With all of the airline restrictions, terror alerts and travel warnings that have been issued in the last few years, even the thought of flying overseas can be a bit bewildering! The key to making your air travel as smooth as possible is to be thoroughly prepared before you step onto the plane. Here are some pointers to keep in mind as you plan for international air travel:
- Planning your destination. When you're deciding when to travel, visit the U.S. Department of State Travel Warnings website. If the country to which you are planning to travel has a travel advisory or travel warning listed here, you may want to reschedule your trip for a time when conditions are not so volatile.
- Buying your airline ticket. Once you've ensured that the country to which you are traveling is a safe destination, you'll need to purchase your airline tickets. Travel abroad can be very expensive, so you'll want to save money on your tickets if possible. There are several ways to get cheaper airline tickets. The first is to use an online service, such as Expedia or Priceline. Websites such as these provide discounted airline tickets, but they are usually completely nonrefundable fares. This means that the price of the tickets will not be refunded if you are unable to use them, even if you have a family emergency or are extremely ill. You also will not be allowed to exchange them for travel on another date. The exception is if the airline cancels the flight, in which case you will be rescheduled on the next available flight.
Another option to consider if you're trying to save money is to fly coach-class, instead of business or first-class. Coach seats usually provide fewer amenities, such as no in-flight meals (they may be provided for an extra charge), no complimentary beverages beyond juice or soda, and no access to in-flight entertainment. Seats in coach are also smaller and closer together, so if you are taller than average, this may not be a good option for international travel, because some flights can last twelve hours or more.
A final way to find less-expensive airline fares is to buy nonrefundable tickets, instead of refundable. Although they are called nonrefundable, changes are usually allowed. On Northwest and American, for example, you can change the date of travel and the outbound and inbound flight destinations, but not the name of the traveler. On Delta, you can change the date, routing or the traveler's name. Such changes on most airlines will cost about $200.
- Packing for your flight. Due to the recent increase in security threats, many airports are restricting what travelers are allowed to take on board for international and domestic flights. Before you leave, determine what is and what is not allowed as carry-on baggage for your outbound flight and your return flight. Also determine what can be packed in your carry-on. Some medications may be allowed only in sufficient quantities for the duration of the flight, and the remainder must be stowed in your checked baggage. Many cosmetics and personal items have been banned, too. It's a lot easier to store nonallowable items in your checked baggage before you get stopped at the security checkpoint. To find a list of items that will not be allowed on board an airplane in the United States, visit the Transportation Security Administration page – Permitted and Prohibited Items. For restrictions at your destination airport, go to the website for the airline that issued your tickets.
- Health. Before visiting a foreign country, you'll need to schedule a medical check-up and get any required immunizations. To determine what immunizations are required for your trip, visit the CDC's Travel Health website. Nervous flyers should take some steps to overcome their fear of flying before taking an international flight.
- Identification. And, last but not least, don't forget your passport! A passport will be required for all international air travel starting January 8, 2007, including Canada and Mexico. A passport will grant entry to most countries for ninety days. If you are planning to stay longer, you'll need to obtain a visa, also. Some non-European countries may require a visa even for a stay of less than ninety days. The State Department website, Document Requirements, can help you find out what documents you'll need to acquire before boarding your flight.
By planning for international air travel in advance, you can greatly reduce the stress of flying overseas. Then, you can simply focus on the excitement of visiting a new country!