Arriving by plane

So you've reawoken the crumpled mass of flesh and bone that was once called your legs and stumbled off the aircraft – you think it's all over? Alas no. However, this article should make those final weary steps through the airport that bit less difficult. See At the airport for an in-depth guide to airports.


Be patient when disembarking. Use the time to look through your seat twice for your belongings.

If you arrive at a major airport, there is good and bad news. The good news is that you can hope to exit the plane through a jet bridge, without the discomfort of getting outdoors in unknown weather, climbing down a staircase onto the tarmac. The bad news is that you probably have a lot of walking before you.

If you've flown internationally, before clearing customs, you might have a chance to do duty free shopping. Take note in that article of the benefits and risks.

Immigration and customs

See also: Border crossing

Clearing immigration upon entering a country is in best case a straight walkthrough; especially if you already have a residence permit, or travel within a border union, such as the Schengen Agreement.

In worst case, you will need to wait, reply to questions, and get your papers examined. If multiple international flights arrive close together, lines can be long. Still, processing is highly refined and straightforward. Have your documents ready, and listen carefully to official instructions. No photographs or videos of the area or process are allowed.

Immigration processing on arrival (i.e., legally entering the country) often precedes or coincides with customs processing, where you declare your possessions and may be checked for contraband.

At some international airports, you may go through processing for and by officials from your non-stop destination country before you board for your flight. This slows departure processing, but greatly improves processing at arrival.

Baggage claim

Baggage reclaim at London's Stansted Airport

Money: If you've flown to a country that uses different currency, you'll need some usable there. Unless you already have it, get some (very-preferably using an ATM rather than currency-exchange) while at the airport. It may not offer the very best conversion rate available anywhere, but will be quite decent. You may immediately only need enough for taxi fare and incidental tipping. But the fixed fees charged for a small withdrawal can amount to a substantial percentage of its total cost...enough to easily eclipse the benefit of an excellent rate you may get later for a large withdrawal. (See Money for details.)

Making a connection

Your trip may involve an onward flight. You'll need to make the connection, perhaps after immigration/customs processing, or after waiting for your checked bags. In any event, you'll have to reach the gate for your next flight. At worst case, you may have to go outside the secure area (e.g., for immigration/customs), or your connection may involve going to a different terminal...very occasionally a different airport. And if you have mobility needs, let the gate agent know promptly as you get off your flight. These are some of reasons your flight arrangements must provide enough time to make connections.

Details of making a connection include:

Direct flights continuing to another destination

Baggage claim at Paris' Charles-de-Gaulle Airport

Depending on the airport or airline, you will have to either stay in the aircraft, wait in a transit or holding area, or choose between the aforementioned options.

Direct international flights with a domestic leg

In this case, there are 3 main scenarios on when you clear customs and immigration.

Make sure you follow instructions carefully and ask the airline staff if in doubt about anything. If you leave the secure/sterile/holding area when you're not supposed to, it can be very difficult to get back in.

Arrival hall and exit

Most airports have shops and exchange offices in the arrival hall, for getting food, supplies, or money, without the trouble to get it through the flight or the customs border.

If you are fortunate to be welcomed by friends, a cab driver or someone else, you will meet them in the arrival hall. Be patient; visitors cannot go airside.

Transport opportunities at the airport can differ a lot, and might be confusing. Preferrably plan the transport to the final destination, before you leave the airport. Common options are urban rail, bus, taxi, or rental car.

If the airport is large enough to have sealed jet bridges, you have walked through air-conditioned indoor space until now. At the exit door, you will breathe your first outdoor air since you departed. Be prepared to step into warm or cold weather, dry or wet, depending on your destination and the time of year/day.

Recovering from air travel

Long walks at the departure airport, followed by a sedentary flight, and long walks under stress at arrival, can give discomfort to anyone, especially feet and legs. You'd best pace yourself, and if you find a seat you might rest 1-2 minutes. Perhaps more important, if you have a flight of several hours, consult friends or do research about how to rest/sleep and avoid jet lag.

Jet lag

See also: Jet lag

Jet lag is a form of disorientation and fatigue caused by abruptly switching to a different sleeping/waking schedule and different daylight hours. It doesn't follow that the greater the time difference between your origin and destination, the greater the jet lag. Often a short 4-5 hour difference can also be problematic, e.g., if your flight schedule requires you to:

All can be fatiguing, and take longer to overcome than even a complete reversal of day and night.

Try to get a good night's sleep before your plane trip, and sleep as much as possible during your plane trip. Ignore timezones, movies and entertainment, and just sleep whenever you can. When you arrive at your destination, forget your origin timezone and exist solely by the destination time.

Attempt to have a normal day in terms of the time zone you've flown into. New scientific research suggests that fasting (not eating) can help to overcome Jet Lag by resetting the body's circadian rhythm (biological clock). Not eating 24 or more hours prior to arriving at your destination contributes to feeling less tired once arrived. The light/dark cycles of the earth affect our circadian rhythms, but so do our eating patterns. Rebooting our feeding cycles can mitigate the time warp.

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