Whilst travelling with my Mum recently, it did occur to me that this whole travel and getting through airports thing could probably be very overwhelming if you didn’t know what you were doing.
How did I manage the first time I went overseas? Well, the travel agent my friend booked through took care of our visa’s and I guess I just copied what my friend did when we got to the airports, but it would have made it a lot less daunting if I knew the process!
So I’m going to tell you.
Having said that, every airport is different and has different procedures, so a general outline of how things goes I can give you, but a lot of the time you’ll just have to ride it out and take it as it comes.
Of course, I will be writing this from the point of view of departing from Australia on an international trip.
So, you’ve booked your flight and the big day has arrived. You’ve packed and repacked and fingers crossed you have everything you need for your holiday. Wait! What do I need when I get to the airport?
OK, well, 99% of the time, all I’ve ever need to produce is my passport. Lots of people take a print out of their flight itinerary and their online boarding pass and I think it is a great idea to have a copy of your itinerary with you, but most of the time nothing else will be required to check in. The check in desk will print you your boarding passes anyway. Besides, there are quite a few airports that are becoming automated and you’ll get your boarding pass from a machine outside the check in area (if you do have to use one of these automated check in machines there are always staff around to help you through it).
When you get to the check in counter, hand over your passport. They’ll usually ask you where you are travelling to, whether you have any bags to check in and whether you packed your bag yourself. Pop your luggage on the conveyor when they prompt you, you’ll get your passport back, along with your boarding pass and an Outgoing Passenger Card, which looks like this…
Depending on where you are going, you may also get an Incoming Passenger Card for your destination though sometimes these are handed out during the flight. The IPC for Singapore looks like this…
So I’ve got my boarding pass, my luggage is on its way to the plane…what next?
Boarding is usually scheduled for an hour before the flight is due to depart. If you are like me, I like to get to the airport early to avoid any last minute surprises and I usually love to get through immigration and head to the boarding gates as soon as possible. That way I feel like I can relax and there’ll be no last minute rushing.
Before doing this I’ll take a seat at a bar with a drink in hand and fill out my Outgoing Passenger Card (along with my Incoming one if required). At this point, it’s useful to note that if you have any gels or aerosols they need to be in a separate zip-lock bag. You will have to pull them out of your bag when you go through security, along with your laptop and anything else you are carrying in your pockets. I usually make sure this is all easily accessible in my bag before I head any further.
Then I head to the immigration queue. This is where they check your passport and take your Outgoing Passenger Card before you head through security. If you have any duty free goods that you want to claim tax back on, this desk is usually between Immigration and the security area.
Next you head to the security area where if you are lucky, you won’t have to strip down to your underwear! I usually try to wear shoes like sneakers which are easy to slip off and are unlikely to set the scanners off. Put your hand luggage, any jacket you might be wearing, your aerosols and laptop in the plastic tubs provided and then walk through the scanner when asked.
At some point you may be asked for a random testing for explosive residue. They’ll wipe a little wand over you and put the swab through a machine and fingers crossed, you’ll be clear to go.
Then you head to your gate!
Relax! Buy a magazine or a snack for the plane. Go to the bathroom. Have a drink or a quick meal. Do some duty free shopping. When your plane is ready to board, they will make an announcement over the speaker and usually start boarding with frequent flyers/business class passengers first, people travelling with elderly relatives or children and then by groups of row numbers.
That’s it! Until you get to the other end.
You disembark off the plane and head through Immigration in your destination country, again handing over your passport for inspection, along with any Incoming Passenger Card that is required.
Then you’ll collect your luggage (when you arrive in the luggage hall there is usually a screen somewhere that tells you which carousel the baggage for your flight will be coming off) and walk out into the arrivals hall to depart the airport however you have planned. Most airports are clearly signposted at this point as to where buses, trains or taxis are located and of course, if you have pre-arranged a transfer, they should be waiting for you outside the doors to the Arrivals Hall, a piece of card in hand with your name on it.