By: Breck Willis
Getting myself from Columbus to London was quite the experience for a novice traveler. I had only flown once before as a child and didn’t really know what to expect; a solo international flight is in an entirely different ball park than flying to Chicago with the ever present direction of my mother. I can honestly say, though, that all of my dramatic nightmares of missing my flight or getting detained by TSA were just that: dramatic nightmares. Flying is easy. No joke.
After doing some research—which is generally how I handle anything that makes me uneasy—I gathered that I should be at the airport three hours early for an international flight. My overly cautious side translated that into four hours just to be safe. My mind was filled with visions of mile long security lines and having to run down crowded hallways to get to my gate as I was mentally counting down the seconds before my flight left without me. I’ve obviously seen too many movies. Much to my relief, none of this happened. I checked my bags, got my boarding pass, blew through security, and was at my gate in less than half an hour. I thought for sure I was missing something it was so easy.
I was flying on New Year’s Eve, however, so that might explain why the airport was not quite as packed. Flying back from London took a bit more time, especially with customs, but it was nothing terrible. I found that the worst part of flying was by far the waiting. I have never been happier to have two books with me than when I was sitting at the gate waiting to board.
My journey was far from perfect, though. My flight coming back from London was slightly delayed due to someone’s carry-on getting stuck, so I started worrying that I wouldn’t have enough time to board my connecting flight in JFK to Columbus. This, combined with the tedious task of going through customs, put me in my place. I’ll be honest, after seeing how smooth my flight to London was I got a bit cocky. Flying home from London reminded me of the importance of always staying on my toes and preparing for the unexpected. Even though I joked with my parents about being perfectly fine with missing my flight and staying in New York, the only thing I wanted after a long day of traveling was to be in my own bed.
After reflecting on my own experience, there are definitely a few things that I would recommend to ensure a smooth—and enjoyable—international flight.
1. Bring something to do! This might sound cliché, but it is very important. There is a surprising amount of waiting when traveling, and the last thing you want to do is sit there twiddling your thumbs. This could also lead to severe boredom and probably missing your flight because you fell asleep in a sea of luggage and strangers. A book was my weapon of choice, but pick whatever works for you.
2. Choose your seat on the airplane wisely. This is especially important when you have a connecting flight. Getting off of an international airbus can take some time, and the last place you want to be is in the very back of the plane when you are in a time crunch. The closer you are to the front, the quicker you can get off the plane and do what you need to do before boarding your next flight.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. The employees at the airport are being paid to help you get where you need to be. Set aside your pride for five minutes and ask questions when you are confused. They can also jump you to the front of the line if you have a connecting flight. This was the case for me in JFK. I had one question about customs, and the next thing I know I am being taken to the front of the line after the woman looked at my boarding pass. It was great.
4. Enjoy it. International travel is an amazing experience that some people may never get the opportunity to engage in. In an airport, you are surrounded by people from all over the world with different customs and speaking in different languages. Seeing all of this come together in one place is an awesome experience that makes you realize just how amazing our world truly is.
Flying to London was an experience in and of itself that I will never forget. It was definitely stressful, but it almost gave me an adrenaline rush. It was addicting in a way. Now all I can think about is saving money for my next adventure out of the country. Where will I go next? I haven’t quite figured that out, but I am ready for whatever life throws at me.
Breck Willis is a senior communication studies major who recently participated in the “Exploring Art in London” program over winter break.