Flying For The First Time: Your Essential Guide To Navigating The Airport


Shasha Dania •  Apr 04, 2019

So it’s finally happened - you’ve booked your tickets, packed your bags, and now you’re off on the grand adventure you’ve been planning for months! But before you get there you still have to get past self-check-in terminals, unclear airport signages, and language barriers ?

Credit: GIPHY

Holidays overseas are exciting, but navigating the airport can be stressful all on its own and we don’t need more stress on a vacation! That’s why we’ve come up with a guide to (almost) every situation that can go wrong, and some important tips and reminders to help you get through some of the most common struggles holiday goers will face.

I’ve booked my flights. What do I do next?

Make sure your name is written and printed correctly. Each country will ask you to write your name different, which can make the lives of those of us whose names don’t fit the typical [First Name] [Last Name] format difficult ? If your name has a ‘bin’ or ‘binte/binti’ in your passport, some airlines may register that as a middle name or part of your last name so remember to double check the airline’s guidelines!

For example, if your full name is Siti Amirah binte Abdul Luqman, you may have to list your name in various ways:

  • First name: Siti Amirah, Last Name: Binte Abdul Luqman
  • First Name: Siti Amirah, Middle Name: Binte, Last Name: Abdul Luqman

These are not exhaustive options, it really depends from airline to airline! If you registered with your name in one way but it does not seem to match your passport, email or contact the airline ASAP to ask what is the appropriate way to proceed and if necessary see if you can request a name change.

Pay a little extra for seating - and convenience - if you have to. This is especially important if you’re travelling in groups or with young children. To avoid being seated apart, it can be worth paying that extra sum to choose your seats (prices vary from airline to airline).

P.S. Do note that if you’re booking through a third-party site you may not be able to pay for the seating choice through them - contact the airline ASAP to ask if it’s possible to choose your seats in advance!

Print out anything and everything important. Flight itinerary, boarding pass (if you can check-in early online), insurance forms. Nowadays everything is online for easy access but there’s no guarantee you’ll have a stable internet connection once you land. Having everything in a clear plastic folder can be a lifesaver!

How should I pack for my trip?

Pack light to save yourself lots of hassle. Having to repack or unpack your bag because it’s too heavy is one of the worst feelings in the world. Reduce the chance of being flagged with some of our packing tips. Make sure to double-check your luggage allowances, and have some extra weight leftover in both your carry-on and check-in luggage. (If you buy too many souvenirs on the way back home, you can shift some things out of your check-in into your carry-on!)

P.S. If you’re planning on shopping while you’re there, pack a foldable duffel into your luggage to give you that extra space for when you’re flying back.

Pack smart to avoid violating airport regulations. Electronics, batteries, liquids, gels, aerosols - there’s just so many things to keep track of!

Remember to place all of your electronics (yes, even your portable charger) in your carry-on in an accessible way, both for your own safety and so it can be easily removed during security screenings. Between your laptop battery, portable charger, and the laptop itself this can get heavy so be conscious of what you’ll need both on the flight and during your trip. If you won’t use your laptop while you’re on the trip, consider leaving it at home to save you the hassle (and weight!)

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Airlines usually give you some simple amenities on the plane, but don't assume that will be enough to keep you feeling fresh. Pack a toothbrush, some toothpaste, face wash, and hand cream into a travel-sized amenity kit for your carry-on. Flying dries out your skin super fast so this will help you feel refreshed to carry on with the rest of your trip. Remember to place all of this into containers less than 100ml, and in a clear ziplock bag.

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Parents, make sure to pack any extra food or snacks for your kids within these 100ml limits too! Most airlines do offer children or infant meals (check on these before booking your flight tickets!) but the dry environment in the plane may make your kids extra fussy. Pack small, light snacks and anything else (books, toys, blankets) to keep the kids comfy. Check out more first-hand tips for flying with young kids here!

Pack safe for your own ease of mind. One of the vacation horror stories is the thought of someone breaking into your luggage and stealing your things. To prevent this, follow our essential tips for keeping your luggage safe. Make sure to buy good padlocks for any carry-on’s you might be bringing too! Multi-tools and Swiss army knives are also super useful for every type of traveller - but they aren’t allowed in carry-ons. If you regularly carry one with you, set a reminder for yourself to remove it and place it in your check-in luggage! (Don’t be like our writer who forgot to remove her multi-tool from her wallet and had it confiscated at the boarding gate ?)

I’m leaving for the airport - what should I remember to do?

Dress appropriately. If you have belts, watches, coins, or anything metal that might set off a detector on you remember to take it off before you go through screening. If it's small items such as coins or keys, bring along a small pouch to put all of these in during screening so that you won’t risk losing them. If you have a metal implant or other medical devices that might set the scanner off, get a letter from your doctor stating what your medical condition is so that the security guards might be more understanding.

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Platform shoes (even if they’re solid), high-cut sneakers, and boots are some of the types of shoes that you’ll have to remove during screening. If you're travelling to a cold country where boots are a must-wear, buy a pair that's easy to slip in and out off so that you won't waste any time. If you want to avoid having to go shoe-less even for a few minutes, consider investing in a good pair of travel sneakers or flats so you can breeze through security with ease. (Do note that some countries may still request that you remove your shoes regardless, so pick a pair that's easy to slip in and out of.)

Familiarize yourself with your destination country’s rules. Some countries such as Australia are very strict with what can be brought in or out, to prevent contamination of local wildlife and fauna. Check the country’s website regularly as they may change or update their immigration restrictions without notice. You won't want your snacks to be thrown out ?

Give yourself lots of time. The general rule is to arrive at the airport 2 hours before your flight. It may sound like a lot of time, but you’ll be grateful for these 2 hours when you encounter check-in issues, last-minute cancellations, or find yourself lost in the airport (although we always hope none of these will happen!)

Use your extra time to familiarize yourself with the airport. Check out websites such as Sleeping in Airports to see what amenities the airport has, and find out where the boarding gates, prayer rooms/spaces, and F&B outlets are. If there’s no dedicated prayer space, approach the airport staff to ask if it’s okay for you to pray somewhere if you need to complete your prayers before boarding. If you have any last-minute airport shopping to do, this is also the time to do it!

P.S. Check out our tips for praying in public!

I’m at the check-in gate and security. How do I do this?

Be patient with self-check-in counters and airline staff. More airlines are using self-check-in or even self-luggage-drops these days, which are kind of mixed when it comes to whether they actually make your journey more or less convenient. If you’ve booked your tickets through third-party sites, the self-check-in may not work properly for you so be prepared to ask the staff nearby for help.

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The staff will typically direct you to try the self-check-in first which can take time - but be patient and understand that they also have certain instructions too. (This is also why you should reach the airport earlier!) If the wrong information has been displayed after completing all instructions, alert staff immediately. They’ll usually redirect you to a manual counter. Same goes for luggage drops - be patient if it takes a while, and don't be afraid to approach the airline staff if you're really stuck.

Keep your passport and boarding pass together at all times. If you’re using a passport holder, use the pockets inside to your advantage or keep both documents on you at all times in a safe pouch or bag. Losing your boarding pass within the airport isn’t the end of the world but it can take up lots of time to ask them to reprint it for you. In the worst case scenario, it may even delay you getting onto your flight!

Keep your water bottle empty until after you pass the boarding gate. Having to pour out the water in your bottle isn’t just heartbreaking, but a waste of good water too ? To avoid this, keep your bottle empty until you reach the boarding gate. If you need to drink water or take medications, keep just enough in your bottle so that you won’t have to face throw so much of it away later on.

#HHWT Tip: Most boarding areas have a water dispenser, so fill those bottles up just before you board the plane! You’ll definitely need it in such a dry environment. Making sure that you're well-hydrated will also help prevent you from falling sick during your trip.

Ok, I’m past the security gate and have time before I board. What now?

Grab a light snack.Some of the most popular airports have halal or Muslim-friendly eateries within the transit area meaning you can grab anything from a small snack to a hearty meal before you fly! Just make sure not to overeat, you don’t want to feel sick during the flight ?

P.S. If you’re flying from Singapore’s Changi Airport, here are some amazing eateries to keep you satisfied before your flight!

Keep an eye on the clock, and arrive on time to your boarding gate. If you’re travelling with kids or anyone with special accommodations, arrive a bit earlier as the attendants will usually ask for families to board first. However, the typical 1 hour boarding time often feels like a boring wait that’s better to avoid - so why should you be on time anyway? ?

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Well, you won’t have to panic about being late for your flight, and the reason for such a long boarding time is to account for last-minute stragglers and the long queues that form. Some airports also don’t announce last call warnings, so being a little earlier and having to wait is definitely better than turning up late and not being able to board entirely.

#HHWT Tip: If you really can’t stand to wait for so long, turn up at least 20-30 minutes before the end of the boarding period just to avoid that rush. To ease the boredom, use this time to read, review your itinerary, listen to some music, or say a simple do’a for a safe journey ahead.

I have a layover/transit flight to catch. What can I do to pass the time?

Look for the rest or sitting areas. All transit lounges in major airports will have a seating area for its travellers. If there doesn’t seem to be a rest area, approach the guest services counter to ask for directions. Basic etiquette in this area would be to avoid taking up extra seats and to keep an eye on your belongings. Parents, make sure to keep your kids entertained to avoid any tantrums or meltdowns.

Charge your phone (if the option exists)! More and more major airports now provide charging spots for phones and electronic devices so if the one you’re in has this make sure to take full advantage of it! Just remember to take your phone and charger back when it’s time to catch your next flight!

Refresh and rejuvenate yourself. Flying can be physically and mentally exhausting. Take this time to wash your face, read a book, do your prayers, take a walk around the space, or just admire the scenery outside to relax. If you have time to squeeze in a quick nap you can try, but be aware that others may be looking for a seat too!

P.S. More airports such as Singapore’s Changi Airport are adding activities for you to enjoy during transit, so check beforehand to see if you can grab a massage or catch a movie before you catch your flight! Some airports even have organized tours that you can hop on and off if you've got a super long layover!

The plane has landed! How do I get through immigration?

Brace yourself for what might be a long queue. Sometimes, long queues are just unavoidable even at the most efficient of airports. Remember to stay patient and positive, and make sure that you have all of your documents (passport, boarding pass, visa if necessary) on you for quick access. Once you’re done with immigration, put all of your important documents back into a safe section of your bag to avoid losing them later on.

Keep an eye out for baggage claim signs the moment you pass immigration. You did it! You beat the queue! The baggage claim is usually right next to the immigration section, but it can get confusing to find if the signs are in a different language. The simplest way to find it would be to follow the crowd and keep an eye out for your flight number on the display boards.

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To distinguish your black hard-shell luggage from all the other black hard-shell luggage out there, buy a colourful and distinct luggage cover or strap beforehand so that you can instantly spot which bags are yours.

Look for transport options and maps before you leave the airport. Major airports typically include car rental or public transportation information booths within their premises. Even if you’re in a hurry to get to your accommodations, it’s a good idea to see what transport options are available to you, whether it’s an inter-city train ticket or a subway map. You may even find tour brochures that look pretty interesting lying around!

Congratulations, you made it through the airport! Don't worry if you got things a bit wrong the first time around - the more trips you go on, the more familiar you'll get ?