• English for Air Travel in the United States

    Teauna and I are spending the holidays with my parents, sisters and brother in Southern Illinois, near St. Louis. We flew from Montana, and during the trip, I couldn’t help but remember my last plane trip, when I returned from Buenos Aires to the United States a year ago.

    A plane on the runway in Minnesota.

    I remember the confusion it caused when we were going through the airport and someone asked us a question we weren’t prepared for in Spanish. Today someone in airport security asked my wife a question that I couldn’t quite hear, and I immediately thought there was a translation problem.

    Of course, we were in the United States, and the unexpected question was why her ticket didn’t say that we had an infant child with us. Mine did, and we quickly fixed the situation and continued to our plane.

    Afterward, I thought about the steps we had to go through to travel by plane in the United States.

    Arrival at the Airport

    When you first arrive at an airport in the U.S. you’ll have to check in. Check in has changed quite a bit over the years. These days, you’ll likely be checked in by a computer terminal at the airport entrance. The easiest way to check in is to put the credit card you used to buy the tickets into the machine.

    After that, the computer will find your name and ask a series of questions about your flight. Usually the questions are available in several languages, so this part should be easy. When you’re finished with this process you should have your tickets in hand, and your luggage should be with the airline.


    This is perhaps the most stressful part of flying in the United States. You’ll want to have your identification in hand, along with your plane tickets. The first thing you’ll do (probably after waiting in a long line) is show your ID and your tickets to a security worker, who will inspect them.

    After that, you’ll move on to the scanning area. Here, you’ll have to remove your coat and shoes and put them in bins (grey plastic boxes) so they can be scanned. Your carry on bags (the bags you take with you on the plane) will also have to go through the scanner. If you have a laptop, you’ll have to take it out of its bag and put it into a separate bin. Then you’ll have to go through a scanner yourself.

    Most of the time after you and your bags have gone through the scanning process, you’ll be ready to go wait for your plane. But sometimes you may be randomly selected for additional inspection. If this happens, you may be asked to “step aside, please.”

    “Step aside” is a phrasal verb meaning for you to move out of the main line. Airport security workers may then give you an additional inspection in which they pat you down (patting your body with their hands to see if there is something hidden on you body). They may also want to wipe your hands, clothes and baggage with a special material that will reveal if you have handled a bomb recently. I don’t know what happens to you if you don’t pass this test.

    They may also ask you to open your bags so that they can more closely inspect the objects in them. The simplest way to get to this process is to listen carefully to the security workers, and do as they ask. They have a stressful job, and the best thing to do is stay relaxed and help them do their job.

    When you’re finally through this part, you can go to the boarding area, where you’ll wait until it’s time to board the plane. Listen carefully for the airline workers to call your seating section to board the plane, or just watch the gate area and join everyone else when they line up.

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