First Time Flyer Tips – What I Wish I knew On My First Plane Ride

As a kid my family wasn’t able to travel. We live in Michigan and we went camping at camp rounds on lake Michigan a few times, but that was the extent of our traveling. My first flight was just over a week ago, and I am 25. My boyfriend is 30 and he had never flown either. Neither of us really knew what to expect but we were excited and nervous. When you’re a first time flyer, there are a lot of little details that you probably don’t know. People who have taken many plane rides simply don’t think to fill you in because it’s such basic knowledge to them. So I thought I would share what I learned on my first time flying on a plane so you can be more prepared for your first time flying.

First time flyer tips for your first flight.  Know what to expect for your first time traveling on a plane to reduce anxiety.

Some airlines offer free carry-ons, while others do not. For example, delta lets you bring on a carry on suitcase and a ‘personal item’ like a purse, laptop bag or small backpack free of charge. However, Frontier airlines charges $40 for a carry on. If you are taking a shorter trip many people will find that choosing an airline that allows a free carry on bag is the best deal because you can avoid paying any luggage fees. I made the mistake of choosing the airline that was the cheapest ticket price, only to realize they did not offer a free carry-on. So after the cost of paying luggage fees it was not the cheapest route after all. Newbie mistake!

Buying luggage bags is expensive. Luggage starts around $60 a bag from what I could find online. If you have a friend or family member who can travel, borrowing their luggage is awesome if you can. If not, be sure to calculate the cost of buying the size of luggage that you need into your overall cost. While paying to check a large suitcase is likely to be more expensive than a carry on, if you are traveling with someone else and the two of you can share one large checked bag, that might be cheaper than doing two carry-ons if you have to purchase the suitcases.

What is allowed in carry-ons. For your carry on and personal item, carefully go over what is allowed according to your airlines website and the TSA website. The most common problem is liquids or gels (including toothpaste and personal care items) are limited to very small sizes of about 3.4 ounces or less. If these items are in your carry on they will make you throw them away. If you are uncertain for any particular item, google it. My boyfriend smokes and just assumed he would not be able to bring cigarettes or a lighter and he was very stressed when trying to get to a gas station to purchase some after we landed. Before flying home he googled if you can bring cigarettes or a lighter on a carry on, and you can so the stress was for nothing.

First time flying in an airplane

Not all planes offer movies or WiFi. The flight I took on Frontier did not have TVs or WiFi. My flight was 4.5 hours which is quite boring even as an adult! If I had been traveling with a child I certainly would have wanted to be prepared with a movie on a tablet or computer for them. My sister in law told me that the flight she took recently did offer a movie but they only offered headphones free on the flight to their destination. On the way home they did not pass out headphones so that’s something to be aware if you want to listen to the movie on the way home, keep headphones on you!

What to expect in the TSA area. The TSA area at the Detroit air port is huge and there is only one worker there who is explaining what to do. He was so far away that we could not hear what he was saying. There is a line where they request your ticket, and then let you come through. Inside there is a simple conveyor belt with plastic tubs (like dishpan tubs), and then a line for a TSA scanner. You have to empty your pockets and put the contents of your pockets into the pan. If your carry on has electronics or metal (like a computer, tablet or coins) you have to take those out of your carry on bag and put them in the tub as well. Then use a second tub for your carry on which you can leave zipped up. Do not put your carry on bag on top of your electronic devices. Take off your shoes and put them in a tub as well. The tubs will run through a scanner that looks for anything suspicious, while you wait in line to go through the human scanner. It’s pretty tough to know what will set off the scanner, but if it goes off they will request to look through your bag. Of the 10 or so people surrounding me, my bag was the only one to be looked at. The TSA agent asked me if I had a lot of cards or papers in my bag. I explained that I had a box of business cards in the bag. She asked to look in the bag, I agreed and she felt around, found the cards and then approved my bag. I had the same business cards in my back on the return flight but it didn’t upset the scanner that time.

What to know about going through the TSA scanner. The TSA scanner has feet stickers stuck to the ground that you line up on. You then just place your hands over your head and you can see the scanner circle around you. The TSA agent will motion for you to step out. You have to wait a few seconds until the computer approves or denies you. The first time through we both got through fine. The second time I was denied, the TSA agent said the machine picked up something in my waist area and asked me to hike up my shorts. I did and he had me try again and then it approved me. Once you have finished through the TSA scanner you can gather your items from the tubs.

first plane ride tips what to expect

Silly selfie while waiting on our first flight to depart. We had no idea what to expect!

Snacks and drinks for flights.  Once you’re through the TSA line you can access restaurants, vending machines, etc in the airport to purchase food or drinks that you can take on the flight with you. Both airports we visited had water bottle filling stations near the water fountains so if you bring an empty water bottle you can fill it. The vending machines and restaurants in the airports were pretty pricey. The mid-sized bags of chips (usually .89 or so at a gas station) were $1.99. 16-20 oz bottles of soda were $2.50-2.75 or so each. Not cheap, but cheaper than the in-flight options for Frontier at least.

Personal Item Size for flights. I was surprised that our personal item was not measured, even though the website tells you the exact measurement requirements. Instead, it has to fit reasonably well under the seat in front of you on the plane. The bag we were using was within 1/2 an inch of being too wide according to the website but it fit easily under the seat so it was not a problem. I am pretty sure that we could have exceeded the website measurement limits without anyone noticing or caring though do that at your own risk of course!

Finding your checked bag on the airport conveyor belt: If you check a bag that is dark, you can ‘decorate’ it in some way to make it easy to find on the conveyor. I saw people who used scarves, ribbon, etc to the handle of their suitcase so it was easy to pick out on the belt.

airplane view from my first ever plane ride

Light on the airplane. The plane is kind of dark! It didn’t seem dark at first because they had lights on, but once we got ready to take off they turned the lights off and it was kind of ‘dusk’ level of brightness inside the plane. They have ‘reading lights’ for each seat, but they are a few feet above your head and are not very bright so they don’t really help much. There is a cover for the window of your row which can be opened or close to let light in from outside which makes a much bigger difference than the lights.

Temperature on airplanes: The plane is kind of cold! We traveled in June, when it was in the 90s in Michigan (where we left from) and around 110 in Phoenix where we traveled to, but I was cold enough that I put a sweater over my legs because I had shorts on. If you get cold easily consider wearing jeans and long sleeves or bringing a small throw blanket.

Not all flights offer drinks or snacks free. Some airlines give out peanuts, water, a soda, etc per flight. The one I was on (Frontier) doesn’t give anything complimentary. You can purchase drinks (soda or alcoholic beverages) or snacks (chips, jerky, pretzels, etc). Again, prices are pretty high. The “Deal” was paying $9.99 for two cans of soda and two of those tiny chip bags (normally .50 in a vending machine). My flight only came through once at the very beginning of the flight requesting orders, if you don’t order that first time through they don’t allow orders later. The prices were roughly the same as the airport, but the snack bag and soda size are smaller making it a worse value.

Arrive to the airport very early. The time on your ticket is the exact time your plane wills tart moving. You have to be boarded before that. I believe entry to our plane stopped 15 or 20 minutes before take off. We were supposed to start boarding 45 minutes before that though. My airport recommended arriving 2 hours before your take off time, which is what we did and we were left sitting for about 45 minutes before being able to board. If you are renting a car, bringing small children or have other reasons why you might be slower to navigate the airport I would arrive more than 2 hours early.

Some advice that you didn’t ask for: relax! Fear of flying is really over-hyped in my opinion. I heard a lot of people say they can’t stand take off, can’t stand turbulence or hate landing. I had prepared myself to be panicking during take off and landing at minimum. I am afraid of heights and do not like roller coasters or even fair rides. That “upside down” stomach feeling from amusement parks is really upsetting to me. You do get a BIT of that feeling during take off, or during acceleration or changing directions but it’s extremely mild compared to an amusement park ride. We flew through a few storms so we did have turbulence and weren’t able to stand up or walk around for about an hour on one flight but it was far less bumpy than riding on a school bus.  The first landing was a complete breeze, no discomfort at all. The landing on the way home was very long. I heard someone say ‘this is the longest, worst landing I have ever experienced!” but it still wasn’t bad in my opinion. It just felt like we were decelerating for 10+ minutes, but it was not bumpy and didn’t bother my stomach.

Are you going to be a first time flyer soon? What questions do you have? Or if you’re an experienced flyer do you remember your first ever plane ride? What surprised you about your first time flying?

Comments 13

  • My 18 yr. old son just flew for the first time last week. Not only was it his first time to fly, but he was flying alone. Luckily it was a very short one-way flight (2 hrs). He did not have to change planes or anything and he flew out of a small regional airport. Everything went very smoothly but I have to admit I was a nervous mama! This is a great post with lots of helpful info!

    • Emmy - Author of Post,

      Oh wow that’s a lot to tackle alone at 18! I was thankful to have my boyfriend with me the first time though I could easily do it on my own now. The fear of the unknown is the tough part. I’m sure as a mom it’s not easy to just sit at home and wait for the phone to ring either. When I told my dad I was taking my first flight he asked if my boyfriend was coming with me, and I said yes. His response was “Okay, you can go then!” as if I had been asking his permission. It was funny, but I know a tiny part of him was genuinely worried.

  • Keysha Marie

    Alot of this has helped me! I have flown before but this time I want to bring a throw blanket with me as the flight is 4 hrs long. I am flying frontier and already purchased my carry on bag and will have a personal bag, my throw wont fit in my carry on roller bag nor my personal bag. My question is, Do you think I can just carry the blanket with me or does it have to be in my carry on? Thank you ~

    • Emmy - Author of Post,

      I didn’t try to carry a blanket with me, so I can’t say with certainty. However, I noticed several people were able to hold their neck pillows while boarding and nobody said anything to any of them. I also saw a child with a very large stuffed animal that he was holding and his mother wasn’t asked to put it in their carry on bags either. I and several others held water bottles. I saw people with fast food bags and one woman even had one of those drink holders with 4 mcdonalds soda cups in it. Nobody was asked ot put any of these hand-held items into their carry ons before boarding that I saw. So my sense is that they are pretty laid back about it and *probably* wouldn’t say anything about you carrying a blanket. However, I would want to have a back-up plan in case you get a grumpy person at the gate who demands that you put it in your bag.

      Also for the carry on’s ours were never measured. So if you can stuff the blanket into a bag and it will just make it an inch or two wider than the website says it allows that is probably fine as a backup plan. We intentionally did not over-stuff our bag because it was exactly the measurements so we thought over-stufing it could get it rejected for being an inch too wide or something but ours were never measured so it would have been fine to over-stuff.

  • Paige

    You don’t need a throw or a blanket. I always take a pashmina type scarf for warmth on planes. Wear it as a scarf or put in your carry on. It can be used to cover your head, as a blanket for a picnic or as an accessory for an outfit.

  • Yanatta

    Wow, I will be taking my first flight June 16 2017 to Myrtle Beach …this has made me feel much better I’m taking a 4 hour question is I do get Motion sickness a lot so you think I need motion sickness pills.. I feel great that it’s nothing to scary about flying..!

    • Emmy - Author of Post,

      I’m really not sure, sorry. My boyfriend & I don’t have motion sickness. I can say that I didn’t really feel conscious of any physical sensation that we were moving except when taking off, landing or when the plane was turning to a new direction. However, in a regular vehicle I am not normally conscious of any physical sensation of movement except when increasing or decreasing speed. So personally if I were you I would take medication for motion sickness just to be on the safe side.

  • Vanese

    Hi im a first time flyer and very nervous. I get car sick and im very worried ill get sick on the plane which would be embarrassing! I have an 18 hour flight and have no idea what to expect. I am to fly from california to dc then to japan from japan to my destination which is south korea. Can you please give me some tips to help me settle my nerves thank you:)

  • Teri

    This was a great post, thank you so much for it. I’m going on a flight from MI to DC next month and I am terrified. I flew about 20 years ago and I don’t remember much so I feel like a first time flyer. I appreciate your description of the feelings you got because that is what I am most worried about. I don’t get motion sick but I hate roller coasters and just the feeling from them so I am really concerned about having a strong feeling like that, and your take on it made me feel a lot better, especially because you don’t like that feeling either. Thank you again!

  • Jennica

    I’m about to go on my very first flight next month. About a 2 hr flight out of a very large airport. Any tips on how to point out the workers? I’ve recently visited an airport not to fly but because that’s where the shuttle drops you off and I had a hard time finding anybody to help direct me where I had to go. Very helpful article though. Thank you very much.

    • Emmy - Author of Post,

      At the airports I visited they were just wearing dress clothes but in set colors (black slacks, blue dress shirt) and they had name tags. Or if you can find online which gate is yours the airport may have an online map visible so you can have a rough idea of where you are headed before you get there. 🙂

  • Sara

    I’m taking my first plane in 2 weeks (it’s only 3hrs so no big deal.) I’m going by myself because unfortunately my fiancé couldn’t take off the amount of time I’ll be gone. I still super nervous

  • Ms. Versace

    I am flying for what is basically the first time. I flew a lot when I was under 3 back and forth from WI to Alaska. SO im starting over. I do not like the fear of falling, roller coasters are not a favorite of mine, i can do a tilt o whirl with ease, hate driving over bridges, I dont get motion sick (or at least never have and ive had what felt like a g force while racing super-cars) but I do have anxiety….a lot of anxiety. I will be flying with my husband who openly hates flying, so that is adding to my anxiety. Friends have told me to get Valium? Its a 4 ish hour flight. How did you ease that anxious voice in your head?? Or did you just prepare for the worst?

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