Never booked a flight before? Look, we’ve been there. Maybe someone else has always done it for you. Maybe you’re just out of university and your parents always made the travel arrangements. Or you’ve just… never flown before.
Either way, it’s totally ok if you haven’t yet booked your own flight. Everyone is a novice at the beginning. So let’s break it down.
There are a bunch of different ways you can book your flight. You can book online at the airline’s website, online through a third party website, over the phone, or in person at the airport.
Online (airline site)
When you’re booking on an airline’s site, the booking page is usually the first to appear. It will offer you a roundtrip option, which means that you are booking a flight to your destination and back home. Or you can change it to “one-way”—meaning you will be flying in, but not flying back out.
You will enter the name of the city you’re leaving from, but it’s better to enter the 3-letter code for that city’s airport. In many major cities, you will find that there are multiple airports so you need to narrow down exactly which one is closest to you or which one your airline flies out of.
Next, you will put in your destination and once again check that 3-letter code to ensure you’re going to the right airport. Select the date you want to leave and the date you want to return. Once you have selected the dates, you’ll add how many people are travelling and the site it will provide you with all of the flight information for the dates you selected.
At this stage you’ll decide what your travel needs are. Do you want a nonstop flight without any stopping/layovers? Double check and see if your flight allows for that option; if not, you can always choose the option with the shorter layover time. Is price most important? Each airline offers the ability to see your results listed from lowest to highest pricing.
Selecting “advanced search” when booking your flight will allow you to get as detailed in your flying needs as possible.
People often use these sites as a way to price-check multiple airlines at the same time. Some of these sites include Expedia, Travelocity, and Kayak. The booking process is the same, however once you input the information for departure, return, passengers and seating class, the site will present you with multiple options of airlines and prices. You can filter your options by preference of non-stop versus having a layover. It also allows you to display the cost of the flights from lowest to highest or even choose what time of day you’d prefer to fly. Note: We don’t generally recommend the use of third-party sites; changing and cancelling can be complicated, you may not be notified of changes to your flight, and your personal information can get compromised.
Over the phone
Some people feel comfortable booking over the phone because they think it’s safer and protects against identity theft. Booking this way only requires that you call the customer service number of the airline and give all of your information to the customer service agent. You will also pay over the phone using a credit or debit card and they will send you a confirmation through your provided email and phone number.
Be sure not to hang up and disconnect from the customer service agent until you have received the confirmation. Once you receive your confirmation double check that all of the information is correct including the spelling of your name, date of birth, and passport or identification number.
Done? OK, now you can hang up.
At the airport
No, you can’t show up on the day you want to fly out and purchase a ticket. But if you live near an airport, you can cut some of the fees associated with booking through other avenues. You need to head to the departures side of the airport (not arrivals). Go to the window of the airline you wish to purchase a ticket and an agent will walk you through the process.
Choosing your seats
In terms of choosing where you sit on the plane, first, know the tiers. You have economy class, business class, and first-class.
On most airlines, there is more than one tier of economy class; generally you’ll see “basic” and “premium” economy options. The difference is usually the seat’s width and legroom, although it depends on the airline. It could also mean that your carry-on is not included in the fare price and you must pay for that as well.
With budget airlines, choosing a seat may not automatically be included in the basic price option of the ticket. When looking at the seat chart for the aeroplane, you will notice a price on the seat selection—this will be added to your total. Some other airlines may also charge more for more legroom, and you’ll see those prices in their seat charts.
Business class costs more but offers more legroom. This class also offers better food and beverage choices that are included in your flight price and, depending on the length of the flight, more in-flight entertainment selections.
The perks for first class passengers also depend on the airline. Typically you’ll get first-class lounge access, power outlets, full food/beverage menus, a separate flight attendant crew for service and way more seat room. You may also get anything from an amenity kit and a fully reclining seat to a private suite and a private bathroom with a shower. You’ll usually find the extravagant amenities on international flights.
Where to sit on the plane
An aeroplane will always start with first class at the front of the plane, business directly after and economy behind those two. Let’s discuss economy, since most of us will be there.
First consideration: do you choose a window, middle or aisle seat?
Window seats are best if you enjoy watching the scenery or get motion sick and need a glimpse of the horizon. It is also best if you want to sleep because you have somewhere to rest your head and won’t be disturbed by your fellow row-mates stepping over you to get to the bathroom. It’s also a great option for children—they won’t be able to roam the aisles as easily.
The aisle seat is best if you’re someone who likes to get up and stretch. It’s also more convenient when you need to go to the bathroom because you don’t have to squeeze past other people in the process or wake anyone up.
Then there’s that blasted middle seat. I don’t personally know anyone who likes a middle seat. However, if you’re travelling with others, it’s a good way to keep you all together. I sometimes put my son in the middle seat when I’m travelling with my family.
Next consideration: do you sit toward the front or back of the plane, or head for the middle area?
Remember what you needs are when you’re departing the aircraft. Will you be at your final destination? Will you need to recheck your bags during a layover? Do you have luggage that’ll be coming through baggage claim?
If where you’re going is your final destination, you may want to consider sitting closer to the back of the plane. I always choose sitting in the back of the plane when I know I’m at my final destination because I know other people will need to get off the plane much faster than me. Similarly, when I have checked baggage, I will typically choose to sit farther back in the aeroplane because I know that no matter how quickly I get off the plane, my bags are never going to be there waiting.
However, if the first destination is not my final destination and my checked baggage has to be rechecked during my layover, I’ll sit closer to the front.
The middle of the plane, where the wings are, is your best bet if you tend to get motion sick or are afraid of turbulence. You’ll experience less motion in this area. They also include exit rows which give you increased leg space, but you have to agree that you will assist in the event of an emergency in order to sit there. Pregnant women and children under 16 are not permitted to sit there.
Most airlines will allow you to bring one personal item and a carry-on on board. A personal item is simply a purse or small bag, like a laptop bag, that you will carry on the plane with you.
A carry-on must fit a certain size criteria, depending on the airline’s policy, so that it fits in the overhead bin or under the seat in front of you. Usually an adult backpack-sized item would meet the needs of what you would have to put in a carry-on. There is not standard from airline to airline and international flights may have different rules from domestic flights. But a good start for sizing is 22 x 14 x 9 inches. Again, you need to always check the specific airline’s criteria because sizing is not the same across all airlines.
Checked baggage are bags that you are going to allow the gate agent to put in the cargo hold of the plane. They will put a white sticker with your passenger information and when you get to your destination you’ll pick up the bag from baggage claim. This option is typically included for free on international flights that are not on budget airlines. Checked baggage can also be included for first, business, or priority airline rewards members. In most situations, your checked bag must weigh no more than 20 kilograms and if you’re flying business or first class. Just like the dimensions for carry-ons, checked bags don’t have a standard size, but a safe bet is to stick with a bag that’s no more than 62 inches when you total its length, width and height.
Depending on how much you check, each checked bag will be a different price, starting with the first as the lowest. Make sure to note all baggage prior to completing your booking. You also want to make sure that if you have to pay for bags, you do it in advance—otherwise you could end up paying a lot more — sometimes even as much as $70 for a carry-on you did not pay for before checking into your flight.