrangements faster than the people who run over to the customer service desk in the airport. This often can save time, but you may still have to do some legwork.
posted by mdonley at 12:57 AM on September 2, 2009

When you see the front and back parts of the wing start sliding out, don't worry, those are just the flaps and slats extending.

When you feel a big thump under your feet shortly after takeoff, or shortly before landing, don't worry, that's just the landing gear being stowed or deployed.

When you feel the plane seem to slow down and you get that roller-coaster feeling in your stomach a minute or two after takeoff, don't worry, they're just reducing from takeoff power to climb power.

When the plane turns, especially at lower altitudes, you may feel like you are looking straight down at the ground out your window, but in reality airline pilots never bank more than about 30 degrees, and the laws of physics will keep you firmly planted in your seat (your drink won't even spill).

If you hit any turbulence, don't worry, planes are built to withstand it, and it's usually no worse than going down a bumpy road. Just keep your seatbelt fastened and you'll be fine.

Try to get a window seat, and enjoy the view!
posted by Nothlit at 8:15 AM on September 2, 2009

If you're tall or at all claustrophobic, try to get an aisle seat. Then you can at least stretch your legs into the aisle (but be nice and get them out of people's way, esp the flight attendants when they're serving beverages).
posted by Mavri at 9:24 AM on September 2, 2009

I fly over 100k a year and it's all about making it easy. Get in early. Bring plenty to read and listen to. I bring an eye mask and ear plugs on every flight. I take off my watch and belt and put them in my bag before security so they don't have to be spread all over the bins. I have only recently switched to all carry on so don't worry about checking a bag. Enjoy it but if you get nervous or sick don't panic - the staff can help you. I used to find the moment when the wheels lift exhilerating, ok I still do. Have a good trip.
posted by wingless_angel at 10:15 AM on September 2, 2009

show your license/id at security with the boarding pass. then put the license away but keep the boarding pass out, and do whatever else they tell you while you're in line. they don't always make you take off your shoes. they do always make you take the laptop out, coat off and there's different rules at different airports about what goes in a bin and what can't.

i've found that security at jfk is way more relaxed than at smaller non-hub airports...not to say that one can get away with stuff at jfk, but that they are much more businesslike and less picky about stupid things. never at jfk did a tsa agent try to make me sing a christmas carol before letting me through the gate. jfk agents were also very prompt in wanding my casted arm, whereas the regional airport held me in a pen for several minutes while they 'found' the wand (loved how my laptop just sat out for the grabbing becuase of course it did not join me in the pen....). so don't worry about jfk. don't worry about charlotte either, but don't think that charlotte is going to be the more relaxed place because it's a smaller airport.

make sure you get on the right plane at jfk...there's a lot of gates in all the terminals right next to each other -- it is remarkably easy to get on the wrong plane without trying -- i have totally done it :)

i also recommend the window seat if you aren't very tall; better if luggage falls out of the compartments and for the views from jfk... seatguru.com can tell you whether your particular assigned seat might have any features or disadvantages that you want to take care of online when you check in....
posted by Tandem Affinity at 3:27 PM on September 2, 2009

I highly recommend picking up a pack of Ear Planes (found at REI) for ear popping. You put them in before the flight takes off and take them out when your plane opens the doors again. They work a lot better than gum and making jaw motions for ear popping. Definitely bring gum (even if you hate gum) if you can't get ahold of Ear Planes.

If you see a line that says "for frequent fliers" at security, and you notice that it has a very short/nonexistent line, and the line you are in is huge...please do not hop into the frequent flier line.

Definitely have ALL your metal off you (I try not to even put any ON until I'm through security, stick your electronics in your bag once you get to the airport), and take shoes off and laptop out and baggie of fluids out as soon as you can get to the trays. If you forget to get all the metal off you and the security guard flags you down, if you have your arms straight out and they tell you to turn, DON'T HIT THEM IN THE HEAD. (Yes, I did it.) They are not happy when you do this. Do not do ANYTHING to piss off a security guard.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:41 PM on September 2, 2009

Just in case you were planning to wear one, underwire bras will go through the metal detector okay, as well as small jewelry like earrings or a wedding band. Just don't forget to put your cell phone in the tub. And do go plenty early just in case. Nothing is more anxiety-inducing than running late at the airport because the security line was super long or unexpected freeway traffic.

Have everything like jackets, metal, electronics, etc. ready to go in the bins when it's your turn. You can wait until you get to the front of the line to take off your shoes. You only have to walk about 20 feet in your stocking feet but it's still a little weird. Just watch what everyone else is doing.

Oh, also, do not buy a water globe souvenir and expect to carry it back on the plane. Just saying.
posted by tamitang at 12:24 AM on September 3, 2009

So, uh, how'd it go?
posted by dirtdirt at 8:46 PM on September 7, 2009

Response by poster: Yeah, flying was great and way easy. Three hours was too early to arrive at JFK (at least for me on that day) and so I ended up getting drunk at the bar. This was at 10am.
posted by fuq at 2:58 PM on October 2, 2009

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