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First Timer: International Flying?

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International Flight

Let me in you on a secret. – Everybody who has flown before domestically gets some flutters as they approach their first time flying international. And those whose first flying experience is going to be flying international, well for them, the flutters are even greater. But I assure you for these latter set of first timers, its actually better; since they don’t have anything to benchmark their experience against!

Whatever set one falls in, one can only absorb as much information and try to prepare for the eventual experience. There are generally so many questions and internet provides so many answers to gobble up. But one never gets what one needs at a single place ever. An article can’t be everything for everyone. Its a tall order to follow. Nevertheless, it never stopped people from trying and it wont stop me too!

My first time flying international was just a week back, well actually 9 days back. I flew from #Bengaluru to #London #Heathrow via #Mumbai. I flew #JetAirways. So what follows below are tips basis my experience – good and the bad! Hope they fill you up with critical knowledge that you may seek from this post!

For me, this trip was a long time coming, amid some family drama. But let me not bore you with those details. I was looking forward to this trip with equal excitement and trepidation. After all I knew nothing about flying international. Are these international route planes wider? How is the seating plan? What seats should I choose? Aisle, Window, Emergency row? How wide are the seats? What about leg room? Should I upgrade to another class? Do I need to be stuck in my seat the whole time? and hundreds of other questions flooded me and overwhelmed me! I painstakingly went through each of them, as I figured out from friends, family, colleagues and internet, and still my research came up short during actual travelling! But the good thing from the research was that, I was less fearful and had started looking forward to the travel.

So lets get started.

Prep Step 1: First ensure you have all your documentation handy in your carry on luggage, preferably accessible quickly in a zip compartment in your luggage. Passport, Visa letter, any other immigration document you may need, your flight ticket/boarding pass (this can be a hard copy or soft copy on your phone will do as well) and a working ballpoint pen, preferably with black coloured ink. Keep your phone battery charged to hilt or carry a portable charger if you are a heavy user.

Prep Step 2: Do check which airport and which terminal in that airport your flight is departing from. Its very important. Some cities have more than one airport or multiple terminals and you don’t want to be stuck in a situation where you turn up at the wrong airport terminal or worse, wrong airport itself.

Prep Step 3: International flights usually start check-in atleast two hours before departure, boarding 1 hr before departure and close gates 30-45 min before it. It varies from airline to airline and sometimes even airport to airport for same airline. So check this piece of information out as well in advance and prepare your arrival time to airport accordingly. While at this, also be sure to check the luggage limits on the airline and the route you are travelling and pack accordingly. Use TSA approved locks on your luggage that you plan to check-in.

Prep Step 4: Dress in comfortable clothing with layers. You would want the flexibility to be able to remove or add layers as per the conditions! This helps you fight the uneven and varying temperatures during your complete travel and be comfortable at all times.

Prep Step 5: Invest in a good neck pillow if your flight duration is more than 3 hours. This is optional. Carry a book or your kindle along with few selection of books if you are not the sleeper kind.

All set.

Day of Travel.

Step 1: Arrive at the airport in time. Pass through the Airport gate security showing your ticket/boarding pass and passport and proceed to check-in counters. As soon as you enter the airport, check on the display which counter numbers have been your airline check-ins is happen. Proceed to them accordingly. Check-in your luggage and proceed to the security gate. Btw seat choice, the best one would be emergency row window seat. Window seat with lots of leg space with no seatrow in front!

Step 2: At security gate, remove everything on you, (except your clothes obviously) and put them in the trays. Place the tray and your hand baggage on the conveyor belt for it to pass through the X-Ray machine. DON’T put the boarding pass in the tray. Queue up for security guy to frisk you. After he is done, ensure he stamps your boarding pass and collect your things from the conveyor belt. ENSURE YOU DO NOT LOOSE your boarding pass. Majority of times, it is here that things get misplaced. So take your sweet time to ensure you have got everything back with you when you parted with it, before the security check-in.

Step 3: Move towards the immigration counter and handover all the documents the officer asks for. Keep a smile on throughout. It helps, a lot! They generally ask a few standard questions like, why are you going where are you going? How much you plan to be there? When you would be back? Answer them politely and produce documents as asked for. If all is well, they would stamp the passport’s visa page and return you every document. Place it all back in your carry on luggage. From here on, you only need the passport and boarding pass until you hit the immigration counter at your destination. So keep them both handy and put everything else inside.

Step 4: Figure out how much farther is your departure gate from the immigration counter you just cleared. Estimate how much time it will take you to reach there. After the immigration counter, generally duty free areas are present. So you can now spend the extra time you have if you have, by browsing through shops and or grab some food if you feel like. I would say, do grab something to eat. You never know if you would like the food on the plane or not. My personal experience with Jet Airways, food served was palatable to me, but again I m not so fussy with food.

Step 5: Proceed to your departure gate within some buffer to boarding time. This is to ensure if you haven’t been attentive to announcements and if your flight has been rescheduled or departure gates have been moved around, you have some buffer to proceed to proper gate. Once there, the staff generally announces the boarding sequence and you board accordingly, flipping out your passport and boarding gate on the way showing as requested by staff till you reach the plane on the tarmac.

Step 6: Proceed to your seat and quickly stow away your luggage in overhead compartment and move in. Don’t block the passageway more than necessary. Allow other passengers to move to their seats. Keep what you may need during your flight duration with you. If you are going to keep the carry on with you, you better stow it under the seat so you are comfortably seated

Congratulations, you have now boarded your plane!

While in air, know the following things to make your travel comfortable.

Mandatory Preps: Read through the on-board emergency and safety manual card to familiarize yourself with evacuation procedures and watch the tutorial on your entertainment system when it plays automatically as plane taxis on the runway.

Smart Devices & Wifi: Keep your phones and any devices that need active connections on airplane mode. Laptops on switched off after turning them on airplane mode during take off and landing. They can be used while in flight in airplane modes. Some airlines offer wifi connectivity, but you need to setup them up when on ground so that you are able to use them while in air. Check with cabin crew for that.

InFlight Entertainment: Onboard entertainment varies from airline to airline, but generally include, bollywood and hollywood choices from recent hits and classics. Oh there are few audio books you could listen to and magazines & ebooks to go through as well.

Headphones: You get headphones in the back pocket of the seat in front of you. The headphone jack/connector pin goes into into your seat’s right hand side rest on the inside of it near the front edge of it. I took a pretty 30 min figuring this part out. So there, I saved you that hassle.

Head Rests: Head rests are flexible. You can fold them towards your head so it forms a enclosure around your head. Great to keep your head in upright position while you are sleeping. You could use the neck pillow to wrap around your neck, if that’s more your thing, but the pillow has to be your own. So I said it was optional in the prep step 5. Blankets are provided and small pillow or two can be made available on request as well in the flight.

Seat Adjustments: Your seats can generally tilt a lot more than you could in a domestic flight. There is a button for this on the inside of the left side hand rest of your seat. They are mandatory required by law to be in upright positions during take-off and landing. For all other times, it can be adjusted as per needs. Even hand rests can be swiveled up/ lifted up if you need them to.

Refreshments: Y0u have a wide choice from hot/cold beverages, juices, alcoholic, nonalcoholic drinks that they serve along with snacks -savory or sweet as you want. Generally are available in reasonable unlimited quantity if asked with polite requests during anytime of your flight. Meals and other heavy snacks would be served at specific times and you can request them to be served earlier or later as per your wishes.

Toilets: Quite a few are present. Two at each ends of aircraft definitely and also few sets placed strategically along the length of the plane as well. Toilets focus on as much less usage of water as possible

Walking: If you feel like stretching your legs a bit, you are actually free to do so and roam the aisles but ensure to maintain decency and not disturb other passengers as you take your stroll. Actually it is even recommended to take a quick short walk every few hours, so that blood flows regularly in your feet and your legs don’t get sore at the end of your travel.

Well when in doubt, ask cabin crew for guidance and they will generally take care of anything you might need help about. Its their job to ensure safety and comfort of passengers.

Well as you approach your destination, its time to start wrapping things up and getting yourself ready. Generally pilot announces 30 min before reaching about it. Check back pockets, under your seat, under the seat in front of you for all your belongings. Ensure you have gathered everything and if you need to stuff them in your baggage, don’t be shy to take it out from overhead bin and do it. Basically be ready with all your stuff atleast 15 min before descent starts. and have as mentioned earlier, your passport and boarding ticket ready. Generally, nowadays airlines provide the landing card that generally needs to submitted at immigration counter in flight itself. So if you have been provided that, then fill it up and keep it ready as well.

As your flight lands and taxis on the destination runway, from here on, you need to start paying attention to every announcement till you clear out of the airport! Don’t worry I have got you covered here as well. You generally proceed to immigration counter and then, duty free shops and then checked-in baggage collection and then exit the airport. Only thing to note is the sequence of events may jumble up depending on how processes may be different at different airports across the world.

At the immigration counter, you generally handover the landing card. (If you didn’t get it in your flight, then you can find one as you near the counter.) Fill it up with the pen you had with you in you carry on baggage. Many places, black coloured ink ball point pen is mandatory. So you are good to go. Now as you get your documents verified and checked through at the immigration counter, it helps to keep a pleasant attitude.

Once through, then you move through duty free area and then towards baggage conveyor belt. Check on the display on which belt is the luggage from your flight coming on. You can generally pick up a trolley from near the belt itself. Sometimes the luggage from another flight may be coming on the belt. Don’t panic, it may have already been cleared from the belt and kept aside. Just go and find the correct luggage. Please check bag tags to be extra sure. Don’t be so confident that you would have the most unique bag in the flight.

Once you have picked up the bags, you can now move towards exit. As you exit, if someone at airport to pick you up, this is where they would be waiting.

Thats it! You have done it!

Enjoy your destination. Let me know in comments, if these tips helped you or not. Do share your first time experiences. Anything that I missed and you faced?

Parting thought

Arrive on correct time at the correct airport, at correct terminal with correct amount of luggage in correct clothing with correct documents. That’s the secret in a sentence! Now go, travel like a pro. No seriously, go now!

Safe travels!


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