If you’re facing your first solo trip, there is plenty you can do to prepare.
From choosing the right flight details to navigating security, we’ve put together the best advice for your travels.
This guide covers all the tips involving:
- Choosing the right airline
- Airline credit cards and miles
- Picking your seat
- Preparing your luggage
- Completing the necessary paperwork
- Arriving at the airport
- Preparing for security
- Frequent flyer programs
- Airplane etiquette
These tips for flying alone for the first time will make your trip smooth sailing – or should we say smooth flying.
9 Tips for Your First Time Flying Alone
1. Choose the Right Airline
Many airlines travel to the same destinations, but not all airlines are created equal. Differences in airlines include prices, layovers, baggage allowance, meal inclusions, entertainment options, seat space, and more.
Generally speaking, you can choose between major airlines and low-cost airlines for your solo trip. Both will get you from point A to point B, but they have some distinct differences.
If cost is not an issue, you may want to choose one of the major U.S. airlines for easier travel. The most popular airlines in and out of the U.S. include:
Most travelers on these airlines can enjoy one carry-on plus one personal item included in their ticket price. Nowadays, most airlines do not include a checked bag in their introductory price – you’ll have to add this as an additional fee when booking.
However, major airlines do tend to give a free snack (e.g., cookies, crackers, nuts) and drink (non-alcoholic) on domestic planes and at least one meal on long-haul flights.
Additionally, all three of the aforementioned airlines have reported more frequent on-time arrivals than their counterparts. Delta and American Airlines also had the lowest numbers of complaints during the emergence of the pandemic in 2020.
Thus, if your flight time is critical to you, you might want to choose these airlines.
A budget airline will get you where you need to go at low rates. Excellent for those on a budget and solo travelers, low-cost airlines cut out extras to give you the lowest price possible.
The top low-cost U.S. airlines are:
Low-cost airlines typically offer a price that does not include hand luggage, checked luggage, or onboard snacks/drinks.
While they’re excellent for short trips, each low-cost airline has pros and cons. For instance, Alaska had the best on-time rate out of all major and low-cost airlines in 2022, while Southwest had the fewest complaints.
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2. Consider Using an Airline Credit Card
If you are planning to fly more in the future, you may want to consider getting an airline credit card. This card could work for only one airline, or you could get a generic credit card that accumulates points for all affiliated airlines.
Just remember, you can often get the biggest rewards for opening a new card, so you’ll want to compare offers across airlines and credit card companies.
However, note that credit card miles are not equal to flight miles. Just because you have accumulated 10,000 miles does not mean you can cash it in for a free flight destined somewhere 10,000 miles away.
Each airline determines how many miles you accumulate per dollar spent, as well as how many miles you need to redeem each flight.
Even though the points-and-miles system takes a bit of digging to understand, these cards are great to get free or reduced flights. So, if you’re going to use a credit card anyway, you might as well choose one that gives you something in return.
3. Pick Your Seat
Whether you’re flying alone with a major or low-cost airline, you’ll have the option of pre-selecting your seat for your solo flight. You can usually do this at an extra cost for domestic travel and free when traveling internationally.
When flying solo, you’ll likely be near a window or an aisle seat to fill in the vacant spots between groups. If you’re nervous about seat placement or just want to secure one seat, in particular, it’s best to select it when purchasing your flight.
Generally speaking, seats in the front of the aircraft, past the wing and engine, are the quietest. Seats near the toilets are noisier and will have more foot traffic.
Additionally, while the seats at emergency exits offer more legroom, you won’t be able to store your personal item under the seat in front of you. It’s also usually louder in this area.
Lastly, if you want to board the plane first, you should buy a business class seat or pay for priority boarding. Otherwise, the plane begins boarding at the back.
A window seat offers an excellent view during air travel, and watching out the window is a great way to pass the time if you’re a solo traveler flying alone. You’ll also be next to a wall to lean on if you want a nap.
The downside of this seat, however, is that you have to ask the people next to you to get up if you need to stand or use the restroom.
Aisle seats are great for those who like to move without obstruction. You also have the chance for more legroom if you sprawl out a bit into the aisle.
The downside of the aisle seat is having other passengers and the food cart passing by, possibly bumping into you.
Middle seats are usually the less coveted option, but they have their benefits.
Proper plane etiquette gives the middle person both armrests. You will also have easier access to the aisle than a window person, and you can still see out the window with little obstruction.
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4. Prepare Your Luggage
Efficiently preparing your luggage for a flight is a skill. Thus, you should be familiar with the baggage allowance for your ticket, the climate of the city you’re visiting, and what things you’ll want on-hand on your first time flying alone.
Each flight can include a checked bag, carry-on luggage, and a personal item.
Most checked bags can weigh up to 50 lbs., but the size depends on the airline. Many domestic planes will not include a checked bag, yet you can add them to your ticket for an additional price.
Hand luggage can weigh anywhere from 15-26 lbs. depending on the airline, but you may have to pay to bring them. Examples of carry-ons include duffel bags, large backpacks, or small suitcases.
Additionally, you can usually have one personal item on every flight, normally a small backpack, purse, or laptop bag. This bag is where you’ll store documents like your passport and ID.
Your personal item has to fit under the seat in front of you.
Packing Your Checked Bag
Your checked bags should contain any liquids over 3 oz., especially toiletries. You will also want to pack any sharp objects in your checked bag, such as nail clippers, to ensure flight safety.
Also, the checked bag is where the bulk of your clothes and accessories will go. However, avoid packing expensive valuables in your checked bag if possible.
Packing Your Carry-On Bag
Hand luggage should include essentials for your time at the airport, in the flight cabin, and if you have to wait for a connecting flight. You may want to pack a bit extra when flying alone to keep yourself occupied.
Some recommended items for flying alone include:
- A snack
- An empty water bottle
- Essential medicine
- Electronics (mobile phone, computer, chargers, earphones)
- Eye mask and earplugs if you plan to sleep
- Neck pillow
- Liquids under 3 oz.
- Reading materials
- Gum so your ears don’t pop when the air pressure changes
- Noise-canceling headphones to get rid of engine noise
If you are the type of person who is very afraid of something like a plane crash, bringing fun distractions can also help put your mind at ease.
Furthermore, it’s best to wear comfortable clothes to the airport because it’s hard to fall asleep or deal with jet lag if you’re uncomfortable. And comfortable clothes will make you feel better if you’re a bit nervous, which is normal on your first time flying alone.
You can not have the following items in checked baggage:
- Alcohol over 140-proof
- Lithium-ion batteries
You can not have the following in carry-on luggage:
- Sharp objects
- Liquids over 3 oz.
- Weapons of any kind
For a full list of Transportation Security Administration (TSA) approved and prohibited items, click here.
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5. Complete the Necessary Paperwork
You won’t get far without your ID at the airport, but you may need to complete further paperwork to make it to your final destination.
If you plan to leave the U.S. when flying alone, you’ll need an active passport. U.S. passports take 8-11 weeks to process and cost $165 ($130 to apply plus a $35 acceptance fee).
Adult passports are valid for ten years, so you can still use yours on your next trip.
Also, note that the U.S. Department of State recommends you apply for a passport at least 4-6 months before your planned travel.
Customs forms are documents used to clear items and passengers for entry into a country. Each country has its own customs procedure.
If entering the U.S. from abroad, you’ll need to fill out the U.S. customs form (CBP Declaration Form 6059B) upon arrival. Your airline staff should distribute this document mid-flight.
Most countries allow U.S. citizens to visit without a visa or permit, but some require a visitor’s visa. You can usually find information on entry requirements via the U.S. Embassy’s website for your corresponding country.
As of 2020, many countries have introduced a required COVID-19 declaration form. This document is usually a sworn statement indicating your COVID-19 status, vaccination status, or both.
6. Arrive Early at the Airport
If this is your first flight and you’re flying alone, you may be wondering when you should arrive at the airport.
The standard recommendation is to arrive at the airport two hours before the departure time for a domestic flight and three hours before an international flight. This recommendation changes if you have to go through luggage check-in or are checking in online.
If you’re only heading out with your hand luggage or no luggage at all, you can usually shave 30 minutes off of your arrival time before your actual flight. Many airlines allow you to check in online as well.
However, keep in mind that check-in and security lines are longer around major holidays and in a busy airport, so it’s better to get to the airport early.
Also, if you are coming to the airport from the train station, you should give yourself extra time in case of delays.
When arriving at the airport, you’ll need to go through the following steps in order.
- Present your ID, documents, and baggage at the check-in counter in the arrival hall
- If you have checked in online, you’ll drop off your checked bags at the baggage drop-off counter.
- If you have checked in online with no checked baggage, you can proceed directly to security.
- Make your way to security and choose your respective line: no program, CLEAR, TSA Precheck.
- Proceed through security
- Proceed to your boarding gate
- Wait until they call your boarding zone, show your boarding pass and ID, and board the plane.
Remember that you may need to go through passport control as well.
7. Prepare for Airport Security
If you’ve followed our packing guide, you should be able to get through security without any issues.
Once you’ve reached the bins, you’ll need to remove shoes, jackets, belts, and watches. If you are carrying a laptop, this will have to go in a separate bin.
Finally, don’t forget to take your liquids out of your carry-on. All fluids should be in containers of 3-ounces or less and packed together in a sealed transparent bag.
Some security lines will not require you to remove the aforementioned items, but you should prepare to do so if necessary. All of these precautions are to enhance flight safety.
Lastly, know that it is perfectly normal to feel stressed about dealing with security, especially if this is your first time flying alone. But, just make sure you have all your information together, like your boarding passes, and just head straight through.
8. Consider Frequent Flyer Programs
For those who prefer to speed through security and customs when flying alone, you may want to consider joining a frequent flyer program. You should join this program if you foresee yourself often flying in the future.
The TSA Precheck program, CLEAR, and the Global Entry program are great options for those who travel often. Certain credit cards may cover the costs of applying for TSA Precheck and Global Entry.
Other airlines may offer frequent flyer programs which are useful if you tend to stick to one airline for your travels.
The TSA Precheck program speeds up your airport security process. Once successfully enrolled, you do not need to remove your shoes, laptops, liquids, belts, or light jackets during the inspection.
Most airports also offer a separate line for Precheck customers, meaning you can skip the slow and lengthy regular security line. In December 2021, Precheck passengers waited less than 5 minutes to get to their security checkpoint.
The CLEAR program uses biometric security kiosks to verify your identity, bypassing the TSA agent halfway through airport security lines. Once verified, someone will escort you to either the regular screening or TSA Precheck screening to check your luggage.
The Global Entry program accelerates the U.S. customs clearance process for Americans who often travel internationally. You’ll get to skip the usually-long lines upon arrival in the U.S. by using one of the Global Entry kiosks to process your identification.
9. Advice for Being on the Airplane
Sitting on an airplane is not the same as sitting on your sofa. Thus, you should follow some airplane etiquette rules to make the flying process better for everyone.
Along with proper behavior, you should also know what to expect when it comes to meals and entertainment, especially if this is your first flight flying alone.
There are a few etiquette rules for boarding and being on an aircraft.
For starters, only board when an employee calls your boarding zone. You’ll find this zone on your boarding pass.
Boarding is often the most stressful part of the flight, but remember that all the noise and movement will settle down in a few minutes.
When on the plane, store your carry-on bag vertically in the overhead bin. Similarly, your personal item should go under the seat in front of you.
If you’re in an aisle or middle seat when flying alone for the first time, remember not to get too comfortable until your row companions appear. Once they’re seated, buckle in and remain seated until the plane reaches cruise elevation and the fasten seat belt sign disappears.
Additionally, you should remain calm if you hit any turbulence.
Also, feel free to recline your seat after takeoff, but make sure to put it upright during meal times. Plus, be considerate of those in front of you, and try not to open and shut your meal tray too often.
If you need to speak to someone else, use a quieter tone. Also, out of respect for your companions, try not to use the bright overhead light during “dark” or night flights.
Finally, avoid blocking the aisles during the flight. There is also no need to flood the aisles once the plane has landed – everyone will get off in row order, and there’s truly no way or need to rush.
If you’re packing a snack or meal, stay away from stinky foods. You should leave foods such as tuna or eggs at home.
You should especially be wary of the food you bring when flying alone because you will have strangers on both sides of you.
When the cabin crew serves you your meal during a long-haul flight, try to keep your area clean while eating. Then, when done, stack everything neatly on your food tray to easily pass it along to the flight attendants when they come around.
Many flights offer excellent entertainment options for both domestic and international trips.
On domestic flights, the airline’s app may allow you to gain access to movies and TV shows. Be sure to download this app, if available, using the airport Wi-Fi before boarding.
Meanwhile, international flights usually offer individualized screens on the back of every seat. You can enjoy movies, TV shows, games, and other interactive features during your long flight.
The airline or a flight attendant should provide you with headphones, or you can always bring your own.
And as with any other public transportation, keep your music confined to your headphones and don’t make your screen too bright.
Also, never forget to turn your phone on airplane mode while on the plane.
Table of Contents
- 9 Tips for Your First Time Flying Alone
- 1. Choose the Right Airline
- 2. Consider Using an Airline Credit Card
- 3. Pick Your Seat
- 4. Prepare Your Luggage
- 5. Complete the Necessary Paperwork
- 6. Arrive Early at the Airport
- 7. Prepare for Airport Security
- 8. Consider Frequent Flyer Programs
- 9. Advice for Being on the Airplane