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What to Know Before Flying Between Continents

Illustration by Flickr user idccollage/CC BY SA 2.0.

Gearing up for an international trip is fun–there are tickets to buy, itineraries to plan and some great memories ahead of you. But taking an intercontinental flight requires a bit more prep than other trips.

Here’s what you should know before you go:

Know the Regional Hubs

When I fly to the United States, flights to Los Angeles are often the best way to get to the West Coast, even though the family members I visit are closer to Seattle. LAX is a major hub from which you can get to many other places, and, if I want to break up the trip with a long layover, there are plenty of sights to see when I get there. Los Angeles is also a good jumping-off point for the Pacific–my longest flight yet was LAX to Brisbane, Australia. Though I’m always so excited to go on an intercontinental flight that it would be easy to overlook the bits in between the departure and arrival cities, I find it’s worth spending the extra time when booking to carefully consider the route I’ll fly. If I can, I’ll fly via several regional hubs so that I know if one leg of my flight is delayed I have more chances of catching another plane to my destination.

Know Packing Restrictions

Everybody–except for one gentleman detained in front of me in Seattle who tried to pack fireworks for his fifth grade students–knows that they can’t bring certain items on the plane.

However, with airlines reducing (and often charging for) luggage allowances for checked and cabin baggage, it’s become harder to go with a one-size-fits-all-airlines packing regimen. If you’re flying with different carriers, or from Europe or Asia to the United States, be sure to go over the fine print in each of the airlines’ luggage allowances. For example, flying from the US to Europe last year, I flew one airline from San Francisco to New York, another over to Vienna, and a third airline to my final destination. Even though I’d booked them together, each of these technically had different luggage allowances, so I ended up having to pay excess baggage on one leg of my trip. Often, airline staff will help you waive baggage fees when you’re transferring airlines, but you can’t always count on it.

Know Security Rules

Also, if you are flying through large Asian hubs or the United States, remember that your shoes and electronics will be checked carefully, and perhaps even scanned separately. My partner was even asked to remove his socks in Japan once. So, wearing slip-on shoes and carrying laptops at the top of your bag will make you everybody’s favorite traveler in the rush to get through airport security, and make you feel like you have all the time in the world to get to your gate.

New regulations in the United States and on flights going to North America state that there may be additional scanning of smartphones and tablets. This shouldn’t be a big deal when you’re going through security–I remember they used to make me power on my laptop every time too–but it does mean you’ve got to be sure that your phone or tablet still has enough juice to turn on and show the security agents that it’s safe. This should be easily fixed by packing your cables in your carry-on.

Know Your Entry Requirements

When you check in for an intercontinental flight, you’re usually asked to show a valid visa for the destination country. So, of course, you need to get the proper visas well in advance of your trip.

However, if you’re going Stateside or Down Under, you need to know that even people who are eligible to enter the USA and Australia without a visa, such as EU citizens, may be required to preregister online for a travel authorization. Always double check what the requirements are for the passport you hold.


Australia’s ETA.


What else do you think you should know before you fly intercontinentally? Chime in on Twitter!

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Beth Green

Beth Green is an American freelance writer who has lived in Europe and Asia since 2003. She grew up on a sailboat and, though now a landlubber, still enjoys a peripatetic life. She writes blogs, articles and suspense about travel, expatriate living, and many other topics. A social media addict, she’d love to hear from you about your favorite travel experiences.
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