tips for flying

Must Know Tips for Flying – Your Go-To Guide for Air Travel

Are you embarking on an adventure by plane soon? Whether you’re a seasoned globetrotter or a first-time flier, preparation is the key to success. Some of these tips are specific to United States residents, but most apply to anyone flying.

Must-Know Tips for Flying is a comprehensive guide for all travelers.

We’ll walk you through the steps to prepare for your flight, from the best apps to download to must-have documents and the perfect in-flight snacks. Soar the skies confidently, knowing you’re fully prepared for the journey. 

Booking your flight:

  • Use a website like Google Flights or Hopper for the best flight prices. There is no magic formula. Prices fluctuate, but these websites will allow you to track flights, recommend a good time to buy, and get alerts when prices drop. 
  • If you have a flexible schedule and like the idea of adventure, last-minute flight deals are a great way to explore a new area; the Explore feature on Google Flights is a great way to find those deals.
  • is another great resource for finding flights if you don’t have a set destination in mind. The free version will show you some deals, but the best ones are behind a paywall. 
  • Book flights directly through the airline when possible. I love to use points I’ve accumulated through credit cards, but make sure you have all of your information correct. It is much easier to resolve issues directly with the airline than with third parties. I once made an error when booking a flight using points, and neither the credit card company nor the airline would fix the mistake. I ended up eating $1,500 worth of plane tickets. On that note…
  • It is best to verify that all information on your reservation is correct: name, date of birth, passport number (if applicable), known traveler number (if you have Global Entry or TSA PreCheck), and emergency contact information at the time of booking. The name on your reservation must match your ID. I once used my daughter’s maiden name on a ticket, which was a costly mistake. See above. If you book directly with an airline and make an error, you can typically call them and have it corrected after the fact if you need to. 
  • Set up a frequent flier account for every airline you fly on your trip. If you are flying internationally, set up partner airline accounts as well. As an example, you might book an international flight with United, but along the way, you may fly Lufthansa for a leg of the trip. They would be a partner airline. You will want to ensure they have all your contact information and that you set up notifications. Make sure you have your phone number, email, passport number, known traveler number (if you have Global Entry or TSA PreCheck), and all other relevant information entered correctly into your accounts. TSA PreCheck and Global Entry are only recognized in the US, they are not international services.
  • Download each airline’s app. This typically allows you to check in online 24 hours before your flight and get digital boarding passes. Turn on notifications to get a heads-up about flight and gate changes. 
  • If you have dietary restrictions or allergies, inform the airline beforehand. You can do this while making your reservation.
  • Double-check your dates and times. I’ve been within two weeks of a trip only to realize I booked it for the wrong month. Calling the airline directly and making the change is the best course of action. Whether it can be changed depends on your ticket type and flight availability. 
  • Make sure you read the fine print when booking your flight. I book the cheapest possible flights, which typically have more restrictions: less flexibility for cancelations or changes, paying for seat assignments, and sometimes not getting a checked or even carry-on bag. Weight your options carefully before you decide which class of ticket you are purchasing. Basic economy is what I normally fly, and I accept the restrictions. 

Documents Needed for Flying:

  • You have a few options for identification when flying. A driver’s license, a passport – even one that has expired up to two years and, in some states, a digital ID. (currently only available in AZ, CO, GA, or MD)  Beginning May 7, 2025, a Real ID-compliant driver’s license, permit, or identification card will be required to board commercial airplanes or enter certain federal facilities if you do not have a passport or digital ID. If you have a Global Entry ID, this is considered a Real ID and replaces your need for a Real ID driver’s license.
  • If traveling internationally, you must have a valid passport with more than six months left before expiration. For example, if you are flying in March of 2025, it must be valid until September 2025. Passports can not be water damaged, or they will not be accepted. Keep your passport in good condition.
  • You can often check in for your flight through the airline’s app and download your digital boarding passes. Occasionally, you must check in at the airport at a desk or a kiosk to get printed boarding passes, which some countries require. Leave extra time if you cannot download digital boarding passes. You can save them in your digital wallet, such as Apple Wallet. I also take a screenshot in case my cell signal is poor in an airport and I can’t load the airline’s app.

TSA PreCheck, Global Entry and Clear

  • TSA PreCheck: This is a good option for any traveler who flies more than twice per year. Once you’re approved, your TSA PreCheck is valid for five years. The main advantages are shorter security lines at some airports, not having to remove your liquids or computers in some security lines, and not having to remove your shoes. Reimbursement of the TSA PreCheck application fee is a perk of many travel credit cards, including Capital One Venture. The cost is $78. The application can be completed online, but you must complete an onsite interview before approval.
  • Global Entry: Global Entry gives you the same clearance as TSA PreCheck but has the added value of allowing you to sail through passport control when re-entering the US if you’ve traveled outside the country. This also works at border crossings into Canada and Mexico when you are driving. The cost is $100, and it is also valid for five years. I had to drive three hours to get an onsite interview (from Fort Wayne to Detroit), but it is usually easier to schedule the interview in larger cities.
  • CLEAR is an American technology company offering biometric identity verification systems at some airports and stadiums. CLEAR Plus is a paid membership program allowing members to use dedicated lanes at more than 55 airports to speed up airport security screening. The cost is $189 per year. The advantage to Clear is faster lines. You bypass the TSA PreCheck line and still get the advantages of PreCheck if you have it. Travel credit cards often reimburse Clear application fees. 
  • To learn more about TSA PreCheck and Clear, check out this piece by The Points Guy.

Getting to the Airport

  • Ensure you know when to be at the airport from which you’re departing. Leave enough time for travel, parking and walking or getting a shuttle to the departures area. Most airports will tell you when you should be at the airport before departure, and the times can vary based on the airport, time of year and even time of day. If you check a bag, get to the airport no less than one-and-a-half hours before your flight. Airlines often will not accept checked bags less than one hour before departure. For international flights, allow three hours. The more time you leave, the less stressed you will be.
  • If you don’t have a ride to the airport and will be parking your car, check costs and make arrangements ahead of time, especially at large airports. Remember, getting from the parking lot to the departure hall can take quite a bit of time at larger airports. Around major airports, nearby hotels will have parking options and shuttles to the airport, but they usually only run on the half-hour. Keep that in mind when you are planning how much time you need.
  • Weigh the pros and cons of taking public transportation vs. driving and parking. Cost is usually a determining factor, but my time is also important. I once took public transportation from northwest Indiana, where I parked my car, to O’Hare Airport in Chicago. It saved me $120 in parking fees but cost me about four hours of time overall. Plus, after flying home from Paris, I had four hours of train rides before I got to my car and two hours of driving. On the other hand, Julianne uses the RTD A Train between Denver International Airport and Union Station downtown, then takes a Lyft home. That usually takes about the same amount of time as driving through traffic, and depending on the length of the journey, the train and ride might cost just a third of parking.
  • Consider too the time of day that you’ll be leaving and returning. Returning to a large parking lot late at night or in the winter when your car might be snowed is no fun. Remember to secure your vehicle, note where you’ve parked (don’t trust this to memory) and take your parking ticket with you. Taking a photo of the nearest parking lot identifier sign is a great way to find your car when you return. You can also drop a pin in your maps.


  • Checked bags are bags that are over a specific size (on most airlines, over 21 or 22” tall) and ride in the belly of the plane. You will need to check in and leave bags of this size with the airline before you go through security, and you will retrieve them at your final destination. Most airlines charge a fee for checked bags; you may not have to pay this fee if you have certain travel or airline credit cards. Some airports offer curbside check-in, some have kiosks you can use to print your luggage tags and put them on a conveyor belt, and some you will need to check in at the airline counter. When you arrive at the airport, keep your eyes peeled for the various options or check the airport website ahead of time. 
  • Carry-on luggage is usually a smaller wheeled suitcase, travel backpack, or duffel bag. It must meet the size requirements to qualify as carry-on luggage. These too vary from airline to airline. You should be able to lift this bag over your head as it goes in the overhead bin.  If the plane is full, or if the plane is small you may need to gate check your bag. You will get a luggage tag and you will leave your bag at the bottom of the jetbridge (in most cases). Airline staff will direct you where to leave your bag. After your flight you will pick your bag back up and take it with you, it will not travel to your final destination if it is gate-checked. 
  • A personal item is a small bag that fits under the seat in front of you. The maximum size is usually 18”, but some budget airlines have smaller max sizes. Not all airlines allow both carry-on luggage and personal items; know what the airline you’re flying allows.
  • Measure and weigh your bags to ensure they’re the right size and weight for all airlines you fly. These parameters change from airline to airline, especially internationally. A bag that meets the criteria for carry-on on one flight might be too big for the next flight. You can find this information on airline websites. Be sure you know which partner airlines are handling all of the segments of your trip; sometimes a flight booked with United will be handled in part by Lufthansa, for example, and standards may change. This information is available in your reservation details.
  • If you’re checking luggage, make sure you have a luggage tag on the outside of your bag. Place a copy of your personal information inside the bag in case your tag gets lost during your trip. Using AirTags is a great way to keep track of luggage. It was very helpful when I traveled home from Budapest and my bag failed to arrive; I could see my bag sitting behind Starbucks in the Amsterdam airport. In all seriousness, it did help the airline locate my bag and eventually get it back to me.
  • If you are traveling from one location to another inside the same country, checked bags typically travel from your departure airport directly to your final destination, even if you have multiple transfers. 
  • If you enter the US from another country, regardless of whether you live in the US or not and regardless of whether this is your final destination, you will retrieve your checked bag after going through customs. You will then recheck your bag and go back through security before you board your next flight. Make sure you leave enough time for your connecting flights. This process can take several hours, depending on which airport you are at and how busy it is. 
  • Carry-on bags go on the plane with you and are stored in the overhead bin. Again, it’s essential to know what size it needs to be; most airlines are strict about this. Your personal item must fit under the seat in front of you. I often take a backpack as my personal item and it  takes up a lot of space by my feet, so keep that in mind when picking your personal item, especially for long flights.
  • You cannot fly with lithium batteries in your checked luggage. Power banks, digital cameras, e-readers, laptops,  electronic cigarettes and vaporizers, and other items with lithium batteries must go on the plane with you.
  • Need help with packing? Check out our packing section.

At the Airport

  • If you are checking a bag, you should do that first. 
  • If you have not downloaded digital boarding passes to your digital wallet, you can print them at a kiosk or get them from the counter when checking in your bag. If you have TSA PreCheck, ensure the TSA PreCheck indicator shows up on your digital or printed boarding pass, or you can not use the TSA PreCheck line. If it’s not there, an agent at your airline’s departure desk can usually add it and reprint your pass.
  • After you check your bag, or if you are traveling carry-on only, you will proceed to security. If you have TSA PreCheck or Global Entry, proceed to the TSA PreCheck line. If you have Clear, proceed to the Clear line. You cannot use your Global Entry card to enter the TSA PreCheck lane if the TSA PreCheck indicator is not on your boarding pass.
  • Airports will often have multiple terminals, depending on the airport’s size, and then multiple gates in those terminals from which the planes arrive and depart. Every airport layout is different. Many airports have shuttles, trains or even buses that take you from where you went through security to the terminal your flight departs from. Some airports, such as the Atlanta airport, have clear signage and fast transport. Others are harder to navigate, and you can walk a considerable distance (I’m looking at you, O’Hare in Chicago). If you have disability issues, you can ask for transport assistance.
  • You can also request wheelchair assistance if injured or disabled to get you down the jet bridge to the plane. (The jet bridge is the walkway that the airline workers move into place to allow you to walk from the airport into the airplane.)
  • Amenities such as lounge access or sleep pods can be accessed by paying fees. They are included as perks with some travel credit card, such as Amex Platinum or Venture X, or if you have purchased a business class ticket or higher. 
  • Make sure you fill your reusable water bottle before you board. Flights are dehydrating, and you’ll get thirsty.

Bonus tips: Getting through TSA Security Checkpoints

  • Stay calm and be cooperative. 
  • Empty your water bottle and finish other beverages before you begin.
  • If you do not have TSA PreCheck, you’ll need to remove your shoes, belt, and coat or jacket and put them in a tray on the conveyor belt for scanning. Laptops and other electronics often need to come out of your bag and be placed in a tray on a conveyor belt. Depending on the airport, this may also include camera equipment or large batteries.
  • If you do not have TSA PreCheck, you will need to remove your liquids bag if they are packed in your carry-on or personal item. They must be in a quart-sized bag, and all bottles must be less than 3.4 oz. It is best to check the TSA website to be very clear about what is considered a liquid. Examples: Peanut butter is a liquid. I have never been flagged for mascara. The TSA app even has an easy-to-use feature called “Can I bring” which makes it super easy to search for items. You can pack all the salsa you want in your checked bag, but if it’s carry-on, it’s 3.4 ounces. 
  • Remove any watches or jewelry that might set off the scanner. Remove keys or change from your pockets.
  • Push your bags all the way onto the bag scanner conveyor belt; don’t leave them stuck outside and walk away.
  • Be patient with the people in front of you; don’t try to push around them. 
  • Wait until TSA waves you through the X-ray machine; don’t just walk right in. 
  • At the other end of the bag scanner, stand back and leave room for the people in front of you to gather their things.
  • When you get your things, grab the tray that you put them in and return it to the stack. Then, step away with your stuff before you put yourself back together. Don’t try to put on your shoes or belt or reorganize your things at the end of the security belt. Many airports will have benches and/or tables just for this purpose a few feet away.

At The Gate

  • Be sure you’re at your gate a half hour before departure. If the airline needs to check your passport or other documents, they will call you to the desk. Sometimes, they will ask you to check your carry-on bag if the flight is full and you are in a later boarding class. You’ll need to pull your lithium batteries out and put them in your personal item if you have to check your carry-on bag. You may have the option to “gate-check,” meaning you’ll get your bag on the jet bridge at your next destination or “check it through” to your final destination.
  • Most airlines will board by flight class. The less expensive your ticket, the later you board. If you have a credit card for that airline, you’ll typically be bumped up by a few boarding groups. I have a United Card through Chase Bank, which gives me a free checked bag (even when I fly basic economy), and I usually board in Froup 5, which is about the middle for United Airlines.
  • Please pay attention to announcements and relax until it’s your time to board. Unless you are worried about overhead bin space, there is no point in rushing onto the plane if you have an assigned seat.
  • Only approach the boarding line once your boarding group is called; it creates chaos and congestion in the small gate area when people crowd the boarding area before they can board the plane.

On The Plane

  • When boarding, stow your carry-on in the overhead bin and put your personal item under the seat in front of you. Have your bags packed appropriately so you can quickly get situated. Getting everyone on the plane promptly helps keep the plane on time. Julianne typically packs a waist bag with things she absolutely needs during her flight and puts that inside her carry-on. This serves the dual purpose of “eliminating” a bag, if the airline only allows a carry-on or personal item and not both, as well as making it easy to sort and stow things quickly when getting seated.
  • Take snacks, but not noisy or smelly ones. Resist the urge to buy a meal and take it on the plane unless you have to. Apples, almonds, olives, cheese sticks or orange segments are all good plane snacks. Don’t forget your handy wipes to clean your tray table and your hands!
  • If my flight is over four hours, I like an aisle seat to get up and walk or use the restroom as much as possible. If it’s under four hours, I take the window seat. I love taking pictures of clouds like I’ve never flown before.
  • We aren’t going to get into the whole “should you recline or should you not recline” debate; you do what makes you comfortable. Just do it before (or long after) dinner is served so the person behind you doesn’t end up wearing their dinner.
  • Be considerate and keep your body to yourself as much as possible.
  • Wear your shoes to the bathroom.
  • Avoid wearing perfume or cologne on a plane. Your favorite scent could be overpowering to the person next to you.

Dressing for Flights

  • Airplanes are cold and hot, often within minutes of each other. I cannot stress enough how important layers are—especially easy-to-remove layers. I travel with a large but lightweight scarf. It’s great to use as a blanket when I’m cold and behind my back as lumbar support when I’m not.
  • I highly encourage comfortable shoes, preferably easy to slip on and off. On a long flight, it’s nice to discreetly slip them off under the seat in front of you. See our blog on how to survive long flights comfortably for other tips. Your feet may also swell on a long flight, so make sure your shoes are roomy, and wear compression socks on a longer flight.
  • If you have smelly feet, try using LUME Deodorant on them before you fly or leave your shoes on. Also, don’t ever put your feet on the seat in front of you. And always put your shoes on before you get up to use the restroom. That’s not water on the floor in there. 

Managing noise and light

  • Airplanes are noisy, with people, children and the sound of the plane. If you’re sensitive to noise, download some white, green or brown noise and bring sound-canceling headphones or a good pair of earplugs. 
  • I like my Kindle Paperwhite, so I can read on flights at night without having my light on. Julianne uses the Kindle app on her iPhone with the dark setting. I also like to sleep on flights, so a sleep mask can be handy, or I use the scarf I travel with. It makes a good blanket if I get cold, and I can also wrap it around my head to block out light, dampen noise and hide from a chatty seatmate.


  • Once the plane lands and taxis to the gate, you still have to wait for the jet bridge to be attached to the plane. Once that is done, the flight attendants will start the deplaning process. 
  • When disembarking, wait your turn. Don’t force yourself through the throngs of people because you are anxious to get off the plane; everyone is anxious to get off the plane. If you have a tight connection, speak with the flight attendant to see if you can get off the plane quickly.
  • Put the items you’ve had out during your flight back in your personal item or carry-on. Make sure you have everything. (Check that seatback pocket!) Now, patiently wait until it’s your turn. 
  • If you have a gate-checked bag, you will line up on one side of the jet bridge to wait for your bag to be brought up from the belly of the plane. Space is limited in this area, and many people are disembarking. Additionally, airport staff will be coming with wheelchairs to help those who are not able-bodied get off of the plane. If you line up on the opposite side so you can get your bag quicker, you will be in the way of this process. 
  • If you are traveling with others, plan to meet in the concourse after deplaning, not on the jet-bridge. 
  • Once you have made it to the airport corridor — ahhhhh — you might as well hit the restroom and freshen up. From here, you may have bags to collect before heading to the transportation areas. I like to use the restroom, brush my teeth and freshen my face depending on how long I’ve been flying. 
  • Stop and refill your water.

Passport Control and Customs

  • If you are landing in a new country or returning home from outside your country, you will need to go through customs and immigration passport control. 
  • In the US, if you have Global Entry, you can use lanes that expedite this process. These often have kiosks where you scan your Global Entry card;  in some cities, they use facial recognition software to scan your face. If you don’t have Global Entry, download the Mobile Passport Control App and use the lines for Mobile Passport Control. 
  • If you declare items purchased abroad, you will declare those items during this process. It can vary by airport. Keep a pen in your personal item so it’s handy!

Baggage Claim

  • Follow the signs for baggage claim. Most of the time, when you land the airline will tell you which numbered carousel to go to, but there are also signs near baggage claim. Look for your flight number or departure city and go to the correct carousel. 
  • When you arrive at the baggage carousel, send one person in your party near it to watch for bags. Don’t cluster there and block access for others trying to get their bags. Remember to give people room to swing their bags off of the carousel and set them down. When you have your bag, move away from the carousel before adjusting your belongings.
  • If your bag fails to appear, you’ll need to find your airline’s missing bags office and complete a report *before you leave the airport.* Placing an Apple AirTag inside your suitcase is a helpful way to track it down. If your bag was damaged beyond repair during your trip, be sure to report that to your airline before leaving the airport as well. 

Exiting to Transportation Options

  • You will typically be looking for a rental car center, a hotel shuttle, ride share (Uber, Lyft, Bolt), a taxi, public transportation, or, if you’re returning home, the parking lot. Sometimes the wayfinding is great; sometimes, it’s terrible. Universally, there are usually a fair amount of employees in the transportation area who can help direct you to where you need to go. Read the overhead and posted signs in these areas carefully. 

Airline travel can be efficient, fun, and exhilarating. It can also be frustrating, exhausting, and time-consuming, but it’s still my favorite way to get around. I love flying; I get giddy when I walk down a jet bridge — every time. Knowing what you need to do from the moment you leave your house to when you get off the plane can help ease your anxiety, allow you to feel empowered, and make your trip go more smoothly.

Have questions? Email us at

Looking for more guides? Check out: Beginners Guide to Public Transportation, Beginners Guide to Car Rental and Travel Planning 101.

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