If you have never traveled before, never traveled solo, or simply want a refresher for international flights, review this guide for what to expect when booking flights, preparing for your departure day, navigating the airport, and getting through immigrations and customs in your host country.
BOOKING FLIGHTS (Adapted from Elon University)
If you are not traveling on a group flight or if your program does not offer one, you will be responsible for booking your flights. You should not book your flight until your program director or partner program has confirmed following details:
- Arrival and departure dates (and whether the date is local time or U.S. time; for example, if you are traveling to Europe, flights depart in the evening and arrive the following morning)
- Preferred airports (some cities have multiple airports, and it is crucial for some programs that you arrive at a certain one)
- Blocks of time for arrival and departure (this is critical if the program is providing transportation to the airport)
Book a roundtrip flight rather than a one-way ticket. Many destinations require that you present evidence of departure from that country in order to pass through immigration upon arrival.
When comparing airlines for the best price, look at the class of service and refund policy. Is it a basic economy fare or main cabin? What are the change fees if you need to alter your dates? How many carry-on or checked bags are included, if any?
We recommend purchasing insurance for your flight in the case of travel disruption or delay. Read the fine print to see what types of disruption are covered.
WHAT TO EXPECT AT THE AIRPORT
Traveling internationally is stressful, even for veteran travelers, but knowing what to expect can ease anxiety.
- We recommend that you download your airline’s app to your phone so that you may receive updates about your fight. Check on your flight status online through the airline’s app or website 24 hours prior to departure.
- You may be allowed to check in to your flight online starting 24 hours prior to departure, and you may receive an electronic boarding pass to have on your phone. However, in some cases, flight check-in and seat assignment may only be permitted at the airline’s desk in “Departures” at the airport. If you have checked in online, you will need to drop your bags at this desk prior to heading through security and to the departure gate.
- Review the number of bags permitted by your airline. This should be included on your itinerary, but you can also find it on the airline’s website. Be sure to check the weight and size limits so you are not surprised with any overage fees.
- The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has a handy tool to help you understand what items can be taken in luggage, and if so, in carry-on or checked pieces. Important travel documents, laptops, phones, tablets, cameras, rechargeable batteries, and medication should be included in your carry-on bags. Liquids must be less than three ounces, so anything larger than that must be in your checked luggage. Visit the link above for more details.
- Your clothing for the flight should be comfortable since you will be in a small space for several hours. Layers are recommended because it can be cool while in the air, and shoes with socks will be helpful when going through security as you will be required to remove your shoes.
- Many airports have installed filtered water dispensers in terminals. It is useful to pack an empty reusable water bottle to fill after you have gone through security to help you stay hydrated. (Remember that you may not bring liquids through security.) Bringing a bottle for water and packing a few snacks will enable you to avoid steep mark-ups for items at airport shops.
- If you have to take a domestic flight to another U.S. airport for your international flight, you should be at that airport at least two hours prior to departure. For international flights, plan to arrive at the airport at least three hours prior to your flight’s scheduled departure. Once there, follow the signs to the departure area and then to the desks for your airline.
- Join the line to check in and drop off your checked baggage. Many airlines use self-service kiosks and will have an employee to assist you if necessary. Follow the prompts on the screen to confirm the number of bags you are checking and print your boarding pass (if applicable) and baggage tag(s), and then follow the signs to drop your luggage. You will need to show your boarding pass and passport.
- Your departure gate should be listed on your boarding pass. Follow the signs to the security line that corresponds to your gate. Once you reach the front of the line, a TSA agent will review your passport and scan your boarding pass. Upon joining the line to go through the scanners, you will place your bags on the conveyor belt, and there are bins to put your small items, your clear bag of toiletries, shoes, loose change, belt, jacket, phone, laptop, or tablet. Wait until all of your belongings have disappeared into the X-ray machine before approaching the scanner. Another TSA agent will tell you when to enter the scanner, which may be a full body scanner or metal detector, and when to exit. They will signal whether you are clear or need to undergo a secondary check. Once cleared, you will proceed to the end of the conveyor belt to collect your belongings. If a TSA agent takes your bag from the conveyor belt, they will ask you to accompany them to the end of the line to open your bag and search for prohibited items, such as a full bottle of water. Double-check before you leave the security area that you have all of your belongings, including passport, phone, and wallet.
- Directly adjacent to the security area, you will see monitors displaying the upcoming departing flights. Find your arrival city and confirm the flight number (sometimes there will be multiple flight numbers for one aircraft because of partner airlines) and follow the signs to your gate. If you have some time, explore the shops, but never leave your carry-on bags unattended, and be sure to be back at the gate by the scheduled boarding time.
- If you sign up with the airline for travel alerts (either via email or mobile app), you will be notified of any gate changes or departure changes.
- Most airlines board by groups. When your group is called, present your boarding pass to the gate attendant and have your passport handy in case they ask for it.
- The process varies by country and by airport, but typically, before you land, you will be given a customs declaration form. Questions include purpose of travel, address in country, intended date of departure, and whether you are bringing in things like vegetables or plants, which may be prohibited.
- Once you arrive at your final destination, you will be directed to the immigration area. There are typically lines for citizens of that nation and non-citizens, so be sure to join the correct line. The immigration agent will review your passport and visa (if applicable) and ask you questions about your reason for entering the country. They may also ask for documentation showing your acceptance to your study abroad program or proof of departure flight, so have those documents easily accessible.
- After clearance, you will proceed to the customs area to collect your checked baggage. Monitors will be available to show you which conveyor belt is assigned for your flight. After you have gotten your bags, proceed to the exit. You may be questioned by a customs employee to verify the information on your paper form is truthful, and your baggage may be searched. You may then proceed to the exit and should follow the signs to meet your program (if airport pick-up is included) or to public transportation.
- Student Universe (possible discounts or flexible tickets for students)
- Kayak Flight Search
- Transportation Security Administration
Please note that the Davidson College Office of Education Abroad does not endorse any of these items. We are providing these for informational purposes only and using any of them is at the sole discretion of each individual.