Australians visiting the USA - all about airlines
So now that you know all about money, taxes and tipping (and hopefully you haven't been scared off a trip to the US!), let's talk airlines. Yes, this isn't your annual Sydney - Gold Coast holiday. To get to the US, you will need to jump on a plane (well okay, you could do the cruise thing, but it takes too long for me!). So airline travel it is. If you've never been on a plane before, it's really not so bad. Unlike a trip to Europe (24hours), the average trip to the US from (the East Coast of) Australia is around 14hours. Get on, fall asleep and you're almost there!
But when it comes to choosing airlines and purchasing your tickets, where to start? These days the options are endless, and thanks to the internet, you can do it all yourself (yes Dad, you don't have to use a travel agent anymore!) Not only can you use the individual airlines' websites, but search engines such as Expedia and Travelocity have made independent travel easier than ever.
LOS ANGELES (California)
QANTAS - Direct flights from Sydney & Melbourne daily. Direct flights from Brisbane Tues, Wed, Thurs, Fri, Sat, Sun.
VIRGIN AUSTRALIA - Direct flights from Sydney daily. Direct flights from Melbourne Tues, Thurs, Sat. Direct flights from Brisbane Mon, Wed, Fri, Sun.
UNITED AIRLINES - Direct flights from Sydney daily.
SAN FRANCISCO (California)
UNITED AIRLINES - Direct flights from Sydney daily.
QANTAS - Direct flights from Sydney Wed, Fri, Sun
JETSTAR - Direct flights from Sydney Mon, Tues, Wed, Thurs, Sat.
HAWAIIAN AIRLINES - Direct flights from Sydney daily.
DALLAS-FORT WORTH (Texas)
QANTAS - Direct flights from Sydney daily.
As you can, Sydney is obviously the main 'hub' for travel to the United States. Melbourne and Brisbane have their fair share of direct flights too. Of course, they did have more before Air Australia collapsed (but never let us speak of them again...)
If you are looking at visiting other US cities (such as Las Vegas, Chicago, New York, Miami etc), your choice of connecting flights/airlines is well, ridiculous. The US is incredibly successful at the discount airline thing and you can always find a connecting flight once you've done the Sydney/Melbourne/Brisbane to Los Angeles/San Francisco/Dallas-Fort Worth/Honolulu leg. If you consider that there are 382 'primary airports' in the US (that being 10,000 passenger boardings per year), then reaching your final destination should be a cinch.
So that covers airlines, but that's only the beginning, right? Aside from destinations and flight availability, two of the biggest deciding factors when it comes to air travel is customer service/comfort and price. Is this going to be the flight from hell and is it going to drain my bank account?
Air travel has come a long way and you'd be surprised how 'comfortable' long-haul flights can be. Okay yes, you're still looking at 14+ hours in a seat, with only occasional opportunities to walk around, average-ish food and the possibility of a less-than-desirable person sitting next to you, but if you consider the only alternative - traveling via boat - then you'll be pretty happy with the outcome! Personally, I've flown with both QANTAS and Jetstar and considering I wasn't living it up in First Class or Business Class, I'd have to say I was pretty okay with it (being in Economy). Again, let me reiterate - I've done the Sydney to London trip 3 times now and it doesn't get any more painful (figuratively and literally! than Sydney-Heathrow! Australia to the US is a piece of cake! The only thing I would recommend is to bring your own food and entertainment. These days airlines are charging for everything (yes, luggage - we'll get to that in a second), and that includes food and entertainment. Only a few years ago meals and personal video packages were free, but airlines are now hitting you up for the 'luxury'. Plus, I'm not one for being told when to eat and what to eat. I say bring a few snacks and you'll be right (but remember the liquid rule - again, we'll get to that).
When it comes to ticket prices, there are some obvious differences. Depending on what time of year you travel will considerably alter the price of tickets. Generally, summer is more expensive (that being July - August), however Honolulu for instance doesn't really have an 'off-season', so tickets don't really fluctuate seasonally. Where you will see a difference is per airline - Jetstar and Virgin Australia are definitely trying to push the limits in terms of 'discount' flights. QANTAS is hanging in there, although technically Jetstar is QANTAS, so they don't need to slash their prices much. United Airlines is pretty much on par with QANTAS. For Hawaii-bound travelers, Hawaiian Airlines is competitive, with prices usually balancing in the middle of the Jetstar/Virgin Australia vs QANTAS war.
Earlier I mentioned additional fees for luggage, food and entertainment. Again, each airline is different, but it's worth taking note of the following (note, this is for the basic economy airfare - business class/first class will always include everything!)
QANTAS: 1st and 2nd checked bags are free, food and entertainment are complimentary
JETSTAR: Jetstar will charge you for everything! An average 20kg checked bag/suitcase will set you back $39and aside from a non-alcoholic beverage, all food will incur an additional fee, as will movie/TV accessibility)
HAWAIIAN AIRLINES: 1st and 2nd checked bags are free, food is complimentary but personalized movie players are $15
VIRGIN AUSTRALIA: 1st and 2nd checked bags are free, food is complimentary
UNITED AIRLINES: 1st checked bag is free, personalized entertainment packages are free and food is complimentary
Final factor to consider, what you can take on board. Ever since 9/11, security on airlines has been tighter, and the US takes the gold medal for security. Going through security checks at the airport, it's shoes and jackets and belts off, coins and keys and phones out of pockets, laptops out of cases and in many cases, you won't just go through a metal detector, you'll go through an x-ray machine. In all honesty, it's no big deal - even if you are self conscious! Believe me when I say airline attendants/security guards have seen it all!
One of the biggest changes however is liquids - essentially they're a no-no. Well, if they're over 100mL (that's about 4 ounces). We're talking water, perfume, cosmetics, shampoo, even snowglobes! If it's over 100mL, you'll have to check it in. It used to be that you'd have to separate all your under-100mL-liquids into a see-through plastic bag (like a 'Glad' resealable bag) and have it on hand to show security. They're a little relaxed about this now, but they'll still throw out anything over 100mL. Even empty water bottles that can potentially hold over 100mL is out. It can prove restrictive, but most people seem to be able to handle it these days. If in doubt, either pack it in your checked luggage or better yet, leave it at home.
So there you have it. Which airlines go where, what you'll get and what you won't get and what you can and can't take onboard. Airline travel can be complicated and tricky at first, but after you've done it a few times, you'll get the hang of it.
It's a big world out there and you'll never get to see any of it unless you fly!!!