I am 14 years old and will be flying on a WestJet plane from Calgary to Vancouver, Canada. How early should I arrive at the airport? What do I do once I arrive at the airport? What should I do first, second, etc? Please be specific.
For a domestic flight you typically get to the airport 1-2h before your flight. Some airlines have designated terminals, it's practical to be dropped off there.
Step 1: Check-in
First thing to do is check in, there's a couple ways to do this. Look for the WestJet desks and use the self-serve kiosk to check in, print your boarding pass and tags for your bags. You can also check in online before you get there and print your boarding pass at home, or use the electronic one if the airline provides it.
Step 2: Check bags
(skip to step 3 if you don't have bags to check)
If you have bags to check (that is, more than just a small bag to take on the plane) you'll need to find the WestJet desks and line up. Someone will weigh the bag, tag them and give you a boarding pass. As the name suggests you need this to be able to get on the plane.
Step 3: Pass security
Your boarding pass will have the gate number on it, that's where the plane leaves from. Start heading there, because you'll need to go through security first. They'll ask for your ID and boarding pass. Your ID can be your provincial healthcare card or your passport.
Step 4: Gate
Once you pass security keep walking until your gate and you're done. Sometimes the gate changes, or it won't be printed on your boarding pass, you can still find it on the screens they have for that everywhere. They'll start announcing boarding by groups when they're ready.
Make sure you meet the requirements
First - really actually first, before any plans for the day-of are even made, double-check your requirements. Many airlines will assume a passenger has a common photo ID like a drivers' license, which is of course age-restricted. You might need to arrange another form of ID (like a passport) - and something like a school ID or healthcare card might or might not fit the requirement depending on what is actually required. I once got caught with this, since we had specifically asked if a passport was needed (they said no), but some photo ID was needed and a passport would have been the best choice given my age. They just didn't think to mention it because most passengers are adults with driver's licenses. Make sure you have any documents you might need, like a copy of your itinerary, contact information (phone numbers and address) for whoever you're going to be met by, emergency contact information for if anything goes wrong (like your contact not picking up), etc. Make sure they're printed copies, so you can get to them even if your phone runs out of battery or something.
Plan both ends of the trip
Next, make sure you have both ends of the trip sorted out beforehand - who will be dropping you off and picking you up, and where and when and who to call if things go wrong or are delayed. You can work things out on the fly, of course, but if you know the backup plans your adults have in place, you will be calmer and more able to navigate any unexpected circumstances.
Be able to deal with your own bags
Make sure you can deal with your own bags, since when you're traveling with adults they are available for lifting or maneuvering when bags are heavy or awkward - but when you're traveling alone you have to be physically capable of dealing with your luggage (including lifting checked bags to the belt to check in or off the carousel at luggage claim, and carrying any bags not checked in). Dealing with your bags might mean being prepared to ask for help, to be fair, just don't get blindsided for not thinking about it.
Have something to do. Have something to eat. Have something warm and comfortable to wear. Have good shoes.
I recommend you bring a good book or two, or anything reasonably portable and interesting (drawing, knitting, written games and puzzles, etc). You should pick something that isn't too messy or has parts that can be lost, and that doesn't require anything not allowed (like scissors - check beforehand). Electronic games might run out of charge (and you will need your phone when you land), so have some backup. Think about what you wouldn't mind doing the whole time, what you will want on hand for if you're fidgety or bored.
As for food, it's fun to pick out whatever you want to eat in the airport, especially if it's food you don't normally get. But you should have a snack or something anyway (granola bar, or sandwich), just in case there's nothing you actually want to eat there, or you don't have time, or for on the plane where options are much more limited. Nothing says you have to eat it, if you run across something really good - but you will regret it if you get hungry and there's nothing else around. This is especially important if there are things you won't or can't eat.
Dress comfortably, since you'll be in those clothes the whole time, and a mildly annoying trait will be really annoying by the time you land. Airplanes tend to be a bit cool and dry, usually, so have a sweatshirt or jacket you can put on if you get cool. Try for something suitable, or that can be made suitable, to both ends of your trip (if the weather or climate are different). And shoes are important, since you will be doing quite a bit of walking in the airport, and sitting for long stretches, which can let your feet swell a bit. You will want something comfortable, and sturdy, and you might want to take your shoes off for part of the flight (depending on how long it is) to stretch and flex your feet.
When traveling with adults they will often have thought about these things, but when you're traveling by yourself, you have to be prepared on your own.
On the Day of Travel
On the day of, you can follow the recommendations in the answers given by Blackbird57 or Johns-305 - arrive with plenty of time, get dropped off at the correct terminal, check in according to instructions, go through security, find your gate (and keep updated for any changes), and board when your group or row number is called. Make sure you check periodically that the gate hasn't shifted around while you wait. Ask whoever is manning the gate about boarding, sometimes airlines will want to board certain types of people early - I recall families with children, and those with mobility issues are usually boarded a bit early; and as a child flying alone you might qualify.
Know who to ask if you need help
If you find yourself confused or hesitant at any point, you should ask for assistance, whether from the staff manning the check in, at the information desks, at the gates, or anyone official you can find in between (look for people in uniforms). They are usually quite helpful, and will likely make every effort for a child even if you don't pay for the extra service JS Lavertu mentions. Most other adults will at least point you in the direction of someone official, if you really can't figure out who to ask.
Lastly, stay calm. Its really not that scary, flying alone, and airports like to get people on planes rather than leave them behind - so there will be signs, and people to ask, and directions to get you checked in, through security, and to the gate in a reasonable amount of time as long as you're paying attention. They try not to require people to know everything without plenty of warning first.
My four children have travelled alone, extensively (from UM travel to Europe at age 6, through "solo" flying from age 13). Based on my experience, for a child traveling alone, there are several important things (in no particular order):
- pack light: at most one checked bag and one compact carry-on. Never mind the right to have "a personal item" as well - the less you have, the less you lose. Teddy bears are cute but don't travel well.
- Stay warm. Have a hoody or other garment you can easily put on / take off (make sure you have space in your carry-on). Plane can be really hot on the runway, and freezing once you're in the air. Be prepared.
- ID: in Canada, every child needs proper ID (see public safety Canada link). Read the requirements, have a valid document. Different countries, different rules. Find out and follow the rules AT BOTH ENDS (you need to be able to get back as well).
- Means of contact: have PAPER copies of phone numbers and full address (parents, uncles, friends) of the people who dropped you off / meeting you at the other end, PLUS a couple of backup numbers in case you cannot get hold of them
- Means of payment: have a sufficient amount of cash ($50-$100) for a taxi, and a "emergency" credit card (parents can have you added as an authorized user) to use if you really get stuck. This requires trust between you and your parents - but if that trust wasn't there they would not let you fly alone in the first place
- A set of "fall back rules" agreed with your parents. If xxx, then yyy. "If uncle Harry isn't there, call aunt Jane. If she doesn't pick up, call me." etc.
- a mobile phone with means to recharge. These days $10 buys a "brick" that will give you a full recharge. Make sure you have one, and that it's full. Don't deplete your phone by playing games on the plane
- Remember to switch your phone to airplane mode before take-off: not doing so will drain the battery and can cause all kinds of other issues (including international roaming charges if you get near the border... it's happened)
- Bring things to entertain you: a book is good
- Pay attention to the safety briefing. Really. Knowing what to do in an emergency can save your life. At the very least, know where the two nearest exits are.
- Drink water on the plane. Especially important for longer flights. Dehydration will make you feel bad. Coca Cola and the like do not fight dehydration.
- Pack some light snacks - something small but calorific (like Cliff bar, or other power food). Find out if your airline serves food; and if you have to pay for it. Agree with your parents what your food budget is while traveling.
- discuss other safety rules with your parents. It's OK to talk to uniformed officers at the airport. It is NEVER OK to accept a ride from a stranger (even someone who claims to be a taxi / Uber driver, unless this ride is met at the taxi line of the airport). Your parents may have other rules. Discuss them. Follow them.
- Check your gate when you get there - ask at check in, confirm on the monitors. Find your way to the gate immediately. If you have lots of time, there may be time to explore the airport - but not until you know where you need to be. Some airports are surprisingly large - taking 15 or more minutes to cross. Check that the gate doesn't change before the flight takes off. Listen for announcements.
- Load the app of your airline on your phone, and make sure your itinerary is loaded. Most of these do an excellent job of communicating last minute changes.
- If you can get a window seat, do. If you have not had much experience flying, looking out of the window as the plane takes off is amazing. As is the view from 30,000 feet - whether it's a clear day, or you are in the clouds.
- Keep your seat belt fastened - even when the light is off. Sudden turbulence and "drops" can happen, and people who are not strapped in can get hurt. But don't be scared - the plane is very, very strong. The wings may appear to move up and down - that's normal. Bits of the wing may seem to move - that's normal (especially during take-off and landing - the flaps are used to increase the lift).
Then there's the simple navigating of the airport, and getting on your plane. Those items were well covered by other answers given.
Enjoy the ride!
Consider using Westjet's unaccompanied minor service.
They will take care of you and guide you to your plane, making sure you don't get lost or be late to your flight.
While this is not free, it's the safest and most foolproof way of getting to your destination safely and on time.
In addition to the other answers, a few comments:
Before you do anything else after the security check, go directly to the gate. Directly! There are going to be a lot of interesting stores with products (electronics, international books, food, music, ...) that you feel you cannot buy anywhere else and that will make you want to stay and watch and try out and buy stuff. I lost a flight and almost lost a couple of other flights, because I lingered and the gate turned out to be further away than I estimated. There are most probably going to be the same stores close to the gate. And all of what you can buy at the airport is also available, most often for less money, somewhere else.
I found a magazine better than a book, because it is "easier" but that's personal taste, I guess.
A moisturizing lipstick keeps you from having dry lips, which is caused by the low pressure and dry air in the cabin.
And an advice of caution: Don't tell to much about where you are heading and what your business is at you destination. Maybe the person you are talking to is nice and trustworthy, maybe the person sitting in the next row isn't. Not to scare you, most people in the world are nice people. But every once in a while you meet someone who isn't and travel situations make you more vulnerable to those. That also counts for adults.
All excellent answers, but I didn't see any mention of looking at maps of the airport terminals at both ends of the flight, so you have a good idea where the key areas are: Ticketing/baggage check, security, etc. Most airports have a web site that include maps of the different areas. Some are poor, some are good. The airline's web site may also have maps that highlight their gate areas. You may want to also try Google Street View or search Google for images of the airports to help translate a poor map to what to look for and recognize.
A totally supplemental answer.
Build a "Travel Kit"
Make sure it contains
- Money ($50 to $100 in small bills no larger then a $20)
- A light coat (even if your wearing a heavy one)
- Chewing Gum - 1 large pack or two packs (start to chew like crazy when you board the plane, keep chewing till you land)
- Headphones and something to listen to (not internet based)
- Cell Phone, fully powered
- Cell phone charger, fully powered (I mean those emergency ones)
- A photo ID (A state issues ID is best, but others work)
- Your boarding pass (add it when you get it)
- A book or movie. Something to do for the length of the flight that is quite, and doesn't require internet.
- A paper list (not just on your phone) of important addresses and phone numbers, including the people that are going to pick you up and where you are staying. Find a Taxi company in the destination, write down it's number too. Shouldn't need it, but way better off if you do and have it, then if you do and don't have it.
- ATM card, Pre-paid Visa/MC, or other secure way so handle money. Don't carry lots of cash. Checks are not a good idea either. You need some cash but, you will need more on your trip and carrying all at once as cash is a bad idea.
This travel kit is the start of your carry on luggage. Make sure to keep it with you at all times. Try not to pack too much other stuff in your carry on. Remember you can buy new at the other end, but you don't want to have to fight with your carry on luggage to get it to fit.
At the departing airport (home)
Go right to the gate. Find a seat, sit there. It's boring. On the way get something to drink. Usually there are stores and shops that sell overpriced drinks. Get one or two and drink it all. You will feel better if your not dehydrated on the trip. Don't drink too much, you don't want to have to pee every 10 mins. But the drinks on the plane suck. The soda tastes funny, and if your picky about water, well... Juice is best, but it's not always offered.
At connecting airports (changing planes)
Go right to the gate. Find a close bathroom and use it. Even if you don't have to. Get more drinks and drink up. Replace chewing gum if needed. If you have enough time then get food. Do not eat a meal. Eat something lite. Again this will keep you feeling better and avoiding jet lag and that groggy feeling.
If you want to move around, walk in circles at the gate. You do not want to sleep, and you don't want to leave the gate area.
The arriving Airport (where you are going)
Take your time. You have at least 30 mins before your luggage is going to be ready, so there is no need to rush. Use the bathroom (even if you don't need to, remember your done traveling yet). Get more drinks. If your hungry eat, but keep it lite. A lot of people that experience "jet lag" are just hungry and dehydrated. Don't be afraid to eat a TON of little things. Sweets do best, but 10 pounds of sugar isn't good for you either. Water or juice to drink is best. The people picking you up probably will want to take you for diner. Keep it lite. Eating a big meal now will make you super tired.
Back to the airport. After you get food/drinks/bathroom head to the baggage area, and look for your bag(s). Make sure you get your bag. Check the tag. Your bag should stand out, but even if your sure no one else has a pokemon/batman/power puff bag, they might. Check that tag.
Next look for your exit. It depends a lot on where your going to be picked up. If at the gate, or the baggage area, but if you haven't found your ride by now, it's time to start looking.
Once you have your ride, (and only then), whip out the cell phone, power it on, and call your parents. Try to keep the conversation short, but let them know your OK, and the flight was OK, and you have your ride. The reason to keep it short is to not be rude to the people picking you up, and because, like it or not, you will be tired.
First thing the next day. Call your parents. Have a longer conversation. It will make them feel better. Try to eat a big breakfast. You just spent the entire last day living on junk food, try to offset some of that. Find a task you can do then jump into it. Doing something will help you fight off that "I just wanna sleep" feeling. What ever you do, don't give into the sleep all day feeling. Specially if you changed time zones.
There are some excellent tips here, I can only add the following from my time as a young traveler:
Airports can be large places, and even adults and experienced travelers get lost. So, its important to know where your gate is. Sometimes, its changed from what is printed on your boarding pass. So, the first thing you should do as soon as you have gone through security, is to confirm the gate from the large monitors displaying flight information. You should also lookout for signs telling you how far the gates are. They are usually written in minutes, which is how long it will take if you walk to the gate.
Airline food can sometimes be disagreeable; it may also not be available (or available for purchase) on your flight. If you are hungry, try to grab a bite to eat at the airport; or buy something to carry with you on the plane to eat. Do not buy this stuff before the security check, as it may be confiscated and discarded.
During the flight, try to avoid soda / coke / coffee / mountain dew. These drinks make you thirsty and thirst can lead to dry eyes which can cause discomfort. The best is to ask for bottled water with a cup of ice and sip it throughout the flight.
If you are nervous about flying, there are many noises that can be alarming especially if this is your first time. You should know that flying is the safest form of transport by a very large margin. If you have any questions whatsoever about any noise or part of the aircraft, simply ask the flight crew. They are aware that people are nervous and will be happy to explain things.
I know some noises that have startled people:
The "thud thud thud" (and bouncing - which is more pronounced on smaller planes) as the plane speeds down the runway (this is the nose wheel going over the center runway lights). Similar to the noise in your car when you switch lanes and the tires go over the reflectors. At airports with newer runways they have better lights so this noise is reduced.
Vibration when the plane takes off. This is perfectly normal as the wings are generating lift.
The "thud" when the gear is retracted.
Relax, and remember to ask questions of the crew at any time you are unsure about something. You can even ask them how to get around the destination airport as many are familiar with the routing and can guide you.
- Pay the extra $5-10 for a seat assignment. That way, you can choose a Windows or Aisle. Otherwise, you get whatever WestJet assigns, which includes middle seats.
- Download the WestJet app and register.
- Check in via the app before leaving for the airport. You can do this up to 24 hrs ahead of time.
- If you have to check a bag, arrive 90 min before departure. Otherwise, 60-90 minutes is enough. Calgary is not a large airport.
- If you check in via the app, that is you boarding pass. You don't need to print one.
- Know requirements for entering the terminal. You'll need a government issues ID. I assume Canada has the liquid restriction also. Pointless, but you sill have to comply.
- Once you enter the terminal, go directly to the gate to make sure that's still the right gate. You can also check the displays, they're everywhere. If you have time, now you can walk around.
- Be at the gate 40 minutes before departure or 10 minutes before boarding time, whichever is earlier.
- Board with you Group/Row.
Traveling alone at 14 is not uncommon. I started even younger.
Some additional tips.
Having a charged phone is very important, because that's how you can tell your family and friends where you are and what you need. For maximum time, do these. Leave your apartment with the phone fully charged, bring a wall charger, bring a USB cable (for charging), put the phone into power saving mode (if it's Android), disable GPS, Wi-Fi and mobile data, decrease the screen brightness. Don't use the phone except for making and receiving voice calls. Just before entering the plane, put the phone to airplane mode, and just before standing up after landing disable airplane mode. Whenever you see a wall socket or a USB socket, connect your phone and charge it.
You'll spend a lot of time waiting (e.g. in line, for the gate to open, for the plane to take off). Bring a book. In some situations it's not practical to read a book, you may want to listen to music instead. Don't play the music from your phone (because that drains the battery), but bring a separate device (can also be a phone).
Bring a plastic bottle of water. Finish it before you put your hand luggage into the security scanner. (You can also finish it right at the spot.) Don't throw away the bottle. After the security check, find a restroom and refill the bottle. Do it even if the water tastes bad (because of chloride), it can be useful later. You can also buy an extra bottle of mineral water or soda after security, but that's a bit expensive. Don't buy a can, always buy a plastic bottle which you can lock back. On the plane, when the attendants are distributing drinks, always ask for an extra glass of water (in addition to your favorite drink).