International Student Services

Division of Student Services

Advice for new air travelers

We wanted to provide some advice for those of you, new students and language scholars, who have never flown before or have limited experience when flying intercontinental or long distance flights. One of our student interns, Cris Panda, has shared some tips below. 


What to bring – before leaving for the airport

Make sure you have your ticket or e-ticket printed on paper. Sometimes it is not requested, but will be useful to know all of your flight numbers when trying to find your airline/gate/terminal in the airport. Take notice, some flights have more than one flight number, sometimes from the same airline and at other times from a different airline.

Don’t forget to take your passport with VISA and immigration documents (I-20 or DS-2019) with you. These are crucial when you get to the US.

It is very important, bring a good book, an MP3 player, a small game console, a laptop or anything that will keep you entertained. Airlines keep you busy with food, and a lot of intercontinental flights offer movies and music, but there is still a lot of time to kill.

Think about what would help you sleep while on the plane. The trip will be long and you don’t want to arrive at Reed tired. So you might consider bringing a small comfortable pillow, earplugs and something to cover your eyes. Airplanes can be quite noisy and the seats are often not that comfortable, so these small items should help you rest better. However, many people, including myself, have a lot of problems sleeping so don’t worry too much if you find it hard to sleep.

Pack all of the toiletries in your checked luggage. In most countries, including the US, you are not allowed to bring more than a 100 ml container of liquid in your hand luggage. Therefore, putting these products in your checked luggage is the best choice. However, it is a good idea to bring a toothbrush and toothpaste with you on your carry-on bag so your breath will be fresh after the long flight.

Bring warm clothes with you on the plane. Usually the air conditioning is quite cold so bring long trousers and a sweater. Wearing layers is a good idea since on board temperature can vary during the flight.

Packing your luggage can be quite confusing. Make sure you know the number and weight limits of the luggage you’re allowed to check in. The best idea is to check on the airline website as each company has different policies. Most companies allow 2 checked-in 23 kg pieces of luggage and one carry on. Also make sure you respect the limits, as overweight luggage is very expensive and you don’t want to have to throw away some of your things while at the airport. You can use a TSA approved lock for your luggage, but approval of other kinds of locks varies.

Checked luggage can get lost. Make sure you bring valuable and important items in your hand luggage. You should always have your wallet, passport and important documents (such as immigration documents) with you. Bring some cash for food in the airport or for unexpected costs. Make sure you have at least $100 with you though you probably won’t need to spend it. Also, you can bring some light, non-liquid food with you for the long flight.


At the airport

You should arrive at the airport at least 2 hours before your flight. If you’re in a small airport you might not need this much, but in big busy airports you should make sure you have enough time. 

First, go to the flight panel and check for your flight. You should be able to see if check-in is open for your flight. Try to check in as soon as possible so you have time to go through security inside the airport. You should receive boarding passes for all of your flights and instructions for your flight. Also your travel documents will be checked at this point.

After checking in and dropping off your luggage, you have to go through security. Most of the time this doesn’t take too long, but in busy airports it can be quite time consuming. Try to do this early so you have enough time to get through. In security, you will have to take off your coats, any metallic items and put them on the conveyor belt. In some cases taking off your shoes is also required. If you have a laptop in your bag you should put it separately on the conveyor belt. You’ll have to go through a metal detector and an X-ray machine will scan your things. 

After getting thorough security, make sure you find the gate for your flight. The number should be on the boarding pass you received at the check-in desk. There are signs and maps all throughout the airport so it shouldn’t be hard to find. However take your time to do that, as some airports are quite big. If you get lost, don’t hesitate to ask the airport personnel for help. They’ll point you in the right direction. Once you get to the gate, you just need to wait for the boarding of the plane to begin, usually about 40 minutes before the departure time. Get on the plane excited about your upcoming trip!


Inside the plane

Once you enter the plane you will have to find your seat and store your carry-on luggage. If you think you’ll need access to your carry-on, just store it underneath the seat in front of you. Otherwise, you can store it in the overhead compartments. After that, make sure you watch the safety video if it’s your first time on a plane and follow all of the instructions. They’re there to keep you safe and secure.

Seating is important in the plane. A window seat will allow you to have some more sleeping space and also see outside the plane. An aisle seat will let you have quick access to the restroom and the corridor. Also families with small kids usually sit at the front rows of the airplane, so you might want to avoid that area. However, sitting at the back of the airplane might delay you when getting out of the plane. This is especially important when you get to the US as a long immigration queue might mean a risk of losing your connection (I’ll tell you more about this part of the flight later).

Take off and landing are usually quiet and uneventful. Make sure you’re in your seat with your seatbelt buckled and that your electronics are off. Swallowing and yawning help get rid of the ear pressure you might experience. You can also try blowing your nose while pinching it closed with two fingers or chewing some gum. Try to equalize your pressure as soon as possible so you avoid the pain or lack comfort that can arise.

Make sure not to remain seated for the whole flight! Sitting for such a long time is not good for your body. Get up often and walk a bit around the plane, get a beverage from the back of the plane and get hydrated. Taking care of your body is very important for your comfort during the flight.

Food is not great in the plane. However, try to eat as much as you can, so you don’t get very hungry. There are not a lot of other dining options when you’re at 10000m in the air. Drink a lot of liquids. Flying is tiring, so keeping hydrated is very important.  Go to the toilet as often as you need.

If your next landing is in the US, make sure you receive and complete the I-94 Immigration Form and the Custom form before the plane lands. It will save you a lot of trouble if you have these completed when you get to US Immigration.



If you have layovers, make sure you get out of the plane and find your next gate as soon as possible.

Once you have found your gate, and if you still have time, make sure you get some food. As you probably know by now, airplane food is not even close to enough for so many hours in flight. After that you can wait to board your plane.

However, sometimes you need to go through security again to get to your gate, which takes time. Also planes can be, and often are, late. A safe layover time would be of at least 1 hour.


First arrival to US

America, the land of the free and home of the brave!

However, the actual getting inside the country can be quite long and tiring. Try to have at least a couple of hours of layover time for this specific place if it’s not Portland. If you are arriving in Portland, then you obviously don’t have to worry about catching the next flight.

The first step you have to go through is US Immigration. This can take between 1 hour in small airports and 3 hours at peak hours on the busy airports (such as Los Angeles or New York). So when you get off the plane, try to hurry as much as possible so you get a good place in the immigration line. Have your documents ready: your passport, immigration documents, I-94 and Customs forms. Once you get your turn, be polite and answer all the questions. They will record your fingerprints and picture before allowing you into the country. Sometimes they might make you go through extra screening, though this doesn’t happen that often.

After passing immigration, go and pick up your luggage at the conveyor belt (baggage claim). Make sure you remember its color so you can find it easily; also check the nametag on it. You will have to pass the customs official who will ask you if you have anything forbidden in your luggage and take your Customs form. They usually don’t check the luggage, but be ready if that happens. If you have another plane to catch drop off your luggage with your airline and find the gate to your flight.


If your plane gets delayed/cancelled or you miss your flight

Travellers sometimes miss their connecting flight. If this does occur, don’t worry. Try to stay calm and resolve the situation in a timely manner.

The first step is to rebook your flight. Find the nearest counter for your airline and ask them to book you on the next flight to Portland.

Often international flights are fully booked so it might be hard to find another flight. That’s why it is very important to not miss your flight. However, if you get stranded in the airport for a night, I advise you to find a hotel to stay overnight. If it is the fault of the airline that you couldn’t get to the destination, in certain cases they might check you in to a hotel and pay for your expenses. There are usually help desks in the airport that will help you find a place to stay. The pricescan be up to 100 US $/night. However, considering that airport seats are not very comfortable for sleeping especially when you have luggage with you, it might be worth the expense.

If your flight is cancelled, delayed, or you miss it, please contact ISS staff if at all possible (503-771-1112 or If it is easier or more convenient to contact your host family, please do so and ask them to contact ISS staff. We understand it can often be difficult to communicate from an airport, but do your best to update us with any flight changes so we can make sure to provide appropriate transportation and check-in. Please be assured we will be able to pick you up at the airport and check you in at Reed regardless of what time you arrive.


If your luggage went missing

Unfortunately, lost luggage can be a part of a lot of flights. If this occurs to you, go to the Lost Luggage section in the airport and report your missing luggage. When they ask you for the address, use your Reed address: Reed College, 3203 SE Woodstock Blvd., Portland, OR, 97202 and use the Reed College switchboard number (503-771-1112) if you don’t have a cellphone yourself. Most of the time they find the lost luggage and return it to you. However, if they don’t they’ll probably reimburse you for your lost belongings. 


Arriving in Portland

Finally, after all of that you’re almost there! Get out of your plane and walk downstairs to the luggage conveyor belt (baggage claim) to pick up your luggage.

If you have a host family, they’ll probably pick you up or if they don’t then we’ll provide transportation you to Reed. However, if something really unexpected happens, you won’t be stranded in the airport. There are cheaper ways, but taking a taxi might be the easiest since you’re not accustomed to the city. It will cost you about $40 to get to Reed using a taxi.


Welcome to Reed!

We’ll be happy to have you here. Have a safe and enjoyable flight!