Flying alone for the first time is always scary, even more so when you’re a teenager. It feels like there are always ten things going on at once: Where are your bags? Where is your boarding pass? Do you have your ID? Are you late for boarding? Where on earth is the security line? It can be overwhelming, to say the least.
However, I can say from first-hand experience that flying alone can be very smooth and simple, as long as you prepare beforehand.
Here are a few tips to walk you through each step of flying alone for the first time as a teenager, coming right from someone who nearly lost her suitcase, got to the airport ten minutes before boarding, was patted down at security because of her watch, and encountered many more mishaps!
1. Consider airline age limits for unaccompanied minors
For example, on Jet Blue, you are no longer considered an unaccompanied minor and are allowed to fly alone once you are fourteen years old. However, most other airlines require you to be at least fifteen. Make sure to check the age limit beforehand so it doesn’t wind up interfering with your plans!
2. Check in as soon as you can
Most airlines allow you to check in online within 24 hours of your flight. As a first-time flyer and as a general rule, you should check in as early as possible. This will not only save you time at the airport, but most airlines will also allow you to choose or change your seat on the plane. The earlier you are, the more options you have for a good seat.
3. Pay for checked bags beforehand
If you are planning on checking your bags in at the airport instead of taking them on the plane with you, make sure you’ve paid for them beforehand— it will save you so much time. Also, make sure that your checked suitcase fits the weight and size requirements of the airlines (and, of course, that it doesn’t contain any prohibited items).
4. Place important belongings in your carry-on
When I do decide to check a suitcase in at the airport, I never leave my most important belongings— electronic devices, fragile items, etc.— in it. There’s always the possibility of losing the luggage, so you should try to keep your most important belongings close to you the entire flight. To take that a step further, leave your electronics in your backpack instead of your carry-on suitcase, because most security lines will require you to take them out of your bags— and backpacks are much easier to open and close than suitcases.
5. Arrive at the airport early
Don’t try to drag things out until the last minute, particularly for your first flight alone. It’s advised to reach the airport at least an hour before your flight departs (if it’s a domestic flight). For international flights, plan to arrive at least two to three hours beforehand. However, as a first-time traveler, give yourself at least half an hour of spare time, just in case anything goes wrong.
6. Make sure you have your boarding pass and ID at all times
At any point, always have your boarding pass and identification on hand. You’ll need it to check bags, to reach the security line, during the security line, and before boarding your flight. To make things more convenient, you may want to save your boarding pass or send it to yourself so you can easily pull it up on your phone.
7. Check that you have everything with you after going through security
Security is always a bit of a rush, so it’s easy to lose things while racing through the lines. Always check that you have everything with you after going through them; ensure that your devices, wallet, ID, and other important belongings are still inside your bags as well. You don’t want to be sitting on the plane, hours later, and realize that you left something important behind.
8. Check a map of the airport to find your gate
It’s a good idea to have a map of the airport with you, so you know where to go for check-in and security, as well as where to find your gate. You may have to take a shuttle to reach your terminal, which can be a bit annoying, but it’s very simple as long as you have a map. Do make sure you are on the correct shuttle— ask other people boarding the same one to make sure you’re headed to the right place.
9. Never leave your suitcases unattended
When traveling alone, always keep your suitcases with you. Even if you’re just going to buy something to eat or use the restroom, take it with you. You don’t want to run the risk of coming back and finding out that your belongings are all gone.
10. Make plans for someone to pick you up from the airport
If you’re flying home, definitely arrange for someone you know to come and pick you up. Just message them once you land at the airport and let them know where to meet you. If you’re flying somewhere that’s not home and where there isn’t anyone you know well, you may have no choice but to take a taxi or Uber. In that case, it’s best to stay on a phone call with your parents or guardians the entire time and send them the license plate of the car you’re getting into. It’s unlikely that anything bad will occur, but it’s always best to take precautions as a minor in an unfamiliar place.
And that’s it— everything you need to know about flying alone as a teenager! Just remember to breathe, stay calm, and don’t panic.