Car in long-term parking. Clear out personal items visible through the windows before leaving home. Remember to lock the car doors as you walk away. People who suffer break-ins usually had items like jackets, CDs, and other attractive items laying on the car seats. Shoving stuff down in passenger side footwell can lead a passerby to assume something nice is being hidden. You may suffer the indignity of having your window broken but none of your junk taken.
Airports have developed a protocol and procedures that are consistent around the globe. If you know what to expect at one airport, you know them all. The layout is another matter. No two are alike. It’s feasible to never study an airport map at all, just follow the signage. But it can be less stressful if you know the lay of the land and have a rough idea whether Gate B and Gate D are five minutes apart or twenty-five minutes apart, or the checked bags will appear for pickup way on the opposite side of the airport, so you can meter your speed accordingly.
Airports have maps on the airport’s website; usually you have to click through some menus to find it. Sometimes it can be sent to a printer.
Airlines partner with other airlines. For instance, Delta partners with Alitalia, so while you think you’ve bought a seat on a Delta flight earning Delta frequent flyer miles, at the airport it’s the Italian airline both ways. Adapt, don’t get stuck on finding Delta; if the flight number is the right one, it is yours.
All airports have:
Almost no clocks in the public areas.
People making mistakes about the time in the layover city and missing their flight.
Parking, long-term and short term.
Short term parking is far more expensive and is charged by the hour, not day.
Slightly more economical parking off-site or farther away that provides a free shuttle bus to bring you to the terminal (airport). It arrives irregularly and no one can tell you how long until the next appears. The driver merely goes back and forth, so distance determines the interval.
Different Arrivals and Departures areas, which are often on different floors. Arrivals are usually below.
A baggage delivering carousel, or several, in the Arrivals area. The term is carousel, although it looks like a tilted conveyor belt.
For Departures, a big open area lined on one or two sides with counters, with each airline having a section of the counter in proportion to the amount of flights it has going in and out.
Lines are formed in snake fashion with waist-high pillars joined by car seatbelt material, and it’s considered very improper to go under them, even if it means you weave through empty space to get to the front.
A scanner station manned by TSA employees, to scan carry-on bags and people, located between the airline counters and the ‘gates’—gates are gathering areas for a flight. It’s a term. Gates are numbered, in sequence—usually.
A requirement that all travelers have a boarding pass to proceed past the scanners.
Well-marked large and frequent signs for gate locations.
Food and drink retailers, mainly major fast food chains, both before and after the scanners; however drink (and some foods) purchased before the scanners will need to be discarded in the garbage cans just before the scanners. Count on eating it entirely before going through the scanners.
Food and drink that is purchased after the scanners may be brought onto the plane without issue.
No-fly times when planes cease taking off and landing in the middle of the night. The time they cease depends on local ordinance; some are as early as 10 PM, others 1 AM. If your evening flight is delayed past that time, you cannot fly anywhere until morning.
Flights that begin again, depending upon local ordinance, between 5:30 AM and 7 AM.
Lots of people milling about, waiting. Lots of sturdy chairs that actually get worn out from fidgeters.
Airport staff and helpful people who will give you wild-guess directions and advice rather than admit they don’t know
Electronic ‘boards’ high on walls or hanging from the ceiling that list airline, flight number, gate letter-number, and the time it will arrive (or leave). In general, it can be counted on that the flight will never leave sooner (unless the plane is fully boarded) but it can leave later. More than two hours before the flight, the gate, flight time and whether it is cancelled or delayed are unreliable. Walk back to one of them to check again one hour before the flight.
Nice restrooms. Sufficient restrooms.
Drinking fountain by the gate restrooms that you can use to fill an empty water bottle.
For Arrivals, signage with arrows using symbols for bus, hotel shuttle, train, taxi locations. Baggage claim signs with arrows.
An area where local (or downtown) hotels provide free shuttles to their building. Often, not always, no evidence of being booked at that hotel is required to get on.
Signs that get you close to the location for bus, train and taxi. It is usually not obvious where these actually are from the position of the last sign. You may need to ask someone who works at the airport after the signage peters out.
All planes have:
Seatbelt extenders, if the belt doesn’t quite reach around you.
One to three magazines in the seatback pocket in front of you that you may read and take with you if you like. One of the magazines has airport maps on a couple of the last pages. These are so stylized and vague that they end up being little help, but they can shed light on whether you’ll need to board an in-airport shuttle train or which direction to head after you land.
A wax paper bag in the seatback pocket that you are supposed to use if you feel like throwing up.
At least two bathrooms.
Louder engine and air noise in the rear of the plane than nearer to the front.
Tray tables that can be used to prop a book, a computer, or set food on.
An emergency exit training class early in the flight that causes new flyers anxiety but bores the rest.
Beverage service with rolling carts and a process for serving drinks so time-consuming and in crying need of an industrial engineer to remove all the non-value-adding motions that it often takes over an hour for a pair of servers to pour thirty cups of juice and twenty-five coffees each.
A flight attendant that opens and closes a drawer 180 times to serve 180 bags of nuts (or shortbread). I keep hoping one of these days she will grab three at a time and reduce that to 60 open and closes.
Drink and food service that starts at the front. They run out of the ‘good entree’ before the last six rows. On flights less than two hours they may run out of time before they serve the final rows and simply secure the cart for landing.
Flight attendants who keep an eye on the bathroom so a couple doesn’t go in together, ostensibly to join the ‘mile high club.’
Staff who come around after drink service with a garbage bag but don’t make eye contact and walk by swiftly, leaving your little pile on the tray table.
Windows and reclining seats, except in those locations where they don’t, and obstructed views by the wings.
Inadequate pressurization; how much ear pain and temporary deafness you have upon landing depends upon whether the airport is at sea level or higher. Picking a higher airport for layovers, like Salt Lake City or Denver, if all else is equal, reduces pain if you are prone to slow ear adjustment when flying, since at ground level SLC is 12.6 psi, not 14.7 psi like at the coasts. Planes pressurize because up where they fly it’s about five psi, but each psi costs money so airlines vary on how well they do it. If they pressurized to twelve psi you would barely feel anything in your ears on landing.
Credit-card only payments for food and alcoholic drinks on the plane, if they aren’t clearly stated to be included when buying the ticket. Saying food is ‘available’ means it can be purchased.
Not as much drinking on flights as there used to be. If you need fortifying prior to the flight, arrive early and grab a snootful at a bar after the scanners, or get one ‘to go’ if local ordinances allow that.
Flight attendants who have more emergency and medical training than you think