Confused about airport transit

Jane is taking her first long-haul flight and is unsure what to do when she is in transit – or if a connection is missed.

Q. Jane

I’m about to take my first long haul flight from Melbourne to visit my son and his family in the United Kingdom. I’ve never been before and I’m really concerned about getting through the airports, collecting bags, passport control and missing a connecting flight.

I also have to connect to an internal flight to Edinburgh from Heathrow and everyone is telling me this is just a nightmare. I’m fairly fit and active, so I don’t have any mobility issues, and although I know millions of people do it every day, a few tips to make the journey less stressful would be appreciated.

 Firstly Jane, it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve made the journey, travellers still get anxious about missing flights, clearing customs and even getting lost in the airport, but a bit of planning and understanding of the process should help you transit with ease.

When you booked your flight, you will have been given an airline booking code. Use this code to sign in to the airline’s website and check the details of your flight. You can select your seat, make any special meal requests and even view what will be showing on the inflight entertainment schedule. You can find details about baggage restrictions, visa requirements and any other information you need to ensure a safe flight.

Next, take the time to look at the websites for the airports you’ll be transiting through. These should be detailed on your itinerary, as well as the terminals from where you’ll be entering and departing. On these websites you’ll find maps of the terminals, available facilities and suggested travel times between terminals. I would arrange to have a small amount of local currency, maybe $20, so you can grab a drink at each stop.

Keep your hand luggage weighing as little as possible, and ensure you have a bag with secure sections for your passport and travel documents. These should be close to hand when you’re going through airports, as you may be required to show them several times.

Also, dress in a couple of light layers that are easy to take on and off. The temperature on planes can vary greatly and often you’ll be transiting through countries where the temperature can fluctuate. You don’t want to be struggling with cumbersome articles of clothing.

I’d recommend checking in online the day before your departure. This means all you have to do at the airport is drop your bags and pick up your boarding passes. If you have booked your flight as one continuous journey from Melbroune to Edinburgh – i.e. you didn’t book Melbourne to Heathrow and then Heathrow to Edinburgh in separate transactions – you and your luggage will be booked straight through to your destination. This means that when you check in at Melbourne airport, your baggage will be taken and you’ll only need to collect it at Edinburgh. However, if your tickets were booked a two seperate journeys, then you will have to collect your bags, clear customs and check in independently at Heathrow for your domestic flight.

When leaving Australia, you’ll need to fill in a passenger departure card before you go through passport control.

Once on your flight, sit back and relax until your first stop. When leaving the plane, you will need to take everything with you, but don’t panic; take your time and make sure you have everything. Although connections may seem tight, airlines will only book you on connecting flights that meet the required minimum transit time. When you get off the flight, you’ll be shown where to go and what time and gate to get your connecting flight. If you need to change terminals, simply follow the signs. If you’re unsure, ask the ground staff who will be waiting as you get off the flight. You will need to pass through passport control, so have your documents handy. This will be the process at any transit stop, including Heathrow.

Should any of your flights taht are booked on the same ticket be delayed and you miss a connecting flight, the airline will accommodate you on the next available flight and will ensure any other connecting flights are rebooked. Depending on how long you have to wait, the airline will often provide food and beverage vouchers, or hotel accommodation if an overnight wait is required. If this is the case, you will also have to collect your bags and recheck them the next day when taking your flight.

Jane, it’s important to enjoy the trip and remember that your son and family are waiting for you at the other end – that’s what will make it all worthwhile.

Written by Debbie McTaggart

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