Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Welcome to the Airport!

Howdy folks! My so-called "good blogging" has been failing lately. What can I say? My interests are ever fleeting. However, I feel the need to finish this travel series, and hey, people travel year-round right?

So, back on track, this post will be all about the outs and ins of the airport: baggage check, security, customs, baggage claim, etc. Here we go!

Check-In & Baggage Check:
My first smidgen of advice is to help you check in and get your bags checked as efficiently as possible. Paris was my first time doing any sort of flying by myself, and it was unbelievably terrifying.
  1. Have your ticket/receipt, passport, and luggage ready. This one seems pretty basic, but being organized can really save your butt while in the middle of a busy airport. I wore my Columbia fleece zip up which has these handy pockets on the inside where I kept my itinerary, wallet, passport, and ticket receipt all bundled together for quick access. I also had my bags stacked for easy transport. You want to be able to get around quickly without your stuff spilling everywhere.
  2. Find your airline for check-in. All  ticket counters are labeled with their respective airlines. If you can't find yours, ask any person at any counter--they'll be more than happy to point you in the right direction. Some airports are humongous and have multiple entrances. Your ticket receipt should tell you which one to enter; you can also check by logging in to your airline's website and checking your reservation.
  3. Electronic/Self check-in: Now, this is how I got my boarding passes. I don't know how other airlines do it and I also don't know how on-line check-in works. Sorry!
    But my airport has these little computer stalls for self-check in. You enter your reservation code (on your tix receipt) and swipe the barcode of your passport (there is an attendant if you need help. I did!). You are given options to upgrade your seats, select meals, and so on. You'll also indicate if you're checking any bags. When you're all finished, your boarding pass(es) will print out. Head on over to the weighing station (where the attendant is).
  4. Checking luggage: This is sups easy. If you did the self check-in, all you have to do is show your passport and boarding passes to the attendant, and hand them the luggage you want to check. They'll weigh it to make sure it fits capacity and then tag it for you. Then all you have to do is drop it off at baggage check, which is usually directly next to the check-in terminals. Same thing if you check-in at the counter. Done!

Now for the second worst part about airports: security. Ugh.

  1. Have your passport and boarding pass handy. The only way to get through security is if you have a boarding pass. Have it in your hand along with your passport so you can get through faster, though the security officer will still probably look at your passport like its a total fake.
  2. Dress properly. Shoes that slip on and off easily. Avoid laces or zippers. If you have a jacket, put everything from your pants pockets into the jacket pockets while you wait in line, especially if they zip up. That way, you're not pulling a million things out at once; all your stuff is in one place for easy in and out. Skip a ton of accessories; you'll just have to pull it all off before putting it all back on again. If they're essential to your outfit, put them in a little baggie in your backpack and put 'em on after security.
  3. Have your liquids, medications, and laptops/tablets easily accessible. You have to remove laptops and tablets from your bags and place them in a separate bin for the x-ray machine (this includes e-readers!). Don't worry, the x-ray won't harm any of your electronics. You want to be able to pull them in and out without having to completely rearrange your bag. Backpacks with the handy laptop space are perfect. Your baggy of liquids and any medications also have to be in plain sight in a bin for inspection. I always put mine at the top of my carry-on, right by the zipper. That way, I don't have to completely open the bag to get stuff out.
  4. Be pleasant. As annoyed as you may be with the length of time it takes to get through security (forever, unless you're lucky and show up at a time with no people), the people who work security have a job that completely blows. Dealing with a bunch of crabby people in a rush is no picnic. So be pleasant, be patient. In fact, be nice and gracious to the attendants, and it'll reduce the likelihood of random searches. :) Done!

Now this is for damn sure the worst thing about airports. God, don't get me started.

Follow the Security tips. Customs is basically another security check. When I arrived in France, I didn't actually have to go through customs, just baggage claim. However, coming back to the U.S. was another story. Anyways, dress appropriately, have your paper work ready, blah blah blah.

Have your Customs form ready. You should be given this paper on the plane before you arrive (home, there, wherever). Simply fill it out. Be aware: if you have any articles to declare, customs will take a while. Even more if you get randomly selected to have your bag searched. It'll probably take a while anyway, because its a million people trying to get through all at once, most for connecting flights.
Just have your form ready, along with your passport and boarding pass.

How Customs Works. At least, this is how Dallas/Fort Worth works. You get off your plane and follow the crowd. You'll get to the arrivals section where they stamp your passport and welcome you home. Then you head down to baggage claim and grab your bags. Then you actually go through Customs. They'll ask a few questions before letting you on your way. From there, you can leave the airport. Or if you have a connecting flight, there's a baggage check spot so you can re-check your bag. Stupid. Anyway, then you can go about the airport and find your terminal. Done.

My Customs Story: My flight from Paris landed in Dallas late. Like an hour late. But I still had a three hour window before my connecting flight. Plenty of time right? Wrong. Because our flight was late, we arrived at the same time as 7, yes seven, other international flights. That's only a couple thousand people all trying to get through Customs at the same time! Unfortunately, my connector flight didn't qualify me to get expedited through. So I stood in line, just for the passport stamp, for two hours. Then, I sprinted down to baggage claim and luckily found my bag quickly. Then I had to wait to get through customs and recheck my bag for another 35 minutes. I now had 20 minutes to get through security and get to the other side of the airport to catch my flight. Security took forever (and the main guard certainly didn't help) and I had five minutes to make it to my flight. 
I straight up sprinted to the airport tram, and then sprinted to the gate. I was the last one to board before stand-by. I was practically hyperventilating by the time I sat down, and then I hear: We're going to be delaying take-off for about ten minutes. Seems that there are a lot of people backed up at customs. 

No. Fucking. Shit.
I'm done.

So that's all I have for you today. I'm going to go curl up in a corner and calm down. See you in my next post. Bon chance!

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