Business Travel

Lifehacker's 2012 Australian International Terminal Changeover Guide

Need to connect between a domestic and international flight? The options vary from “walk to the next gate” through to “catch this overpriced bus”. Avoid confusion with Lifehacker’s comprehensive guide, covering how to make the transfer quickly and cheaply at every major Australian airport.

Picture by Hamish Blair/Getty Images

International travel often begins by flying into a domestic airport, especially if you don’t live near a capital city. Transferring between the domestic terminal and the international one can sometimes prove confusing, and if you make the wrong choice you may end up spending money unnecessarily. This post rounds up how to get from one terminal to another in every Australian capital city with international flight departures (plus Cairns and the Gold Coast). I’ve done many of these transfers, but not all of them: if you know of additional options, share them in the comments.

One option we haven’t singled out in cities where international and domestic terminals are entirely separate (a particular issue in Sydney, Brisbane and Perth) is to take a taxi. While this is always a possibility, I’d recommend exploring other options. Not only are taxi queues often lengthy, some drivers will be extremely reluctant to take you. Having queued for lengthy periods themselves to pick up a fare, a $10 trip to the next terminal isn’t a pleasing prospect.

Regardless of the airport you’re making the transfer at, whenever possible you should link your incoming domestic flight booking with your international connection. This has several benefits. Firstly, your luggage should be transferred automatically from your domestic flight to your international one (on your return, you’ll still have to physically collect your bag to go through Customs even if your bag is tagged to your final destination). Secondly, you’ll often get a free terminal connection option. Thirdly, if there’s a delay with either flight, you’ll be in a better position to get rebooked. Note that you often won’t get this option with budget airlines (Tiger doesn’t offer connecting services and its recent tie-up with Virgin Australia won’t change that; Jetstar has some connecting service options, but you need to check carefully at the time of booking.)

Sydney

The Airport Link Train connecting Sydney’s domestic and international airports charges $5 per person for a one-way fare (you can’t purchase an open return, unfortunately). Trains run at least every 15 minutes throughout the day. Both domestic and international stations have lifts if you have large amounts of luggage, and are well-signposted within the airport.

The T-Bus transfer service runs between terminal 2 (departing from the roadway near the middle of the terminal) and international (bus stop 21 near the McDonald’s on the arrivals level), It costs $5.50, but only operates every 30 minutes for most of the day and stops at 9pm. Given the price and limited frequency, I’d go with the train.

Qantas and Jetstar customers with booked connecting flights can use a free bus service, which is accessed from a dedicated area opposite gate 2 in Terminal 3. Customers from regional airports or on Jetstar flights will need to take the short underground from terminal 2 on foot, though this is only a short underground walk. At the international terminal, follow the signs for the dedicated transfer area outside the main terminal.

Virgin Australia customers with booked connecting flights can use a free bus service, accessed from Gate 37 at the domestic airport or from the left of the exit area after quarantine. If the two bookings aren’t made as a single journey, there’s a $15 charge to use the bus at the international end.

Melbourne

Melbourne’s international airport is directly connected to the Qantas/Jetstar and Virgin/Rex terminals, so no transfer services are needed. Even the Tiger services in T4 are only a short walk.

Brisbane

The Brisibane Airtrain charges $5 for a one-way ticket between domestic and international terminals; passengers on a connecting Virgin service can travel for free but must show boarding passes. Unfortunately, the train isn’t very frequent: it only runs every 30 minutes most of the day, and stops altogether at 10pm.

Both Qantas and Virgin customers with booked connecting flights can use the TBus service, which departs outside the Virgin Australia area of the domestic terminal and on Level 4 of the international terminal, for free. If you don’t have a booked connecting flight, the fare is $5; frequency is every 20 minutes at off-peak times.

Perth

A free terminal transfer bus operates between the international (T1) and domestic (T3 and T4) terminals. The bus only runs every 50 minutes, so you’ll need to allow plenty of time for a transfer. The domestic bus stop is near the Qantas terminal (T4); the international stop is near the arrivals area.

Adelaide

Adelaide offers the easiest transits of all, since international is located within the domestic terminal, near Gate 18. (Note that airline lounges are located in the domestic area.)

Darwin

Like Adelaide, Darwin only has a single airport facility, so there’s no need to worry about transfer connections.

Gold Coast

The Gold Coast airport also operates as a single airport, so no transfer options are needed. Hooray!

Cairns

Cairns’ international and domestic terminals are connected by a covered walkway, which take five minutes to walk between.

If you want to get to the airport cheaply , check our guide to public transport options in every capital city.

Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman likes a massively healthy buffer between flights, because things always go wrong. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.