From the moment you start planning your trip until you board your flight and step off the plane, there are several factors to consider to ensure that you will have a stress-free travel experience.
So in this article, we delve into the most important aspects of planning your flight, covering essential topics such as booking your flight, choosing your seat, packing your bags, getting to the airport, arriving at the airport early, check-in and security procedures, boarding the plane, dealing with delays or cancellations, and how to best prepare for connecting flights and layovers
Table of Contents
- 1 Booking your flight
- 2 Flight Booking Myths
- 3 Choosing your seat
- 4 Packing your bags
- 5 Transportation to the Airport
- 6 Check-in and Security Procedures
- 7 Boarding the plane
- 8 Dealing with Delays or Cancellations
- 9 Connecting Flights and Layovers
Booking your flight
You no doubt want the best deal when booking your flight, so you should understand the in and outs of the booking process, when flight prices drop, the best times to book a flight depending on your final destination, and be able to separate the facts from the myths.
1. Book Early and Be Flexible With Your Travel Dates
Booking your flight early, but not too early, will generally save you money.
Flight prices tend to increase the closer to the departure date you book, as demand for seats increase while the supply decreases.
Additionally, being flexible with your travel dates and considering alternate travel days can definitely help you secure the best deal, as prices can vary significantly depending on the day of the week and time of year you travel.
As a general rule, you should also book your flight before your accommodation to save money.
2. Compare Prices
Platforms like Skyscanner, Kayak and Google Flights can help you get the best deal by aggregating a list of flights and prices.
It’s a good idea to not just depend on one of them, though, as each platform can sometimes have different prices or entirely omit scheduled flights.
It’s worth noting that once you have found the best price, it’s often best to book directly with the airline, so your rights will be better protected in the event something goes wrong.
3. Look Out for Hidden Fees and Additional Charges
It’s often the case, especially when using a flight booking search service like the ones mentioned above, that you will see the most bare-bones price listed – i.e. a price that only allows for a carry-on (sometimes only just a personal item) and no seat selection.
Baggage fees, seat selection fees, in-flight services, and other extras can quickly add up, so make sure you factor in these costs when comparing prices.
4. Sign Up for Fare Alerts and Loyalty Programs
If you can afford to be a bit flexible with your dates and hold off on booking, you can often find great deals by signing up for fare alerts from airlines, which will notify you when the prices drop for your desired destinations.
You can also sign up for airline loyalty programs, which will earn you rewards, miles, or points that can be redeemed for future flights.
Flight Booking Myths
Here are a few of the most common flight booking myths that may end up costing you more money if you choose to believe them.
- Flights aren’t cheaper on Tuesdays: This was once the case because many airlines used to update their prices on Tuesdays, but prices are now handled automatically through the help of algorithms.
- Last minute flights aren’t cheaper: You should actually expect to pay more, sometimes substantially so, if you book your flight at the last minute.
- Flight prices don’t go up the more you search: Airlines may track users’ cookies, but there’s no evidence that they change prices using this information.
Choosing your seat
Airlines offer many available options when it comes to choosing a seat, so there are a few things you should consider.
1. Seat Location
The location of your seat is important to consider for a number of reasons.
If you want to experience less noise and turbulence, it’s better to sit at the front of the plane. The same applies if you have a tight connection, as you will want to be able to get off the plane as quickly as possible.
Conversely, statistics show that it’s safer to sit at the back of the plane, so this might be a better choice if you’re a nervous flyer. If are flying with a baby, it would also be better to sit at the back of the plane.
We have a dedicated article where we break down the Best Place to Sit on a Plane.
2. Seat Pitch and Legroom
Legroom and seat pitch (the distance between one seat and the same point in the seat in front) can play a large role in just how comfortable your flight will be.
If you are tall or have long legs, the more legroom the better. So choosing a seat in the exit row or bulkhead row would be best, though may cost you more to book.
Keep in mind that not all exit row seats recline fully or even at all, namely seats in the front of exit rows.
Related: Who Can Sit in the Exit Row
3. Window vs. Aisle vs. Middle Seat
Window seats are popular with flyers because they allow you to rest your head against the wall, making it easier to sleep, and you also get the best view. However, having to ask the people sitting next to you to get up if you want to use the bathroom can be awkward.
Aisle seats are great because they provide easy access to the aisle, so you can get up to stretch and use the bathroom, but it’s often the case that you will be bumped by passing passengers or carts. You will also have to get up when the people in your row need to use the bathroom.
Middle seats with their limited space and no view are rarely a popular choice, but can be a good option for families or groups traveling together who also want to sit together.
Realted: How Wide is An Airplane Seat?
Packing your bags
Whether you’re going on a short weekend getaway or are planning a longer stay, it’s vital that you properly pack for your trip while hopefully avoiding excess baggage fees, which is usually down to poor planning more than anything else.
Make a List
Before you start packing, it’s always a good idea to make a list that takes into account the duration of your trip, the climate and weather at your destination, activities you’re planning to do, as well as any events or occasions you might need to dress for.
Additionally, make sure your list includes items like toiletries, electronics, medications, travel documentation, and other essentials you’ll need.
Choose the Right Luggage
If you’re going on a short weekend getaway, you’ll probably be good with just a carry on, like a large backpack, especially as you won’t have to pay any fees to check your bag in.
On the other hand, a two-week vacation may require a checked bag.
Pack Light and Smart
The golden rule of packing is to pack light and smart.
Some helpful ways of doing this are to choose versatile clothing that can easily be mixed and matched, and lightweight and wrinkle-resistant fabrics that won’t have to be washed and can be rolled instead of folded to save on space.
Packing cubes or compression bags can really come in handy when trying to pack light and smart, too.
Keep Your Essentials in Your Carry-On
Always keep your essential items in your carry-on, so you will be able to keep an eye on them at all times.
Checked luggage rarely gets lost, but it’s still very much a possibility, so keep items like travel documents, medication, valuables, and other items that are important to you in your carry on.
Pay Attention to TSA Regulations
Most people think that TSA regulations are confusing and can be hard to navigate, which is why we have dedicated an entire section on our website to TSA travel regulations.
In short, the most important thing to know is that the TSA have a rule called the 3-1-1 rule that prohibits passengers from bringing liquids, gels, and aerosols in containers greater than 3.4oz/100ml.
These containers must also be placed in a clear, quart-sized bag when going through airport security.
Transportation to the Airport
Arriving at the airport in good time is a critical part of ensuring a smooth and stress-free travel experience.
There are several factors to consider when arranging transportation to the airport.
Research Your Transportation Options
You have a few transportation options to consider, including public transportation, ride-sharing services, taxis, airport shuttles, or private car services.
Depending on your location, budget, and preferences, one may be better suited than the other.
Account for Traffic
There are a few things in life that you can’t be late for – one of those is your flight.
The plane isn’t going to wait for you if you ran into unexpected traffic, but you can take steps to minimize the risk of traffic affecting your plans and missing your flight.
While it can be hard to predict traffic, make sure you check traffic patterns and estimated travel times to the airport, to get an idea of how long the journey will take.
Be sure to leave a little earlier because unexpected delays like road closures or accidents can happen.
Check-in and Security Procedures
So you’ve made it to the airport in good time, and now it’s time to check in, or if you checked in online, you can go straight to security screening.
Either way, there are a few things you should know.
Online vs. Airport Check-In
It’s common for airlines to provide an online check-in service, which will inevitably save you time by helping you to avoid long lines at the airport.
Online check-in typically opens 24 hours before your flight, and you will be able to select your seat and receive your boarding pass.
If you have to check a bag in, you will still of course have to do this in person at the airport, but there may be a dedicated baggage drop off line that won’t take long to go through.
Even if you’ve checked in online, you will still need to bring all the necessary documentation with you to fly, including ID, passport (only for international flights), visa (if applicable), and boarding pass.
Make sure you keep these documents easily accessible in your carry-on bag or on you.
Hopefully you did your homework during the packing stage and familiarized yourself with the baggage regulations of your airline, including the allowed dimensions, weight limits, and restrictions for both carry-on and checked baggage.
Generally, checked bags have a maximum weight limit of around 50 pounds (23 kg) per bag, and a maximum size restriction of around 62 inches (length + width + height).
While it can differ slightly by airline, carry on items must generally be no larger than 22 inches long, 14 inches wide and 8 inches high, though you often have some leeway.
When going through airport security, make sure that you follow all TSA guidelines, including the 3-1-1 rule and by removing laptops, tablets, and other large electronic devices from your bag for separate screening.
When walking through the airport scanner, make sure that your pockets are empty, and remove your shoes, belts, and jackets, too.
Boarding the plane
Before you are able to step onto the plane, your boarding pass, which may either be a printed or digital copy, will need to be scanned at the gate.
Make sure that you double-check the departure gate and boarding time on your boarding pass to ensure you are in the right place.
Note that the name on your plane ticket must match your boarding pass.
To streamline the boarding process, airlines typically use boarding groups that are called in order, starting from A or 1.
If you have a carry on bag that you will want to place in the overhead bin, it’s a good idea to be in one of the earlier boarding groups, so you will easily be able to find space for your bag before the plane starts filling up.
Related: When Do Planes Start Boarding?
If you have a special consideration, such as a request for assistance, you are traveling with an infant or pet, or have other specific seating needs, make sure that you inform the airline or cabin crew in advance of boarding the plane.
Dealing with Delays or Cancellations
Unfortunately, air travel can sometimes be unpredictable, which means that you may face delays or cancellations due to weather conditions, plane mechanical issues, or operational changes.
As part of properly preparing for your flight, you should know what to do in the event of a delayed or cancelled flight, and what your rights are.
In short, if your flight is canceled, most airlines will automatically rebook you on their next flight to the same destination for free.
But you can refuse to be rebooked, with Federal law stating that you are entitled to a full cash refund if your airline cancels or “significantly” delays your flight, even for non-refundable tickets.
The airline is not legally required to pay for your hotel, food, or other costs associated with the cancellation, though.
If your flight isn’t significantly delayed, you are not entitled to a refund or even free rebooking.
So the best thing to do if your flight is delayed, and it affects your travel plans, is to contact the airline and find out if they can put you on an alternative flight for free.
Connecting Flights and Layovers
If your travel plans involve a layover or connecting flight, it’s important to be prepared and know what to expect.
Ensure the Layover is Long Enough
When you have a connecting flight to catch, it’s vital that you leave enough time between the two flights, including a buffer in case of delays or unexpected circumstances.
The easiest mistake you can make is assume that your flight schedule will go entirely as planned, even though air travel can often be unpredictable.
Generally, leave at least 60–90 minutes for domestic connections, and 90–120 minutes for international connections.
If you’re considering leaving the airport during a layover, there a few things you should know, too.
Book With the Same Airline or Alliance
Booking a connecting flight with the same airline or airlines that are part of the same alliance can be a good idea because it will increase the chances of having a smooth connection, and you are protected if you miss your flight.
This is because the airline would have set what they thought would be an appropriate minimum connection time, so if you miss your connecting flight, the airline is to blame.
If you checked a bag in, make sure you know what the airline’s policies and procedures for baggage transfers are.
If you need to collect your bags and recheck them, you should inevitably go for a longer layover. You may also need to go through airport security for a connecting flight again, too.
Be Aware of Terminal and Gate Changes
It’s possible that you may need to change terminals or gates within the airport for your connecting flight, so be sure to familiarize yourself with the airport’s layout and facilities in advance to save time and avoid confusion.
Immigration and Customs
If your connecting flight is in a different country, you may be required to go through immigration and customs during the layover.
This can often take a long time, but will take even longer if you don’t have all the documents you need.
Ella Dunham, a Freelance Travel Journalist and Marketing Manager, boasts an impressive career spanning eight years in the travel and tourism sectors.
Honored as one of "30 Under 30" by TTG Media (the world’s very first weekly travel trade newspaper), a "Tour Operator Travel Guru" and "Legend Award" winner, Ella is also a Fellow of the Institute of Travel, a Member of the Association of Women Travel Executives, has completed over 250 travel modules, and hosts travel-focused segments on national radio shows where she provides insights on travel regulations and destinations.
Ella has visited over 40 countries (with 10 more planned this year).