Driving away from my home to the airport and realizing that this was the last time I was going to see it for the next four and a half months was actually a lot harder to experience than I initially thought. With all the excitement leading up to the day that I was going to begin my study abroad adventure, I almost forgot about all the “goodbye for now’s” I was going to have to do. Although I was able to spend some time with my best friends, boyfriend, and family before my departure (although I do have my family for a little while longer, as my dad is here in Germany for business), I guarantee you there were still some tears!
Maneuvering Through the Airport
To be honest it did not really become real to me until I pulled up to the terminal with my two suitcases, backpack, and carry-on (see my packing list post to see what’s in there!). I arrived by train, then transferred to another train that brought you into the airport (not all airports have these). Unfortunately, this second train was delayed due to an earlier break down. A crowd of people gathered on the platform, some becoming angry as they realized they could soon miss their flights. I’ve found that in these types of situations that it’s okay to get upset to relieve some stress, but try not too get too frustrated or the airport or train employees, or whoever that works there, will be less willing to help. Remain calm and stay updated through your airline’s app or by asking calmly to see if there are other options available. This second train came soon enough and dropped its passengers including myself by an escalator that would lead to the check-in line.
Officially entering the airport and waiting to check-in can be sort of overwhelming depending on what kind of circumstances you encounter. For me, I was lucky to be with my mom and have her check me in Premier Access, which basically allowed me to skip the Economy line (although I was traveling Economy) and allowed my bags to receive a “priority” tag, where at their destination they should be one of the first to come out. If you have the option to do this, I really recommend to do so when you might expect long lines or stress at the other check in line! Another thing I highly recommend to avoid long airport lines to get TSA Pre-Check. I got this through applying to Global Entry earlier last year (which will also come in handy for when I return). TSA Pre-Check allows you to skip a lot of the security line and you have to do a less cumbersome check, so you do not have to take off your shoes or take out anything from your bag. Although, they still have to go through a machine check, so still check and follow all TSA regulations to avoid any conflicts before your flight! Last thing to note about TSA is to make sure you have all your documents in hand and ready. They like to have the passport open to your picture page, so sticking your boarding pass into that page and handing the whole thing to them at once makes the process go that much faster, and you don’t have to seem like a dummy in front of them fishing for all your papers in front of all of the other anxious travelers!
Getting into the terminal early enough allows you to take your time finding your gate and possibly allowing you to get a bite to eat or buy a book for the flight. I enjoy getting to my gate early and sitting down with some music or scrolling through social media before boarding time. Always remember that boarding is always earlier than your actual departure time, so always arrive at the gate with enough time. Depending on how big the airplane is, the earlier it boards. For example, my flight to Frankfurt boarded a whole 45 minutes before departure. My plane consisted of a few different sections, a first-class that they now call “Polaris” in United Airlines (it’s so nice but I can’t even afford half that seat), business class, Economy Plus, and Economy. I was blessed to be in Economy Plus although I don’t see much of a difference between that and regular Economy, other than maybe 3 inches more leg room. When I boarded I got into my window seat, got into the mindset that I’ll be stuck here for 7 hours, and tried to doze it off (although I didn’t sleep well). This flight included screens in front of each seat where you could watch movies, TV shows, or even play games, although in my opinion there were slim pickings of things of quality to watch. Despite this, 7 hours actually did not feel like that long and before I knew it… I was in Europe!
Getting Off Your Flight and Maneuvering Through the Airport Pt. 2
Filled with excitement you’re at your destination with new surroundings, although a little bit groggy, it’s time to go through customs and grab your bags as fast as you can so you can arrive at your apartment/hotel or wherever so you can actually sleep in a real bed. In Frankfurt you get off your flight and they pack you straight into a bus that leads you into the terminal. There is one exclusive “first class” bus (it’s the same as the others) and someone on my flight got upset when that one got too full and he couldn’t get on it. He started arguing with some German Frankfurt airport employee, but I didn’t pay much attention since at this point I was exhausted. I rushed on the bus which took us into the airport, but unfortunately from there I had to do what felt like a lot more walking to customs. In customs, the security guards stamp your passport and check your visa (if applicable).When it was my turn I told him that I was studying abroad in Rome for about 120 days, and I tried to be helpful and tell him which page my visa was located in my passport. Being as tired as I was, I told him the completely wrong page and he laughed in my face (of course), but was nice enough to find it on his own and give me a stamp on the next page.
From here you’ve officially entered the country and you can pray that the airline didn’t lose any of your bags. Usually you pick up your bags in a baggage claim area and they are spinning on a carousel-like thing. I was so happy to have come down the escalators from customs and see my bags already on the carousel, so that was easy! If you do happen to lose your bag, go to your airline’s customer service desk or anyone that can contact your airline immediately to locate them. If this happens, remain calm and 99% of the time your bags will be located and will be sent to you within the next 2 days. If you’re concerned this might happen, pack a change of clothes in your carry-on!
9 Quick Tips for Airport Survival!
1- Wear comfortable/walkable shoes. I don’t know how some people travel in heels and don’t die. I also like wearing shoes that slip on and off in case they need to be removed for TSA.
2- Be fast and ready when going through security and customs. Have all your documents out in those lines. TSA is also not the best place to ask for directions, because they probably will not help you if there are people waiting behind you.
3- Arrive 2-3 hours before your flight. Things might happen like long lines or a delayed train that could cause you to miss your flight if you don’t come with enough time!
4- Know your TSA regulations. You do not want to be patted down or have them open your carry-on just to waste time and re-pack it again.
5- Pay attention to signs and screens to make sure you’re headed in the right direction and going to the right place. The gate that’s on your boarding pass is subject to change!
6- For long flights, have whatever you might need ready in your carry-on. Movies, games, headphones, etc.
7- Buy snacks and a water bottle (after TSA) if you have time. Airplane food is never the best!
8- Arrive to your gate well before boarding time. People will start lining up generally 10-15 minutes before.
9- Remain calm and stay excited for your adventure. This is just the beginning! 🙂
I’ve actually traveled quite a bit so that’s how I know some of these tips, but feel free to contact me with any more questions. I’m currently in Frankfurt, Germany right now. Post for Köln, Germany coming up real soon! Good luck and hope this helps anyone who might be traveling soon 🙂