Before you book your ticket, make sure you find out about all the travel documents you need, such as passports, visas or inoculation certificates.
If you do not have the right documentation, you could be barred from getting on the plane, and you may not be entitled to a refund or travel on a future flight. Or, if you manage to board the plane, you may be refused entry into the country when you arrive at your destination, and be flown straight back. If so, you will not be entitled to a refund from the airline.
Before the day of travel, make sure you know the latest check-in time for the flight. This will usually be printed on an 'itinerary' which you will be given with your ticket. But if it is not, or you are not given a printed itinerary, ask the travel agent or the airline.
There are now many ways that you can check in for your flight – at a check-in desk, a self-service airport kiosk or online through an airline's website. It is no longer simply a case of turning up at the airport, joining the back of queue and passing your tickets and passport over the counter to check-in staff.
Whichever way you choose to check in, make sure you do so before the check-in deadline. And remember that the deadline is the latest time for getting to the desk (or self-serve kiosk), not the back of the queue. If you miss the deadline, the airline has no obligation to put you on a later flight or refund you your ticket. If you do arrive with little time to spare and there is a big queue, tell an airline representative - don't risk missing your flight.
The same is true if an airline has a "fast bag drop". You may have checked in online or at a kiosk but if you don't drop your bag off in time, you will miss your flight, with no guarantee to be out on the next flight or to receive a refund.
Keep your passport and boarding card handy. You may have to show them several times before you get on the plane. At the main security checkpoints before departure, your hand luggage will be checked. You will walk through a security gate and you may be frisked. These checks are to protect everyone.
At busy times, there may well be long queues at the security checks, so allow yourself plenty of time. Co-operate with the security staff, and don't make jokes about the bomb in your suitcase - what you say will be taken seriously, may delay you and hundreds of others, and might even get you arrested.
Once you have passed through the security checks to the "airside" part of the airport, you will not be allowed back to the airport reception area.
Some airports now offer "fast track" services, where you can pay a small fee to use a dedicated (and less busy) security channel, and therefore save yourself some waiting time. Frequently, a similar service is offered with premium tickets such as business or first class.
After you have checked-in and passed through security and passport control, you will arrive in the departure lounge.
Remember that some airports do not announce flight departures over the public address system. Look for, and keep an eye on, the flight indicator boards (usually banks of television screens nowadays). These will tell you when to go to the gate for boarding - it's your responsibility to get there on time.
In most departure lounges there are cafes and bars. Beware of drinking too much whilst you wait for your flight. Captains have the right to stop you getting on the plane if they think you're drunk. They will stamp 'Refused Boarding' on your ticket and you will probably find that other airlines will also refuse to carry you. You will not be entitled to a refund.
Remember that it takes less alcohol to make you drunk when you're flying because of the pressurisation of the aircraft. If you overdo it, it won't just be jet lag you have to cope with at the other end.
If you are likely to have any needs for which you think an airline might have to make special arrangements, you must discuss them with the airline or travel agent as soon as you start to plan your trip.
You may find that your choice of airline will have to be based on which one can best meet your particular needs. Before you book, ask if the airline is going to charge extra for any special services it has agreed to provide for you.
Some examples of the sorts of needs for which airlines might have to make special arrangements for are if: