Remember the character Ryan Bingham, played by George Clooney in the 2009 movie Up in the Air? Travels like a complete pro with just a carry-on bag, looks sharp, wears slip-on shoes for a speedy passage through security, knows exactly which queue to join? Ryan had it down to a fine art. He flew all the time, but for those of us who don't it's easy to forget the little things that make getting through the airport and into our aircraft seat in double-quick time. Especially over the peak December-January holidays, when airports are congested as more Australians head overseas than during any other two-month period.
When to get to the airport
Check your flight is departing on schedule before you leave for the airport. Airlines recommend getting to the airport three hours before an international flight. Two hours is usually enough but check travel time on Google Maps to take account of traffic congestion, roadworks etc, and weekend departures are usually busier. If you're wrangling kids give yourself another half hour.
Passport expiry date
Most countries insist your passport must be valid for at least six months, but a few airlines also require that your passport is still valid for that same six-month period on the date of your return to Australia. That's not the same as the Australian Government requirement, which requires only a valid, current passport to let you back in, but when you're standing at the check-in desk, it's the airline deciding what's going to get you on board their flight.
Visas and air tickets printed as well as saved electronically
If you have an e-visa, chance are it came via email and you need to print it out as well as your air tickets. Many airlines as well as immigration authorities at your destination will insist on a hard copy, not just what you might have stored electronically on your phone or other device. If you only have it on your phone you might need a Wi-Fi connection to access it, and that might not work when you're overseas.
The comfort pack
Long flights are a whole lot more bearable if you have a few comfort items packed in your carry-ons. A basic kit might include headphones, with an adapter to fit into the standard two-pin airline socket, eyedrops, moisturiser to combat the dry cabin air, an inflatable pillow or a horseshoe neck support, eye mask and earplugs. Throw in a pen for filling out the immigration form.
The battery problem
Airlines insist that all lithium-ion batteries are packed in your carry-ons, not in your checked luggage. These are a potential fire hazard, and in the baggage hold it's impossible to fight a fire when the aircraft is in the air. That includes power banks and all camera batteries and any other battery apart from alkaline batteries.
Do your online check in and seat selection before you travel
An online check-in will usually shunt you into a shorter queue at the check-in desk, and choose your seat with care. Even in economy class seats are not all the same. Window or aisle is matter of personal preference, and seats near the galley or toilets are busy and noisier. Although they come at a premium price exit row seats give you more legroom and that's a plus but those behind a bulkhead are problematic. Your inflight entertainment screen is tucked away in the armrest so you won't be seeing anything until the fasten seatbelt sign goes off after takeoff. Also this is where the bassinets are located, with the potential for an unhappy infant. The window seat in this aisle is right behind the emergency slide which forces the passenger in that seat to angle their legs sideways. Select a seat as soon as possible but check the seating plan 24 hours before flight time and if there's a better position, grab it.
Not all airlines have a great movie selection. Some stream their entertainment system to your phone or tablet but you need to download their app in advance. Some budget airlines don't even have an inflight entertainment system, so be prepared. Download movies or whatever you might want to watch or listen to in advance or grab a book or magazines at the airport.
Join your airline's frequent flyer club
Those air miles add up, and airline points put you in the winner's circle, at no additional cost. They're free to join and there are heaps of ways you can beef up your account when you shop, stay in affiliated hotels and hire your car from your airline's partners.
Check the weather at your destination, and be prepared
Nothing worse than arriving at your destination and getting off the plane in a t-shirt and sandals and there's frost on the ground. Whatever your final destination, some aircraft cabins leave you in a sweat, others put you a deep freeze so dress in layers for your flight. A t-shirt or loose cotton shirt, a woollen jumper or a fleece and comfortable footwear are the way to go.
Prepare for a baggage no-show
What happens if you make it to your destination and your checked bag doesn't? Chances are it will be a day or two before you and your delayed baggage are reunited, but it doesn't have to be a complete disaster if you've got basic toiletries, a change of underwear and a fresh t-shirt packed in your carry ons.
Don't be the hold-up guy
The security check is about as simple as a supermarket check-out, but why is there always Mr Magoo ahead of you? At the security check you need to take out laptops and tablets and put them in a tray to pass through the scanner. It helps if you empty your pockets before you get there, particularly if you get chosen for a body scan, so toss your phone, wallet, coins and anything else in your pockets into your carry-on bag. Take anything more than 100ml containers of liquids, aerosols or gels in your carry-on bag and you can say goodbye to them.