Before I was 10 I had been around the world with my misty eyed adventuring parents. I had been to the "smallest" airport in the world, "DumDum airport" in Sri Lanka, where the public toilet turned out to be a small bucket, as well as the busiest in the world at the time: O'Hare airport in Chicago, IL. I thought of myself as seasoned traveler. Nine/eleven shook my confidence on that score. My dark appearance and non-western name targeted me as the kind of person who gets slower service at an airport. Trust me on this one folks, getting irritated about profiling will get you slower service than just learning the system and being proactive about it. If you are white, middle class and relatively educated (think Timothy McVeigh) you won't have any trouble getting on board. If you are new to flying, have an ethnic last name, skin of a darker cast, are any religion that shows via your dress, hair or make up - its better to be proactive about your flying experience.
Things You Will NeedA bit of patience.
The largest size legal carry on.
comfortable slip on shoes
Step 1Dress comfortably. You'll be taking your shoes on and off so slip on are best. Loose layers enable you to put more on in a cold airplane and start shedding when you hit the ground. Seats are small so stay away from anything binding or tight. You may fall asleep, so don't wear anything that will get twisted. Airlines aren't what they used to be, so don't expect anyone to hand you a blanket or a pillow. Better to bring your own sweater that can double as both. In the same vein, food is usually served at a cost, and the food is neither nutritious nor tasty.
Get to the airport well rested and well feed. Bring an empty plastic bottle. If you get lucky you can fill it from a drinking fountain after your pass security. If you can't, at least you can toss it. Travel with wrinkle impervious clothing. For maximum space, roll in it when packing it into your travel case. Try not to travel with items you are very personally attached to. You never know when your luggage may be lost, so don't bring your most favorite outfit. Bring "appropriate" clothing, not "irreplaceable" clothing.
Step 2If you can possibly avoid it, don't check luggage. It takes up a lot of time to pick it up as well as drop it off. It costs extra to bring, and may well get lost. Get the maximum dimensions for carry on and get a bag that size. Patagonia makes a good one with a cleverly designed middle compartment for a laptop. Bags that have a pull out handle for drag along will save your back. Bags that have hidden straps, and turn into rucksacks are also useful.
Step 3Keep your ID and boarding pass handy. Get your shoes off before you are asked. Whatever the next step be ready before they ask. Anytime you travel with a computer, you will be asked to remove it at security, so do it before you are asked. If you look confused or bewildered, you'll get targeted for extra attention and you'll be sorry. No matter how invasive it feels, stay calm.
Step 4If you have a cell phone turn it off. If you have an iPhone, turn it to airplane mode. The flight attendant will suggest all devices be turned "off" because the copy was written before the smart phones were invented. Airplane mode was designed for airplanes. Its fine. It enables the phone's other applications to continue working and not interfere with the plane.
Step 5Drink lots of fluids, if possible water. Stay away from soda, coffee and tea if you can because the caffeine will dehydrate you further. The air in a plane is dehydrating you already, so it is important to drink lots of fluids. Stay away from alcohol on a plane. You will get drunk faster at the higher altitude plus it also has a dehydrating effect. The most important reason, though, is because you can get arrested these days for getting too silly on a plane. Unfortunately the consequences are much worse than being intoxicated in public on the ground. You may be met at the landing by some kind of federal aviation marshal which you really don't want to happen. So don't get silly, don't get drunk. and don't smoke in the bathroom either.
Step 6Bring what you can to make the ride palatable. If you have room, they sell little u shaped pillows designed for sleeping in the cramped space of an airplane seat. If you want to avoid a crick in your neck get the nicest one you can really afford. Even a rolled up washcloth is better than nothing. Bring something to do, crosswords, book, computer chess game. They will allow you to turn on a laptop and smart phone eventually on a plane so that you can take advantage of free cell or a movie disc. Bringing your own movie disc, and small headphones is cheaper than paying for an in flight movie. You'll get to see what ever you want if you bring your own too.
Step 7Book early and look for an aisle seat. It affords you the most mobility to get in and out for the bathroom. If possible the seats right after first class also have more leg room because there is not seat directly in front of it. If you book on busy days of the year with an aim to get bumped, you can often trade up to a first class seat for volunteering to give your seat up.
If you have a choice fly out of small airports over big ones. The big ones are more often likely targets for terroristic activity so security is naturally higher. For my last trip I found the cost was the same to fly out of Burbank airport or LAX. In terms of convenience, LAX takes more than twice as long to navigate as little Burbank airport. Even better, and equidistant from my home, in the opposite direction is Bakersfield airport. Two airlines only fly out of there. Security was really fast and efficient.
Tip for the wise, if you are flying to Hawaii, there are direct flights to the Big Island. Flying into there and taking commuter flights back and forth to Honolulu is less hassles than flying into the International airport in Honolulu and taking commuter flights to the outer islands.
One wonders why anyone still even takes a plane. IF you have the time I suggest you drive. Last year I drove over two thousand miles, with a sixty pound dog for most of the trip. Sometimes I traveled with friends and sometimes alone. I found when I was alone that friendly America is still a reality. If you haven't seen a bit of your country I suggest you go. There are more nice people than mean people even in a big city. Most of them are just waiting for you to say hello. In texas I went to a honky tonk bar. In Arkansas I found a good vet. I met people at cheap diners and by the side of the road. People are everywhere.