On How to Fly

I am an airline brat.  Which means that because my dad works for United airlines, free space on available flights were our traveling bread and butter.  Which means that I have spent many hours in airports making flights, not making flights, and taking the most random connections you may have heard of.  Which means that I do not exaggerate when I say that I am something of an authority on flying domestically in the U.S.

However, flying abroad can be a variations on the airport theme.  Yesterday we flew through the Zurich airport to Dublin, and I can honestly say that it is the most confusing, rambling airport I've ever been in.  It is also the most evil airport whose door I have ever darkened, and I do not say this lightly.  The first time we went through it to Vienna they stole my hairspray.  They stole. My. Hairspray.  And it wasn't even that big!  I’m not terribly hard to keep happy, but if you want to stay on my list of People Who Are Not Evil, do not touch the hairspray.  Seriously.

Some of this might be obvious, but Google didn’t really help and you can’t ever be sure.  Some of it I learned the hard way (read: three bad hair days in Vienna), and some of it’s pretty much par for the course no matter where you are.  But here’s at least some of what to expect when you’re flying the friendly skies of Europe.

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  • The liquid limit is 100 milliliters, which is just slightly over the U.S. requirement of 3 oz.

  • For larger international airports, try and figure out where your airline’s check in services are ahead of time.  Some of them babies are big,  and this will help you avoid sprinting between concourses with luggage in tow.  Ahem.

  • Security is very much alike the whole world over, and you should allow for lines at busy hours at both check-in and security.

  • Customs are nothing to be afraid of, at least not in most places.  Usually they look at the picture, look at you, snicker at what havoc has been wreaked on your person by commercial flying and send you through.  But you do want to make sure that the entrance stamp has a legible date, or a cranky (Swiss) customs officer might try to read you the riot act.

  • If you’re going to be flying on a European airline, weigh your luggage before you leave home and calculate according to the kilograms as well as pounds. The U.S. 50 lb. limit comes out to about 22.7 kilos, and many companies limits to 20 kilos.

  • Always have your ticket and passport handy.  This may be helpful for reference to direction and gate numbers when you have eight flights of stairs, no fewer than five people looking at one or the other, and endless halls and trains to get to the destination.  I do not exaggerate or lie when I say I did exactly this yesterday.

  • Discount airlines in particular are far more stringent with baggage restrictions than U.S. airlines.  If your carry-on is over the weight or size limit, you may be fined heavily, and the same is a definite with checked luggage.  Allow for souvenirs if you're the type.

  • On the bright side, some companies may feed you at least a little.  That means when you booked that 7 a.m. flight with Niki, you will get a blueberry muffin as a reward for getting up so early.

  • On the dark side, some of them don’t have cookies.  Some of them won’t even give you a drop of water without money.  Plan accordingly.

  • Many airports offer a left luggage area, which is a great way to lighten your load if it works for your schedule.  For instance, we left most of our luggage in Zurich airport for three days when we went to Vienna, and only carried what we needed in a carry-on.  We paid far less to leave it than we would have to fly it with us, and it saved us the headache of dragging 120 (not joking) pounds of extra stuff with us.

  • Above information is useful for day trips also.

But believe me when I tell you that airplanes all over the world make you look like something that hasn't seen a shower, brush, or mirror for a really long time.