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It’s a pretty common scenario: you’re flying overseas for a holiday, but firstly you have to make a domestic flight to your departure airport. The majority of Australian airports have physically distinct international and domestic terminals, and transferring between them can sometimes prove confusing.
In the spirit of our previous guide covering cheap ways to get to Australian airports using public transport, this post rounds up how to get from one terminal to the other in each of Australia’s capital cities (plus Cairns, since it handles a large volume of international flights). I’ve personally done many but not all of these transfers, so I may well have missed something: point out extra options in the comments.
When travelling internationally, it’s always wise to link your flight bookings if possible: that way you’ll have more options if a flight gets delayed, you shouldn’t have to worry about moving your luggage between terminals — just yourself — and you’ll often get a free terminal connection as part of the deal. Remember though that when returning to Australia, you’ll need to collect your bags and pass through customs even if the luggage is tagged to a subsequent domestic destination.
One option I haven’t specifically mentioned here is taxis. While these are a possibility for any major transfer, they’re relatively pricey, and some taxi drivers get very shirty when faced with a short-distance fare at airports, since they often have to queue for a long time before making pick-ups at airport locations.
The most predictable option between Sydney’s domestic and international airports is to use the train, which runs every 15 minutes for most of the day and is well signposted from within the airport. A one-way fare costs $5. Both domestic and international stations have lifts if you need to deal with luggage.
The T-Bus transfer service runs between terminal 2 (near carousel 6 on the ground floor) and international (near the McDonald’s on the arrivals level), It costs $5.50, but only operates every 30 minutes for much of the day and stops at 8pm.
Qantas and Jetstar customers with connecting flights can use a free bus service, which is accessed opposite gate 2 in Terminal 3. Customers from regional airports or on Jetstar flights will need to transfer from terminal 2 on foot, though this is only a short underground walk. When connecting from international to domestic, the transfer bus is accessed via a not-very-well-labelled corridor near the entrance to the train station.
Virgin Blue also offers connecting transfers for customers, accessed from Gate 39 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.
Melbourne’s international airport is directly connected to the Qantas/Jetstar and Virgin/Rex terminals, so there’s no need for a transfer service. Even the Tiger services in T4 are only a short walk.
Brisbane’s Airtrain provides free connections for customers travelling between the domestic and international terminals. The main disadvantage of this approach is the relative infrequency of the train: for most of the day, it only runs every 30 minutes, and it stops altogether after 8pm.
Qantas provides a transit bus for customers booked on connecting services, which departs every 20 minutes or so from outside its section of the domestic terminal. Virgin has a similar option, accessed from Gate 39 at the Brisbane Domestic Terminal. When connecting international-domestic, passengers need to collect a ticket from the relevant desk on the right of the arrivals hall in international.
The T-bus service can be used by other airline passengers; the fare is $5, and buses run every 20 minutes throughout the day.
A terminal transfer bus operates between the international and domestic terminals. Passengers need to provide a copy of their ticket or itinerary to prove they are making a connecting flight. Qantas and OneWorld passengers can use the service for free; for other passengers, there’s an $8 charge. With rare exceptions, the bus only runs once an hour, so you’ll need to allow plenty of time for a transfer.
Adelaide offers the easiest transits of all, since international is located within the domestic terminal; if you already have your international boarding pass, you don’t even need to clear security — just head for the international departures area near Gate 18.
Like Adelaide, Darwin only has a single airport facility, so there’s no need to worry about transfer connections.
Cairns’ international and domestic terminals are connected by a covered walkway, with a claimed walking time of five minutes. If that sounds too onerous, Australia Coach also offers a transfer service, though I couldn’t find details of timetables or prices online.
Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman still gets worried whenever he has a connecting flight. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.