Travel preparations for your flight to the USA

This is how you prepare for international travel

When you fly to the USA for the first time, there are plenty of things you have to organize. Your flight preparation is one of the most important steps you need to take care of. We collected the best tips and tricks to get you prepared for the long flight to the United States so that you can fully enjoy the start of your holiday.

ESTA

The official travel authorization for your trip to the USA!

Booking USA flights – This is what you should know

As soon as you know where exactly you want to fly to, you can start looking for flights to book your ticket. If you are looking for cheap flight tickets to the USA, you should monitor comparison sites, such as Kayak. The differences can be huge, so it’s well worth it to observe the price development over a period of time.

price comparison usa flights

Check prices for USA flights on flight comparison sites.


Generally speaking, flights are most expensive during holiday seasons. If you can plan your USA trip during the low season, you will be able to save a lot of money.

Flights with one or more stopovers might take longer but are often much cheaper, too. You only need to make sure you have plenty of time during your transit in case the first flight is delayed. If you are flying with two or more different airlines, ask if your check-in luggage is automatically transferred during your stopover.

If not, you have to go through immigration, get your luggage, leave the arrival hall, go to the departure hall, check in your luggage again with the second airline and go through security check again. This, obviously, takes a lot more time, so you need to plan ahead. 

Included luggage and other services

When booking flight tickets, it not only comes down to the price. You should also check what type of services are included. This could be:

  • Check-in luggage
  • Size of cabin luggage
  • Seat reservation
  • Food and drinks

If you are on a long-distance flight to the USA, you would want to have a good seat to make sure you are comfortable. Websites like Seatguru.com show you which seats are great and which ones you should avoid.

Many airlines also give you the option to book special meal choices ahead, such as vegan, kosher or meals that are free from certain allergens. 

Travel Insurance for the USA

Having a proper travel insurance is highly recommended for all US travelers, since medical or hospital costs can be extremely expensive. You can save a lot of money if you need medical help and have an insurance which pays for that.

Another insurance to consider is a travel cancelation insurance. Especially, if you have booked expensive flights or made hotel reservations, it can be well worth the money if you need to cancel your trip.

What do I need for my USA trip: US visa or ESTA?

Whether you need a visa or an ESTA for your USA trip depends mainly on the following factors:

  • Your nationality
  • The purpose of your trip
  • The duration of your trip

Many citizens only need an ESTA if they want to visit the USA for tourism reasons only and are not going to stay longer than 90 days. Here you can learn everything you need to know about your ESTA application.

In case you or your trip does not qualify for ESTA, you need to apply for a US visa. Learn more about your options and how you can apply for a US visa.

Tip: When you head to the airport, make sure all of your important documents are well organized in a folder and easy to reach, since you are going to need them at the airport. 

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The perfect flight outfit

Don’t underestimate this one: Especially on long-distance flights to the USA the right outfit can make a huge difference. It is not so much about the appearance but more about the functionality.

Despite flying to a warm state, like Florida or California, please do not make the mistake and dress according to the temperatures in your destination. Sometimes it can get very chilly during flights, often during the night. So don’t wear shorts and flip-flops! Instead you should wear different layers. This way, you will stay warm during the flight and can easily take off layers once you arrive at your destination.

Here are some examples of great flight outfits:

  • Closed shoes where you can easily slide in and out, such as sneakers
  • A warm hoodie
  • Leggings or joggers
  • A big scarf
  • An additional pair of warm socks

If you can, wear clothing made of cotton. This lets your skin breathe and you won’t sweat as much.

Outfit USA flight2


Tip:
You could also bring an additional shirt so you can change at the arrival airport and feel instantly refreshed.

When should I arrive at the airport?

For international flights, you should always arrive at the airport at least 3 hours before your scheduled departure. You have to expect long queues at the check-in and security checks. If you fly out of a big international airport, it often takes a while to get to the right gate. Plus, the gates often close around 30 minutes before departure. Make sure you get there well ahead of time.

To reduce your waiting time at the airport, many airlines offer online check-ins, so you don’t have to line up at the airport. However, if you need to check-in your bags, you often still have to wait in line. 

Luggage restrictions on USA flights

Every airline and flight tariff has its own luggage restrictions in terms or weight and measurements. The average limit is at about 23 kg per piece of luggage. If your suitcase or backpack weighs more than that, you have to pay extra.

These extra fees can be very expensive. For that reason, you should weigh your luggage at home. If you cannot leave items at home to make it lighter, you should pay for your additional luggage online in advance. This is still expensive, but often cheaper than at the airport. 

Expedited security check

On every international flight, you will have to go through a security check before you enter your flight to the USA. That means you and your hand luggage will be screened carefully.

There are a few things you can do to speed up your security check:

  • Arrive at the airport early! There are often long queues. If you don’t make it through the check in time, you will miss your flight.
  • Have your documents, like boarding pass and passport, ready.
  • Wear shoes that can easily be taken off and on since they might be screened separately.
  • Wear socks in case you have to take your shoes off and walk barefoot through the security check.
  • Empty your pockets.
  • Fill all liquids in containers of no more than 100 ml and place those bottles inside a transparent zip plastic bag.
  • Make sure you can easily access your laptop and liquids since they have to be screened separately.
  • Take off clothing or jewelry which contains metal, e.g. belts.
  • You don’t have to take off piercings.
  • Pregnant women and people with a heart pacemaker don’t have to go through the full body scanner. If you can, bring proof of your condition.
  • Double check your hand luggage to make sure there are no prohibited items left, such as nail scissors. 

Tip: Most water bottles have to be disposed before the security check. However, you are allowed to bring an empty bottle, which you can refill after the security check at a water dispenser.

Security Check USA flight2

You can expedite the security check if you have your important documents ready and your pockets are empty.

 

Boarding

Big aircrafts usually allow families with small children, seniors and business class travelers to enter first. After that the airline either calls out which seat rows are allowed to enter next or simply lets everyone line up. If you get in early, you will find it easier to find a place for your hand luggage in the overhead container.

SSSS – Warning on your boarding pass

Some people get the notice “SSSS” printed on their boarding pass. These four letters stand for Secondary Security Screening Selection and means that these people are classified as suspicious. There are several reasons why you could get that note:

  • You paid cash for your flight ticket.
  • You bought your flight ticket on the day of departure.
  • Someone else bought the flight ticket in your name.
  • You don’t have a return or onward flight ticket.
  • You have changed your seat reservation multiple times.

BoardingPass SSSS2

Suspicious classified people often have to go through a second security check. That means an officer will ask them to come into an office after their arrival in the USA. Here, they will have to answer questions about their US trip and their personal life. The luggage will also be screened again.

This procedure can easily take a couple of hours. Only if the border control officer is sure that you are no security threat, you are allowed to leave the airport and enter the USA.

Ear pressure during a flight

Many people struggle to balance the differences in pressure during take-off and landing. Here are a few tips that can help you reduce the painful pressure in your ears:

  • Use chewing gum or candy
  • Swallow or pretend to yarn
  • Close your nose and swallow
  • Use special ear plugs, which are made to help you reduce the pressure during flight.

Prevent thrombosis during long-distance flights

During your flight to the USA you will probably spend many hours sitting in your seat and not moving much. This can lead to thrombosis, which are dangerous blood clots in your blood vessels. Here are a few tips to avoid travel thrombosis:

  • Move your legs as often as possible. Ideally, you get up every hour, stretch and walk up and down the aisle.
  • If you have enough space, you could also do a few exercises while sitting down, like circling your feet.
  • Don’t cross your legs for longer periods of time as this can enhance blood clots.
  • Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
  • Wear special compression stockings to improve your blood flow.

How to avoid jetlag

If you are flying to the USA, you will most likely land in a different time zone. Many people have a hard time adjusting to the new time and will experience constant fatigue or sleep disorders. To minimize the impact, you should apply the following tips:

  • As soon as you are in the aircraft, change your watch and phone according to the new time zone.
  • Only sleep during the flight if it is night time at your destination. If it is day time, try to stay awake.

The lighting in the aircraft is a good orientation, since it is often turned off during the night and stays on at day time.

Entertainment during long-distance flights

Here are a few ideas to keep yourself busy during a long flight:

  • Bring books or magazines to read
  • Bring your laptop and do some work or organize something for your upcoming trip
  • Sort out photos on your phone or camera
  • Listen to music
  • Write a journal
  • Bring card games and play with your family or friends
  • Meditate

If the aircraft has inflight entertainment, you can watch movies, documentaries, shows or play games on the screen.

Some aircrafts offer wireless internet access at an additional fee, which you could use to stay in touch with your family and friends back home or to do some research.

Tip: Bring your own earphones since the ones you get in the aircraft are often not the best quality. Wireless earphones are prohibited!

At the US airport

Once you have arrived in the USA, you have to go to the passport control counters. There are often very long queues, which means long waiting times. Go to the restroom before you line up and make sure you have your customs form filled out before it’s your turn.

Many airports also offer free WIFI for you to use. If you want to tell your family back home that you made it to the US safe and sound, use this WIFI and avoid high roaming fees. 

Free Travel Checklist

You are planning your trip to the USA or have your flight coming up soon? We are sure you still have plenty of things to organize before you leave. To make sure you won’t forget anything important, we have created a travel checklist with helpful links for your first USA flight. Have a look and be prepared!

Download Checklist

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