The number of overseas flights has doubled since March, but many feel anxious to fly again. Here’s how to prepare for an international flight

Your friends’ Instagram profiles are flooded with photos of sunsets in Greece.

Facebook feeds are packed with your high school acquaintances enjoying wine and gelato in Italy.

It’s not just you – it’s summertime in Europe. Which means almost everyone you know is on holiday. 

But for many, travelling during the pandemic brings up feelings of dread and anxiety. 

If you’re feeling unprepared for the admin that comes with planning an overseas trip, here’s how to curb those travel nerves for when you decide to take-off. 

Do I need travel or medical insurance?

Travel insurance is just as important as your passport, according to CHOICE’s money and travel manager, Jodi Both. 

Flight delays, cancellations and lost luggage are only a fraction of the inconveniences that travellers face. 

Travel insurance can cover these and more.

“If not travel insurance, then medical insurance is an absolute must,” Mr Both said. 

Think about what might happen if you catch COVID-19 during your holiday.

Depending on where you are, you may to have isolate or go to hospital for treatment, affecting your accommodation, transit and the people you’re travelling with. 

plane window 2.jpg
You might want to consider travel insurance before jetting overseas.(ABC)

Despite working in the travel industry for over 20 years, head of terminal operations at Brisbane Airport Corporation Stacey Pollard says she still gets comprehensive travel and medical insurance.

Mr Both and Ms Pollard both recommend using the Australian government’s Smartraveller website to research the requirements of the country you’re visiting to better understand the type of travel insurance you’re going to need.

What time should I arrive before my international flight?

When to show up to the airport: Everyone’s favourite game to play.

Your sister says three hours before your flight. Your friend says two. And your Dad? He says four.  

“A lot of people I see coming into the international airport are arriving five or six hours before their flight opens, and there’s just no-one there to help them,” Ms Pollard said.

Mr Both said it all comes down to keeping up to date with the latest information from the airline that you’re flying with.

“They will often post updates to flights on their website or social media pages,” he said.

As a general rule, you should leave at least four hours before your flight. 

A long line of people stand with their luggage in a queue inside a terminal in London.
Arriving at the airport too early can sometimes be a negative.(Reuters: Henry Nicholls)

And yes, there is such thing as getting to the airport “too early”.

Mr Both said this not only leaves you having to sit and wait around for hours, but it can also cause issues with overcrowding, which isn’t something you want to expose yourself to.

What’s the deal with flight cancellations? Should I be worried?

Ms Pollard says international flights are looking fairly stable, but domestic flights “can be a different story”.

“What we’re finding is that most of the cancellations are due to crew shortages,” she said.

“In pre-COVID times, you didn’t have this issue happening. If a plane was cancelled, it was generally due to an engineering concern.”

Ms Pollard says the airline is typically aware of any crew shortages in advance.

“Again, check in with your airline and check your flight details before you’ve even left the house to make sure you’re up to date with changes.”

Be wary of Uber cancellations and ride share delays 

If you’re thinking of using a ride share service to take you to the airport, make sure you’ve got a plan B.

Rising fuel costs and increased demand as travellers return to pre-pandemic habits are leading to more Uber cancellations.

So before you open a ride share service app, make sure you’ve looked at all your options, including:

  • Airport train/shuttle bus: Most states have their own direct train and/or bus links between domestic and international airports – for less than half of what an Uber costs.
  • Ask someone you know to drop you off: If you have a friend or family member who doesn’t live too far from you (and is kind enough to give you a lift), they could drop you off at the terminal.

Worried about losing your luggage? Consider a digital bag tag

Thanks to the digital era we live in, things like electronic bag tags exist.

There are various battery-free, permanent bag tags on the market. Qantas even has its own Q Bag Tags.

These tags work by getting you to check-in online through your airline. It then synchronises your details on your boarding pass with your baggage. 

A group of luggage of different colours lined up on a wooden floor.
Passenger luggage piled up outside Terminal 2 at Heathrow Airport in London last month.(Reuters: Henry Nicholls)

How can I be sure I’m getting the cheapest flights?

Ms Pollard has a trip to the United States planned for the end of October. She was getting ready to book her flights one night, when she decided to hold off until the day after. 

“I woke up the next morning and those same flights were $650 cheaper,” she said. 

Ms Pollard recommends the following:

  • Set up alerts for flights from online travel websites, such as Expedia and Skyscanner
  • Sign up for emails or push notifications when travel websites are having a sale 
  • Monitor these websites and their social media accounts daily 
  • Explore alternative methods of travel: Ms Pollard says while direct flights are great, you should also consider connecting flights

“How far in advance you book your flight also has an impact on the price you’ll pay,” Ms Pollard said. 

“For some, six months before your flight might be the cheapest option. For others, it might be three months.”

Airport security belt with bags to be x-rayed
Ms Pollard regularly sees people arriving at security with their electronics still in their bags, which holds up the queue.(Reuters: Denis Balibouse)

Airport arrival tips from the pros 

Be patient and understand that the process is slower than normal

Mr Both said during the first few lockdowns of 2020, there were reports that the airline industry and international travel would return to its 2019 state in 2024. 

“That’s actually looking quite accurate,” he said. 

“Within a year or two, we will start to get back to normal.”

Brush up on airport security rules

Ms Pollard recalls countless times she’s seen people arrive at the security screening area having no idea what they’re meant to do. 

“The amount of people I see getting up to security with their electronics still in their bags, their jackets not taken off or their belts not removed,” she said.

“They end up delaying and holding up a queue of people who are also feeling rusty and restless.”

Ms Pollard says when you arrive at the airport, you need to ask yourself: How can I help this process be as smooth as possible?

  • Remove all electronic equipment from your luggage and place them on a tray
  • Place liquids, aerosols and gels into a clear snap lock bag for scanning and presenting powders separately
  • Remove your shoes or belt if you think there could be a metal arch or steel cap that would set the detector off

Find your gate and familiarise yourself with your surroundings 

Once you’re out of security, don’t park yourself at the nearest cafe for the next few hours, only to make a panic dash to your boarding gate.

Locate your flight gate first, so you can get back to it with ease.

Boarding gates typically open 20 to 40 minutes before the flight departs.

So once you’ve grabbed a bite to eat or a book to read, arrive at your gate within this time frame. 

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