While the nuances of commercial air travel – seat comfort, cabin service, the in-flight entertainment – are analysed in forensic detail, the airport experience is almost overlooked. And there's plenty about an airport that inspires caution.
Transferring from one flight to another? You need to factor in the time it takes to get between terminals. Most of the world's larger airports have speedy rail systems to whisk passengers between terminals, but not all. Transiting between Sydney or Perth's international and domestic airports can take up to 30 minutes. Some airports don't have enough airbridges to enable passengers to board and disembark their aircraft directly from the terminal. In that case arriving aircraft will park at a remote stand and passengers will be bussed to the terminal. If you're at the back of the aircraft it can take up to 30 minutes between the time the seatbelt light goes off and you finally make it to the terminal. As a rough rule of thumb, 90 minutes between flights is generally the minimum for both you and your baggage to get off one flight and onto the next.
Side note: In welcome news, Sydney Airport's T3 bus between the domestic and international terminals is now free (it previously cost $6). The train between terminals will still cost you $6.20.
If your route involves transferring to another airline at some point in your journey and there is no interline agreement between the two airlines, your checked luggage will not be transferred to your next airline. Most budget carriers do not have interline agreements since they add costs which the airline probably can't recoup. For example, if you're flying to Singapore with Qantas or Singapore Airlines and transferring to an Air Asia flight to Penang, you'll have to pass through immigration controls at Changi Airport, collect your bag from the carousel then head for the check-in area for your next flight and pass through immigration and security all over again. In that case allow at least 2½ hours between flights.
Photo: Dallas Kilponen
Park your car at Sydney Airport and the drive-up rate is $19 for 30-60 minutes, $27 for one to two hours and $61 for three to 14 hours. That's more than the cost of drive-up parking at Sydney Opera House. At Melbourne Airport the drive-up rate is $12 for 30-60 minutes, recently reduced from $15, and $24 for one to three hours and up to a maximum of $51 for up to 24 hours. Both Sydney and Melbourne airports offer pre-booked parking at reduced rates. Cheaper still is the rate for off-airport parking stations, with shuttle bus transfers to the terminals.
The booze blues
Suppose you're leaving an EU airport and heading for home with a bottle of duty-free brandy tucked in your carry-ons, with a transit stop in the Middle East or Asia. When you reboard your flight you're going to be saying sayonara to your hooch because it's not getting on the plane with you. The Australian government requires that all passengers on inbound flights submit to a final gate inspection before boarding the aircraft and any liquids, aerosols or gels in containers over 100ml will be confiscated. Doesn't matter if they're sealed in a tamper-evident plastic bag with purchase documentation attached, you're parting company. Same goes if you're landing at an Australian airport and transferring to an international flight, to New Zealand perhaps, you'll lose your booze. Buy your duty-free alcohol at the last stop before your final destination, or on board the aircraft on the final leg of your journey.
Buying duty-free Apple products, cameras, bags or clothing at an airport terminal might mean you won't pay the 10 per cent GST but it doesn't mean you'll score a bargain. Far from it, in fact. Airport retail space is fantastically expensive. To cover their rent, airport retailers jack up the price of their merchandise. There's every chance you could buy the same product from an online retailer who stores their goods in a warehouse somewhere in the boondocks. No expensive retail space to factor into the cost, and despite GST, that's a saving that gets passed on to you. Also, if you buy electronic gear from an airport retail outlet based halfway around the world, is the warranty worth the paper it's written on?
Provided you're not flagrantly in violation, most legacy carriers turn a blind eye to carry-on bags but that's not necessarily the case with budget airlines, for whom transgressors are a source of revenue. Tigerair and Jetstar are known for weighing baggage at the gate, and anyone with more than the seven-kilogram allowance gets slugged. Those with roller cases are usually prime suspects. You can stretch the limit if you wear a coat or jacket with lots of pockets you can stuff with heavier items.
Online check-in is a great time saver but don't assume it's available. Particularly so when a booking is made through an online travel agent rather than direct with the airline or a travel agent, which means getting to the airport earlier to queue at the check-in desk.
Standard check-in requirement for domestic flights is 30 minutes before flight time but budget airlines commonly require 45 minutes. Some airlines will take domestic passengers on board the final leg of an international flight (eg Singapore-Sydney-Melbourne). This means domestic travellers will need to pass through international security and immigration (they don't need a passport, but do require ID). It also means an earlier check-in deadline. Miss the deadline and you're not on board, and you've done your fare.