Did you ever fly? Are you looking at taking a flight somewhere? If you never took a plane, you may be curious about the process. You can take a variety of flights such as transatlantic, trans-border, or international. In this post, I cover taking a domestic flight and what it involves.
First of all, what's a domestic flight? It simply means taking a flight within the same country. Your departure point and arrival point on the same segment are in the same country. You could have a connecting flight prior or after your domestic segment that could be from or to a different country.
When taking a domestic flight, there is no custom to go through since your are not crossing international borders. There is also no need for a passport. (Always verify this information regardless of what I’m saying. There might be exceptions.)
A flight from Montreal to Vancouver, both cities in Canada, is a domestic flight even though it's the same length of flight time as Montreal, Canada, to London, United Kingdom. The latter flight is a transatlantic and international flight. Montreal to New-York is only a 1-hour flight, the same as Montreal to Toronto. The latter is a domestic flight. The flight to New-York is a transborder, a short-haul, and an international flight. A transborder flight means that you’re travelling to a country adjacent to the country of your departure point and are not crossing any ocean. A transatlantic flight means that you’re flying to another country and are crossing the Atlantic ocean. There are also transpacific flights and so on.
In all cases, you’ll need to go through customs and present your passport, and sometime a visa (no, not the credit card), to get admitted in the country. The only exceptions are domestic flights and countries with special agreements such as the European Union.
Taking a Domestic Flight Steps
You may know some of the broad strokes of taking a plane, but you’d may want to know more about the details. I went through the process myself several times (dozens and dozens of times) and I listed and described all the steps involved. You can watch the video to gain a better understanding of the flow. Note that this process may vary in some countries.
Purchasing your Ticket and Packing
Prior to your departure, you’ll need to buy your plane ticket and pack your suitcase. You can buy your ticket online directly on the airline website or a third-party provider such as expedia.com. You can also buy your ticket with a travel agent if you would prefer someone to advise you and do the booking for you. Either way is totally fine.
A couple days or one day before your flight, you can pack your bags. No need to over do it. :) Define the purpose and length of your trip to select the essentials. You can check out my Asia Business Trip Packing List and my Minimalist Closet and KonMari Folding articles to get additional information about packing.
There are some important rules and regulations about packing. What you take on the plane is limited in size. Check out the rules on the airline’s website. You can't take anything that could be used as a weapon. Also, liquids are limited to 100 ml per item and all liquid containers combined have to fit in a bag a bit smaller than the size of large Ziploc bag. So, no bottle of wines in your carry-on. They all gave to be checked-in.
Several airlines will charge you around 25$ to check a bag on a domestic or trans-border flight. Make sure to verify this as well. If you have a frequent flyer status with them (points card), these fees are often waived.
You are allowed to carry-on with you a small bag such as a small suitcase and a personal item like a purse, small backpack, or laptop bag.
Watch out with United Airline. There’s now a 1-item limit that must fit under the seat if you buy tickets from the lowest fare bracket. Read more about it in this Washington Post article.
Frequent Traveller Programs
Before doing your flight check-in, register for your airline’s frequent flying program and check what group they are part of. The two biggest groups are Star Alliance and SkyTeam. Flying on airlines that are part of the same group will get your points for free flights and increase your status to get additional benefits.
This is where you get your boarding pass. You absolutely need it to get on the plane. It can either be printed or digital with a QR code that you can show from your phone.
Depending on the country and airline, you can do your check-in yourself either online on the airline’s website or using their app on your smartphone. These check-in become available 24 hours prior to departure.
If your flight doesn't fit the above or you don't have the ability to do so, you can check-in directly at the airport a couple hours before your flight time. You can do so earlier as well.
During the check-in, you can select your seat if it was not done when booking the flight or at an earlier step. A lot of domestic flight won’t allow you to select your seat ahead of time or will let you do so at an additional fee. Check-in early to get a better seat selection, especially if you’re not travelling alone.
Going to the Airport
Get to the airport on time. Check on the airline’s website to find out how long in advance they recommend you to arrive. They generally close the check-in and baggage drop-off counters 1 hour prior to departure.
You have to go check-in if not done already, drop off your bags if you have some, go through security, walk to your gate (it may take a while in big airports), and be there at the boarding time. You board the plane 30 to 45 minutes prior to the scheduled departure time.
Make sure to leave early enough to account for traffic, rush hour, security wait time at the airport, counter check-in, and boarding time.
If you drive yourself there, you need to think about parking time, waiting for the shuttle from the parking lot, and getting to the terminal. If you rented a car, you need to count in the drop-off time and shuttle time to get to the terminal. Taxis and Uber can drop you off directly at your terminal.
Big airports have several terminals, often different ones for domestic and international flights. Make sure you know where you’re going to avoid having to switch terminal later on. In some airports, you may have to take a bus to do so.
Baggage Drop-off and Counter Check-in
Once at the departure level of your airport, head to the airline's check-in area. If you registered with the app, have only carry-on bags, and have your digital boarding pass, head to the security and skip this step.
If you're registering at the counter, the line can be long if many other passengers are flying out. Many flights are checking in at the same time.
A lot of airlines now have automated pods for you to self-register. That can be much faster if the process goes smoothly.
If you checked-in with the app, that part is already done.
If you are checking in a bag (meaning it goes in the cargo compartment of the plane), the automated pod will print out your tag to attach to your bag. You need to do this part even if you have checked-in with the app. Put it on and head to the baggage drop-off counter or station. Drop your bag. If you check in at the counter, the agent will print it out and put it on for you.
If you have a connection, verify if you have to pick up your bag at your next stopping point or if it will automatically continue to your final destination. It mainly depends if you are changing country. For domestic flights, it generally continues along.
This step is often the most inconvenient one, but is necessary. Before you can get to your gate, you have to go through security. All your carry-on items will be x-rayed and you’ll go through a detector.
All your bags will go in trays that will then be slid in the x-ray machine. You have to take off your hat, scarf, jacket, hoodie, vest, coat, belt, and everything in your pockets. You’re pretty much left with pants, shirt, and socks. Depending on the airport and security level, sometime you keep your shoes on or you have to take them off. It really depends. All that stuff has to go in the trays.
If you have a computer or tablet, you have to take it out of your bag and put it in an individual tray.
When you go through the detector, there’s a probability that it’ll beep if you have something like a hair clip or bunched up pants. They don't necessarily look for metal. They look for hidden objects of all kinds. You could also be selected for a random search, no not the invasive kind.
Once you have put back your shoes, belt, and jacket on as well as recomposed your bags, you’re ready to go to your gate.
Lounge and Gate
On your boarding pass, you can find your gate number. It’s possible that it's not there. Regardless, always double-check your gate on the terminal displays. They frequently change. Make sure to be aware of that.
As you cumulate flights and frequent flyer points with your preferred airline group, you’ll gain access to the lounge. The first one you’ll get access to is the domestic one. You generally need a higher status to get to the international ones.
Either wait at your gate or in the lounge for your boarding time. Stay alert in case the gate changes, the flight is delayed, or is cancelled.
When the agents call the boarding time, they’ll start with first class and business class, as well as frequent flyer passengers (generally identified by zone 1 and 2). They also invite passengers with limited mobility, with young children, or otherwise require assistance to board. They then continue with the economy class passengers starting with zone 3 located at the back of the plane. They complete the boarding with the remaining zones coming towards the front of the plane.
As you board the plane, you're required to present your government issued identification and your boarding pass at the gate counter. When you get at the actual plane’s door, you’ll show them your boarding pass and the crew will indicate in which area your seat is located.
Carry-on and Overhead Compartment
Once you reach your seat, you need to put away your carry-on bags. They can’t be on you or in the aisles. You can either put them under the seat in front of you or in the overhead compartment.
If ever your carry-on bag is too big for the overhead bin, the crew will do what is called valet check-in. They take your bag and put them with the check-in bags. This happens when flying on smaller planes and this is quite frequent for domestic and short-haul flights. They'll either give it back to you when you deplane or you’ll have to pick it up at the conveyor belt with all the other check-in bags. It varies.
If you sit in the front row, there’s no seat in front of you, therefore everything has to be in the overhead bins.
Before the plane actually takes off, the agents will give a security and safety features demonstration specific to the plane you’re on. Watch it so you know what to do, and where the exits are. On bigger planes, they play a video in the seat in front of you.
I like this security video from Air New-Zealand. It made me smile and pay a bit more attention. I’ve seens these demonstrations over 200 times.
Some things are permitted and others not while on board.
You can't smoke, not in the main cabins and not in the washrooms. You can’t smoke electronic cigarettes either.
Your seat belt should be fasten at all time while sitting. It’s not mandatory, but highly recommended.
Your phone has to remain in Airplane mode for the entire flight. You have to set it before take off. The crew will let you know when it's allowed to turn it back on after landing.
At the time of this posting, airlines completely banned Galaxy Note 7 phones due to their technical issue where they overheat and explode.
Your laptop’s wifi has to be off the whole time unless explicitly specified that it can be on to access the airplane’s wifi.
Small airplanes will request that you remove your earphones for takeoff and landing. For bigger aircrafts with an entertainment system, you can keep the earbuds connected in their system as you can hear their announcements. The big headphones have to be removed as they could fly off in an emergency situation.
Closing the Aircraft Door and Taxiing
When they close the plane’s door, by protocol they won't reopen it until landing at the destination. Therefore, if you're not on board, you missed your flight. Read more about this here.
Once the door is closed and the aircraft is cleared to leave the gate, the plane will taxi all the way to the runway.
In winter, it's frequent that a plane will undergo a de-icing session before takeoff. Huge trucks will spray the wings so they don't freeze in low temperatures.
Once that's all done, the plane reaches the runway and gets cleared for takeoff. It’ll speed up over several hundreds of meters and take off. For a few minutes it’ll continue to climb and adjust course for the destination. It's normal to experience bumps and turbulence during the takeoff and during the flight.
In-flight Meal and Entertainment
During the flight, depending on the aircraft, airline, and duration of the flight, you’ll be offered some food and entertainment.
If it's a small plane, it's quite possible that there won't be any movies, especially on flights under 2 hours. Newer planes with the entertainment system in the back on the seat may still have some tv shows, music, and the news. Others may have an online selection that you have to sync on your device on their closed-loop wifi network.
The majority of airlines always offer a complimentary refreshments service. Some will add free snacks such as chocolate, chips, or pretzels. Longer flights will offer food for purchase. Take note that they only accept credit cards. There’s no cash handled on these flights. Double-check on your airline's website. These rules may vary.
You’re always welcome to bring your own snacks. (Not everything can be taken through security. Double-check.) You can also purchase food and drinks from the airport and take them on board. It has to be easily put away. Don’t bring a soup on a tray. Take-out food in a bag works.
The plane will start its descent about 45 minutes before touchdown. At that point, the crew will do a last round to pick up any remaining trash.
You’ll have to put your tray and the back of your seat in the upright position. Laptops and bags have to be put away. Big headphones are to be removed and only earbuds connected to the entertainment system can be on. As always, your seatbelt must be fastened.
When the plane lands, the crew will announce the local time as well as provide information about connecting flights. Make sure to pay attention if you are connecting, and especially if your flight was delayed.
A few minutes after touchdown, you’ll be permitted to use your mobile and turn off the airplane mode.
The aircraft will taxi to its assigned gate. Depending how big the airport is, this may take a little while. Once at the gate, the ground crew will prepare the ramp or gate for deplaning. They’ll also start offloading checked bags, trash, and any other items that has to be taken out.
Once the seatbelt is turned off, you can stand up and start grabbing your personal belongings. Be mindful of other passengers.
You should leave the aircraft in a zipper manner. The front rows go first and you should let people in front of you leave first unless they require more time and let you through.
Picking-Up Checked Bags
Once out, if you have a checked bag to pick up, head for the baggage conveyor belts. Follow the signs saying Baggage Claim. Once there, check on the displays to know which carousel will be outputting the bags from your flight. It may take a little while for them to get there.
Make sure you take the right bag. Check the tags, check your receipt, and check your name tag.
If ever your bag doesn’t arrive, see this article to know what to do.
Getting to Your Accommodation
If no one is picking you up, you have to head to the Ground Transportation area. Follow the signs. It’ always indicated. You may have to walk a while, take a tunnel, a bus, a train, a metro, or a ferry to get to that section depending on the airport.
There are taxis, limousines, shuttles, buses, and so on. Research what will be best for you. You can also call a Uber if they are allowed to pick up at the airport in the city you are in.
Get on and have a great trip!!!
Here are some other related articles you may find useful to prepare for a flight.
If you have additional tips, feedback, comments, or suggestions, feel very welcome to share them in the comment section!
Thank you for reading. :)
Who Am I? I'm many things. I'm passionate about tons of stuff. I love travel. I love self-improvement. I'm a sucker for optimization, efficiency, and minimalism. I renewed with mathematics and science, those are so amazing. Astronomy and chemistry are just plain awesome! I'm a student, a mentor, a traveler, a learner, an artist, an animator, and Disney brings me tears of joy! I love to grow and I will never stop! So who am I? All that and everything else I have not discovered about myself yet. It's a never ending answer!
Qui suis je? Je suis beaucoup de choses. Je suis passionné des tonnes de trucs. J'adore voyager. J'adore la croissance personnelle. Je suis vendue à l'optimisation, l'efficacité et le minimalisme. J'ai renoué avec les mathématiques et les sciences, des mondes tout simplement incroyable. L'astronomie et la chimie sont tout simplement génial! Je suis étudiante, mentor, voyageuse, artiste, animatrice et Disney m'apporte des larmes de joie! J'aime me pousser à fond et je ne cesserai jamais! Alors, qui suis-je? Tout cela et tout le reste que je n'ai pas encore découvert de moi-même. C'est une réponse sans fin!