International Student Services

Division of Student Services

Advice for new air travelers

We wanted to provide some advice for those of you who have never flown before or have limited experience when flying intercontinental or long distance flights. Safe journeys!


The first step is deciding what to pack in your carry-on/hand luggage and what to pack in your checked luggage. Make sure you check the luggage weight and dimension limits for each airline that you will be travelling on (most airlines allow two 23 kg pieces of checked luggage and one carry-on for international flights). Respect the limits, as overweight luggage is very expensive. You can use a TSA approved lock for your luggage, but approval of other kinds of locks varies.

Carry-on luggage

  • Bring valuable and important items in your carry-on, as checked luggage can get lost. The most crucial things are your passport and U.S. VISA, and your immigration documents (I-20 or DS-2019). It is also useful to have your ticket or e-ticket printed on paper so you can refer to your flight numbers, gates, and departure times.
  • Bring some cash for food in the airport or for unexpected costs. $100 or more would be a good amount, although you probably won’t need to spend it.
  • For comfort, bring an extra layer of clothes, and wear long trousers, as the temperatures in the plane cabin may vary and can be quite cold. Wear easily removable shoes for a smooth time through security. You might also choose to bring items like a book or an MP3 player to keep your entertained. If you are thinking of sleeping, a small pillow, earplugs, and something to cover your eyes would help. You can also bring some light, non-liquid food with you for snacks. 

Checked luggage

  • In most countries, including the U.S., you are not allowed to bring more than a 100ml container of liquids or gels in your carry-on luggage. Make sure that all liquids you don't need on the flight are packed in your checked luggage. However, you might choose to bring a toothbrush and toothpaste with you on your carry-on bag so your breath will be fresh after the long flight.
  • Pack your items in an orderly manner, and pad delicate items with your clothes or other soft materials. Your luggage will be transported on conveyor belts, so minimize empty space to prevent items from shifting too much during transport.

At the airport

Generally, you should arrive at the airport at least 2 hours before your flight's departure time. Check for your flight on the flight panel to to see which counter you should proceed to for check-in. At the counter, you should have your travel documents checked, and receive boarding passes for all of your flights and instructions for your flight. You will also drop off your checked luggage.

Estimate the time you'll need to get to your gate (this may vary depending on airport size), and add additional time for going through security and immigration. This would also be the time to say farewell to your family or other company, as only passengers with boarding passes are allowed beyond a certain point. During the security and immigration checks, follow the instructions provided by the security and immigration personnel. Collect your items and make sure you don't leave anything behind.

After getting thorough security, find the gate for your flight. The number should be on the boarding pass you received at the check-in desk. At the gate, wait for the boarding of the plane to begin (usually about 40 minutes before departure time), before proceeding onto the plane!

On the plane

Once you enter the plane, find your seat and store your carry-on luggage. If you think you’ll need access to your carry-on, store it underneath the seat in front of you. Otherwise, store it in the overhead compartments. Make sure you pay attention to the safety video and follow all of the instructions. Have your seatbelt buckled whenever you're seated, and remember to keep yourself hydrated. The cabin crew are also there to help you if you have any questions.

Depending on your destination, they may hand out customs forms during the flight. It is best to complete these before landing.



If you have layovers/stopovers, get out of the plane and find your next gate as soon as possible. Check the flight panel for any delays or gate changes. Sometimes you might need to go through security again to get to your gate, so a safe layover time would be of at least 1.5 hours. 

First arrival to U.S.

The first step you have to go through is U.S. Immigration. This can take about half an hour in small airports, or up to 3 hours at the busy airports (such as Los Angeles or New York). Have all your documents ready: your passport, immigration documents, 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, pick up your luggage at the conveyor belt (baggage claim). Check the nametag to make sure it's yours. 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. It is unusual, but they may check your luggage at this point. If you have another plane to catch, drop off your luggage with your airline and find the gate to your flight. If not, see Arriving in Portland.

Flight changes and lost luggage

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

If you miss your flight, stay calm and find the nearest counter for your airline. Ask them to rebook your flight. If you must stay at the airport overnight, find a hotel nearby. In certain cases, the airline may check you in to a hotel and pay for your expenses.

If your flight is cancelled, delayed, or you miss it, please contact ISS staff (503-771-1112 or, or your host family. We understand it can 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. 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! If you have a host family, they’ll probably pick you up at the airport, or if they don’t then we’ll provide transportation for you to Reed. However, if something really unexpected happens, you might consider taking a taxi/cab get to Reed as backup transportation. This will cost about $40.

Welcome to Reed!

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

Contact International Student Services

Gray Campus Center 104
Skype: iss.reed

Dana Lawson
Assistant Dean of Students for International Student Services

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