Here is a step by step guide to making life easy traversing the path through International Airports if you have never flown before.
Starting tip - in the larger airports you will sometimes have to walk very long distances as you pass through the whole transit process. Make sure your carry on bag has wheels or is a small back pack because over-the-shoulder bags can get very heavy when you have to lug them a long way. Your carry on bag maximum weight is usually 7 kg.
Many airports have a number of terminals - so check which terminal your airline uses before you go to the airport.
I have always found that there are lots of people at airports willing to help. Look for information desks or service desks and ask any time you are not sure.
1.Go to the "Departures" level of the airport and check-in your bags and receive your boarding pass and baggage tickets. If there is more than one leg to your trip and you are taking two or more planes, ask the check-in person to make sure your bags are checked through to your final destination. Listen carefully in case the check-in person tells you that your bags will not be checked through. Sometimes you have to manually retrieve them and recheck them yourself. So listen for that instruction.
2. Go through "Security" so you can get into the airport itself to board. You will have to take your computer and phone out of your carry-on bags for inspection. They won't let you take a bottle of water through so you will have to throw it out. In most places you cannot take more than a small bag of cosmetics and fluids on the plane. Each little bottle can only be maximum 100 ml - so don't pack larger bottles of perfume or expensive cosmetics in your carry on or they will make you throw them out!
After you have gone through the scanner, and after your bags have gone through the XRay machine, you may be randomly selected for a drugs and explosives test. In those airports that do these tests a small cloth is rubbed across places like your shoelaces, buttons and bag handles checking for traces of drugs such as cocaine or explosives.
3. Once through "Security", you now pass through "Immigration" (sometimes called Border Control or Border Security) and show your passport and sometimes your Visa. Be sure your passport does not expire before your return date or you will not be allowed into the country you are traveling to.
4. You are now at "Duty-free shopping". You can shop but remember you will need to carry whatever you buy so don't weigh yourself down - there is a lot of walking to do in major airports between gates. Also, there are limits on the value of what you are allowed to take into different countries so check these first. For example, you can only take 2 litres of alcohol into Australia.
5. Go to your "Boarding Gate" at least 45 minutes before departure time. You can check which Gate you are departing from on the boards hanging up around the airport. Do NOT trust the gate number written on your ticket as these regularly change. Check the board.
6. There are NO boarding calls within a Gate area. (Although there may be in the general area of the airport, this still does not mean there will be any calls in the Gate area). You must line up to board yourself - don't wait to be personally called as the plane will simply leave without you. (I know this through personal experience, sadly, not just once, but twice!.)
Congratulations - you are on the plane:
A meal will be served within an hour of take off.
Half an hour before you are due to arrive you will start your descent.
If during descent your ears start to hurt, hold your nose and blow - the pressure you create will 'pop' your ears.
If the plane gets bumpy while you are flying, this is just hitting an air pocket. It feels unsafe but it is normal and it is perfectly safe. Keep your belt on always to keep you in your seat.
If you are making a connecting international flight, you need to "transit". Sometimes you may even have to be taken to another part of the airport. They may drive you in a bus, or some larger airports, such as Hong Kong, have internal trains. There are lots of signs, but don't waste time. Go straight to where you need to go. It can sometimes be a very long way away. If you are transiting you do not need to go through border control because you are not technically entering the country. Your bags will have been checked through all the way so you don't need to claim them.
If on the other hand, you are making a domestic connection, you will need to go through border control - see below. You will need to be transported from the international terminal to a domestic terminal. Listen for instructions on how to do this. If you are changing airlines and they are not a partner airline, you will likely have to collect your luggage and carry it with you to the domestic terminal and check in again.
1. When you arrive at your destination, you will leave the plane and may go through another Duty-free shopping area. Ignore these and keep going - they have very small selections.
2. You will be directed to "Immigration" - and need to show your passport and your visa. There are different lines for different nationalities. These lines can be very long, especially if a number of large planes have arrived at one, so be prepared for a wait. Whatever you do, do not get irritated or demanding with these people, they are very powerful!
3. Once you are cleared to enter the country you will progress to the "Baggage Claim" area where you will collect all your bags. Check the boards to see which carousel your bags will be coming out on.
4. Now that you have your bags, you are directed to "Customs" and, in some countries such as Australia, "Bio-Security". Here you need to give them your truthfully and carefully filled in customs form and tell them (declare) what you have. Very serious fines can be given to you if you lie and get caught. It goes without saying that whatever you do, never carry drugs, even small amounts. In some countries, codeine painkillers are considered drugs, so don't carry these.
If you are connecting to another flight:
1. When you get off the plane, you will not go through Immigration or Baggage Claim. Instead you will be directed by airline staff towards the Gate for your connecting flight.
2. If you are going through a big airport, like Hong Kong or Dubai and others, you may have to take a train - yes a train - from inside the airport from one terminal to another. It is really easy. There are no tickets. You just find out which Gate your are at and which Terminal (ie which Building) your Gate is at. For example, I am at Dubai right now. I arrived from Australia at Terminal A and followed the signs to the train and on to Terminal C. It took me 25 minutes of brisk walking and a short train ride to get here at Gate C5, so allow plenty of time. Some of these airports are huge.
If you get confused or need to get another boarding pass go to your airline's "Service" or "Connections" desk. There are always Information kiosks at every airport.
Hundreds of thousands of people go through airport terminals around the world every day and the vast majority get where they need to be without any problem. Since I am not one of those people, I am sharing with you now what I have learnt. I hope this makes it simpler for you. Knowing what to expect is half the battle:) And don't hesitate to ask others - experienced travelers are always very happy to help newbies - they know how confusing it can be.
I suggest you print out this blog and take it with you on your first trip for reference. So, have an amazing trip, oh - and don't forget to pack your Travel Bra:)