Have you ever flown in an airplane? Did you notice how many people there were waiting for flights at the airport, and how many places they were going to? Airports are very busy places that take a lot of work to keep running smoothly.

Types of flying

The first thing to know is that not all airports are the same, because not all flying is the same. If you’ve taken a flight before, chances are you went through a commercial airport on a commercial airline, like United, Delta or Southwest. These are companies that sell tickets to people so they can get from one place to another. But most of the flying in the United States is not commercial. Some companies and people own their own planes, just like other people have cars, that they use to get from place to place. This type of flying is called “general aviation.” Other types of general aviation include flight training (for people who are learning to fly) and application of pesticide to crops from the air. If you live in a small town, you might live near a general aviation airport.

What you see

The first thing most people do when they take a commercial flight is check their baggage. An airline employee weighs the luggage to make sure it can go on the plane, and puts a tag on it telling the baggage handlers where the bag will go. All airports have special codes, so if you’re flying to LaGuardia Airport in New York City, for example, your bag will have a tag on it that says “LGA.” If you’re flying to Midway Airport in Chicago, the tag will say “MDW.”

After their bags are checked, they go through security to make sure they’re not carrying any items that could pose a danger to people on the airplane. Then it’s off to their gate to wait for their flight, where a gate agent tells them when it’s time to board and checks their tickets to make sure they’re on the right flight. When they land at their destination,

What you don’t see

While passengers are moving through the airport, their bags are moving, too. After the bags are checked in, they go to an area where they are sorted and sent to the airplane their owner will be on so they can make it to their destination. The bags ride in a compartment in the belly of the airplane where people don’t go. Before people board the plane, airline employees are cleaning it up from the last flight and restocking things like snacks and drinks. And once the pilot boards, he or she is in contact with someone in the control tower who watches all the planes in the area and lets the pilot know when it’s safe to take off.


Activity: Airport scavenger hunt

The next time you’re in an airport, go on an airport scavenger hunt. Take this list along and see if you can find everything and everyone on it.

Red suitcase

Luggage cart


Someone reading the newspaper

Someone eating a sandwich

Candy bar

Baby in a car seat

Gate agent