A First-Time Flyer’s Guide to Airport Terminals

A First-Time Flyer’s Guide to Airport Terminals

By Neil Celeste Rara
Follow @neilrara on Twitter
NAIA Terminal 3

The NAIA Terminal 3 caters to passengers of Cebu Pacific (Domestic and International) and Air Philippines (Domestic)

Just several years ago, most PromDis like me preferred to travel to and from Manila by sea. This was because back then it was a lot cheaper. But thanks to the emergence of new players in the local airline industry, travelling by plane has become more affordable for most Filipinos. The series of sea mishaps which happened in recent years has also inevitably caused a stigma against sea travel. Today, the safest, most reliable, most comfortable and cheapest way to travel inter-island is through the air.

Frequent air fare promotions and the growing popularity of air travel have drawn more first time passengers to airport terminals, which are not only becoming more and more sophisticated but also congested. I understand the anxiety felt by these first time flyers, especially when travelling alone. Not only are stories about airplane crashes and hijacks terrifying, the processes of boarding an airplane is also a lot more complicated than boarding a ship, bus, or taxi.

Not only are stories about airplane crashes and hijacks terrifying, the processes of boarding an airplane is also a lot more complicated than boarding a ship, bus, or taxi.

This guide aims to answer the many questions of first time flyers and ease their anxiety by giving them a step-by-step manual from getting through the initial security check, to the check-in process, and finally to the boarding procedure.

This guide is based heavily on my personal experience. Also, I am using the NAIA Terminal 3, by far the most sophisticated airport terminal in the Philippines, as an example.

STEP 1: Arriving at the Terminal

Airline companies advise passengers to arrive at least an hour before their flight’s scheduled departure (for domestic flights). But since the traffic in Metro Manila can be so erratic, err on the “safe” side when calculating your travel time from your location to the airport. If you are checked-in in a hotel and will be departing early in the morning, request for a wake-up call from the hotel concierge and if possible, a vehicle to take you to the airport.

Before leaving for the airport, always check that your luggage is complete and most importantly, that you carry with you your ticket and at least one valid identification card. Also, make sure that you have extra cash to pay for the terminal fee and the “extra” baggage fee in case the weight of your luggage is beyond the limit for your passenger class (your maximum allowable baggage weight is indicated in your ticket).

I strongly suggest that you arrive at the airport terminal at least two (2) hours before your flight’s scheduled departure time, especially during peak seasons when there are so many passengers. I had a bad experience in the past concerning long passenger queues during the Christmas season. I intentionally went to the airport two hours and a half earlier than I usually would because I was expecting a lot of passengers. When I arrived at the airport terminal, I was shocked to see how long the passenger queues were. But since, I had no choice, I fell in line. While queuing for almost two hours, a representative from the airline company finally pulled me and other passengers for the flight out from the queue and led us to an express entrance. Had we waited on the queue, we would have missed our flight. But this incident happened in the old domestic airport terminal. Thanks to the newer, much larger and better equipped NAIA Centennial Terminal 2 and Terminal 3, incidents like this happen very rarely. But just to be sure, arrive early.

NAIA Terminal 3

Passengers queuing up near the terminal entrance. Entrance nos. 1, 2 and 3 are for passengers. Non-passengers may enter the terminal through the mall entrance located at the southern part of the terminal.

Upon arrival at the airport terminal, look for the entrance with the shortest queue of passengers and fall in line. If you have more than one baggage, get a baggage cart. Baggage carts are readily available near the entrance doors and may be used free of charge. By the way, the cart’s wheels are locked by default. To move the cart around, push the cart handle downward with a considerable amount of strength. Every time you release the cart’s handle, its wheels automatically lock. This is to prevent the cart from straying away when not being held.

While on the queue, prepare your ticket and a valid identification card just in case these will be asked from you by the security personnel facilitating the entrance.

Also, place all metallic objects, electronic devices, belts with metallic buckles, keys, key chains and liquids inside your luggage to avoid hassle during the security inspections (this will be explained in detail later).

STEP 2: Security Inspection

Many people find security inspections so much of a hassle. But always remember that these security checks make air travel the safest mode of transportation available. Security personnel would usually ask for your ticket as you go through the entrance door. This is to make sure that non-passengers (especially those who wish to wreck havoc) are kept out of the departure area.

Your luggage will go through an x-ray scanner, which is conscientiously monitored by another security personnel (usually a police officer) trained to detect bombs, explosives, and illegal drugs.

On the other hand, you (the passenger) will go through a metal detector, which is designed to detect not only metallic objects like knives and cutters but also metallic substances like gun powder and explosive compounds. Since metal detectors detect all types of metals, it will sound an alarm once it detects your metallic belt buckles, keys, nail cutters, cellular phones, ipods and other electronic devices (because the battery is metallic). It is for this reason that I advised earlier that you place all these items inside one of your luggage before you go through the security check.

STEP 3: Check-In

Check-in Counters

Passengers queue up by the check-in counters designated for their respective flights. Some airline companies have common check in counters, meaning passengers of different flights could check in on the same counter. Check-in luggage will be tagged with the initials of the place of destination.

The airport terminal may not be a hotel but still, you need to check in. The process of checking-in is like saying “I am present” when your teacher makes the roll call. Even if you are holding a fully-paid ticket and even if you are inside the airport terminal, your seat on the plane will not be confirmed until you check in. It is also a wrong notion that the check-in process is only for passengers with luggage. The truth is: with or without luggage, passengers need to check-in to get their Boarding Pass. It is the boarding pass, and not the ticket, that will be required in boarding the aircraft.

In the case of a plane crash, the information indicated in the manifest will be used as a basis for confirming the number of passengers who boarded the plane and their identities.

Upon checking in, present your ticket and a valid identification card. Your identification card is presented so the airline representative could see to it that the ticket is really yours. Remember that plane tickets are non-transferrable. One of the reasons why this is so is because the names of passengers who have checked-in will be listed in the passenger manifest of that particular flight. In the case of a plane crash, the information indicated in the manifest will be used as a basis for confirming the number of passengers who boarded the plane and their identities. The manifest will also be used as basis for payment of insurance claims and may be presented in court as evidence in criminal cases (for example, Vizconde Massacre case).

If you missed your flight because you arrived late, you may ask for a refund of your ticket or you may re-book another flight. If you purchased a promo ticket, there is only one thing to do — cry.

Check-in counters usually close 30 minutes before the scheduled boarding time. If you arrive late for check-in, your booking will be revoked and your seat will be awarded to any wait-listed passenger standing-by. If you missed your flight because you arrived late, you may ask for a refund of your ticket or you may re-book another flight. If you purchased a promo ticket, there is only one thing to do — cry. Promo tickets are usually non-refundable and sometimes non-rebookable.

If you have a luggage that is too heavy or large to be carried on to the cabin, you will have to check it in as well. Remember that airline companies impose a maximum allowable baggage weight per passenger. For domestic flights, this weight limit usually ranges from 15 Kilograms – 20 Kilograms. Note that some promo tickets usually labelled “lite” or “light” do not include provisions for checked-in baggage. Read the terms and conditions printed on the ticket for more information.

After checking in your luggage, you will be given a Boarding Pass. The boarding pass serves as your final ticket to the boarding area and ultimately, to the airplane. Among the many bits of information indicated in the boarding pass are the carrier type (type of airplane), flight number, BOARDING TIME, and SEAT NUMBER. I intentionally emphasized the last two since these are the details you should pay the most attention to.

The Boarding Time is the time when the boarding gates will be opened and the passengers board the plane. The Seat Number is usually a combination of a letter and a number. The number is for the row, while the letter is for the column. For example, if the seat number indicated in your boarding pass is 23A, it means that your seat is located on the 23rd row, in the A column (this is usually beside the window).

Another important thing to remember is that, if you checked in a luggage, a claim stub must be stapled onto your boarding pass. This claim stub has a barcode matching the barcode on a tag attached to your luggage. When you exit the terminal at the point of destination, a security personnel will check the claim stub against the luggage tag to make sure that all checked in luggage are accounted for and are released to their respective owners. Note that since each baggage is tagged individually, the number of claim stubs stapled onto your boarding pass should correspond to the number of luggage you checked in. For example, if you checked in four bags, your boarding pass should have four claim stubs attached to it.

After getting your boarding pass, you may stash your ticket in your carry-on or pocket. From this point forward, you won’t be needing it anymore. It is wise, however, to keep it until you reach your point of destination.

STEP 4: Payment of Terminal Fee (See note below this section)

After checking in, the next step is to proceed to the entrance to the Boarding Area. However, before you can get in the boarding area, you must pay a terminal fee. This fee is for the use of the airport terminal and its facilities. This is not required in foreign countries but in the Philippines, it is. The general rule is that the bigger, more comfortable and better equipped an airport terminal is, the more expensive is its terminal fee. As of this article’s posting, the terminal fee for NAIA Terminals 2 and 3 is P200.00 for domestic flights and P550.00 for international flights (The price of the terminal fee for international flights was recently rolled back from P750 to P550 beginning Feb. 1, 2012 although the DOTC has announced that it might bring the fees back up to P750.00 anytime soon.  The terminal fee for international flights is separate from the travel tax.  Passengers of domestic flights DO NOT need to pay the travel tax).

After paying the terminal fee, a small receipt will be stapled onto your boarding pass. You will be instructed by the cashier to proceed to the final security check.

NOTE: In May 2012, airline companies have agreed to a proposition made by the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) to include the terminal fee in the total ticket price so that passengers won’t need to queue up and pay for it before entering the boarding area.  This scheme will be implemented beginning August 1, 2012.  The terminal fee price should be specifically itemized in the receipt.

STEP 5: Final Security Check

Liquids are prohibited since explosive chemicals may be easily disguised as lotion, hand sanitizer, water, juice or soda.

Being the final security check, this is the strictest. In this procedure, passengers go through another metal detector, while carry-on luggage go through another x-ray scanning machine. Take note that pointed objects (including Swiss army knives and nail cutters), liquids (including water), ropes, electrical cords, adhesive tapes, scissors etc. are not allowed to be carried into the plane. This is because these objects may be used by hijackers to either cause harm on or restrain passengers and flight crew. Liquids are prohibited since explosive chemicals may be easily disguised as lotion, hand sanitizer, water, juice or soda.

Sandals and shoes will also need to go through the x-ray scanner. Plastic trays are available near the x-ray scanner to contain these while being carried through the x-ray scanner by a conveyor belt.

STEP 6: Boarding Procedure

After going through the final security check, collect your belongings and proceed to the Boarding Area.

The Boarding Area is a lounge where passengers wait for their flight’s boarding call. The boarding call is announced through the public address (PA) system. Always pay attention to boarding announcements. If your flight is delayed or worse, cancelled, you will know about it through the boarding announcements. Once your boarding call is announced, go to the boarding gate mentioned and fall in line. If you were not able to hear the boarding gate number, refer to your boarding pass. Please take note, however, that sometimes there are last minute changes in the boarding gate assignments of aircrafts.

At the gate, airline representatives will inspect your boarding pass to make sure that you are boarding the right plane. Once cleared, you are now ready to board the aircraft.

Once inside the aircraft, you will be greeted by smiling flight attendants. You may ask their assistance in looking for your seat.

After finding your seat, place your carry-on baggage inside a compartment located above your seat. You may seek assistance from the flight attendants. After which, sit comfortably on your seat. Once all passengers are settled, the flight attendants will demonstrate the safety features of the aircraft. Always pay attention to this demonstration; it’s for your own safety.

After the demonstration, buckle-up (that means, fasten your seat belt), sit back and relax.

Based on statistics, there are more road accidents than there are plane crashes, and air transportation is the safest of all modes of transportation.

First time flyers usually feel anxious all throughout the flight. It’s understandable since we, humans, have the tendency to be scared of the things we don’t yet know. But the fact is: based on statistics, there are more road accidents than there are plane crashes, and air transportation is the safest of all modes of transportation. So, there’s really nothing much to worry.

Important Note for Credit Card Users:

If you purchased your plane ticket online using your credit card, you will be required to present a photo copy of the credit card you used and a valid ID (if the credit card is yours).  However, if you purchased your ticket using someone else’s credit card, you must be able to present photo copies of both that person’s credit card and his/her valid ID.  This policy is implemented to ensure that credit card owners are protected from fraud.

Additional Tip: Whenever the plane shifts altitude, the air pressure inside the cabin changes. A rapid change in pressure — which happens when the plane ascends or descends — usually causes our sensitive eardrums to contract or expand in response to the imbalance of air pressure between the outer and middle chambers of the ear. The resulting discomfort is called Ear Barotrauma. If you feel the pain, chew a gum or move your jaw (like when you yawn) to somehow force air out of your ears and ease the build up of pressure inside. Don’t expect to lose all the “extra air” inside your ear at once. Sometimes, the discomfort continues even after you alight the plane. The best solution is to try to sneeze. One sneeze could take it away for good. But the problem is, you can’t force yourself to sneeze on cue. Some people relieve the air pressure by blowing air through their ears while blocking their noses. Doctors do not advise this solution since viruses from your throat might get into the interior parts of your ear and might cause infection. Don’t worry, this phenomenon will come to pass naturally within a few hours, and does not cause permanent damage to your ears.

  • neilraragma

    If that is the case, then there’s a possibility that you won’t be able to seek a refund of your ticket especially if you purchased it during a promo.

    In essence, you have confirmed your booking by having your friend check you in even if you were still en route to the airport. And so, your seat on the plane would not have been given to a wait-listed passenger since it was already “reserved” for you.

    If you didn’t ask your friend to check you in, the airlines would have given your seat (since you’d probably be late for check in already) to a wait-listed passenger, and since someone else would have paid the price for the seat you’ve vacated on that flight, the airline should give you a refund of your ticket (but probably not in full since being late was your fault not theirs).

    Kung baga: pinareserve mo yung upuan pero hindi mo ginamit at hindi mo-kinansel at the last minute and so, hindi nila ito ibinigay sa iba na puwede sanang magbayad para sa upuang hindi mo na magagamit.

    Dahil naka-reserve yung upuan sa’yo, since sinabi mong i-reseve ito (by having your friend check you in), lumipad ang eroplano na bakante yung upuang yun. Kapag ni-refund nila ang ticket mo, lugi sila kasi hindi naman nila kasalanan kung bakit ka na-late for your flight. Ibig sabihin, hindi nila kasalan kung bakit bakante ang upuang ‘yun.

    Kaya mahirap mag-online check in pag di mo siguradong makakarating ka on time. That’s why I always advise passengers to come earlier than one hour before your scheduled flight. Kung puwede nga kahit 3 hours ahead pa para kung magkaroon man ng problema sa daan, may time pang humabol. Metro Manila traffic is very erratic, I tell you. Minsan pag-alis mo ng bahay maluwag pa ang edsa, pero after a few minutes sobrang traffic na. So err on the safe side always.

    Hindi bale nang mag-intay ng matagal sa airport, at least nandun ka na.

  • neilraragma

    Saan po magsi-stay? Abroad? Which country? If you plan to travel to Hong Kong, you won’t need a VISA. But several countries require non-residents to secure a VISA before travelling regardless of purpose: work, leisure, business, etc.

  • neilraragma

    A quick answer to your first question is “Yes.” I usually travel with three carry-ons: a backpack, a laptop bag, and a pasalubong (krispy kreme, etc.) Just make sure these are small enough and light enough to be allowed as carry-ons. I usually place the backpack and the pasalubong in the overhead compartment, and the laptop bag under the seat in front of me (before my feet). The reason for this is that I use my laptop whenever I get bored during the flight and it is easier to take it out if it’s placed right before my feet that above my head (especially if I’m not seated by the aisle).

    Some airlines are strict when it comes to placing luggage under the seat (in front of you) but this is ALLOWED. Just make sure that no wire or strap is barring your feet from free movement. Your feet should to be clear from any obstruction in case of emergency so you can evacuate the plane safely and immediately.

  • neilraragma

    And by the way, you asked about available outlets. Since your airline is Cebu Pacific, then most likely, your terminal would be NAIA Terminal 3 (but check your ticket to be sure since I think some of their smaller planes servicing the Caticlan and small island routes still use Terminal 4). NAIA Terminal 3 is more like a mall than an airport terminal (thank God the Philippines has one!). There’s even a Jollibee and a 7-Eleven outlet there.

  • neilraragma

    May I know what exactly are the names?

  • Maria Cristina Villegas Garcia

    thank you for this info. first time flyer din ako

  • neilraragma

    Thanks for dropping by my website. Feel free to share this article through your online social networking accounts if you wish to.

    God bless. =)

  • Ann

    Hi Neil! Kudos for your very informative blog. 1st time flyer here. I just want to get your opinion regarding the metal scanners. Are they safe for pregnant people?

  • neilraragma

    Hi there, Ann.

    Thanks for visiting my website. As much as I want to answer your question with confidence, I admit I’m not a science or health expert. I am not sure if comprehensive studies about the effects of metal scanners on pregnant passengers have been made but here’s an interesting read:

    Hope this helps.


    - Neil

  • emil dalapu

    sir neil .. gud day pasnsya na po ha first time flyer kami ng wife ko and ths spt 20 na ung flght nmn from davao to manila .. sa prnted itinerary nmen eh wala pong nka indcate na terminal fee.. nlito lng po ako kasi nabasa ko na it shld be indcated in the reciept na un terminal fee.. BTW it is a promo fare that we have with CEBU PAC.. and sir pls correct me if im wrong, if we avail the online check in we dont need to go to the check in counter at the airport since me and my wife only have 1 backpack each and 1 hand bag for (her only) right? and we can print as well the boarding pass at home? and anu napo ba ssunod nming gawin? and also we did not select or reserved ung seats namin , rest assured me seats nmn kming mkkha on the day of our flght dba?

  • Jessa De Asis

    ask ko lng po nagpabooked npo bf ko ng flight ko last tue my flight po sept 25th,manila to cebu nsaken npo yung booking reference saan ko po ba makukuha ang ticket at anu po ba dapat ko gawin pag dating sa terminal 3 ako lng po kc mag isa at firt time ko pa po kaya wala po ako idea cebu pacific air po yung palne thanks po help me po para alam kuna po dapat gawin sa 25th

  • Roxanne Gem Lorenzo

    Hi thank you for this informative blog.i just have a question regarding baggages. It says on the terms and condition that Free Baggage Allowance: Not included. Does dat mean na we cant also bring carry on luggage inside the plane? :) ) Sorry for asking. First time. Thanks

  • steph

    this is really informative thought parang walang nagsink in sakin coz im too nervious LoL ..

  • neilraragma

    Hello. Thanks for dropping by. Nope, it doesn’t mean that you are not allowed to bring a carry on. It simply means you do not have a provision for checked-in baggage. =)

  • neilraragma

    I apologize for this late reply. But for the interest of other readers, the booking reference is the number or alphanumeric code boldly indicated in the booking confirmation or travel itinerary (what it is called varies from airline to airline) which is e-mailed to you as proof of your confirmed booking for a specific flight.

    When you arrive at the airport, present a copy of this booking reference to the entrance guard and to the check-in counter attendant. THERE IS NO NEED TO PRINT this booking confirmation. In fact, every time I fly, I only download the the e-mailed booking confirmation to the local storage of my cellular phone and show it to the guard and check in counter attendant upon entrance and check-in, respectively.

  • mrcsfp20

    Hi po Sir Neil, ask ko lang po if allowed po ba yung backpack then 1bag of pastries and delicacies as hand luggage? Then anu po yung mean ng “no seat.Promo fare kc inavail ko. From Clark to ceb. Panu ko po malalaman seat no ko kung no seat nasa binooked ko

  • neilraragma

    Good morning, mrcsfp20!

    Thanks for your question. Your backpack and bag of delicacies may be hand-carried, don’t worry. As to the seat, I don’t think it means you don’t have a seat on the plane because that’s impossible (unless you are boarding the AFP’s C140 – just kidding). Please reply with the full text of that “no seat” notice so we can all try to figure out what it means.


    - Neil

  • mrcsfp20

    Thanks for replying Sir Neil. Hindi po kc ako nag avail dun sa reserved seat kasi may charge fee. So i select no seat kaya yun po nkalagay sa booking details ko. Siguro nga po imposible na wala akong upoan dun haha

  • mrcsfp20

    Then another question po. Magkano po charge if may extra bag ako dadalhin for checkin. At san po magbabayad. Hand carry no luggage lang kc nabooked ko. Pwde ba ang ganun

  • Ashlee Martin

    Good afternoon po. kailangan pa ba ng Photocopy of Credit Card at I.D doon sa travel agency kung saan ko binili ticket or okay na Resibo. hahanapin pa ba yun kapag nag check in ako?

    saan po ba tinitimbang at binabayaran yung dalang gamit sa may check in din na po ba?
    at halimbawa po 6pm ang flight ko then nakarating ako 2pm papayagan ba nila akong mag check in agad?

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