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Heading to the Airport? Use This Pre-Flight Checklist

If you’ve booked an airline ticket for an upcoming trip, heading to the airport may be an anxiety-inducing experience. Whether you’re an avid flyer or an infrequent one, there are a slew of fees to keep track of, plus security protocols that may seem overwhelming.

Fear not. This handy flight checklist will help you get to the airport, through security, and to your gate with ease.

Before You Leave Your House

Woman leaving home with suitcase
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Before you even start to pack, consult this packing list to make sure you’re well prepared.

  • Check in online to avoid a long wait at the airport. You can usually check in online up to 24 hours before your flight.
  • Find out if your carrier charges extra baggage fees if you check your bags in person at the airport. Save yourself time and money by checking your bags online at home before you go.
  • Verify what the airline’s weight limits are for baggage. To avoid extra fees, weigh your bags at home using a small luggage scale. If they are overweight, remove or redistribute some items, or plan to pay extra.
  • Make sure you have all your travel documentation in one place (purse, carry-on, etc.) that’s easy to access. Add your hotel and airline’s phone numbers as well as the emergency number at your destination into your phone.
  • Make extra copies of important travel documents, ID/passports, key phone numbers, etc. It’s advised to have a copy for each bag.
  • If you’re traveling with a carry-on bag, make sure there are no full-size toiletries inside. All liquids and gels must adhere by the 3-1-1 rule, and be stored in a clear plastic quart-sized bag. For more information, see Airport Security Frequently Asked Questions.
  • Ensure you’re not traveling with any prohibited items. If you were planning on bringing such items with you, ship them instead—otherwise they’ll be confiscated at the airport.

At the Check-in Gate

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Once you’ve arrived at the airport, you may need to head to the check-in gate, depending on what you did online before you left your home.

  • If you’ve checked in online, drop off your baggage (if applicable) and head to the security line.
  • If you haven’t checked in online prior to arrival, check in at a kiosk or in person at a check-in desk.
  • After checking in by kiosk, drop off bags at the appropriate counter.
  • Add your baggage claim receipt to your collection of travel documents. If you have connecting flights, especially those on separate carriers, it’s especially important to keep your baggage claim tag with you to avoid any delays or snafus.
  • Get your ID and boarding pass out for the security line.
  • Be sure to throw away any bottles of water, cups of coffee, or other liquids or gels that may be confiscated at security.

At Security

Person putting tablet in bin at airport security
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Take stock of the following steps before getting in the security line.

  • Have your ID and boarding pass out and ready for the TSA official.
  • Take off your shoes, belt, and any jewelry that may set off the metal detector. Make sure there is no loose change or other items in your pockets. Place all items in a bin on the conveyor belt. (Note that you can skip some of these steps if you have TSA PreCheck or Global Entry.)
  • If you have a clear plastic bag of liquids or gels in your carry-on bag, take it out and place it in a bin next to your shoes, belt, etc.
  • Place your bags and coat on the conveyor belt.
  • If you are traveling with a laptop, take it out of its carrier case and onto the screening belt. If your laptop is in a checkpoint-friendly case, it does not need to be removed from its outer bag.
  • Wait until you are called to go through the metal detector or full-body scanner. If asked, show the TSA official your ID and boarding pass. Acceptable forms of ID include passports, driver’s licenses, military IDs, and permanent resident cards, among a few others. (Make sure your ID is compliant with REAL ID requirements.)
  • Comply with any TSA official requests, such as an additional bag inspection or personal screening.
  • Reclaim your items and head toward the gate.

At the Gate

People waiting in airport terminal
hin255 | Adobe Stock

You’re almost done. Before you board the plane, check the following:

  • Make sure your carry-on fits the aircraft’s overhead dimensions. Usually there is a sample crate at your gate to determine if your bag will fit.
  • Check to see if there is meal or snack service onboard your flight. If not, you may want to purchase food and drink from a concessionaire in your terminal or at a food court.
  • Wait for your clearance to board the plane, then make sure to get in line with your designated group (check your boarding pass to see which group you’re in). If you have small children or special needs, you may be able to get advanced boarding privileges. See the gate agent if you have any questions.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2010. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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