Once your reservation is made, online, in person, or with a travel agent, your job as a traveler is not done. Airlines have reasonable rules governing what you can pack, how much you can pack, and what documentation you need to fly. Knowing what to do and who to contact if things go awry will save you time.
Cut down on the time you spend in lines at the airport by confirming your flight status, checking in, and printing or downloading boarding passes before you leave home. Well-prepared travelers virtually fly through the airport.
What Do I Need to Bring For My Flight?
What do I need for a domestic flight? Your identification is the one truly critical thing you need for a domestic flight. Even if you forget it, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will make an effort to identify you through public databases. Keep in mind that you shouldn’t count on them being able to. They may fail at identifying you, or there may be a long enough delay to cause you to miss your flight. A few other things to bring are standard.
- Government-Issued Identification
- Ticket or Other Verification of Flight Reservation
- Checked Luggage, Carry-on, Personal-Item Bag
- Comfort Items for Yourself, Child, or Service Animal
What Documents Do I Need to Bring For My Flight?
A government-issued identification like a driver’s license or passport with your photo and date of birth is one of the documents needed to fly domestic. Other acceptable forms of ID include military ID, a NEXUS, FAST or SENTRI card, Native American tribal ID, and some types of immigration documentation. Beginning May 7, 2025, all airline passengers need REAL ID, a government-issued ID with enhanced security features.
What Documents Do I Need For An International Trip?
The country you are traveling to, the length and purpose of your stay, and the state of your health determine which documents you need for international travel. Each country has its own requirements. Contact the embassy or consulate of the country you are traveling to if you’re uncertain about what documents you need.
- Passport. Many countries require that your passport expires at least six months after you arrive in that country and no sooner. Carry copies of your passport and driver’s license in case you lose either and need to prove your identity.
- Travel Visa. A visa, issued by the destination country, permits a traveler to enter that country and stay for a specified amount of time. Note that you should apply for a visa in advance of your travel date.
- Health Documents. Again, different countries have different requirements for health documents. For instance, some may require proof of vaccination for COVID-19.
What Documents Do Minors Need To Travel?
What documents does a child need to fly? Technically, a child doesn’t need any special documentation to travel domestically, but it’s a good idea to carry a copy of the child’s birth certificate and to check with the airline to see if they have any special requirements. If you are traveling with an unrelated child, it’s wise to carry an affidavit from the child’s parent or legal guardian specifying that you have their permission.
All children need a passport to fly internationally. If the child is under 16, they must apply in person with their parents. In most cases, children aged 16 and 17 also need to apply in person. Around 50 countries worldwide require that children have a form DS-3053, Statement of Consent, notarized at a U.S. embassy or consulate before they’re allowed to enter.
How To Pack For Your Flight
What am I allowed to bring on a plane? Airlines and TSA have clear, specific rules about what you’re allowed to bring in your carry-on and pack in your checked baggage. These reasonable rules exist to ensure passengers are safe and are treated equitably. Even firearms and sharp objects are allowed with certain restrictions.
Each airline sets its own luggage weight restrictions and rules for the number of bags you can carry-on and check. Typically, the weight allowed per bag is 50 pounds on domestic flights. Read your airline’s guidance on bag weight if you think you might be pushing the limit, and find out how much they charge for overweight bags.
What To Pack In Your Carry-On?
What can you bring in carry-on bags? Pack items you’ll need like medications, a book, or a game in the cabin of the plane in your carry-on. A scarf can be worn on a chilly flight or folded up into a pillow. If you’re traveling with children, make sure their carry-on bags have at least one comfort item like a pacifier for a baby or a stuffed animal for a toddler. Relax your screen time rules for teens and have them pack a tablet or handheld game.
Follow the TSA’s 3-1-1 rule for liquids. Pack liquids, creams, pastes, gels and aerosols in 3.4-ounce or smaller travel containers and put them in a clear, quart-sized bag. Put larger containers of liquids in your checked luggage.
Note that there are size limitations for carry-on bags, but rarely weight limitations. Your carry-on should fit in the overhead bin, and must fit under the seat in front of you. Generally, a standard carry-on is 22x14x9 including the handle and wheels. While there are rarely rules for the size of your personal item, be it a purse or a briefcase, it should be reasonably sized.
Firearms, loose razor blades, strike anywhere matches, ammunition, self-defense items like pepper spray, and flammables and explosives are not allowed in carry-on bags.
What Can You Pack In Your Checked Luggage?
What can you take on a plane in checked luggage? The rules for checked luggage are much less stringent than those for carry-on bags. Almost all food and beverages are allowed, but alcohol must be less than 140 proof. Sharp objects are permissible as long as they’re in protective packaging, as are household tools and most sporting goods. Devices with batteries are allowed in checked baggage with the exception of lithium batteries. Those should be packed in your carry-on.
There are special rules governing firearms in checked luggage. Generally, firearms must be unloaded and packed in a hard-sided case. Firearm parts and replicas are allowed in checked baggage. Flare guns, flares, gun powder, gun lighters, and rocket launchers are prohibited. Always check your airline’s rules regarding firearms.
Note that any item can be denied by the TSA if it is at all suspicious.
Packing Tips For Your Trip
Pack anything that might need to be inspected in a separate bag on top of your luggage to make it easy to get to. Many airport security checks require you to pull out your toiletries, so packing those in an easy-to-get-to back is smart. You will also have to remove any electronic items larger than a cell phone.
Of course, where you’re going, what you’re doing there, and what the weather will be like determine what clothing, shoes, and accessories you pack in your checked luggage. Choose travel-friendly fabrics that won’t wrinkle, and pack an empty tote for items you might buy while you’re away. Pack a collapsible water bottle in your carry-on that you can fill once you’ve gone through security.
Packing pros recommend rolling individual pieces of clothing rather than folding them to avoid wrinkles, and using packing cubes to keep items organized. Place liquids in a plastic bag in case something spills and use a separate toiletry kit for personal items like your toothbrush, deodorant, and moisturizer.
What To Pack To Prevent Common Flight Issues
Common minor medical problems caused by changes in air pressure, dry cabin air, immobility and tight quarters aren’t usually dangerous, but they can make a flight unpleasant. But, you needn’t load yourself down with remedies in anticipation of problems. A handful of readily available products and practices will help.
Keep in mind that hydration alleviates many of the side effects of flying. Board your plane hydrated and sip water throughout the flight. Avoid beverages that are dehydrating like caffeine and alcohol.
- Stop Ears From Hurting. Rapid air pressure changes cause ear barotrauma, commonly called airplane ear. Alleviate this with antihistamines, decongestants or saline nasal spray. Yawning, chewing gum, and wearing ear plugs help during ascent and descent.
- Keep Nose From Drying. Use a saline nasal spray, available over the counter, to moisten your nasal passages. Breathing through a damp cloth may also help.
- Prevent Leg Swelling. Edema, or water buildup in your legs, may or may not be painful, but it’s a problem that should be addressed. Move around the cabin, rotate your ankles, and stretch your legs. If you’re prone to edema, wear compression socks. If not, pack a pair and put them on at the first sign of swelling in your legs.
How To Travel With Specific Ailments
While it’s best not to travel by plane if you have an ear infection, a cold, or the flu, there are times when you must. Consider wearing a mask to protect other passengers if you have or think you might have a communicable ailment.
Pack a supply of medications and treatments in your carry-on bag if you think you may need them in the short term. Remember the carry-on rules for liquids. Don’t pack more than 3.4 ounces of any liquid and put those 3.4-ounce containers in a one quart plastic bag.
- Head Cold Take a decongestant to relieve pressure in your nasal passages. Unless you also have allergies, choose a brand that doesn’t include antihistamines. Pack tissues and throat lozenges for a runny nose or cough.
- Sinus Pressure Sinus pressure caused by a minor illness like a cold should be treated with decongestants. If discomfort is caused by changes in air pressure as the plane takes off and lands, chew gum or yawn during ascent and descent.
- Ear Infection Using earplugs can relieve pain caused by fluid in your ears from an ear infection. If you’re traveling with a baby suffering from ear pain due to the flight rather than another underlying condition, try giving them a pacifier or bottle to suck on.
- Hip Replacement Check with your doctor for clearance to fly. Taking aspirin before the flight may stave off pain and inflammation. Get up and walk around every 15 to 20 minutes. If possible, book a seat in first class or business for more leg room and be prepared to explain to TSA if your replacement sets off alarms.
- Broken Bones Discuss you flight plans and any special needs you have because of the broken bone with your doctor. Call the airline to see if there are any rules covering traveling with a cast, and arrange for a wheelchair if you think you’ll need one. Prepare for extra scrutiny from TSA if you have a cast.
- Swollen Ankle Swollen ankles caused by a buildup of fluid is not uncommon on long flights. Get up and walk around frequently, rotate your ankles, and shift your seating position. Wear compression socks if swollen ankles is a chronic problem. Pain in your ankles caused by an injury can be treated with painkillers.
- Claustrophobia Claustrophobia, an extreme fear of confined spaces, is problematic in the close quarters of an airplane cabin. If you’re under treatment, consult your doctor. If claustrophobia on an airplane is transitory, you can lessen its effects by wearing loose clothing, choosing an aisle seat, boarding last, and using deep breathing techniques. Fill your devices with movies, books, or music to keep you entertained and distracted. Noise-cancelling headphones and music you enjoy can help a lot. so can something to do with your fingers, like a necklace or a keychain you can fidget with. Tell the desk attendant or flight attendant you have claustrophobia and seek their help.
How To Check Your Flight Details
If you’ve misplaced your itinerary or have forgotten someone else’s flight details, knowing how to check flight details is key. Knowing whether the plane is delayed or cancelled can save you from spending hours in the airport waiting to board or to meet someone on that delayed flight.
Cancellations happen because of weather, mechanical trouble, or unforeseen circumstances. In extreme conditions there can be a cascading effect where a storm in one region causes problems in a different region where the skies are sunny. You’ll need to know so you can book a different flight or ask for a refund. You may need to go to the airport to do this.
How To Check If Your Flight Is On Time?
Flight delays can happen at any time, so knowing how to check if your flight is on time is key. You may find that a plane that was on-time when you left for the airport is delayed when you reach the airport. The airlines have little control over some last-minute changes.Check to see if your flight is leaving at the scheduled time at the airline’s website or on their app. If you bought your ticket through a travel search engine like Expedia, on-time information may be available at that website.
How Do You Know If Your Flight Is Delayed Or Canceled?
If you left your phone number or email information with the airline and given the carrier permission to text you, they should contact you directly if your flight is delayed or canceled. Checking your flight is easy if you have the airline app or you gave the airline permission to message you. Occasionally mistakes are made, so it’s wise to check by a different method before you leave for the airport.
Call the airline or visit their website for current flight details. If you’re already at the airport, check the arrivals and departures board for your flight, or, if you know the gate number, ask the agent there. Apps like FlightAware and Flightradar24 show flights in real time. It’s wise to double check with the airline or its website rather than relying entirely on a third-party app.
How To Check In For Your Flight
Knowing how to confirm your flight with your confirmation number or record locator number at home streamlines the steps you need to take when you reach the airport. Visit the airline’s website or load their app, look for “check reservations” or a similar phrase, and enter your confirmation number. Go over the details of your itinerary like departure time and layover logistics.
Make sure you understand the airline’s rules on baggage size and weight, the cost to check bags, and what you’re allowed to carry on. Bare bones carriers might only allow a purse or hip pack while more generous airlines could allow a carry-on bag as well as a purse or hip pack.
Consider checking in and getting your boarding pass at the website before you leave for the airport.
Early Check-In Online
Knowing how to check in early for online flight tickets if you’re holding an e-ticket you purchased online eliminates some airport steps. Many airlines allow domestic passengers with e-tickets to check-in online, print boarding passes, and select a seat before leaving for the airport. You’ll need to know what website you used to buy the ticket and your login information for that website. Once you have checked in and have your boarding pass, you can go directly to the gate.
Typically, you can check-in online 90 minutes to 24 hours before your flight. Don’t worry if you miss this window. You can check-in when you get to the airport but you may wind up standing in line. Budget your travel time to the airport accordingly.
Check-In At Airport
How to check in at the airport. Self-service check-in kiosks, located in the airline’s terminal area, don’t just handle check-in. They also print boarding passes and luggage tags, and may have an option to choose your seat. In most cases having your e-ticket number or identification is enough to access your flight information. Follow the on-screen instructions to complete check-in.
If all else fails, you can always go to the airline’s check-in desk. If you’re checking luggage, you may have to visit the desk anyway.
How To Check Your Luggage
How to check a bag at the airport. Have your ticket or boarding pass, and your identification ready if you check your bags at the ticket counter. The agent will weigh your luggage, tag it and send it off to be sorted and put on the plane. If your bags are oversized or overweight, the agent will charge you a fee, which can be hefty, for the overage. Some airports also have self-check kiosks.
Some airlines have official curbside luggage pickup points manned by skycaps at the drop-off lanes. These airline employees take your luggage, tag it, and make sure it’s loaded on your plane on time. You will need to have checked in for your flight before arrival at the airport. Be prepared to give the skycap who handles your bags curbside a per bag tip of at least $1.00. A few airlines have curbside luggage drop-off self-serve kiosks.
Understanding Your Ticket/Boarding Pass
If unforeseen circumstances come up, it’s useful to know how to read a plane ticket. With few exceptions, airline tickets look the same, no matter which carrier you use. Look for the name of the airline in large letters with your name and arrival and departure cities underneath it. The ticket also lists what class you’re flying in, your boarding group number, and connecting flight information.
You must have a boarding pass to get on a plane. This can be a stub from your paper ticket, a separate printed pass or a pass stored on your device. It should include your name, flight number, and the date and departure time of your flight.
How To Go Through Security & TSA
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checks passengers and their carry-on bags at the airport before they embark. Although TSA is constantly working behind the scenes to ensure transportation safety in general, you will probably only encounter their agents at the airport as you pass through security.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has responsibility for keeping U.S. borders safe. This includes checking passengers, both foreign and domestic, as they enter the country via air. Fill out the Customs Declaration Forms given to you by a flight attendant while you are still in the air. When you land go to the appropriate line, answer the customs agent’s questions, and present your bags for inspection. The process typically only takes a few minutes, though an agent may ask for a further inspection.
TSA/Security Process Explained
The actual security process usually means showing your ticket and ID, having your carry-on items scanned and walking through a body scanner. If you or your baggage raise any alarms, the agency will use more comprehensive screening methods. Tell the agent at the beginning of the screening process if you have any devices in your body like a metal replacement joint that might set off a metal detector. Most scanners, as opposed to metal detectors, won’t be triggered.
Use TSA-approved luggage locks on your checked baggage in case agents need to open your suitcases. Agents have tools that open these locks without damaging them, negating the need to cut through locks.
How To Go Through Security Faster
If you’re a frequent flyer, consider applying for TSA PreCheck. This allows you to get through security faster, in most cases under 10 minutes. You will no longer need to remove your shoes or belt, and your laptop and 3-1-1 liquids can stay in your carry-on as it goes through the scanner.
How long does it take to get TSA PreCheck? Fill out a TSA PreCheck application on line. This should take no more than five minutes. Make a 10-minute appointment with the provider of the form you filled out. At the appointment you’ll be fingerprinted, your photo and documents will be stored, and you’ll pay the PreCheck fee. The fee, around $75 depending on the provider, is set by the provider. When your application is approved, usually in three to five days, you’ll receive a Known Traveler Number to use when you make reservations.
The Bottom Line
Well-prepared travelers avoid most of the irritations that can turn a trip into an ordeal. This is especially true when the mode of transportation is an airplane where a minor problem at the airport can cascade into a series of roadblocks. Your to-do list should include more than a reminder to pack your clothes. Follow the airline’s rules and know your rights and obligations.