Flying in America: Six Things to Know Before You Go

Travel in the United States often involves flying to reach destinations across the country. According to the Bureau of Transportation, almost 1.75 million people board planes every day. Since the 9/11 terrorism, airport restrictions and security are tight. Frequent flyers are able to navigate the entire process with ease. The rest of us? We need a few tips and reminders. With a bit of preparation, your flight can be smooth.

If you haven’t been an airline passenger in the United States before, or it it’s been awhile since you’ve flown, here are six tips to know about flying in America:

  1. Be prepared to pay. Your airline ticket entitles you a seat on the plane, but you may pay more throughout the trip. Most major American airlines impose fees for checking baggage; currently, the average cost is $25 for the first bag and $35 for the second. Other optional charges can include paying for seats with more legroom, aisle seats, or early boarding. Once you’re on the plane, you will be asked to pay for items such as earbuds to watch movies, and sometimes, even the movies. When paying for any charge, it’s important to know that credit cards have become the only form of payment when you’re onboard. After you book your flight, go to the airline’s website to learn what fees you can anticipate.
  2. Know how to go through screening. The first hurdle to your flight is passing through airport security. Travelers should plan on arriving at an American airport about two hours before the flight. After presenting your ticket and proper identification, you’ll join the queue for screening. There will be a stack of bins to place your items. Choose one each for your laptop and loose items, such as a jacket or belt. Place your shoes directly on the conveyer belt. Take coins, keys, your wallet and phone out of your pockets and place them in a separate container. All liquids and gels must be less than 3 ounces and fit into a single quart-size clear ziplock plastic bag; they must also be removed from your carry-on and placed in a bin. For current regulations and special circumstances, visit the Transportation Security Administration website.
  3. Be smart about what you carry-on. Each passenger is entitled to bring two pieces onboard. A 22-inch suitcase or garment bag will be one piece. Maximum size is 22 x 14 x 9 inches; every airline has a bag sizer to ensure your bag will fit in the overhead compartment. A personal item, such as a backpack or business case will need to fit under the seat in front of you. As of April 25, 2015, you may now bring certain sporting sticks onboard, such as billiard cues, lacrosse and hockey sticks, or ski poles.
  4. Bring your own snacks. You can buy pre-packaged sandwiches or items such as cookies onboard. If you do, be prepared to pay about $10 for meals and about $5 for snacks. You’ll do better to bring food onboard. Airports sell “foods-to-go” at more reasonable prices. Or bring a sandwich and non-liquid snacks from home. Think nuts, fruit, or chocolate. Alcohol must be purchased onboard; currently the price is about $8 for beer, wine, and spirits. Soft drinks, juices, coffee and tea are complimentary. 
  5. Space is limited. Airlines are squeezing more seats into every plane. The largest airlines in the U.S. have decreased seat pitch to only 30 inches. Everything is smaller and tighter, designed to add a few more ticketed passengers to each flight. Besides narrower seats in the main cabin, if you choose to sit on the aisle, your underseat storage will be smaller than the middle and window seats. Choose your flight activities with limited space in mind. Read, use your tablet or laptop…no extensive paperwork or extravagant picnic.
  6. Expect delays. Globetrotter and TV host Anthony Bourdain travels 250 days a year. One of his favorite travel tips: just expect that there will be a glitch, wherever you go. Flights get delayed–or cancelled. Weather happens. So do traffic jams. Bourdain always carries something to read (he recommends having a few magazines) and a way to charge his phone or laptop. He carries a light fleece jacket to use as a pillow or a blanket. With his attitude, he’s prepared for any delay…and delighted when things go right. Win-win!

Air travel today in the United States can be stressful. You’ll enjoy your flight more if you know what to expect.

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