Buy the ticket: You specify your start airport and your destination airport, when you want to fly, your passport number, and you pay.
The main thing to write down is your Record Locater or Booking Reference which is a 6 letter/digit code. This will be useful for every interaction around the booking.
Online Check-in: On the day of your departure, you basically confirm that you want to fly. I have absolutely no clue why this is necessary and what happens if you don't do this.
At the moment online check in is rarely an option for international flights. Due to Covid almost all countries have testing, registration or documentation requirements that need to be checked manually by airline staff at the airport. You can check in at the airport instead: either at kiosk but more likely at a counter. At check in, they will verify your booking and your documents and will print you a boarding pass. At this point you can also drop off your checked luggage, if you have any.
Give away your luggage: You go to the counter of your airline and give them your luggage. The airline checks if the luggage is too big / too heavy. The staff will give you a "boarding card" which states when your flight goes,
See check in
which terminal you need to go to / which gate you need to go to.
You should determine which terminal you depart from BEFORE you go to the airport. The check in counter will only be in one terminal, so you need to go to the right one. You can certainly transfer between terminals but in some airports that can take quite a bit of time.
Gate info varies from airport to airport: In most cases it's printed on your boarding pass, but in some airports they will only tell you the general area and announce the gate maybe an hour before departure. So you need to monitor the signs in the terminal.
In this area, there can also be people who don't want to fly (e.g. to take back heavy stuff from the luggage). You also get a "tag" for your hand luggage. So essentially you can have 3 types of luggage: (1) One heavy one that you hand over to the airline (2) a medium-sized one that will go over your seat in the plane (3) a small handbag / very small backpack that can also go under the seat.
Hand luggage is rarely tagged. Make sure to check the airline rules for carry on luggage. Some airlines are very restrictive with what can go in the overhead bin. They have weight limits and will often enforce them. Other airlines don't care.
Go in the "internal" area: Your passport and your boarding card are checked.
You'll go through boarding pass check and then passport control. The most time consumig activity here is tends to be security. All your carry on items and you as a person will be scanned.
Boarding: Maybe 30 minutes before departure, people can actually go on the plane
Boarding time is printed on your boarding pass. It can be anywhere from 1.5 hours to 20 minutes before departure. The boarding often also states a "gate closing time". That's the official cut off time for making the flight: If you are not at the gate by that time, you have lost your seat on the flight.
Boarding processes can be convoluted (by status, row, boarding group etc). Just follow the announcements.
At boarding they always check your boarding pass and in many cases your documents again, so make sure you have them easily accessible.
Get on the plane, find your seat, store your gear, settle down and relax. You are done.
How long before the departure should you go into the "internal" area? Or in other words: If you arrive 3.5h before departure at the airport, how much time do you have to say goodbye?
3.5 hours is excessive for Munich. If you come this early, the check in counter may no even be open yet. Last time, I flew from Munich I did hotel to gate in 15 minutes (granted it was an early morning domestics flight and I was staying in the airport Hilton). I'd say 2 hours would be fine and 2.5 hours is plenty. The most unpredictable part is security. It can vary a lot on time of day and staffing level and attitude. Munich actually posts current wait times at https://www.munich-airport.com/flight-connections-transit-240142 . If you want to spend more time with people after check in, you can determine security time and than determine how much time you have. Personally, I'm comfortable with targeting start of boarding or 30 minutes before gate closing.
Tips and Tricks
- During covid many procedures and rules change frequently. Make sure you are up to date, understand all the requirements and that you have the necessary documents
- While many airlines accept electronic copies of PCR test, travel forms, things are typically easier if you print them out and show them in paper
- Make sure you have all your documents easily accessible. You may have to show them frequently and unexpectedly. Last time I flew to Germany, my PCR test was checked at least 5 times.