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Flights, Airports, Check-in

Especially if you come first time to America, or preparing for a trans-atlantic or trans-pacific flight you might have some questions on how to prepare you luggage, how to pack and what. I had the same questions in my mind at my first flight and I am trying to share some personal experience with you now.

Packing, luggage

Pack your belongings in two categories: use a small backpack or bag for personal items what you want to take with you onboard, and the rest can go in the big suitecase.

Most airlines allow passengers to carry onboard 2 hand luggages, typically a smaller handbag or a roller bag, and/or a laptop. Depending on the size of the airplane and the size of the luggage compartment flight personnel might force you to check in larger carry-on bags.

Most airlines have weight limitation on how heavy a cheked-in suitcase or bag can be. Try not to pack more than 35 kg or 70 lbs in one suitecase, because you might have problems at the check in. This is especially true when you come home from America, and you are full with gifts and all the cool stuff you bought for yourself, and it's easy to go over the weight limit. Best is to call the airline you are flying with and ask.

I'm talking about this from personal experience. My wife was flying home a few weeks ago from Los Angeles to Budapest. She had lots of gifts to the family and to make everything simple she used a BIG suitecase. It was really heavy, but we didn't care because we didn't know about weight limits on planes. I found out later that because her suitecase was heavier with a few kg than the admitted limit she had to unpack at the check-in point, and re-pack some of the stuff in a box the airline gave her..

What to take on-board? I suggest the following items:


your passport and all your papers, you will need these during the check-in process


your plane tickets


your money


some books, newspapers to spend the time better in the plane. It's true, in most airplanes you get free newspapers to read, but what if you are not interested in those. A paperback book to read is a great idea.


If you want to work and have a laptop take it with you onboard. For two reasons:
- it can help you to spend the time productively
- the luggages in the airport are handled ususally very tough and I wouldn't leave a fragile laptop in the luggage-handlers hands.


If you know you are sweating and you have problems with odors then I suggest you to include in your backpack an extra pair of socks and a T-shirt or shirt. You can go to the lavatory and change it any time if is necessary.


Eventually it might not be a bad idea to pack some food and drink with you: maybe 1-2 sandwitches, some fruits or cookies. Yes, you get food on the plane, but if you are used to eat a lot, the food what you get on the plane is not too much and some extra food will be welcome. Especially if you switch planes and you have to wait at some airport for 2-3 hours or more for the connecting flight you will be really hungry.

Dress comfortably for the plane. Don't be fancy nor dress very elegantly if this is not necessary. Think that you will be in that plane for the next 10-12 hours or more and it will be a hell if your shoes are tight or your pants are not confortable. Dress as confortably as you can. Honestly, nobody cares if you wear jeans, even if you travel on the first class.

When buying your ticket, if you are tall I suggest you to ask for an aisle seat instead of a window or a middle seat. Thus you will have the chance to stand up and take a walk if you want to stretch your legs. I personally always ask for an aisle seat. I know, the window seat is more interesting in the first and last 15 minutes of a flight, but in the rest during the flight it's just pain to get out from the window.

Checking in, getting through airport security

Allow yourself plenty of time to check in. After 9/11 the airport regulations in the US changed and security checks became a lot tighter and slower. Thus it takes more time to check in than it did before. Airport regulations say that you have to have your luggage checked in at least 1 hour before departure for domestic flights (within US destinations), or at least 90 mins before international flights. Just to be on the safe side, be at the airport 2 hrs before take off and don't delay your check in.

During the security checks laptops and video cameras has to be removed from their carrying bags and X-rayed separately by placing them in some plastic trays given at the security points. Most shoes will be taken off and X-rayed and you will have to walk through the metal detector gate without shoes. So it will take some time until you collect your belongings (keys, watches, bags, laptops, shoes, cameras etc.) after the X-ray. Make sure you won't forget something.

Be aware of certain food regulations on the airplane or the check-in area. It is not allowed to bring with you or take abroad certain food products. Thus no plants, seeds, meat products and fruits are allowed. This doesn't mean if you have a banana in the your backpack you will be stopped, but yes this can happen, the US Customs can stop you for this and confiscate it. And yes, I have to tell you, the wife of a friend of mine brought with her from Europe some tiny little plants for her garden and the US Customs didn't see it, but know that this is illegal and it is not allowed.

Don't bring onboard plants, seeds etc. because it's prohibited by the US customs and if they see it will be confiscated.

About Airports

Airports are devided into several terminals. Often a terminal is so big it's like a small airport in itself. Every terminal has several gates, sometimes up to 50 or more gates. Most terminals have shops and stores where you can shop, often a dedicated food place called food court where you can eat. How you can get from one terminal to another varies from airport to airport. At some airports you just walk, at other ones there are dedicated buses, airport train (often called concourse) or monorail.


Terminal D of an airport with all the gates and parking lot
in the middle

Most airports in the US have nowadays wireless internet, so if you have a laptop or PDA you can go online, surf the web or check your e-mail. In most cases this is not free, has a fee, typically about $5/hr or $10/day. On a few airports like Las Vegas McCarran Airport the wireless internet is free.

One of the other crazy things I noticed recently is that more and more planes are boarded (passengers seated) from front to back. What this means? Usually the "entrance" of a plane is at the front of the plane. Instead of boarding people at the back of the plane first, many airlines board the front of the plane first, e.g. the first ten rows first. Then the next 10 rows and so on. The only problem with this is: after you boarded the first 10 rows of people they will block the plane for several minutes and the rest of the passangers have to wait until these guy settle, and they can not move towards the back of the plane. Wouldn't be easier and more logical to let in first the passangers who sit in the back of the plane, and filling in the plane from back to front? Because of this strategy with no common sense the boarding time is a lot longer (at least double compared to the other way) and people are standing in loooong line waiting to finally get to their seats. Hope this annoying procedure will change in the future.

By the way, about seating: Southwest airlines started to practice "open seating" which means you do not have a specific reserved seat, you can sit wherever you want. I though I will mention this as a curiosity.


Cell phones must be shut off during the flight. In America the cellular system is based on several different technologies. Some of these are similar with the European or worldwide standard (called GSM), some of them are completely different. Most probably your cell phone from other coutries will not work in the US unless it is a world phone or tri-band phone (and many of the newer, more expensive phones are such).

Laptops and other electronic devices can be operated onboard after the plane reached the cruising height. Be aware however that most planes on the economy class do not have electric outlets.

If you switch planes in America and you continue your flight with an American flight then you will need some extra food. While on the trans-atlantic flights the food is quite decent, you get one or two hot menus during the flight, on the American continental flights it's a bit different. Let's say you land in New-York and take a connecting flight to Denver, Colorado. American airlines won't give you decent food, usually all you get is some crackers, or eventually a sandwitch and some coke. Forget the hot menus. I never had hot meal on an airplane in the US. It looks this is non-existent in the US.

Even more, after 9/11 this is the new thing what airlines start to do more and more often, and this is what seems to become the new standard in America: during the shorter domestic flights you don't get any food. On the longer flights which exceed 2 hrs you get some crackers, peanuts or sort which is free. If you want to get some decent food you can buy a sandwitch for $5. I'm just wondering how far this can go and with what they will come up next.

For those Americans who plan to visit Europe it will be a pleasant surprise the plenty food on the plane. Because Europe is much smaller geographically than the US, usually the European flights are not longer than 2 hours. And for 2 hours flight time you get a decent menu on the plane, most of the time hot menu.


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