For most programs, you are responsible for making your own travel arrangements. This allows flexibility to find the lowest cost and plan your own travel itinerary. A few programs arrange group flights. If this is the case for your program, it is communicated to you in your program materials and MySA.
Before purchasing your flight, make sure to consult your program arrival information. Some programs facilitate a group pickup upon arrival if you arrive on the day/time specified. As in many scenarios with travel, it is always best to have a Plan B in place in case your intended arrival doesn’t go as planned.
Flight Security Screening and Regulations
Flight security is stringent and regulations about what can and cannot be carried on to an aircraft continually change. It is recommended that you arrive at the airport well in advance of your flight departure time to allow for the smoothest experience and for unanticipated delays.
You will go through a security checkpoint at your departure airport and could be subject to additional security screening along your journey. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) website provides up to date information regarding air travel and approved items to carry on a flight, including things like liquids and electronics. Knowledge of travel regulations will prepare you for the security checks at the airport. Be sure to review travel regulations for anywhere you travel.
Checking In for Your Flight
The check-in process at airports or online enables passengers to confirm they will be on their flight, obtain a boarding pass, possibly select a seat (if hasn’t happened already or allowed by airline), and check in luggage onto a plane, if desired.
A boarding pass is a document provided by an airline during check-in, giving a passenger permission to board the airplane for a particular flight. At a minimum, it identifies the passenger, the flight number, and the date and scheduled time for departure. Boarding Passes are always required to board a flight. Airlines typically accept paper or electronic boarding passes (on phone or tablet).
Check-In & Boarding Timelines
- Many airlines have a deadline for passengers to check-in before each flight. Check-in deadlines are usually between 60 to 30 minutes before boarding, and you are often not able to check in after those times (meaning you cannot go on your flight).
- Check-in deadlines allows airlines to load luggage onto the plane, offer potential unclaimed seats to stand-by passengers, and to finalize documentation for take-off.
- Boarding times are usually between 30 minutes to an hour before scheduled take-off.
- Your boarding pass will list the time the flight will start boarding.
- Flights tend to board in shifts—they might call by rows or by groups. Your boarding pass will indicate your row or group.
- Timeline considerations for boarding: be sure to take into account the time it takes to get through the check-in line, to pass security and then to walk or ride (tram, bus) from the check-in area to your boarding area (your terminal and gate—listed on your boarding pass). Getting through the airport steps can take several hours at some airports or during busy travel times of the year.
- On international flights, you will need to account for more time to clear immigration and customs.
- For international travel, a good rule is to arrive at the airport 3 hours prior to departure and 2 hours for domestic travel. International flights often start boarding 45 minutes to 1 hour prior to the departure time.
- Most airlines will list their specific check-in policies and timelines, so visit your airline’s website for details.
When you enter a different country from which your flight departed you will have go through an immigration process. Each country will have its own agency that administers this inspection process. For the vast majority of passengers, the immigration process only takes a few minutes, though lines to take your turn can get long if many international flights arrive around the same time.
Where to Go upon Arrival to the Immigration Area of the Airport
- Upon arrival and entrance into the immigration area passengers are split into multiple lines. There is generally a line for host country nationals (people with a passport from that country), sometimes a line for citizens of the region (EU, ECOWAS, etc), and non-immigrant visitors. Be sure to enter the correct line to avoid confusion and wasting your time and the time of the officials.
- When going through immigration in a country in which you are not a host-country national, you will likely go through the non-immigrant visitor line.
- Do NOT use your cell phone or cameras in the immigration area. Cell phone calls are not allowed in this area and could be subject to confiscation. It is a good practice to avoid using any electronics in the immigration and inspection area.
- Stay relaxed. As long as you are honest and pay attention to instructions, there is nothing to worry about.
Steps of the Immigration Process
1. Review Travel Documents
Officials will review your required passenger travel documents (passport, visa, green card, disembarkation card (provided by flight attendant during flight), immunization documentation, letters of confirmation or support, etc.).
Officials will likely ask you questions (as deemed necessary by the process or official).
- What is the nature of your visit? How long are you staying? Where will you be staying?
- Some countries require fingerprints and/or photos of every individual entering the country. Officials will take fingerprints or photos if required.
- Official will stamp your passport once you are approved and granted admission.
- Officials can specify your period of authorized stay in case of non-immigrant visitors (this will depend on visa rules/tourist stay policies).
3. Second-Level Inspection
Some passengers might be selected for second level of inspection. Second-level inspections could be conducted in the same queue (line) or in a separate room to aid in a conversation and to keep the queues moving for other passengers. The timeframe of these inspections can vary greatly.
Passengers that are part of second-level inspections could be granted regular admission into the country once inspection is complete. However, if the incorrect or inadequate documentation is provided, passengers can be denied approval to enter country. Passengers are sent back to their original location on the next available flight.
Reasons for 2nd level inspection:
- random checks
- questions or issues with documentation
Going through Customs —What Does It Mean?
After clearing immigration and collecting your baggage, you will need to proceed through the customs area before being allowed to exit the airport. Customs is the authority in the respective country you enter that is responsible for controlling the flow of goods, including animals, transports, foods, personal effects, and hazardous items, in and out of a country.
- Just as each country has an agency that facilitates the Immigration Process, the country you enter will have its own laws and regulations regarding the import and export of goods into and out of a country. It is the responsibility of the respective customs agency to enforce these policies.
- Many countries are strict about the transfer of soil/sand/dirt from one country to another—it is important to avoid introducing non-native organisms. Certain countries will have strict rules around this transfer and may ask questions or require you to clean shoes, close, personal effects before clearing customs.
- For the vast majority of passengers clearing the customs process only takes a few minutes.
- Some countries have goods that are restricted or forbidden to be exported and/or imported. Learn more about Customs, exports and imports.
Customs and Action Steps for Travelers
While on your flight, your flight attendant may distribute a Customs Declaration Form.
Most forms ask the point of exit and entry of your flight, your flight number, what goods you may be bringing into the country (forms might list prohibited items for respective country).
- Complete the Customs Declaration form while on the flight.
- Ask questions to your flight attendant or traveling companions as needed.
- Declare any goods you have with you that might have restrictions, and/or goods you purchased in country when returning to your home country
- Present your declaration form to custom officials.
- Custom officials may or may not inspect your luggage. If they do check your bags and find restricted items, you may be asked to pay duty and/or fines. This is why it is critical to declare items as asked and required.
Each country and airport will have varying processes and requirements for customs and rules around declaration of items. Review the specific country and airport of entry for specific customs guidelines.