If you’re new to flying, you may find it quite daunting. Don’t worry though, your friendly Confused.com team is here to put your mind at rest, with some useful tips and information.
And we’ll even hold your hand during take-off if needs be (well, metaphorically speaking).
Gone are the days when you were issued a ticket for your flight, as they were finally phased out by the lion’s share of airlines in summer 2008.
It was estimated that printing and sending tickets cost the industry in the region of £10 million each year. Nowadays you are issued an electronic or ‘paperless’ ticket via email which – rather ironically – you print out yourself.
You then present this at check-in along with the baggage you want to go into the hold of the plane, and you’ll be asked some routine questions and presented with your boarding pass.
This will contain a code which can be read at security checkpoints and the departure gate, so don’t lose it.
Some airlines are now moving into issuing boarding passes ahead of time too, again which you can print out at home. This system of online check-in is useful for skipping the queue at the airports.
There are even trials of boarding passes being sent to your phone by text, in a move to go truly paperless.
Doing it online usually requires that you check-in between four and 24 hours before your flight’s scheduled departure.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that you may be limited to hand luggage only by doing this.
It’s always a good idea to check your airline’s website for hand luggage maximum dimensions and weight, as if you exceed either then you may be charged.
Passport control and security
You will have your passport checked a few times, both before your flight and at your destination. It’s a good idea to make sure it has at least 6 months left from the day which you return home from your holiday.
In addition, you will have to pass through metal detectors, and have your hand luggage X-rayed. Don’t worry if you have piercings or a brace or anything like that – they shouldn’t set the detectors off.
As for your hand luggage, make sure you don’t have anything that could be construed as a weapon in there.
Some things which seem trifling (that you may have put in absent-mindedly) – such as nail scissors or a lighter – will almost certainly be confiscated, and you’re unlikely to get them back.
It’s also important to remember that in UK airports, you can no longer carry more than 100ml of liquid in any one container in your hand luggage.
Mothers with young babies may take milk onto the plane but would be expected to verify the contents by tasting it.
You can take any liquids you buy at the airport onto the aircraft after passing security, as these items go through a separate screening process.
This includes bottled water, wines and spirits, fragrances and cosmetics of any size.
Stretching your legs
If you’ve got particularly long legs, and it’s going to be a long flight, then it’s not a bad idea to ask the airline staff if you can have extra room when you check in.
They may well give you a seat by a door with no seat immediately in front, for example.
You may well have heard of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) being contracted by people who travel on long-haul flights.
This is basically a blood clot that develops due to immobility, usually in the legs, and it’s treated as a medical emergency.
However, don’t be scared off by this, as you’re not very likely to contract it, especially if you keep yourself hydrated during the flight and get up to stretch your legs once in a while.
The highest risk groups are the elderly, those with serious conditions (such as cancer), pregnant women, or those who have had surgery recently on their legs.
Again, in these cases the same applies – have plenty of water, and a bit of a stroll up and down the cabin now and again.
Before you take off, you will have a demonstration of the safety procedures from the cabin crew. For example, you will have to wear your seatbelt during take-off and landing, and when otherwise indicated by the crew.
The demonstration will also include pointing out the emergency exits, and explaining evacuation procedures in the extremely unlikely event that your plane has to make an urgent landing.
You will also be told that oxygen masks may drop from the overhead compartment, and if so you should fix one to yourself before fixing any to your children or anyone depending on you.
Again, don’t let this put you off travelling by air – you need to be made aware of this kind of stuff as a contingency, but there is an incredibly low risk of you ever being in a situation where you actually have to use it.
Some airlines will give you meals throughout the flight inclusive in the cost, especially if you’re going long-haul. Others – especially budget airlines – may charge you for your food.
Either way, you should be able to find out from their website beforehand. And they will cater for vegetarians too.
As the plane is in its ascent, the air pressure outside will drop and – although the cabin is sealed – the pressure inside will also change to a small degree.
A lot of people suffer from their ears ‘popping’ both on take-off and also on landing during this.
It can be quite painful, possibly for a few days after too. You can combat this by swallowing a lot. It’s not a bad idea to have some hard sweets to suck on during the plane’s ascent and descent.
Also try not to sleep during the descent, as this will mean you won’t be regularly swallowing and you may very well wake up in pain.
Things that go ‘bump’ in the air
Your flight is very likely to hit turbulence at some point.
This is basically erratic movement of air at high altitudes (sometimes referred to as ‘air pockets’), and it might cause the plane to lurch unexpectedly. Although this can be startling, it is very normal.
When the plane hits turbulence, you will be advised to sit down and fasten your seatbelt for safety.
Airline staff are usually quite informative when it comes to turbulence.
One thing that no-one seems to tell you about though: the weird noises! Planes tend to groan and creak and make all sorts of bizarre sounds.
This doesn’t mean that it’s suddenly going to burst apart mid-flight… These are perfectly normal too.
You may well have access to in-flight radio and possibly a movie or two. You have to plug headphones into the jack on your armrest to access the sound.
However, some airlines charge you for headphones, so it’s not a bad idea to pack some to avoid this sting. If you’re already taking an mp3 player on board then you’re laughing.
Arriving at your destination
Once you’ve landed and the staff have indicated you can take off your seatbelt, you can get your hand luggage and leave the plane.
There usually follows a bit of a walk, a passport control point, and then the baggage reclaim area.
If you’ve checked some luggage onto the plane, then find the conveyor belt allocated to your plane, and wait for your bags to come around.
Once you’ve picked them up, escape the airport and enjoy your destination thoroughly!
Read the first part of the Beginner's Guide to Flying: Booking Your Ticket.