Travel > Quora: Advice for First Flight

I recently signed up with #Quora, a website/app that allows you to ask and answer questions online, in order to help each other out and to make the world a better place. Below was one of the sample answers I gave:

Stranger asks: I am going solo on my very #firstflight. What advice/tips/warnings would you give me? I have never been to another country before and I am going to visit Malaysia next year February for two weeks (if that is relevant).

I answer: For a 2-week trip, you should pack enough clothes in your carry-on and checked baggage. (Remember not to keep any scissors or sharp objects in your carry-on; TSA will find it and confiscate it.) As Malaysia will still be warm, you’ll probably only need short-sleeved clothing. I recommend you take a regular backpack as your carry-on and a slightly larger wheeled luggage for your checked baggage. This will be more convenient when you go from the airport to your hotel or friend’s place, or when you need to keep your baggage in a locker.

Remember that your passport is your single most important document when you travel. Always prioritize that over your phone, wallet, or cash. If anything happens, you can go to your nearest consulate in Malaysia. If everything goes smoothly, you’ll still need it to go through customs or to purchase duty-free items.While we’re at customs, some countries require you to declare the value of goods you’re bringing by signing a form on the plane (usually distributed by the flight attendants). Try to be as honest as possible unless your value is over the limit, in which case your baggage may be checked upon arrival. Even when you declared a value within the limit and cross customs upon arrival, the customs officer may sneer at you or question whether you’re really below the limit. Just smile and reply accordingly and you should be fine.

The airport should be a relatively pleasant experience so I won’t dwell into the details. What you probably want to know is how to survive the flight. First realize that flying is much safer than driving. The reason you see so many crashes on the news is because most of them are broadcasted worldwide. That’s because aviation mostly involves international travel, a truly global business. Pilots are very well-trained on the whole and many of them are from the air force.

Planform of A330

Before you get on the plane, you’ll need to arrive early at the boarding gate and check that your boarding pass matches with your boarding gate number, which also matches with your destination in Malaysia. Your boarding pass also states which row and seat you’ll be taking on the plane. When your row gets called on by the gate personnel, you can start lining up. They will also check your boarding pass and passport, so keep those handy. After you walk across the jet bridge, you’ll be greeted by flight attendants at the plane entrance. They’ll tell you where your seat is.

If you followed my previous baggage advice, you should only have your backpack on you (while your checked baggage will soon, if not already, be transported to the plane belly, underneath where you’re standing). Sit down on your seat, say hi to the stranger sitting next to you, and store your backpack underneath the seat in front of you. If you choose to put your backpack in the overhead cabin, you may not be able to take it back out to get your headphones or earplugs until landing, so I advise to keep your regular-sized backpack. Talk to your stranger neighbor a little bit more. Confirm he or she is a trustworthy person who won’t steal from your bag while you use the toilet later on.

Not sure if your ears hurt during takeoff and especially landing, but I do. I found that using foam ear plugs can eliminate the discomfort. If you’re worried they’ll stick out of your ear and look weird, you can cut the length to half. During the flight, you’ll be cramped in a small seat and the temperature will be cold. You should therefore wear clothes that aren’t too tight. Your average shirt or slightly loose pants will do. You may also want to bring your own jacket for the low temperature. Keep in mind your flight will be at least 14 hours long (if you’re going to Malaysia from the States), so it’s much longer than your average bus ride. Always drink water whenever the flight attendant serves them to avoid feeling thirsty. Eat whenever the flight attendant serves food to avoid feeling hungry. If you skip a meal, you may only retrieve it back when there are extras. Nothing makes a cramped flight worse than a growling stomach. Flights now are better than what they used to be. You have a large selection of movies, tv shows, and music to choose from. You may and should also bring your own smartphone or tablet (airplane mode must be on before takeoff) to watch your own movies or music if the in-flight entertainment doesn’t suit you. Regardless of which one you choose, see if the plane’s headphone jack matches your headphone. If yes, then you won’t have to use the flimsy one they provide. That is about it. I previously said that the flight might be cramped, but I actually love flying, sometimes even more than the travel destination itself. So I hope you have a nice flight.

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