Travel preparations for your flight to the USA

How to prepare

Your next US flight is coming up, your ESTA application is completed, and you're busy preparing for your trip? Then our tips on long-distance flights are just what you need. This guide will help to start your American vacation worry-free!

ESTA

The official travel authorization for your trip to the USA!

Flight booking to the USA - what to look out for

The first priority of any travel preparation is the selection of the exact vacation destination and the booking of an airline ticket. Already here, you can apply some tricks.

Cheaper flights thanks to online price comparisons

If you want to get hold of the cheapest possible flights to the USA, keep an eye on the airfares via comparison portals. Since long-haul flights to the USA are generally more expensive than short- and medium-haul flights, the price differences are larger. Therefore, it is worthwhile to follow the price development over a longer period of time.

In general, flights are most expensive during school vacations. Planning your USA vacation outside the season can, therefore, save you a lot of money. Flights with stopovers are also usually cheaper. However, make sure you have a sufficient time buffer at the connecting airport when booking.

Free baggage allowance and other inclusive services

When booking your USA flight, don't just look at the price but also the included benefits of the tickets on offer. Some of these are:

  • Increased baggage allowance
  • Free seat reservation
  • In-flight wi-fi
  • Free entertainment program
  • Free blankets and toiletries bag
  • Wider choice of beverages on the plane

Seating choice on the plane

Due to the long duration of your flight, choosing a good seat can be crucial to a good start to your vacation. Websites such as Seatguru.com can tell you which airplane seats have no windows, less storage space, or more room to move around, for example, and how far a seat is from the restrooms on the plane.

In-flight catering

Do you have a food allergy, or are you vegetarian or vegan? If so, you can reserve special meals for your flight when booking. Even after purchasing your flight ticket, you can still make appropriate adjustments by contacting your airline.

Travel insurance

You will need travel health insurance for your stay in the USA in order to protect yourself from high treatment costs in the event of an emergency. A good insurance policy is often included free of charge when you sign up for a credit card for your vacation.

However, if your credit card contract does not include health insurance, you can find a good deal with almost any insurance company. Also, check whether a travel cancellation insurance could be worthwhile. This is especially useful for expensive flight and hotel bookings.

US Visa or ESTA - which one do I need?

As a tourist from one of the 40 Visa Waiver countries, you usually do not need a visa for the USA as you can apply for the Electronic Travel Authorization (ESTA) for trips of up to 90 days duration.

Tip

Various other destinations also offer the electronic travel permit, allowing you to enter the country at a lower cost, more quickly, and with less bureaucracy. For example, when traveling to Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Egypt, and many other countries, you can apply for an E-Visa.

ESTA US Visum

If you are planning a tourist stay in the USA for up to 90 days, an ESTA can be sufficient.

USA flight: documents

For your trip, compile a folder with all important documents and stow it in your carry-on luggage before the flight. The most important travel documents include:

  • your passport with sufficient validity
  • a printout of your valid ESTA authorization
  • a printout of your flight booking
  • a printout of your hotel reservations
  • your rental car voucher and booking confirmation (if applicable)
  • your driver's license (if applicable, and also an international driver's license to be on the safe side)
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If you do not qualify for ESTA or plan to stay in the USA for more than 90 days, you will need to apply for a US visa.

Tip

You do not need an ESTA or a US visa if you hold a Green Card. With the US immigrant visa, you are allowed to enter and leave the country unconditionally and live and work in the US indefinitely. You have a real chance of getting a Green Card by participating in the US government's annual Green Card Lottery.

The perfect flight outfit

It's essential to have the ideal outfit, especially on long flights. However, this is less about looks than functionality because too tight clothes can become real torture on a long-haul flight.

Furthermore, it is always chilly in the cabin, which is why short clothing or open-toed shoes are not recommended, even if your vacation destination is enjoying the best summer weather. With the two-layer look, you are on the safe side.

The following clothing items are helpful on a long flight:

  • slip-on shoes (e.g., sneakers)
  • warm socks packed in your hand luggage
  • a large cozy scarf
  • a hoodie
  • leggings or jogging pants
  • a spare T-shirt in your hand luggage
  • a sleeping mask

Tip

Cotton clothing is breathable and prevents excessive sweating.

When do I need to be at the airport?

We recommend arriving at the airport at least 3 hours before your scheduled departure for long flights to the USA.

Save time with online check-in

Almost all airlines offer online check-in nowadays, the use of which significantly reduces waiting times at the airport. Also, if you did not reserve a seat at the time of booking, you can do so free of charge at online check-in.

Baggage regulations for USA flights

Before your long-haul flight to the USA, you must check in your baggage at the airline's check-in counter. Here, your suitcase will be weighed to ensure that it does not exceed the maximum weight limit.

USA flight: What is the maximum suitcase weight?

For transatlantic flights to the USA, one piece of luggage with a maximum weight of 23 kg is usually allowed. However, the weight limit may vary depending on the airline and booking class.

Exceeding the maximum weight can be expensive, as airlines usually assess high fees. Therefore, weigh your luggage at home to be on the safe side.

Tip

If you are unable to comply with the maximum weight, register excess baggage before your arrival at the airport. Though this also costs money, it is significantly cheaper than the airport fees.

How to speed up the security check

When traveling to the USA, you will have to go through a thorough screening process to have yourself and your carry-on luggage checked. Follow our tips for the security check:

  • Get in line as early as possible.
  • Keep your boarding pass and passport ready to hand.
  • Make sure your shoes are off quickly when it's your turn.
  • Empty all pockets of your pants and jacket before you are checked.
  • Remove electronic devices such as laptops and cameras from your carry-on luggage to place them separately in one of the carry-on boxes at the conveyor belt.
  • Pack smaller amounts of liquids in approved zip bags and place them within easy reach in your carry-on baggage.
  • Remove hats, scarves, and belts ahead of time.
  • Make sure you don't have any prohibited items (e.g., nail scissors) in your carry-on luggage.

Tip

It is possible to skip the body scan for pregnant women and persons with cardiac pacemakers. You should carry proof with you in this case.

Beverages in your hand luggage

The maximum amount of liquids allowed in carry-on baggage is limited to 100 ml when traveling by air. This often leads to travelers feeling compelled to buy overpriced water bottles at the gate after the security check.

To prevent this beverage profiteering, we recommend taking an empty bottle with you to refill at the water dispenser after the security check.

Boarding the plane faster

Usually, business class travelers and families with children are allowed to board the plane first. If you do not belong to any of these groups but at least want to avoid a long wait and queuing, you can position yourself in the waiting area close to the gate and wait there for the boarding call.

SSSS - remark on the boarding pass

Have you gotten the four letters "SSSS" printed or written on your boarding pass? Then you have to pass another security check. "SSSS" stands for "Secondary Security Screening Selection." Travelers can get this classification as a "suspect" passenger for a variety of reasons. Among the possible causes are:

  • You paid the airline ticket in cash.
  • You purchased the airline ticket only on the day of departure.
  • A third party bought the ticket in your name.
  • You do not have a return ticket.
  • You changed your seat selection frequently before departure.

BoardingPass SSSS2

People affected are often questioned in detail about their travel plans and personal circumstances before entering the United States. The luggage may also be thoroughly examined again.

In-flight behavior on a long-distance trip

You can improve your physical and mental well-being on a long-haul flight and immediately after landing with a few simple tricks:

How to avoid ear pressure

Take-off and landing can lead to unpleasant ear pressure when flying. By using a few tricks, you can get through the in-flight pressurization pain-free:

  • Chew gum.
  • Suck candy.
  • Swallow often.
  • Yawn.
  • Wear special earplugs for air travel.

How to prevent thrombosis

Sitting for long hours is unavoidable on long-haul flights. To prevent thrombosis (that is, the occurrence of blood clots,) stick to the following advice:

  • Move your legs as often as possible.
  • Stand up regularly.
  • Drink a lot of water.
  • Do not cross your legs.
  • Wear thrombosis stockings.

Activities on a long-haul flight

Unless you are preventing jet lag by sleeping, the flight time to the US can feel lengthy. Therefore, bring your own pair of headphones, a good book, and your laptop if necessary.

On many flights, you have access to wi-fi and a good entertainment system with movies, series, and music. The onboard store also sometimes has exciting (but expensive) surprises to offer.

Attention

Wireless headphones are not allowed on planes!

How to avoid jet lag

A long flight to the USA also means a significant time difference. To synchronize your internal clock with the local time of your destination more quickly, follow these tips:

  • Change your clocks before you travel.
  • Adjust your sleeping hours to your destination's time zone before the flight.
  • Do not drink alcohol.
  • Do not drink coffee.
  • Do not overeat.

When sleeping on the plane, you can use the onboard lighting as a guide. If the lights are off, you should try to sleep.

Arrival at the airport in the USA

The queues for passport control in the USA are sometimes quite long. Therefore, seek out the restroom before queuing if necessary.

Cell phone prohibition at the airport

While waiting for passport control in the arrivals hall of a US airport, you are not allowed to use your smartphone. Should you need to make an urgent call or send a message, ask permission from the border officials beforehand.

Tip

If you have been allowed to use your smartphone at the airport and want to install your American SIM card, use the airport's wi-fi to avoid expensive roaming charges in the USA.

Free Travel Checklist

Are you in the middle of organizing your trip to the USA, or is your flight just around the corner? Our free downloadable travel checklist will help you remember everything you need to consider.

Download Checklist

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