Tips for first time flying – from a nervous first timer
I think that, as a 28 year old experiencing my first time flying late last year, I am something of an oddity. It’s not that I was particularly afraid of loading up into an aluminium canister to be launched 30,000 off the ground and sent careening towards my destination at 500mph. It’s just that I hadn’t gotten around to it. Honest.
Of course I know (and if you’ve found your way onto this page, I imagine you also know), that flying is the safest means of transport – although behind elevators apparently – but that doesn’t help when you’re already feeling nervous about something.
And it’s not just the flight itself, its the preamble – security checks, waiting around for hours at the airport, even getting too and from the airport seems to be given quite a lot of negative coverage. These things all add additional levels of stress to an already monolithic event. It is ok to feel nervous about it.
However, I can say that after 4 (admittedly short haul) flights, I felt relatively confident and was happy enough to take a flight on my own.
So here are a handful of tips to help you stomach that first time flying:
1: If you’re flying together, book your seats together.
For your first flight it’s definitely a good idea to prebook your seats with your travel buddy, if things get a bit choppy, you’ll want them to confirm that everything is running as it should be. Most budget airlines will charge a little extra for the ability to pick your seats, but it’s worth it for the sake of your piece of mind.
2: Find out what your airline will and won’t allow and plan your packing accordingly.
Most airlines will list on their website in advance what you can carry on with you, what will need to go in the hold, and what will not be permitted on their flights. Things to keep an eye out for are: liquids (many airlines won’t allow more than 100ml bottles, which have to fit in the supplied bag and have to be under 1l in total), electronics – batteries in particular can have interesting rules associated with them. These items should be placed where they are more easily accessible, so security can check them if necessary. You don’t want to be digging through your bag because you left a loose battery rolling about in it.
Also check out regulations regarding bag sizes – it’s even possible to pick up bags that are the maximum regulation size for the majority of airlines.
3: Get there early.
The general suggestion for flight time arrival is 2 hours for domestic, 3 hours for international. I would suggest for your first time flying, that you add a little onto this. Whilst you may end up sitting around in the airport a little longer, the last thing that you want is to be creating additional panic because your connection to the airport has been delayed, or because there’s massive queues at security.
4: Ensure that other items are easily accessible for security purposes.
You also want to keep your passport and boarding pass easily available. Small, slip on shoes will be handy should you need to remove them. Phones, wallets, tablets, keys and any items in your pockets will have to go into a tray – you won’t be away from them long though! Also take off your belt – the first time I flew, my belt set off the scanner, which was another thing to worry about on top of the pre-flight nerves.
5: Once you’re through security, enjoy the duty free!
There’s usually some stuff to do to take your mind off your first time flying – most reasonably sized airports will have somewhere to grab food, drink (a boozy drink is certainly recommended for pre-flight jitters, so long as you don’t overdo it!), along with any other items that you may have handed over to security – such as water and toiletries. Also pick up some hard sweets, as that will help with ear popping due to pressure changes on the plane.
6: Take a tablet.
Your first time flying is unlikely to be an epic 24-hour flight to the opposite side of the world, it’s more likely to be a shorter flight within your continent, so you may not think you need some sort of in-flight entertainment. However, depending how quickly you get through security, you may want something to take your mind off the coming flight. Many airports offer free wi-fi for a couple of hours – which should be enough to keep you entertained.
7: Stay in sight of a departure board.
Whilst chilling with your tablet/phone/crossword book, you may want to keep an eye on the departure board – they’ll normally call out your gate some time in advance, so you should have plenty of time to get there. The board will most likely feature your airline, flight number and destination, with the gate information due to appear a bit later. When you see your gate info on the screen, start going there. You’ll have more time to sit down at the gate too!
When it comes to boarding, you’ll need to hand your passport and your boarding pass to the attendant for checking before you get on the plane. They’ll then tell you which door to use – if your first time flying is on a smaller plane, it will most likely be either the front or back door. Stick your bag in the overhead storage (or under the seat in front if you can fit it). Once you’re sat down, pop your devices into airplane mode.
9: Take off and landing.
The take off and landing is something that tends to hold some concern for more experienced fliers, after the entrances are closed up, the plane will begin to taxi – and the attendants will go through the safety procedure. For your first time flying, I’d recommend listening, but keep in mind that you’re incredibly unlikely to need to use the information. After the safety procedure has been gone through, the plane will finish taxiing and come to a stop. This is it – the plane will sharply accelerate and you’ll be on your way to somewhere exotic!
10: Other things to remember.
For me, the only thing left which makes me a bit uncertain (barring any particularly bad turbulence) is the banking – where the horizon stops running horizontally – as the plane turns. This is normal, and sometimes it feels like it is happening far too close to the ground, but it is fine. Pilots know what they’re doing.
The wings on the plane are actually designed to wobble in turbulence, as the flexibility means that they are a lot less likely to break than if they were completely rigid. I have also read that they are also designed to withstand 150% more than the strongest turbulence on record. If you look out your window and see them wobbling, that’s what they’re meant to do!
If you’ve brought your tablet, make sure you have some music, or something to distract you if it gets a bit much.
The plane doesn’t actually feel like it’s particularly high off the ground, so if you’re worried about the altitude, people generally aren’t actually aware of it.
Try and take in the view – the clouds, cities (particularly at night!) and the general lay of the land all take on a new meaning from in the sky.
That concludes my potted list of things which helped me get through my first time flying – do you have any suggestions that have helped you conquer your fear? Please leave a comment below!