Domestic Travel in the US through Google Flights Page, Reminders to Myself for Booking, Check-in, Getting Through TSA Security in the Airport, Baggage, Boarding and Onboard Experience

I'm beginning to enjoy domestic air travel in the United States. I'm not at all irritated that I will spend half my day flying around from Austin to my next destination - Virginia. I get to write or sleep, I get drinks like the airlines of the past and actually get to appreciate checking in my carry-on luggage for free. I've taken 5 domestic US flights so far in the past 2 weeks from direct flights to connecting flights, there's SFO-LAS (Las Vegas), LAS-SFO (San Francisco), SFO-AUS (Austin), AUS-ATL (Atlanta) and ATL-ROA (Roanoke). I must say that after all of that, I've gotten quite the hang of how to check-in, pass through the TSA (and the things I must bring out), checking in my carry-on and enjoying my flight. They definitely do things a lot differently here from what I'm used to in Manila and there are stuff that I need to remember to make all these as smooth as possible. I will fly a few more times in the next 2 weeks so I will update this with some more from ROA-ORD (Chicago), ORD-SFO (San Francisco) and SFO-SNA (Los Angeles). I guess what I'm saying is I wish I could have known some of these before I booked the tickets, especially those with connecting flights and short windows. I can't touch on all airlines, all airports and all aircrafts and this post is based on my experiences. Hope this helps you too.

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Domestic US Online Booking through Google Flights
For booking, I used Google. You can go directly to the Google Flights page and it will give you suggestions on what airlines to take with the cost then you can book from there. It's super amazing how this turned out. And it beats having to go to different airline sites in the US (this was my first time to try booking domestic flights there and there are lots - just check out this Wiki list of US airlines!). Well, the airlines Delta, United Airlines, US Airways, American Airlines came out so at least this would be a good starting point if I want to do some price comparison. Best thing about it, no other pop-up windows for ads come out unlike other flight comparison sites. I knew there's also Southwest, JetBlue, Virgin America in the US but there are so many more which don't have flights on other states. So an aggregator like Google Flights would greatly shrink the list ;) Do note that for almost all flights in the US, they already charge for check-in baggage (cost around $25 per 25kg luggage) - except for Southwest (I so love it!), my Aunt said, but it will be changing policies soon.


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You are allowed to hand-carry up to 2 properly-sized luggages (one of the two is actually for a personal bag) though and that's how everybody does it so go with a small bag/luggage with wheels ;) Please take note that there may not be carts inside to your gates. We found one although you'd have to pay around $4 and not get your money back when you return it.


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Lastly, I found out that Delta's base is in Atlanta (ATL) so maybe most will have connecting flights there. It is HUGE with multiple concourses (like gate buildings, it has a high-speed train to get to one point to another) so make sure to give at least an hour or two for the stopover. Pretty neat to know where the other airlines are based too so that you can make necessary adjustments ;) The last thing you want to happen is to miss your flight! Just imagine getting off at Concourse A and having to go to Concourse F (see below) haha. It was already a long walk and run from A to C for more than 15 minutes and we still had to put our boarding passes through a machine to get another one with seat assignment. They do fly on time around here too so boarding is definitely around 15-30 minutes before that.


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Pre-Boarding 

Outside

First of all, the domestic airports might be on a separate terminal from the international like all of the ones I encountered so far. You have to tell the driver which airline you're taking too because they might be located on different terminals/areas for drop-off. Allot at least 2 hours if you don't know the place (you still have to go through TSA security scan too). Put your liquids and laptop on your personal item hand-carry (if you're not checking it in) so that you can easily bring it out.


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Inside
You can either print the reference number or already check-in before your flight online (and assign your seats, also put a tick on the TSA Pre-check option online for loyal milers!, check with the carrier) or have it on your phone. My sister said to bring the credit card I used online to book too. There's free WIFI at the airports I went to. There are self-checkin kiosks around and we had to do it ourselves (bring your mileage numbers ;) ). 


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Just input the reference number and (voila!) your boarding pass comes out haha. One time, it offered like $150 travel vouchers if we were willing to be bumped off to the next flight (airlines overbook sometimes). You can seriously earn a lot of travel vouchers from this if you don't mind spending a lot of time on the airport and voluntarily bump more than one flight! ;) You can pay for excess/check-in baggage via credit card at the baggage drop-off counter (for Delta, there's a person who will get your check-in bag after you pay). Do take note that if you check-in your bags, you will need to wait for it at the baggage claim area when you arrive. Each push cart costs $5 (no refunds) by the way so make sure you can handle your stuff if you want to save some money.

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If you lock your check-in baggage, do get a TSA-recognized lock. I've been using Pacsafe and it's awesome. When I opened my bag, there's (always) a TSA love letter inside telling me that they opened my bag so don't think you'll get away with anything =) The great thing about using my Pacsafe lock is that my lock is still intact and locked again after they're done checking. 

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After Check-in
Check your boarding pass if you have the TSA Pre-Check ✓ sign. This means you can go to a separate priority line. You can just ask the TSA Officer if you think you have one. I think this is randomly generated (experienced this at the Las Vegas airport) or your mileage status (go online to your mileage account then in the personal info, tick the TSA PreCheck option - this means that you are willing to share with the TSA your airline, mileage and travel information, so far 9 airlines have them). Show your boarding pass and valid ID to the TSA. Please take note of the 3-1-1 rule on carry-on below.
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This is the easiest way for me:
Bring out your laptop, put it in a separate plastic bin (provided, even through this they can do a random check and swab your laptop). Remove your shoes, hats, scarves and jackets (they asked me to remove even the lightest one or zip it up). Bring out your liquids/toiletries (stay within the limit for quantities and put them in a clear Ziploc bag). Don't even attempt to bring in stuff that are not allowed and make sure you pack your luggage. Go in the whole body scanner (lift your arms and hold your position for around 2 seconds). Pretty easy actually and not that much of a hassle as I imagined. Turns out, it wasn't as scary and as "pahirap" like what I've been reading about and the TSA based on my encounter so far were all smiles (unless maybe you insist on something that's been said repeatedly is not allowed for national security or you're giving them attitude). Anyway, it's a great idea to put the toiletries and laptop in my backpack so it's very easy to take out and put in.


To the Gate
The US domestic airports I've been to actually look like our new international gates in Manila already ;) There are good seats available.


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Delta has outlets for plugs (saw this at the Austin airport) and USB ports to allow free charging. Do note that the US has 110V so our devices may charge a little slower.

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Boarding
Check if there's a board/screen near the gate. I think it lists passengers who have been upgraded or wait listed for the flight.


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They also give out baggage tags for those who will check-in their baggage for free (if the plane is small or alloted overhead compartment is full).


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You will have to claim your bags either on the baggage claim or on the tube (planeside) as you deplane (depends on what the person who took your bag will instruct you).


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A pretty good deal if you don't want to carry it with you around anymore and you have a hard time lifting it up the overhead bin like me so it's nice to have a separate personal bag for valuables haha. Check your boarding pass too when you get to the gate. A rather brilliant boarding idea is that of Southwest! You'll line up according to a consecutive number then go in and choose your own seat (seat wherever as in haha, no seat numbers so it's better if you arrive early so that you can pick the front seats or if you're last and the plane is not full, you can have a whole row to yourself)! As for other regular airlines, there's a part with a Zone or Group Number.


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They board flights according to these zones and you don't get up until your zone is called =) Pretty good way to organize stuff. Of course, those that have VIP access like mileage elites get to board first. They will scan your ticket and let you in (the tube).


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One of the things I like is that they do tube boarding (no buses and shuttles and going up and down to board the plane) unlike some of our domestic flights in Manila hehe. Well, there's this one exception when our plane was so small going to Roanoke (I think the airplane height didn't even reach the normal tube! So we went outside for that one.).

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Inflight
I saw Delta has a coat/jacket hanging area in front of the aircraft. Airplanes also vary and some have seats that have 2-2 or 3-3 seating. One thing I noticed though are wider seat space (United and Delta) than back home with all our LCCs (low-cost carriers) - but then again, these ones I took are not haha.

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I heard United Airways have bigger chairs than these. There's WIFI for some like Delta through Gogo but you'd have to pay to access pages outside of their website.

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There are complimentary drinks and snacks aboard United Airlines and Delta. And I'm beginning to like Ginger Ale aside from the usual Apple Juice (they serve Mott's and Minute Maid) and Tomato Juice haha.

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There's inflight entertainment for some like a headphone aboard United Airlines for audio (none for my Delta flight). My flights were under 2 or 3 hours so these were all fine. One thing that gets me confused are the timezone changes per location and when they suddenly switched to Daylight Savings Time this November =) Good thing my laptop and phone adjust automatically hehe. 

To Hotel
Taxis, shuttles, rent-a-cars are options. If you're like me, I'd look for a hotel with a free shuttle haha. But anyway, it depends on the area and cost. Example for Las Vegas, we rented a car online (check about the license, we were with someone with a US license). There's a free bus to and from the McCarren Airport to the McCarren Airport Car Rental Center and we had to return the car there after. For Texas, we got a Citywide Express Shuttle from the airport for $35 (plus tip) to Downtown Austin. There's also like a SuperShuttle booking site for a lot of states and you can check for coupons first before booking online.

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If you have a host who will pick you up at the airport, it's best to tell them which airline you're taking, how many luggages you have (so that they know if it will fit in the car) and what time you'll arrive. Best if your host come with another person so that the other person can park temporarily at the curb while the other go get inside to meet you. ;) Oh oh, watch out for these new TSA Exit Pods! Haha.

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