Flying is the fastest way to get there, but the number of queues you need to stand in can sometimes make it seem like the slowest. Here's some useful strategies to make your transit through the airport as fast as possible.
Picture by jamesmorris
Compared to their international counterparts, Australian airports are actually relatively straightforward. In the major capital cities, you need to know two things to ensure you're actually at the right terminal in the first place: whether you're flying international or domestic, and whether you're flying Qantas or (broadly speaking) anyone else. After that, your choices of what to do are pretty limited.
That's a very simple proposition compared to the multi-terminal behemoths found in the US, where frequent travellers often develop complex strategies involving clearing a less busy terminal that ends up connected to a busier one. Those rules are rarely useful at Australian airports.
Because there are no restrictions on liquids and gels for Australian domestic flights, there's also generally a bit less futzing about at the security checkpoint. That said, because people without tickets can clear security, there's often more people waiting to get through, some of whom apparently can't read gigantic signs telling them to completely empty their pockets. We also have one of the more document-heavy departure processes for international flights, which can add to the time taken when you're leaving the country.
I'll freely admit that I'm the kind of impatient soul who curses when someone goes through the metal detector three times because they didn't realise they still had a phone in their pocket. Getting through quickly helps other people get through quickly. Here's the strategies I've adopted as a ludicrously frequent flyer to make airport transits within Australia a tad faster. (They also help in overseas locations, but different security rules often apply.)
Start prepping for security while you're in the queue
This might seem like literally the most obvious point you could make, but I never cease to be amazed at the people who stand in a queue (and grumble about it) but don't do anything to get themselves ready until they're right at the machine. If you're carrying a bag, put everything else in it. If you're wearing ludicrous boots with lots of metal on them, take them off. We'll all be very grateful, I promise.
Put your laptop at the top of your bag
Also obvious, but having a laptop you can easily remove (and return to the bag) makes life much quicker in the queue.
Fill out your departure card early
If you're boarding an international flight, you'll need to fill out a departure card. Grab one from the airline counter (or your travel agent) and have it filled out before you hit the departure hall, so you don't waste time and then curse when a huge group of confused tourists joins the queue. (Don't have a pen? That's foolish, as you'll almost certainly be given landing documentation to fill in during your flight. Always pack a pen.)
Use advance check-in facilities
Assuming your airline offers the option, check in online or via your mobile to save time queuing before you've even hit security. While mobile check-in can be variable, any option to speed you through the first stage can be helpful.
Know the hand luggage dimensions and follow them
Travelling with only hand luggage saves you time at the other end, and in the case of most airlines also reduces your overall ticket cost. I'm all for doing it (and I've practiced it to extremes), but make sure you pay attention to the dimensions of baggage you're allowed. On a domestic flight, no-one's likely to check your baggage for weight, but if it can't fit in an overhead bin or under your seat, you'll lose any time advantage and potentially get slugged with pricier at-airport luggage fees.
Realise not all airports are the same
One belt I own never sets off the detectors in Sydney's T3, but invariably does in Sydney's T2. Some security checkpoints insist umbrellas are removed from carry-on luggage; others don't care. The two lessons? If you adopt a minimal approach (no umbrellas, no aerosols, no metal jewellery, no boots), you'll get through the security queue more quickly. But if you do set off the detectors, accept whatever advice the security personnel give you. Telling them "This belt is never a problem" will not help anyone.
Use Sydney's alternative security checkpoints
Most Australian air terminals only have one security queue, so you haven't got much choice about what to use, but Sydney's regional terminal (T2) does have a little-used alternative security queue near arrivals Gate 42 (which is on the arrivals, not departure, level). That can be handy if you've already got your ticket and don't need to check in. T3 also has a second set of gates to the left of the main Qantas check-in area, though it isn't always open.
Got your own airport time-saving tips to add? Share them in the comments.
Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman always tries to avoid security queues featuring a pram. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.