First time flyer? Here's how it works!

Wrote this as a comment to someone in the US who asked for advice before going on a three-plane journey trip. She's a first-time flyer and feeling a bit nervous, especially as no one in her immediate circle have flown either and can talk her through it. No one else had responded, so I thought I would.

My reply turned out to be quite long, so I thought I'd put it here as well. :)

Don't be afraid of asking airport staff for help if you're lost - that's what they're there for. :) I've never been to the US so I don't know if your airports work in a different way, but here is some general advice: When you first arrive at the terminal, look at the monitors for which desk you need to go to for checking in and/or dropping off your bag(s) that are to be checked in. (Some airlines in Europe have online check-ins, so all you do when you get to the airport is to find the right desk to drop your bag off.) If you only have hand luggage, you only need to check in yourself (unless it's done online beforehand, if your airline(s) have that).

After that, we generally look for signs for where the security check is and go through. Don't worry about any shops, there are plenty of shops and eateries on the other side of the security check to keep you entertained. If you go through security straight away, you won't have to worry about getting stuck in a line later and worry that you'll miss your flight. For the security check, read the signs available for what to do. If it says to remove shoes and belt, take out laptop, and so on, you can do that before you get to the very front of the queue so that it's quicker. Put stuff in the trays provided and walk through the metal detector, and then pick your stuff up on the other side.

Once that's done, look at monitors to see if your flight's gate has been announced. It normally says flight time, destination, flight number and something like "Waiting" (or just blank if a gate hasn't been announced) or "Gate 19" or "Go to gate 19". If there's no info on where to go, have a look in the shops, eat something, sit down and wait, whatever. When a gate is announced (you might have to look at the monitors, because there might not be an announcement over speakers), check which one and follow the signs to that gate. Airports can be really big so it can take a few minutes to get to the gate from the main hall. (Some have transportation to the gate if it's really far away.) Once at the gate, you can normally relax, but it's worth checking that the signs don't change to be a different flight! (It happens sometimes, and then you have to go to a different gate.)

The key thing is to allow time. Don't arrive at the airport with 40 minutes to spare. Your airline should have info about how long before departure they want you there. Check-in closes around 40 minutes before take-off, and the gate closes a few minutes before departure time as well. That's why it's good to have plenty of time to spare, so you won't have to rush to the gate in a blind panic hoping you're not too late!

Once on the plane, follow instructions. Take your seat. Look at the safety instructions when they're being demonstrated. Buckle up. The airplane taxes (drives) out to the runway, and when it's at the end of it, the engines will make a lot of noise as they're revving up, and you'll feel like you're pressed back into your seat as the plane picks up speed (like when you're in a rollercoaster going uphill), and then all of a sudden the ground gets smaller and smaller. You might hear a noise as the landing gear goes in. The plane will continue to look "uphill" for at least 10-15 minutes (or more).

Then it's a lot like being on a long coach/bus journey, to be honest. Bring some chewing gum or some hard candies to suck on, as your ears will "pop" on occasion when the pressure changes. Perfectly normal.

I like a window seat so I can have a look at the view outside, but when it's just clouds it can get a bit boring, so I bring a book or something.

At the end, the clouds will get closer again, as the plane gradually descends. Going through clouds can mean a little bit of turbulence, but that's perfectly normal. Then you approach the runway, there's a noise when the landing gear comes back down, if you're near the wings you'll see the wing flaps change, and there's a thud as the wheels touch ground. Then it gets a bit noisy as the airplane brakes, and then it's a slow drive to the terminal, and you can disembark.

Follow signs for arrivals, or in your case I suppose it should be a sign for connecting flights, and do it all over again. I have never been on a connecting flight, so I'm not sure how they work. Again, ask airport staff for directions if you're lost or unsure.

When you reach your final destination you get into the arrivals hall, where you look at the monitor to see which number carousel your flight's bags are arriving on, and then wait at that one, pick your bag up and head for the exit. You're done! :)

At the end of the day, flying is one of the safest ways to travel. The in-flight crew are used to people who are nervous fliers (when you get on the plane and show them your boarding card you can always tell them it's your first time, if you like) so you're not weird or even unusual for being nervous. The pilots are highly trained and highly skilled and know what they're doing. If it's a bit windy where you're landing, remember that while it might feel a bit bumpy for you as a passenger, and maybe even worrying or scary, it's business as usual for them, and they have everything under control.

Enjoy your trip! :)