This trip has made it official: I despise airports with every fibre of my being. But hey, they’re necessary to get where you want to go. So I made a brief video with basic instructions, and below you’ll find a more detailed walkthrough! Keep in mind I’m still awkward in airports and each one is different depending on where you’re going and where you’re coming from. My go-to advice is just follow the signs and ASK FOR HELP!
Once you’ve found where your airline is located (just follow signs), then there will be machines where you can check in and get your boarding passes (even if you’ve already checked in online, I still do this because I figure I’m supposed to, I really don’t know. Just to be safe!) If you have baggage you are going to check, sometimes there will be a machine that lets you check in your baggage as you check in. Whichever machine you choose, you can usually swipe or scan your passport or just enter your flight information, and just follow the instructions on screen. It usually asks if you want to upgrade to first class, or change your seat. Once you’re done, it will print out your boarding pass(es). Then you’ll check your luggage (they weigh it, tag it, and then send it off).
Going Through Security
This part isn’t as bad as everyone makes it out to be. I think the United States probably has a stricter policy than some places, but even then it’s nothing extreme. Just listen to what the agents tell you as you are going through. Typically you will have to take off all jackets, purses, belts, anything you’re carrying (and sometimes jewelry if it will make the machines go off). In the US, you have to take off your shoes 100% of the time. First there will be a “pre” check-in where they scan your boarding pass and everything. Then you’ll go through the actual security checkpoint. You put all your things in a tub and push them through the x-ray machine. Then you’ll wait until the agent(s) give you the cue to go through the x-ray machine that all travellers have to go through (it takes like 4 seconds). They may pat you down afterwards if you have bulky clothing, but I’ve never had any trouble. I’m out in like 5 minutes tops (longer if there’s a huge line).
Finding Your Gate
The gate number should be printed on your boarding pass when you get it. If not, just look at the departure screens and find the city of your destination (they are alphabetised) and your flight number, and it will tell you which gate, as well as if your flight is still on time. Find your terminal and gate first, and then you are free to explore while waiting for your flight! All airports are built differently, so just follow the signs! Be prepared to possibly take a bus or subway to another terminal if it’s a particularly big airport. This is why you want to get there in plenty of time!
If you are flying internationally, they will give you customs and immigration forms on the plane that you can fill out and then hand in when you go through customs. Mexico gave me an immigration form because I’m not a Mexican citizen, but Canada only gave me a customs form, so it just depends on where you’re going I guess. You’ll just fill out the information on both; most of you will probably check “no” to everything asked on the customs declaration form, but read carefully just in case! FOLLOW ALL INSTRUCTIONS CLOSELY (I know there was a piece of paper I had to keep my entire stay in Mexico that was required for me to leave the country afterwards).
Here’s where it can get tricky, and I’m doing my best to give correct information, but I pretty much learn as I go and I’m still not 100%, so if I’m wrong you can correct me. When your layover flight is in the same country, you don’t have to go through security, customs, or anything. You don’t have to collect your checked bags. They go straight through to your final destination (just find your terminal and gate like you did in the first airport).
If your layover is in ANOTHER country (for example, I left Mexico and then had my layover at Dallas, so I was actually coming back into the United States at that point, even though it wasn’t my FINAL destination), then you will (likely) have to retrieve your bags again, go through a customs checkpoint, RE CHECK your bags (it doesn’t cost anything, you just look for the area and the employees will take care of it for you), then go through security AGAIN, and then get on your layover flight. I was very surprised by this because I don’t recall having to do this when I came back from Canada (but maybe I did and just forgot! It was a long time ago). My layover flight back was very confusing and hectic because I wasn’t sure what to do, but I just asked around and eventually figured it out! It definitely took a decent chunk of time though!
This is another tricky part because it’s different depending on where you go. When I went to Canada, they asked me loads of questions about why I was there, who I was meeting, how I had met them, how long I’d be staying, where I’d be staying, etc. They were very thorough! Mexico literally stamped my passport and just let me waltz in (well she actually did ask one question but I couldn’t understand and honestly didn’t know if she was speaking English or Spanish and when I didn’t understand she just kind of shrugged and let me in, so)
There are two customs lines you have to go through; the first one is where they stamp your passport and ask you questions (sometimes?). Then you’ll retrieve your baggage (sometimes they tell you the carousel number on the plane, otherwise just look for the city you flew from on the overhead screens by each carousel). Once you have your baggage, you’ll go through a second customs checkpoint that will take your customs form, and they might ask if you have anything to declare (alcohol, firearms, etc). If you don’t have anything that requires declaration you can go on through.
AND THEN YOU’RE DONE HOORAY!
I hope this is thorough enough, I’m still sort of new even though I’ve been through several airports. Everything is just so dependent on the airport itself and where you’re going! My last piece of advice is this: If you need to ask someone for help, you will likely have to wait in line. If you go up to an employee you see nearby and ask “excuse me” they will probably say “just a second” and never ever come back to you (as they are busy with people in line). So just find a short line at the counter or something and wait your turn to ask! They will be more then glad to help you then.
If you guys have any more questions feel free to leave them in the comments! I’ll try to answer to the best of my ability.