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Airport 101: How to act like you’ve done it a 1000 times, for your first time.

12 May

It’s a sunny mid May morning; you grab your bag out of the car and walk through the revolving doors into the departure hall. You knew which entrance was closest to your airline’s check-in counter, so you have a short walk straight ahead to the counter. You bypass the ticket sales line, the check in line, the automated check in machines, and walk straight to the baggage drop off counter because you did online check-in the night before, and already have your boarding pass. Placing your passport with boarding pass tucked inside at your photo page on the counter, the staff working the counter will smile, and print your baggage tag off and tag your bag, pointing out the boarding time and gate number. You smile and say thanks, as you place your bag on the conveyor, and head towards the security checkpoint.

Another smile and a quick “nope, but thank you” as you walk past the security staff checking for liquids and other banned carry-on items. You didn’t pack any liquids or gels in your carry on, you just walk on by towards the lineup. You’re not complaining about the long line, you use the extra time to take your laptop out of your carry-on bag; you take your zip-up sweater off, maybe your watch, and keys and change out of your pocket. Laptop into one bin, with your boarding pass on top in plain sight. Keys, watch, change, maybe your belt and sweater in another bin, but you know not to place your bag in a bin. The security staff notices your boarding pass, picks it up to check it, and asks if you have any other metal items on your person, and hands you back your boarding pass. You walk through the metal detector when the staff prompts you to, and go collect your items, you luck out, and they decide not to swab your laptop, so you simply put it back in your back and move on.

You knew your gate is right, not left, so you take a turn and stop to check out the new release books at the bookstore, before continuing on towards your gate. You don’t have to sit front and center at the gate jostling for space, you take a seat between gates where there’s more space, and open your book to read.

You listen to the announcements and watch as everyone lines up to board the plane, you continue reading until the line dies down, closing your book, you walk up to the counter last, your passport photo page is opened, and you hand it over along with your boarding pass. You take both back and are walking down the ramp towards the plane. More smiles from the staff on the plane, you selected or requested your seat in advance and you picked front row, window, placing your bag in the over head bin, you take your seat. Your iPod is already in your pocket, your book in hand, you sit down lean back, and begin reading again, only putting your ear buds in once you’re up into the clouds, and the seatbelt sign is off.

The flight staff offers you a drink; you get a half 7up half orange juice, and thank them. Maybe it’s time for a nap, or a chat with the flight staff, they always have interesting stories to share. Before you know it your on the ground again. You quickly find your baggage carrousel, standing back to allow others to easily get their bags when they come out. You see your bag, pick it up, and you’re walking out of the arrivals hall.

Airports, they can be daunting places for a newcomer or for anybody who doesn’t travel often. No parking zones, sniffer dogs, masses of people, no messing around security staff, and that ever looming boarding time can transform even the most calm people into a distraught panicking mess. Constantly changing security measure, technological advances in check in procedures, and ever changing airport policies make staying on top of the procedures a difficult task for anyone.

But navigating through any airport can be done fairly easily and stress free, if you prepare properly, and know what to expect. You can walk with confidence through the terminal whether it’s your fourth flight this week, or your first flight in your life. Heres how you can make that airport struggle into an enjoyable experience.

1.Airport Arrival – A few quick notes, check airlines for their guidelines on arriving at the airport before flights. For domestic flights, most airlines will let you check in even up to a half hour before boarding time but don’t push your luck. For international flights, 2-3 hours before departure is the norm. And for the record ‘Arrivals’ means people arriving at the airport from a flight, ‘Departures’ is for people entering the airport for a departing flight, you don’t know how many people I meet who get these two mixed up.

2.Checking In – The days of walking up to the counter with paper flight tickets and your ID are long gone. Most airlines have online check in, where you can either print your boarding pass off, or have a 2D boarding barcode sent directly to your mobile phone. If you can’t do either of those, use the automated check-in machines, follow the instructions, they aren’t difficult to use and save a lot of time.

3.Identification – If you are travelling within Canada domestically, you do not need to bring your passport, any government issued ID such as a driver’s license is sufficient. If you’re flying international, then do bring your passport. Have it ready at the check-counters, and again when boarding your flight at the gate.

4.Liquids/Gels/Aerosols – Ever since some terrorists in Britain decided to fill soft drink bottles with concentrated hydrogen peroxide in an attempt to detonate a bomb on a plane in 2006, the liquids/gels/aerosols rule has been in effect. You can bring these items, but they must be in containers of 100ml or less and in a resealable plastic bag. It’s easier just to put these items in your checked luggage. Don’t blame the airport for this inconvenience, blame the terrorists.

5. Metal Detectors – Security is a breeze, as long as you have nothing to hide. Should you take the change and keys out of your pocket? Well those are metal detectors, so it’s a good idea. If you’re in the U.S you’ll need to take your shoes off as well thanks to our friend Richard Reid the shoe bomber. Yes they want you to take your laptop out of your bag, no you don’t have to take your digital camera out.

6. Screening – Five words; randomly selected for additional screening. This will happen from time to time, from my experience and conversations with security staff, you are more likely to be selected for addition screening if you do NOT make the metal detectors go off. Sometimes I leave my belt on just for that reason, a quick look at your belt beats the full body grope for addition screening. But if you are selected, relax, do as they say, they might need to go through your bag etc.

7. Missed Connections – If your flight was delayed, your baggage didn’t come off on time, or for any reason other than your own (and even sometimes if it is) and you missed your connecting flight, don’t worry. Missed connections happen, and finding the next available flight will not cost you anything 99% of the time, whether you are wait listed or have a new confirmed flight, just relax, there’s nothing else you can do now, you’ll get there, eventually. Talk to your airlines customer service at the airport, sometimes meal vouchers and hotel accommodation is provided, depending on the country and airline.

8. Port of Entry – No matter what any airline staff, airport staff, or friends tell you. You must pick up your checked baggage at your first point of entry into any country, whether or not you have a connecting flight internally. This is because you need to have all your luggage on you as you go through customs.

9. New Country – While on the flight to a new country, the flight crew will hand out customs declaration cards, and possibly health and/or immigration information cards. If you are sleeping, you might not get one, so be sure to ask. When you land, if there is a health screening, this is usually first. Some nations have taken extra measure to screen complications such as H1N1 and SARS, so be prepared to possibly present your health declaration card. Next up will be immigration, you will need to remember to stay behind the painted line, and show your passport when called to the counter. After you get through immigration, you pick up your bags and make your way through customs, this is where you hand in your declaration card.

10. Enjoyment – In all reality, compared to so many other ways people around the world move about, flying is really not that bad. Where else can you sit back in a nice clean chair, watch a movie on a your own little TV, and have somebody bring drinks right to your hand. Look out that window, you’re flying through the clouds, mankind dreamed of this moment for thousands of years, you’re living it.