How to Check in at the Airport

Four Parts:Preparing For Your FlightChecking In For Your FlightGoing Through SecurityChecking In At Your Gate

Flying can be an extremely stressful experience, especially if it’s your first time navigating an airport. While there are many variables that can affect your flight, there is also a lot you can do to make sure you arrive at your plane on time and intact.

Part 1
Preparing For Your Flight

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    Confirm your flight. The night before you are scheduled to fly, check to make sure that everything is proceeding as planned. After purchasing your ticket, you should have received a confirmation e-mail from your airline. Check that confirmation to make sure the flight is still scheduled to take off on time.[1]
    • If your flight time has changed, make sure to adjust your travel plans accordingly. Depending on how long your flight has been delayed, it may affect your connecting flight. If you are concerned that you will miss your connection because of your flight delay, contact your airline.
    • Continue to check on the status of your flight leading up to your arrival at the airport. Some airlines will send texts letting you know about delays, but it’s important for you to continue to monitor the situation. Be especially vigilant during the winter or when bad weather is predicted, as this will oftentimes affect your flight.
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    Pack your documents. You will not be allowed on a plane without your ticket and identification. For travelers over 18, a driver’s license or passport will suffice. Travelers under the age of 18 who are traveling with an adult companion will not be required to show identification.[2]
    • If you are under the age of 18 and traveling alone, contact the TSA to find out what forms of ID you will need.
    • If you are traveling internationally, you will not be allowed on the plane without a passport.
    • If you arrive at the airport without your ID, you may be able to fly anyway. You will have to fill out additional forms and answers some TSA questions in order to confirm your identity.[3]
    • Keep your documents handy. You will need to show them when you check in as well as when you go through security, so don't pack them in a hard to reach area.
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    Arrive early. There are many variables at play when you’re checking in for a flight, so plan on arriving at least two hours early for your flight.[4] If you are traveling internationally, traveling with small children or traveling with anyone with a disability, plan on arriving even earlier than that.
    • If you’re driving, leave extra time to park your car and take the shuttle over to your terminal.
    • If you’re traveling from an airport for the first time, leave extra time in case you get lost while navigating the airport.

Part 2
Checking In For Your Flight

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    Find your airline. The first thing you’ll need to do when you arrive at the airport is to locate your airline. Airports are divided into terminals, and different airlines are housed in different terminals. There are also different terminals for arrivals and departures. You will need to go to the departure terminal for your airline. You can find out what terminal your airline is in by looking online, calling the airport or by asking one of the employees at the airport.
    • If you are taking mass transportation or having someone drop you off at the airport, make sure you let them know what airline you are flying so they drop you at the correct building.
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    Check your bags. Depending on what you’ve packed, you may need to check a bag or two. Most airlines will allow you one carry-on bag, in addition to one hand-held bag (like a laptop case or a purse.)[5] If you are planning to check bags, go immediately to the counter for your designated airline.
    • If you are not checking a bag, skip this step and proceed straight to check in.
    • Travelers are allowed to check up to two bags, but there is a weight limit on those bags. Check with your airline to see what those weight restrictions are.
    • Be careful not to over-pack, as going over the weight limit for checked baggage may result in fees of over $75.00.[6]
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    Print your boarding pass. In order to board your plane, you’ll need a boarding pass. If you’ve chosen to check your bags, give your airline attendant your identification and they’ll be able to print out your boarding pass for you. If you’re not checking your bags, you can still go to the attendant for help, or you can choose an easier and faster option.
    • Some airlines also offer kiosks for self-check in. To use these, all you’ll need is a credit card. Use the credit card to identify yourself and then follow the instructions on the kiosk to print out your boarding pass.[7]
    • Some airlines also give you the option of checking in electronically. If this is the case, you will receive an e-mail 24 hours before your scheduled departure. Follow the instructions in the e-mail to check in for your flight.
    • Print out a copy of your boarding pass to take with you to the airport. If you have a smartphone, you can open the boarding pass with your phone and use your phone as your boarding pass.

Part 3
Going Through Security

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    Take off your outerwear. In order to go through security successfully, you will need to remove your shoes, jacket and belt. If you are wearing any metallic jewelry or accessories, remove these as well, as these will also set off the metal detectors.[8]
    • If you are over the age of 75 or under the age of 12 you will not be asked to remove your shoes.[9]
    • Check your pockets! Take out keys or anything else made of metal that might set off the metal detector.
    • Try to remove your excess clothing while you are still waiting. The security line moves very quickly at the end and it’s best to be as prepared as possible. Avoid wearing sneakers with laces or any footwear that is difficult to remove in a hurry.
    • Once you have made it through security, clear the area and get dressed. Most airports have a designated bench or seating area so you aren’t clogging up the security line as you compose yourself.
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    Remove your laptop. If you are traveling with a laptop, take it out of your packed bag and place it on the conveyor belt to be scanned. Smaller electronic items, like phones, Kindles or small gaming systems will not have to be removed from your bag in order to be scanned. If you are part of TSA PRE CHECK you do not need to remove your laptop from your bag.[10]
    • Make sure to check your pockets to ensure you have not accidentally left your cellphone or iPod inside.[11]
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    Remove any liquids or gels. If you are planning to pack liquids or gels in your carry-on, they will need to be removed from your bag at security. All liquids traveling with you need to be less than 3 fluid ounces. If you are PRE CHECK you dont need to remove your 311s from your carry on.

If you bring containers of liquids larger than 3 fluid ounces, they may be taken from you and confiscated by TSA.[12]

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    • If you have any open bottles (like a water bottle or soda) you will be asked at this point to throw them out. You will be able to buy additional drinks after going through security.
    • It is generally easiest to keep all your travel cosmetics in one gallon-sized Ziploc bag. That way, when you have to remove them for security, you don’t have to hunt down each individual bottle. Travel sized cosmetics can be purchased at most pharmacies.[13]
    • Do not pack restricted items in your bag. It goes without saying that you will not be allowed to bring anything dangerous on the plane. But there are also non-dangerous items that you cannot pack in your carry-on. For the full list of items you can safely bring on the plane, check the TSA website, as it is frequently updated.[14]

Part 4
Checking In At Your Gate

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    Find your gate. Once you have successfully made it through security, it’s time to find your plane. Check your boarding pass to see which gate your plane is departing from. Double-check this information on the departure boards that are just outside every security checkpoint. Once you have confirmed your gate number, head over in that direction.
    • Make sure before you leave the security area that you have everything you need. You don’t want to accidentally leave a laptop or jacket behind.
    • If you’re having trouble locating your gate, ask an airport employee for assistance.
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    Stock up on food and drink. Most airlines no longer serve food on their flights. If you’re taking a long flight or traveling during a meal, buy some food and drink to take with you on the plane. Try to be considerate of your fellow travelers and don’t get anything too messy or smelly (like tuna or eggs.)
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    Take a seat. Once you’ve located your food and your gate, all that’s left to do is wait. If your flight is running late or is delayed for weather or technical difficulties, you may be waiting awhile. Pack something to help you pass the time and stay close to your gate area so you’ll be within earshot when it’s time to board.


  • If you are traveling internationally, you will not have to go through Customs when leaving the United States. You will have to go through Customs when arriving in the country you're traveling to and again when arriving back in the United States.


  • Do not leave your items unattended for any reason. Do not watch a stranger’s belongings, or allow a stranger to watch yours. Keep your belongings with you at all times.

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Categories: Surviving Airports