A few weeks ago, I was a first time flyer. I looked all over the
net for information. What was it like? What can/can't I take?
I found a few sites with a little pieces of information, but no
site with all the information I wanted.
A whole continent, two days, and six planes later, I decided to
put all the information in one place. Some of this I found in my
search, and some I learned along the way.
Airports I went through: ORF - Norfolk, IAH - Houston, SMF -
Sacramento, MSP - Minneapolis, MDW - Midway, Chicago, DTW - Detroit.
MUST KNOW: The best tip someone gave me was, "You will
get turbulence." In movies, you see occasional turbulence, so that's what I
thought it was, a freak occurrence. Nope, you'll have some, might be a
little, might be a lot, but you will have some. Look around. Is everyone
That's a good sign. Most people have flown before and you'll see
it on their faces if something out-of-the-ordinary is going
Booking: Get a window seat! Great view, and no flight attendants
bumping into you.
If you are in a middle or aisle seat, wait till the plane is
loaded, or you reach altitude, then move to an open window seat, if
there's one empty.
Packing: It's best to check with the airports you'll be in, to
find out what is or isn't allowed.
- Basic rules: No sharp objects. After much searching and asking,
with differing opinions, I finally found out you can take a safety
razor - which means the normal razor everyone uses.
If you want to hear the movie on the plane, bring headphones, or you'll have
to buy them. The movie won't be good. The view will be better.
- Paperbag rule: For carry-on, get a piece of luggage about the
size of a standard grocery bag. I did carry-on, because I had a lot of
connections to make, and I pack light anyway. There isn't much room under
the seat in front of you, and the paperbag size will just fit. There's
overhead, sure, but people fill it up quickly with not just luggage, but coats
and other stray personal belongings. Plus, it can be a hassle to get your
stuff back out, because for some odd reason, as soon as the plane stops,
everyone stands up and goes into the aisles, even though it takes a minute
or so for them to actually let you leave.
At the airport: I used the electronic check-in at every stop.
Just go to the area for the airline you're using, and see if they have one. It was
simple, and there was no line. You just swipe the credit card you used for
your purchase, verify some information, and the machine spits out your boarding
pass(es) and you go to the gate.
- Delays: Sorry, but you might have one. I planned my whole trip
around a four hour layover in Chicago that wasn't to happen. They took my plane
away in Minneapolis (mechanical troubles - can't complain about that) and I spent my
whole four hours there, instead of visiting with my brother. If you have the
time, plan as though you'll have a delay somewhere along the line, if you don't have the time,
well... bring a book, and be a good sport about it. I had a cup of coffee, walked all
through the airport, bought a tiny Minneapolis license plate/pull tag, with my name on
it, and rode the tram from one end of the airport to the other. Just remember, if
it was a traffic jam, you couldn't do anything, but sit there. At an airport, you
- Security: This wasn't the major hassle I thought it would be.
Toss anything loose on the belt, pick it up at the end. One site warned to make sure
no one cuts in front of you, as there's a scam, where they pick up your belongings at
the end of the belt. At most of the airports I went through, the security people would
hold you back till the person in front was through, so it wasn't an issue.
The busiest airport I went through was Midway, in Chicago, and that only took 15
- Random checks: I thought I would make it through all my flights
without a random check, but I got picked in Minneapolis. It was no big deal.
They open your luggage, and root around a bit, and wand you down, shoes included. They
were very nice about it, and it didn't take but a minute or two. Do not fear the
- Tip: Pack small items, toiletries, in something clear. That way
they don't have to search through everything. I made sure to get a clear toiletry
bag, and was complimented on it by security.
On the plane: Planes are tiny! It's like cramming a bunch of friends
into a Honda.
- Comfort: If you're ever the person who thinks it's a bit
chilly, when everyone else is fine (like me), you have two choices, bring/wear
something warm, or grab a airline blanket on the way to your seat. They usually have a
stack of them in one of the overheads. My brother couldn't believe I used one of their
blankets, "They don't wash them, you know?" It's not like I was eating off of it, and
it was cold! They have tiny pillows too. The pillow doesn't look like much, but
you can't sleep without it. You can't. It's physically impossible. Something to do
with the way the seats are made. Just take the tiny pillow, or maybe a spare
sweater/jacket you've brought, and make it into an oblong shape. Stick it right behind your
neck and drift off. I was surprised by how many people sleep on planes. It was like
nap time at a nursery.
- Seating: If your plane isn't full, and only one of the
six planes I was on was, you can change seats. That's right. Once you're ready
to go, or after you've reached altitude, it's open season on empty seats. If you
haven't booked a window seat, get one. If there's a flight attendant around, you might want to
say, "Is it okay if I change seats?", just to seem nice about it, but you really don't
have to, and it was encouraged on the first flight I took.
- Gum?: The gum rule applies. The changes in air pressure will clog your
ears, but I learned it's not the chewing action, as I thought, but the swallowing,
that pops them. I brought some yummy candies with me. They work just as well as
gum, and you'll need something as you climb, and descend.
- Take-off: I wasn't even sure if we had left the ground, but
everything started to back away from the plane. There was no roller-coaster,
stomach jump. Before you go to sleep, have a look out the window.
- Noises: There were tons of odd noises throughout all of my
flights. I would just look at the other passengers. No one seemed to notice. If
you've ever seen those buses they have in Mexico, the rickety ones that look like they
really shouldn't be on the road anymore, well imagine one of those, with wings.
Now, imagine the noises it would make flying through the air. That's what you'll
- The view: The highlight of my flights was the view - from big,
fluffy white dancers beneath the plane window, to large flat areas of land across the
Midwest, to the sunrise and sunsets across the horizon, it was spectacular. America is a
thriving, populated continent, but cities appear as
small medieval villages from the sky, large plots of land, and squares of beige, rust and
burgundy, that I still don't know what they were. Somewhere near New Mexico there were
large beige squares with burgundy circles in them. Are we growing some burgundy crop
I'm unaware of? If you know what I'm talking about, let me know what these are.
- Landing: It's all been roses till now. I've never heard it
said, but I'm sure it has been, "It's not the taking off. It's the
landing." You're in a big piece of metal, hurdling toward the earth. It touches down with
a bump or two, or three, then the brakes go on, flaps move around on the wings. It
doesn't seem like it will stop. No way it's going to stop. We're not stopping... we're not
Wait. I think it's slowing down...
and the pilot comes on, welcoming you to the city.
The coolest pilots were with Continental. They flew higher and
faster than the Northwest flights, and bragged about how much sooner we were
getting in than expected. The pilot would talk, not just a flight attendant. It
made me feel like I was in good hands.
The worse descent I experienced was my last
flight. Instead of gently going down at a steady rate, the plane would drop a good deal, then sound like it
wasn't running, then would sound like it was over-throttled, then would drop, and
start the whole thing over again. It was horrible, and using the 'look at the other passengers'
rule, a few of them looked toward the front of the plane after the third or forth time this
happened. There was some tension. It wasn't normal; I could tell that. I don't know
if it was a horrible landing in good conditions, or a great landing in horrible
conditions, but I know I wanted to kick the pilot, who stood smiling at the door as I left.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is taking off really like a rollercoaster?
If you have any questions I haven't answered, feel free to
No. It's not. I don't know why anyone would say this, unless they're
trying to scare you. If I hadn't noticed the ground slipping away, I would
not have known we were taking off.
I'm afraid I'll get lost changing planes. What can I do?
When you booked your flight, you likely got an itinerary with the
airports you will be flying through. Visit the websites of the airports and
look for maps of the layout. Most airports have maps. You could even
print them out and take them with you.
Here's a page with more information about changing planes:
- Changing Planes -
I'm afraid I'll get airsick. What can I do?
If you don't normally get motion sickness in a car, you probably won't
get it on a plane. Like turbulence, movies/tv use motion sickness on planes
to enhance their story in some way.
If you do experience motion sickness in cars, you can try one of the over-the-counter
products, or ask your doctor or a pharmacist what they would recommend.
I'm not sure how to check my baggage. Help!
I didn't check baggage. I was too afraid I wouldn't see it again. It happens. Not
as often as you think, but it does happen. Here's a page to help with baggage checking
- Checking Baggage -
How can I be sure to get a good seat?
I found this site more recently. It has more information than just seating.
- Seat Guru -
Is there a good site with more information about flying?
Yes! Try this site:
- iFly -