What to Do When You Get to the Airport

By Leah Rendon; Updated June 08, 2017

Savvy travel checklist: Your step-by-step guide on what to do at the airport

What to Do When You Get to the Airport

Maybe it’s been a while since you’ve flown, or perhaps it’s your very first flight. Regardless of your situation, air travel regulations change with such breakneck speed that the experience can be overwhelming and confusing for anyone. Arrive at the airport with a clear understanding of the rules for flying so you can start your vacation without unnecessary anxiety.

Getting ready and getting there

Each airline's website outlines its strict rules regarding the weight and dimensions of luggage. Carry-on bags must fit in an overhead bin or under your seat. Checked bags should have secure ID tags with accurate contact information in case they get lost in transit. Valuables, including cash, boarding pass, driver’s license, passport and medications, should be kept secure in your carry-on bag.

You should typically arrive at the airport two hours before a domestic flight and three hours prior to an international flight. Many airport parking lots are far from the terminals, so you may need to allow extra time for a shuttle ride.

Getting through the airport efficiently

You can complete a lot of travel “paperwork” ahead of time online. Most airlines let you check in online up to 24 hours in advance and download your boarding pass to your phone. You can also print your boarding pass at home or at the airport’s self-check-in kiosks. Bags to be checked must be taken to the ticket counter or checked curbside with the airline’s authorized personnel. Make sure the bags are tagged with your final destination, particularly if you’re making one or more connections. If you're traveling with just carry-on bags, you can skip the check-in counter and head straight to the security screening area.

Dealing with airport security

Non-flammable liquids, gels and creams are allowed in carry-on bags as long as they adhere to the 3-1-1 rule. The rule states that all such items must fit inside individual containers measuring 3.4 ounces or less and must, in turn, all fit inside a 1-quart, plastic, resealable bag.

The Transportation Security Administration requires that you place the following items in plastic bins before sending them through an X-ray scanning machine:

  • A 1-quart plastic bag filled with liquids, gels and creams
  • All loose contents from your pockets
  • Shoes, belts and/or jackets that must be removed from your person
  • Large electronics, such as laptops and DVD players

The final step in the security process involves walking through an advanced-imaging portal for a body screening. A triggered alarm may result in a pat-down, but you’ll be examined by a TSA officer of the same gender.

TSA reserves the right to inspect all checked luggage and may break your bag’s lock if it can’t be opened with a master key.

If you're a rusty flyer or a first-timer

Don’t stray too far from your flight’s departure gate. Even if you successfully complete the check-in and security screening process, the airline can give your seat away if you’re not at the gate once boarding begins.

If you have to catch another flight at the next airport, remember to give yourself plenty of time to make your connection. Failure to do so may result in a missed flight and possible separation from your luggage.

About the Author

Leah Rendon