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What happens at the airport?

This may have been addressed elsewhere on the forums. I have not flown internationally since 1987. I have not flown domestically since pre-3-1-1 bag days (2007? 2008?). In any event, I wondered if someone could please tell me what to expect when I get to the airport for my flight to England.

For instance, why does one have to be there at least three hours before the flight leaves? At what point do I have to part ways with my spouse, who will be driving me to the airport? (How much time will we have together before I leave?)

I admit I am a bit nervous about the whole thing. Thank you very much!

Posted by
7209 posts

Bring your passport which will should have at last 6 months validity AFTER you return.

You checkin at the counter...probably at an automated kiosk. Get your boarding pass, luggage tags and drop your bags to be checked to England.

3 hours early for international travel is hogwash unless your airport is one like Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, etc. If your airport is a hole-in-the-wall type place like mine then 2 hours is plenty of time.

Your spouse can go with you all the way to the security checkin line where you'll part ways. I hate security and all of the stripping down and taking off and opening laptops cases and pulling out CPAP cords and such. What a miserable pain. After you've spent all that time getting everything together neatly organized you'll just have to repack it after you make it through the body scanner.

Just take your time and don't allow yourself to be rushed through by anybody else (including TSA). Remain calm and you'll probably be ok.

Posted by
1589 posts

Sandra, if you are flying out of Philly, try the train. There is a train from 30th St station that goes directly to the airport.

Posted by
692 posts

I'm flying out of Newark--sorry for not mentioning that above!

Posted by
439 posts

First, you will be fine. I live in NY so I do leave about 4 hours before my flight. I am nervous nelly, traffic in this city or any other unforeseen problems (once we left my valid passport at home, took the old one by mistake). I don't know how far you are from an airport, you can always leave early stop some place close to the airport for coffee or bite to eat with your husband if you find that you have a ton of time.

I try to organize all of my stuff that I have to pull out, in one place. Phones, Ipad or laptop, my toiletries/Meds. I even put all my change in a Ziploc bag so I don't have to dump it from any pockets. I wear the largest shoes on the plane but I also try to pick a pair that will be easy to get on & off.

All TSA information can be found here :

I found this web site very helpful, it will tell you what you can and cannot bring on the plane. Just remember, these are US rules. England or another country might be different. For example, in the US, your medications are separate from the 311 toilietries. I pack them separately. Inhalers, eye drops take up space. I have heard that people have had problems coming back into the US with these in their carry on. It has never been a problem for myself.


Posted by
14251 posts

...stays at the airport?? lol

Adding to what the others said, it is very helpful to feel like YOU are organized. Here are some of the things I do particularly for Airport Security:

-Wear clothes that don't have any metal decorations. I usually try to wear pants that are pull on and don't have a zipper, but if you wear jeans you will probably be OK. Just don't wear ones that have a bunch of extra studs on them. (Are they popular anyway?? I live in Idaho so have no idea! lol) Do you usually wear an underwire bra? If you can avoid wearing one, do as they will sometimes set off the security scanner.

-Take ~everything~ out of your pockets. I usually have a chapstick in my pocket and altho my teeny airport has the regular scanners not the nude-o-scopes (total body scanners) I make myself go thru the routine before I get to security so I am prepared when I am leaving from a big airport to come back home. As I understand it, the total body scanners will even pick up a Kleenex in your pocket so have everything out.

-I take off my watch, FitBit, earrings, any jewelry, money belt. Actually when I dress at home I put all the stuff I normally wear into a ziplock bag (marked laughingly JOTD - Jewelry of the Day!) and put it in my purse right then so I don't forget it. This step is on my Leaving Home checklist. Yes, I have one.

-Do you have any artificial joints - knees, hips, shoulders? It works best if you tell the security person BEFORE you go thru as you will set it off and they will want to wand you on the other side. I don't have artificial joints but SIL has both hips and she is usually treated very nicely when she tells them ahead.

-Many wear shoes they can slip off, but I just wear my athletic shoes. When you approach the security area and are in line, start untying your shoes. I grab 2 bins to put things in. First bin is my shoes, sweater and 3-1-1 bag. Second bin is my purse or tote or backpack, completely zipped up. Behind those I put my carry on on the belt. I hold my hand against the first bin and I wont let it go thru the scanner until they are ready for me to walk thru. Truthfully at my little airport this is not a problem but I want to be thru the scanner when my purse comes thru.
***IF on your boarding pass you have the words TSA Pre-Screened you can leave your shoes on. Since you haven't flown a lot you probably will not have this unless you have purchased the Global Entry permit from the government. Don't worry about this if you don't have it.

-In the US I've not had to pull out my phone, Kindle or iPad Mini altho they will often ask. I leave them in ZIPPED compartments if they don't want them out.

-Don't get in a hurry. Take your time even if you feel people are trying to push you thru. It does drive me nuts when someone who looks like they fly a lot will wait until they are at the scanners to start taking things out of their pockets, taking off their belts, taking off their jackets, but maybe they don't fly a lot. If I get flustered, I feel like I will forget something. In fact one time I walked away from security without my 3-1-1 bag. They had sent it back thru to be rescreened and I didn't notice. Fortunately it was in my small airport and just steps away. Now I have my name and address taped to the outside.

-Go thru your purse the day before you leave when you are packing. Take out excess change that might have gathered at the bottom, organize stuff so you will know where it is, look for things you might normally have in your purse that need to go in your 3-1-1 like eye drops, hand lotion or Purell.

This will be easier than you think it will be. Is your airport near your house? If you are anxious and it's convenient, you might make a dry run and go stand and watch how people go thru the security lines.

You are going to have a wonderful time!

Posted by
23469 posts

Same correction. You cannot use an automated kiosk for a boarding pass because someone will need to check that you have a valid passport before they will give you a boarding pass. You may get started with a kiosk but a attendant will see the passport before finishing. You will not be allowed to carry on any liquids, etc. great than three ounces. All under three oz liquids, solids, etc., will need to fit in a 1 qt plastic bag. Some exception for medications. Have that bag out when you go through the TSA check point. Avoiding wearing much metal jewelry, belts, etc. You will have to take off shoes, jackets, hat, rings, watches, etc. and send that through the x-ray machine in a plastic bin. Just observe and follow the people ahead of you. You will need to show boarding pass and passport to the TSA agent prior to the actual screen. You probably will have a full body scan. If you need assistance getting to the departure gate - mentally, physically - your husband can request a companion pass to accompany you to the gate. If is up to the airline counter people to determine if the request is valid. He would have to go through the same TSA and screening procedures on the way to the gate as you would.

The three hours is a safety margin since you will be checked against the "No Fly" list. If small airport you might cut it to two hours but no less. Check in line can sometimes move close. We do the reverse. We go to the airport very early - four, five hours. Check in and then use one of the better restaurants in the airline for a nice leisurely, relaxing dinner (assuming an evening departure) since the food on the airplane will be marginal. We skip the food on the plane.

Edit -- I was typing when the other posts went up. Since it is Newark and you appear to be somewhat concerned about everything, I would go three hours early as a min. Even if you have to wait an hour to board at least you can relax instead of standing in a line with 30 minutes to go. No point of putting yourself in a position of high anxiety.

Posted by
16894 posts

Last week, I hit Seattle-Tacoma airport at the wrong time and lines to get through the security checkpoints were the longest I've seen, taking maybe 45 minutes, though I didn't really time it.

The automated check-in kiosks that we have here do scan your passport, so no live person needs to see it before you get your boarding card. But it will be checked again by the TSA staff at the security checkpoint and by airline staff as you board the plane.

Posted by
1625 posts

Don't forget to Check in Online for your flight at least 24 hours before departure (or whatever the timeline is for your flight).

Posted by
32265 posts


Check-in for domestic flights isn't as long as for international flights, but as your first flight is international it's a good idea to leave adequate time. As the others have mentioned, when you go through security you'll have to part company as a boarding pass is required from that point on.

As you haven't flown in awhile, prepare yourself for the "dog & pony* show of security. Be sure liquids and gels in your carry-on are in a 3-1-1 bag, which you'll have to take out of the bag for inspection. If you're travelling with a laptop, that will also have to be taken out and put in a tray. I've never had to turn my laptop "on" for security, but be prepared in case they ask (ie: make sure it's charged). You may find it helpful to clip a small pouch to your carry-on (or you can use a large zip-lok bag). Before you get to security, place anything metal inside that (watch, coins, phone, camera, etc.). When you exit security, you can put everything back in their usual place. Be prepared to remove your belt and shoes if asked (I've found that some airports ask for that, while others don't).

One other important point. If you want to travel with a bottle of water, buy that after you go through security. If you want to travel with your own water bottle, make sure it's empty. If you're changing planes at any point in your journey, be prepared to "dump" the water as you'll likely have to go through security again. It's a good idea to have water for the trans-atlantic flight as it's important to stay hydrated. They'll serve water on the flight, but I find it's helpful to have extra as the Flight Attendants can be busy and may not be able to make a pass through the cabin with water at the time I need it.

The boarding gates are all displayed on the electronic monitors, and it's always a good idea to double-check those. If you're flying with the rest of the sardines in Economy class, you'll have to wait until all the business class and "preferred" passengers (ie: those travelling with small children) have boarded, and then make a rush to get into the stampede for "general boarding". Airlines these days have been boarding passengers in "zones", according to where their seat is located. They often seem to board the rear seats first and then move forward towards business class. When you go through the boarding gate, have your Passport open to the photo page and have your boarding pass at hand, as they will check both.

I always eat the airline meals (I figure I'm paying for them), and they're not usually too bad. I used Premium Economy last fall, and found that provided an improvement in the cuisine (and of course better seating), so I'll consider that for future trips as I felt it was worth the extra cost.

You might find it helpful to pack along a good pair of noise cancelling headphones or ear buds. It's almost certain there will be at least one screaming baby on your flight, and you can be darn sure they'll be seated close to you.

Try not to be nervous as it's usually very easy, albeit a pain in the a-- at times. If you're flying home from England, you'll probably find that the British have a very efficient security routine.

Unfortunately, Newark airport doesn't seem to get "stellar" ratings, so that's a good reason to leave more time.

Be sure to check the expiry date on your Passport.

Posted by
11507 posts

If you are leaving someone at security check in.. ( and you want to spend the most time with them possible).. note time for boarding on your boarding pass ( it is not same time as departure of flight time.. ) .

I make a point of going through security at least 30-45 minutes ahead of time, but in a larger airport .. give yourself more time to find your gate. I have no idea what your airport is like.. but I am sure others here do.. so take their cue on timing re finding your gate once through security.

I always err on side of having extra time sitting at gate.. never leave anything to last minute. I bring a book so I like to find my gate and just relax till they announce boarding.

PS I strongly recommend if you wish to buy some food or drinks to take on plane ( which we ususally do ) then get through security within an hour.. some of those lines at food places take forever. I usually buy a bottle of water for flight ( can not bring any through security ) .. and a sandwich or something.. plane food sucks.

Posted by
32265 posts


I just noticed the flight details, so I've amended my post accordingly. I've never been in that part of the world nor had any reason to check, so I wasn't aware of the short transportation times on that route.

Posted by
2632 posts

Pam has some great advice in her post and I follow most of it myself:

I wear my normal clothes (jeans, underwire bra, lace-up boots) but put my belt in my carry-on, and my jewelry in a pouch in my purse as well as my belt-loop money pouch--all that goes on my body after security in a bathroom stall.

Boots aren't fully laced and I undo while in line so they slip off fast.

Liquids are on top in my carry-on and they come out quickly. I don't travel with any other electronics besides my phone, but if I did they'd be ready to get scanned, too.

First bucket holds my carry-on tote, the next has my boots and purse--I want my purse to go through last so I can keep an eye on it.

Even a hairclip can have enough metal to warrant a thorough pat-down; this happened to me in Frankfurt and they even frisked my hair, so don't wear things like that.

I go through SFO and I like to give myself plenty of time so I usually arrive 2 1/2 to 3 hours before the flight. By the time you get through security, collect yourself, find your gate and perhaps a snack, etc it'll be time to board before you know it.

Posted by
692 posts

Thank you all so very much. That was incredibly helpful and informative! I guess I'm having some pre-trip anxiety (though i don't leave for three more months).

I had a terrible experience once, getting to Newark. This was the 1987 trip. My fiance (now husband) and I left home a little later than we wanted to. On the New Jersey Turnpike, we took the wrong exit and ended up in Patterson, at 9 o'clock at night, which was a total ghetto. I don't know what it's like now but we were scared to death. Had a heckuva time finding the highway again, and when we arrived at the airport, the plane was boarding and they would not let me board. I had one of the worst panic attacks I've had in my whole life and nearly passed out. Virgin Atlantic said they would put me on the next evening's flight. We found a motel nearby & spent the day in New York City, where my car spewed transmission fluid everywhere and as we came out of the Lincoln Tunnel, my husband said, "Don't look. There are bodies everywhere." A shooting had just taken place. Had to call my English friend and tell her I was coming a whole day late. DH had to drive the car home stopping every few miles to top up the tranny fluid.
It's not even funny in retrospect!

So again, thank you all!

Posted by
14251 posts

OH Sandra!! Awful, awful experience. So then I would plan to get there at least 3 hours early!

Also, in my experience they start to board the International flights 45-55 minutes before take off so you will want to be to your gate an hour ahead. I make my final pit stop about an hour before the boarding time listed (unless they've announced a delay).

I am sure every terrible thing that could happen happened during that prior trip! This one will be smooth.

If you haven't already, start making some lists. This helps calm me when I am down to the wire! I have a packing list for clothes, a packing list for other stuff - 3-1-1, electronics/chargers, tour documents/hotel res, maps, guide books, etc, and a countdown list (what to do a month/2 weeks/1 week/day before). It is much easier to start your lists this far ahead as you think of things or read stuff on the forum. I print them off and yes, I check things off, particularly if I pack some stuff ahead in my packing cubes like underwear/socks/pjs.

Also, plan to pack the day ahead. Lay out your transit outfit including underwear/socks/shoes/scarf (in your JOTD bag, lol). Stage the purse/tote/backpack with your suitcase and transit outfit.

Posted by
2127 posts

Since you will be going thru security yourself (without a watchful travel mate), I offer the following tip:

Do NOT put your purse (or whatever you have your credit cards, money, etc. in) through the screening machine until you are absolutely ready to have your body go thru the scanner and the TSA agent has motioned for you to approach the body scanner.

You do not want your purse to arrive at the other end of the conveyor belt and just be sitting there for anyone to pick up and take off. Granted it is unlikely another traveler would want to lift it, but it can and does happen...ditto with any cameras/phone/computers you may be taking. While some people feel they cannot make such a request, but I found that when I very politely (but with a confident, concerned voice) state that I do NOT want my purse to get out of my sight, the TSA agents have always been kind about it.

And, many people don't know, but you can always request a manual pat-down instead of the machine one. You and your belongings would be taken into a private room in the proximity of the machine scanners, and a same-sex person would manually pat you down, then they test the gloves they used for any explosive residue. Since this will be your first time traveling under the new guidelines, you might actually find that a little less stressful. It's a very reasonable search. Allow an extra 10 minutes for that process. It does not take that long, but I would just allow that long so you have time margin.

It sounds like you may not fly enough to justify the cost of Global Entry, but if your circumstance is such that you will be traveling more in the future or if cost is not an issue for you, you might consider applying for Global Entry. It's good for 5 years. Global Entry allows you to use an express security line, and you don't have to remove as many items for screening, as you are designed to be a trusted traveler. While it can often take several months to get the individual interview completed due to full schedules (the in-person interview is required to complete the process after you are conditionally approved on line), if you have a flexible schedule and can jump in when someone else might cancel an earlier appointment, it is possible to get full approval in about a month's time. All that said, it might be easier/quicker at other airports. I can just share the time frames we experienced and how we were able to complete the process more quickly. Global Entry is so easy, and you can also avoid long lines at immigration/customs when returning to the US. That alone can be so worth the cost, especially if you are turning thru JFK or Atlanta :o

And, I thank the poster who mentioned that one can request an escort to go to the gate with them...I had no idea that was even possible in today's world, but that's good to know should I be advising someone who might want that extra help.

The early arrival at the airport is what I call the "hurry up and wait time." But, should security lines be extra long that day, or if some computer systems problem happens with an airline, it's much better to have time to waste than to miss a flight. And, oh my gosh, your story from your previous trip really does take the cake for a truly bad day. May all your future travels be smooth and enjoyable!

Posted by
559 posts

I, too, am a list maker. I don't think I could function without lists. My departure day list usually starts out with the time I want to be at the airport, and then I work backwards from that. Another thing that I need in order to stay calm and non-stressed is to know exactly where everything journal and pens in side purse pocket; my paper info in certain bag pocket; my meds, my phone, my money, all the "stuff"....I make a list of that, too. :)

I would rather get to the airport way early and sit or walk around, than have to rush and worry about traffic and such.

Have a great trip!

Posted by
19170 posts

Frank, a number of times, both here and in Europe, I have gone to ticket kiosk and scanned my passport to get my ticket. I'm sure that was the last time I had to show my passport to the airlines. The last couple of times I've gone to Europe, I think I was able to check in online before leaving Denver. In both cases I changed in Chicago to a flight to Europe, and I might have had to show my passport there, but I'm not absolutely sure I did (I can't remember doing so).

I know that when I scanned by passport to get my ticket at MUC, I still had to show my passport at outgoing emigration. Does that count? But I don't think I ever has to show it to anyone with the airline or with security.

Posted by
7456 posts

Good for you to travel again internationally - hope you have a wonderful trip!

After reading about your previous experience, I would plan to eat breakfast (or whatever meal time) at the airport with your hubby. That extra time buffer will give you plenty of time to relax before you head onto Security and the final gate.

Plan exactly where you will keep your passport, Ziploc of liquids, & your watch before/after you go through Security. Then you won't be flustered & lose anything. I would keep everything to a minimum. For example, I wear a coat on the plane, but I always put it and my purse inside my carry-on through Security. I place my watch in the suitcase pocket where I keep my passport. So, when I'm walking through Security, I only need to think "suitcase", Ziploc bag, shoes" when I pick up my stuff at the end of the Security conveyor belt.

Posted by
15690 posts

A few things....

--just because you have Global Entry doesn't mean you will get Pre-Check. If you are not flying an airline that is part of the program--airlines outside North America--you go through regular security. (If you flash your card, they might tell you to go to Pre-Check.)

--I use a retractable lock, such as this one
I use it to connect the handles of my carry on to the handles of my personal item. This way a thief would have to grab two bags rather than just one. Each bag has to be put on the conveyer flat and not on top of each other.

Some of my bags have internal rings and I attach cubes containing my electronics to these rings and remove them if necessary while going through security. The same goes for the 3-1-1 bag.

Very little actually goes loose into the xray machine.

Posted by
2794 posts

Sandra -we have flown out from Newark twice in the last couple of years, both late afternoon /early evening flights. Both times we busted it to be dropped there 3 hours before flight time, and both times we zipped through and were bored to tears until boarding. I even waked back to look, and at two hours before boarding time security lines were still only a couple minutes. Very efficient, and I have two metal hips which were no problem with the scanners.

We have always printed out our boarding passes at home, presumably they know the passport number from it having been entered by us earlier into the system. We showed the passport with the boarding pass when entering security, and again at the gate.

Posted by
3428 posts

If you can organized things so that there is room in your suitcase or day bag, put your purse in one of them for the security check. (Or even better- learn how to do without a purse.) If you can't fit your purse in one of those bags, then the suggestion to clip your bags together is great. Be sure to pack some extra ziplock bags. I've had bags fail (holes, etc.) and was lucky I had extra quart bags so I could transfer all my 3-1-1 or meds into a new bag. The 3-1-1 bag must hold all liquids (except meds), and gels. Someone once explained it like this: if it can be poured or squeezed, it goes in that bag. I even put my lipstick and chap stick in my bag, though they don't strictly have to be there. The Global Entry is well worth it if you travel much at all. It gets you TSA pre-check even on domestic flights, if you've entered you Global Entry data with your airline. Makes life easier. With TSA pre-check, you don't have to take out anything- 3-1-1 stays in your bag, don't have to remove shoes or jacket, etc. and you only go thorough plain old fashioned metal detector, not the newer back scatter radiation machine (nude-o-scan as someone called it). Not having to take off shoes it a big time saver and sock saver (my hubby insists on wearing an extra pair in case we get randomly selected to go through the 'other' line (it happens rarely) or if the TSA pre-check desk is closed, then he takes off the extra pair before putting his shoes back on. He is a bit of a germ-a-phoebe.

Don't stress about the extra time- you will hopefully not need it, but better to have that cushion and not need it than to need it and not have it. Bring something to read or music to listen to (just be sure you can still hear the announcements). Newark is a large airport and you will want to have time to calmly find and walk to your gate. OH- and bring, or buy after security, some snacks for the plane. If your flight is delayed, you'll have something to nibble on without leaving the gate area.

Posted by
8872 posts

FYI. I fly yearly to Europe from LAX. Applied for Global Entry in January of 2014. Got an appointment interview in November 2014. Doubt she'd be able to get hers in time.

Posted by
692 posts

I'm flying Icelandair, which unfortunately does not have pre-check privileges. I'll be sure to make lists (I love making lists) and I do plan to be well organized. I don't plan on having a purse, per se, but I have a Tom Bihn Co-Pilot as my personal item and will also pack a small Baggallini purse for use once I land. It's just big enough for sunglasses, money, pens, tissues, etc.

Regarding how I ended up in Paterson--maybe it was downtown Newark? I can't recall. It was just nightmarish. In the area of Pennsylvania where I live, you only have to go about a block or so before you can get right back onto I-81 (the nearest highway). It didn't work that way in NJ, at least at that time! I think we went miles out of our way. Not sure about 78, but I do remember taking 80 E at some point.

I'm coming from the Scranton, Pa. area and will do a AAA Trip Tik (I don't have a smartphone). Thanks for the directions. The oddest thing about that trip was it was the third time I went to London. The year before, we had driven to Newark w/o any issues at all. Prior to that, I flew on a puddle-jumper to JFK so there were no issues with directions.

Posted by
1589 posts


I'm flying out of Newark--sorry for not mentioning that above"

The train from Phila to New York City stops directly @ the Newark airport.

PM me for details

Posted by
3521 posts

Most of the comments so far have focused on going through security, and if you have not flown much that is a good thing! All of the tips are very good on reducing the stress of current security procedures.

But where I find I spend more time when flying to Europe is at the ticket counter checking bags. I rarely check anything these days, but it is not uncommon to spend an hour in line in Newark checking a bag on a United flight. Airlines are not staffed at the level they used to be resulting in one or two very frazzled agents handling 20 or more lines at bag check. Things may have improved in Newark with all the recent changes United made at their counters, so we can hope.

Posted by
7050 posts

I'm flying Icelandair

In that case, be sure to pack food for your flight - I believe it's either skimpy or nonexistent. I flew Iceland Air many years ago and was surprised how bad/lacking the food was in comparison to how awesome it was in Iceland itself. I take it you're stopping at Kevlavik Airport in Reykjavik on the way? It's a great, little, efficient, and very modern airport. Very easy to make connections there.

Posted by
5837 posts

RE: ...But where I find I spend more time when flying to Europe is at the ticket counter checking bags. I rarely check anything these days, but it is not uncommon to spend an hour in line in Newark checking a bag on a United flight.

Look up the check-in time requirements for your airline. For example, using Mark's United:
Airlines have a "need to complete by minutes before departure" time. The time in line peaks a bit before that minimum time. Getting to the airport an hour or so before that minimum "with checked baggage" time will save you a lot of time in line. Our checked baggage often includes an over-sized bag requiring delivery to a special acceptance point. Not a problem as long as you don't cut the time too close.

Posted by
692 posts

MrsEB, thank you. I didn't mean a printed TripTik. AAA's website lets you plug in your departure and arrival locales much as Google does. You can print out the directions as well as a map that shows your route. I usually do this if we are taking a day trip somewhere.

Agnes, yes, stopping over in Iceland for only about 1.5 hours.