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Don’t let your nerves get the better of you if you’re a first time flyer

  • 21 Jul, 2021
  • Franki Napolitano

*Updated in 2019*

tips for first time flyers

You’ve picked your destination, purchased your holiday essentials and booked your transfers – you’re ready to get away! But, are you flying for the first time? It’s a daunting thought, no matter what your age; What do I need to prepare? How will I know where to go? Will it be busy? What is the security process like and what can I take in my hand luggage? These are just some of the questions that will be running through your mind.

Don’t panic! We have put together a few helpful Tips for First Time Flyers to prepare for your first trip to the airport and to (hopefully) put you at ease.

Before you Go

Pre – Prepare

Research your destination – If you are travelling somewhere exotic, make sure you know whether you need to have any vaccinations or need to have a Visa!

Most airlines will allow you to check in before the date you fly – simply follow the steps in your email confirmation to Log In, check your seats, add hold luggage if required and print your Boarding Pass. Note that sometimes you are automatically allocated seats for free! However, if you prefer to pick your seats, there may be a charge for doing so, especially with budget airlines. If your concious of the environment and don’t like to print, check whether your airline has a mobile app on which you can download your boarding pass.

Check in at home or in the airport!

In saying that, beware of airlines like Ryanair that insist on you having a printed version; they’ll charge you as much as £15 for printing one for you! (coming from experience..!)

Top Tip: To make your flight as comfortable as possible, we suggest booking an ‘extra legroom’ seat if you are tall!

Essentials for Hand Luggage.

Before you leave the house, ensure that your Passport, Boarding Pass, Cash or Cards and Mobile Phone are all in your hand luggage! At the time you checked in, you may have had the option to print a paper copy of your boarding pass, or to receive a mobile friendly version (usually a barcode) sent to you. If you opted for the latter, make sure you know where on your phone it is!

Speaking of Hand Luggage, ensure you are familiar with restrictions in place when it comes to packing your carry on? The slideshow below has all you need to know; hover on a slide if you need more time to read or use the arrows to navigate as you need to.

Let's look at your hand luggage restrictions
Your hand luggage dimensions shouldn't exceed 56cm x 45cm x 25cm for most airlines
Liquids in your hand luggage must fit in a 20cm x 20cm clear bag and the items can't exceed 100ml each
Liquids include pastes, gels, perfumes, powders and mousses
Travelling with medication? These will also be subject to the 100ml rule
When travelling with your baby, you can take enough food and milk for the journey
Leave your sports equipment out of your hand luggage-instead book it on accordingly
Avoid dangerous objects in your hand luggage including scissors and tools

Check out our guides to packing hacks for ideas on how to pack light and travel with just your hand luggage for some packing inspiration!

Top Tip: If you are travelling with just hand luggage, check how many pieces you can take; some airlines allow the regular cabin bag, plus a small hand bag / laptop case or duty free bag, others will require that the cabin bag is the only piece allowed, so make sure there is room to put any extras in before boarding! Also, we hate to pick on them but they bring it on themselves. Ryanair will charge you for any bag bigger than a handbag or laptop bag so keep that in mind too!

Journey to the Airport.

Arrange your transportation well in advance, especially if you need to book transport or hire a car at your destination. If you are driving, be sure to compare the prices of car parking at the airport – again, booking well in advance for the best deals!

Top Tip: The day before you travel, be sure to check any traffic reports on major roads – check for closures / diversions and plan accordingly.

At The Airport

Checking your luggage.

If you are taking a large suitcase, this needs to be checked in when you get to the airport. Simply head to the check in desk for your airline which are usually located near the entrance to the airport and should be clearly signposted.

You will see rows of desks, with rows of queues to match, and above each desk they will display the airline and flight information for the flight that is being checked in. Locate yours and join the queue!

The attendant will take your luggage and weigh it – as long as it is under the weight allowance, it will then continue its journey to the plane.

Top Tip: Always weigh your luggage before leaving home to save any embarrassing unpacking in the check in queue, or having to pay extra because your bag is too heavy!
(I once booked a 15kg bag without realising and packed it to 19kg…I then had to stuff my hand lugagge with clothes and even had a pair of trainers tied to the strap of my bag to take the weight out of the hold bag..!)


You then need to follow the signs for security, where again, you’ll find more queues!

When you get to the conveyor, place your bag, electrical items and any liquids into the trays provided, along with any loose clothing such as scarves and jackets. Be prepared to remove jewellery, shoes and belts too – these may cause the metal detectors to go off and may require an additional body search by security staff.

Top Tip: If you have metal plates in your body following an operation, they may set off the detectors. In this instance, you will need a secondary scan with a handheld device – just explain to the security staff – it shouldn’t be an issue!

Be mindful that security can be quite a busy and overwhelming area
Photo Credit: Danjo Paluska

In Departures

Ah, the world of Duty Free! If you have time to spare (which you should do as you should aim to check in at least 2 hours before an international flight!) make the most of it! In larger airports, you will find a plethora of restaurants, bars and cafes, as well as a large Duty Free Store and the occasional designer outlet.

If you’re feeling nervous, sit down for a coffee (or something a little stronger – a Bloody Mary always does it for me in the Airport, not sure why!) and try to relax. You will notice that there are many screens displayed around the departures terminal – these display flight destinations, the flight numbers and when it is opened, the gate number.

Gate numbers are usually displayed 20-30 minutes before the gate closes, so keep an eye on those boards in the hour before your flight.

Top Tip: Once the gate is open, head straight there – there is no knowing how long it will take you to reach it, and it’s best to be early and wait at the gate than to be that person running through the tunnels desperately trying to reach the gate before it closes!

On the Plane


Once at the gate, your passport and boarding pass will be checked and then you will proceed to the plane. Upon boarding, show your boarding pass to the steward greeting you and they will advise where to find your seat. Tuck your documents safely away.

Ensure that your hand luggage is either under the seat in front of you or in the overhead storage – the cabin crew will advise where it should be. Take a seat, pop your seatbelt on and relax! Put any electronic devices on Airplane Mode if it has it, or switch off completely.

Once everyone is seated, the cabin crew will go through a safety briefing with you, including information on where the exits are and what to do in an emergency – pay close attention to this as first timer! Take off can be a bit scary, so after the safety brief, maybe have something to distract you like a magazine or a talk to your row mate! 

Some people like a little tipple in the air to help calm their nerves about flying

Once in the air, you can order food, drinks and even gifts from the cabin crew, or get some sleep if need be! Don’t be afraid of turbulence (when weather such as strong winds ‘rock’ the aircraft), it’s not dangerous, maybe just keep your seatbelt fastened to make you feel more secure.

Top Tip: The change in altitude on take off may cause your ears to pop, which can be painful. If you’re worried about this, purchase some boiled sweets or mints from the shops after security and have a couple while the plane takes off!  


The plane landing can be a bit bumpy, but this is to be expected. When the plane does eventually grind to a halt, don’t be surprised if passengers start clapping in a bid to congratulate the Pilot for a safe landing…(I personally find this rather cringey; the Pilot can’t hear you and it’s part of the job, you know!)

Everyone will depart the plane and make their way to arrivals – this should be sign posted, but you generally just follow the throng of other passengers! Follow this all the way to customs where you will need to present your passport once again to the officials.

Once you are through, follow the signs to baggage reclaim to collect your bags if you checked any or just proceed to the exit!

Airports will be well signposted so even first time flyers won't get lost!

Note – If you are connecting straight onto another flight, you probably won’t need to go through customs; just follow the signs for ‘flight connections’ and join the appropriate queues for your next flight.

Top Tip: To really feel at ease prior to your journey, research the airports you will be travelling through. Get to know what facilities it has, where the information points are and where you can get a taxi from for example.

Other than that, enjoy the process! When you’ve done it once, you’ll wonder what all the fuss was about and just join in with the rest of us, complaining about the queues. (You did notice that was a recurring theme in this post, didn’t you?!)

About Franki Napolitano

Working in the travel industry has really opened my eyes to the attitudes, issues and obstacles people can face just trying to go on holiday. Whether it's due to their health, family situations or budgets, travel should be accessible for all. I cover everything from travelling with a disability to how to save money while you travel, hoping to make the holiday process easier for everyone.

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8 responses to “Don’t let your nerves get the better of you if you’re a first time flyer”

  1. Hi there, just want to say I could have done with this all information last year, as it was my first time flying from England to America, but I made it there and back and was never nervous at all, the only thing was stopping at Dallas Airport, and never made it on my flight where my friend was waiting for me to fly back to San Diego, the queues were massive and I went through security three or four times and I think it was way over the top but I did catch my next flight to San Diego and an hour later,where my friend was waiting for me, it was a relief to see her shame we didn’t fly back together but I really had a fabulous two weeks holiday in America the only downside is you have to come back home so I am going away for a month in 3 weeks time and flying from London Heathrow to San Diego in America so I don’t have two go through the same experience like last year

    • Hi Tracey,

      I’m glad you found the blog useful, albeit a little late!

      Great to hear you had a lovely time and that it hasn’t put you off of flying in future – all the best for your next adventure


  2. I will be going from Atlanta, USA to Delhi in December via Heathrow Airport London by Virgin Atlantic. I have nearly 10-11 hours layover on way to Delhi and about 14-15 hours layover on my return.
    I cannot afford hotel at the Heathrow airport? Can I stay safely at the airport?? I will go thru the Terminal 3.

    Please advise.


    • Hi Ravi,

      People do sometimes opt to sleep in the airport, but you’ll need a back up plan in case you are asked to move on.

      You can book into a hotel for as little as £44 for the night – The Ibis hotel is currently offering rooms for this rate.

  3. Great blog.I will be visiting El salvador next month from Kenya.I am a first time flyer.I find your blog very much informative.What other things should I expect on my way?
    Thank you

  4. Hello ,

    I will be traveling from Antigua & Barbuda to London ( Gatwick Airport )where I will be layedover for a few hours until my connecting flight to Moscow (Domodedovo airport ).

    This will be my very first time traveling and I will be all alone. To be honest I’m terrified because I’m afraid I’ll miss something important or not know where to go or what I should do.

    Any tips known for my personal trAvel would be appreciated.

    I fly with British airways .

    • Hi Kelle,

      No need to be scared, there will be plenty of airport personnel on the ground to answer any questions you have when you land at Gatwick. When you get off the aircraft, there will be sign posts for where you need to go for connecting flights. Also, you flight booking documents may even tell you details of what you need to do.

      Good luck, you’ll be fine! Just remember to ask questions if you’re unsure

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