I don't want to spend Christmas in Airport Jail.
December 19, 2008 6:40 PM   Subscribe

International travel with multiple connections: what's it like? And inside: declaring, connection time, and things I will probably get confiscated.

I'm flying AKL-BNE-LAX-IAD on Monday. I haven't flown into the US from a foreign country in years, so I am a little nervous.

Auckland to Brisbane: Two hours in Brisbane. Will I have to go through Australian customs? Are my bags checked through to the US? Anything I need to know?

Brisbane to LAX: Two hours, fifteen minutes in LAX. I go through customs at LAX and not IAD, right? What's going to happen? What do I declare? Do you think that'll be enough time (no, I don't either...), especially given that it's December 22 and everyone will be freaking out about the upcoming holiday? I land at 7am LA time.

LAX to Dulles: This flight is probably going to be the worst. No free Qantas booze, just 5 hours of misery in a middle seat. This is not a question, I'm just whining.

Will they confiscate it: hot sauce, cat treats, wine not purchased at the duty-free? How do you travel with wine, anyway?

Anything else you feel like offering about this upcoming trip, even reading suggestions, is welcomed, and when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness.

I'm a US citizen, passport up to date.
posted by troika to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You'll go through US customs at LAX. I never bother to declare anything, and I've never had an issue. Used items don't need to declare, only new things (and only new things worth above a certain $$ amount), so unless you were buying lots of new jewelry you're probably fine not declaring.

Checked baggage: I *think* you'll have to pick up your bag at each destination, walk through customs, and then find the Qantas desk (probably 20 feet away) to recheck it. Some countries (e.g. Mexico) check it straight through to final destination, but more often than not they make you jump through hoops at each stop.

Wine will be confiscated for being over 3 oz unless you put it in your checked baggage. If you buy something at duty free, you'll still have to put the item in your checked bag at your next connection to avoid LAX TSA from confiscating it due to size.

I can't speak for your specific airports, but generally speaking the amount of time you are leaving is probably enough. One tip: If your flight is delayed or you are facing a very tight connection, be assertive in line! I've had very tight connections a couple of times, and at the passport control line I always very politely ask an employee if there's any way they can bring me to the front of the line so that I don't miss my flight. People are always willing to help if it means the difference between making or missing your flight.

Good luck!
posted by stilly at 7:02 PM on December 19, 2008

Will I have to go through Australian customs?


Are my bags checked through to the US?

Yes, surely. Because you won't be going outside to the carousel. Anyhow, they will explain the procedure when you check in at Auckland.

Anything I need to know?

Take off all metal before you go through detectors, don't take anything liquid over 100ml, and Valium is your long-distance friend.
posted by dydecker at 7:15 PM on December 19, 2008

Do NOT try to fly in the United states with hot sauce in your carry-on bag. Check it. (OR, if you're not carrying toiletries & each bottle is under 3oz, throw them into your 1 quart ziploc bag. You do have one of those, don't you?) And check the wine, too, which you can just wrap in a few shirts and it'll be fine.
posted by knile at 7:54 PM on December 19, 2008

Note -- you'll probably have a terminal change at LAX. there are three places that do C&I at LAX -- the International Terminal, T7 (United) and T2 (Assorted). However, the latter two have limited space, so even if you're flying an airline that uses T7 or T2 (and the LAX-IAD leg strongly implies you're flying United that leg), you may end up deplaning at TBIT. UA uses T6 and T7, with UE in T8.

Even if you arrive in the correct terminal, you'll leave customs landside, so you'll need to clear security again. The salient points. We don't know what laptops look like, so you'll need to put yours in a bin. We don't trust shoes, you'll need to take them off and put them in a bin. All liquids and gels must be in 100ml or smaller containers, and all of them must fit in a quart sized plastic bag. Yes, we are mixing units here. This plastic bag must come out of your bags, but can share space with your shoes in a bin -- but not your laptop.

Yes, this seems inane.

If you are not a US Citizen or Permanent Resident Alien, there's a new procedure for pre-clearing immigrations. If you're traveling on the Visa Waiver Program, you *must* have a machine readable passport, and you *must* obtain travel authorization via ESTA before you arrive here. ESTA is the Electronic Travel Authorization System. However, once you do that, that authorization is apparently good for two years.

If you're traveling under any valid US visa, you don't need to muck about with ESTA -- that applies only to Visa Waiver. If you try for ESTA and are denied, you'll need to go talk to the US Consulate about getting an actual visa.
posted by eriko at 8:02 PM on December 19, 2008

I suggest looking for something like WinePak to put the wine in - if your luggage gets searched at any point, you can't guarantee that anyone else will wrap the wine back up carefully. My friend's bottle got broken by rough handling by customs in the US - while she was watching them search her bag.

As for the logistics of the rest of it, it will be fine - I often worry unnecessarily about these things which the airlines manage every day. Just ask at check-in, if they don't tell, about what you need to do in regards to your luggage. I'm not sure about Brisbane, but on arrival in the US you will definitely need to pick it up, and then can more or less drop it into another chute once you've gone through border control. Do check that they put the right tag on your bag.

You will only have issues if you have booked bits of your itinerary separately, otherwise the airline will fix things up if they run late etc. If things get really close because of a delay, let the flight attendant know as they can get you up out of your seat and ready to run off the plane, rather than getting stuck in the shuffle.

My other tip, if you are feeling anxious, is to get some Rescue Remedy. I am not really one for alternative type medicines, and perhaps it is just a placebo, but I find this works well for me when I travel. I take some before any of the things I know stress me out about flying (mostly the bits where I become irritated with people, such as boarding and the luggage carousel).
posted by AnnaRat at 10:53 PM on December 19, 2008

I recently was at Chicago's Midway to escort a friend to her flight and pick her up when she returned, and I got a gate pass and went through the exact same security she did, even though I wasn't flying. FWIW, I had some Emetrol (anti-nausea syrup) in my purse - the container measured 4 oz and so it wasn't in my plastic baggie - which I pulled out and showed the TSA agent at the first stop (to show my ID and gate pass). She said, "is that medicine?" and I said yes, and she said they (at the next stop, which was X-ray) might do additional testing on it. It went into the bin with my other stuff and they didn't even question it.

Be prepared to take off your shoes... when I flew last, removing your shoes was a random selection... this time it was mandatory for everyone. Also, if you are wearing a coat it has to come off and go through the X-ray machine separately.

When I dropped her off, we went through the "New to flying/families/special assistance" line (they separate security into 3 categories - that one, casual traveler, and expert flyer) and took our time. Dropping my friend off was a bit of a pain for her, because she has a hip replacement implant and had to be screened by hand. She was a bit anxious about the flight and as the agent pulled her aside for secondary screening, she left her stuff on the X-ray conveyor belt. I had to pick it all up for her and hold it while she was screened. It made me very glad I got the gate pass. When I picked her up, I must have looked smart with my baggie out, because the first agent insisted I go through the "Expert flyer" line. Both lines were equally painless, for me, but I'll add the airport wasn't crowded at all. The security agents I spoke to were all nice. It was the initial TSA agent who heard me saying
"I can't go beyond this point, so we have to say goodbye here," who informed me that I could get a gate pass and stay with her until she boarded. (Note if this inspires you to get a gate pass: when I was dropping her off, I was not asked a reason for the gate pass. When I picked her up, however, I was informed by a very helpful airline employee, who was directing people to the proper line, that they wouldn't issue a gate pass just for no reason, but she tried to help me out a little and asked if my friend had a disability. Since she has an artificial hip and a severe back injury, she does need help carrying things, and I *was* allowed the gate pass.)
posted by IndigoRain at 11:46 PM on December 19, 2008

Depends how many different airlines you're taking throughout the trip, but if it's Qantas all the way through, by default I'd think that they would check your luggage right through ('til when you first switch to a different airline -- sounds like you're doing that in LA, yeah?). When you check your bags in though: ask. I've usually had the option before (not flying Qantas, mind you) to have my luggage sent through or take it out and be responsible for getting them through customs again between flights. You should be able to specify what you want done when you check your bags in, and they'll tag them appropriately. However, ring Qantas ahead of time and ask -- at least you'll have peace of mind, know what you need to pack where, etc etc! Have a great trip!
posted by springbound at 12:20 AM on December 20, 2008

No free Qantas booze

Oh boo hoo. Liquor is available on nearly all US domestic filghts for pretty cheap prices. Just get your hands on some dollars once you hit LAX and you should be nicely sauced on the trip to Dulles. On the bright side, I personally think Dulles is a very nice airport.

Will I have to go through Australian customs?
Are my bags checked through to the US?
Yes, surely. Because you won't be going outside to the carousel.

You sound awfully certain. How do you know this? In my experience whenever you cross borders or zones (so, for example, you don't have to do this in flights within Europe) you have to recheck your bags. The only time this was not the case for me was when I flew from Beijing to the States. The flight paused for around 30 minutes somewhere in Japan, but we were not allowed to leave some kind of small no-mans land that featured nothing more than a noodle stand and a bookstore (if I remember this correctly...it was 4 years ago). So if these are separate flights, not just a brief pause before continuing to LAX, it could be possible that you'd have to recheck your baggage. Either way, make sure your bags are easy to haul around.
posted by Deathalicious at 2:44 AM on December 20, 2008

I came into the states this past february. I am a US citizen. My entry point was also my destination.

They had us pick up our checked bags, go through customs, then I had to put the bags back into the airport's system and wait at the carosel for my rechecked luggage.

You will likely have the same experience. Where the flights booked at the same time? The FFA has minimum connection times, so ideally you'll have enough time at LAX.
posted by Monday at 5:43 AM on December 20, 2008

Best answer: Your bags will be checked from AKL to LAX, which is your point of entry to the United States. You clear immigration, then get your checked bags, go through customs, and deposit them for your onward domestic flight. That's all that's going to happen, hopefully. Just put everything you can into your checked baggage, especially the liquids, just be sure to wrap them well. And, for five bucks you can drink on the LAX-IAD leg. Enjoy!
posted by keijo at 10:32 AM on December 20, 2008

All liquids and gels must be in 100ml or smaller containers, and all of them must fit in a quart sized plastic bag. Yes, we are mixing units here.
FWIW, most of the TSA promotional literature states the limit as 3oz, not 100ml. That said, my deodorant is in 4-oz gelstick, and nobody's ever given me grief about it, probably because it's not horrendously obvious that it's bigger than 3 oz, and, most importantly, it still fits in the bag with my other liquids & gels. Good luck, btw.
posted by knile at 2:51 PM on December 20, 2008

Also, you can always ask to be changed from the middle seat on the LAX->IAD flight. I've had good success asking at the counter or online 24 hours before the flight.
posted by j at 3:10 PM on December 20, 2008

Yea, if you booked it as a single flight then they will check your bags all the way through from Auckland to LA. Two hours is not really long enough to collect your baggage and go back through customs to check in.

It sounds like you're on the flight departing Brisbane at about midnight, so you'll be there from 10pm for two hours. This will be about the last flight out, many of the shops at the airport will be closed (at about 9pm?), and there will be something like three places where you can buy something to eat or drink for approximately $10 minimum, and (I think) they will only take australian cash or international credit, and most of the food will be premade sandwiches that have been there since that afternoon except for the Eagle Boys cheap pizza stand. (This is the section inside customs, you probably won't be allowed outside it). Basically, try and have everything you might want with you - I don't remember there even being a newsagency open to buy something to read. I don't remember any powerpoints either, so I would also take a charged music player of some sort, with headphones, because even if there's only one toddler waiting there, by midnight they are going to be cranky and loud as hell.

This information may be slightly out of date, it's based on the two hours I spent at the international airport waiting for a midnight flight to Japan in 2006.
posted by jacalata at 7:02 PM on December 20, 2008

Yeah, what they said. Your baggage will be checked through to LAX, where you'll pick it up, go through customs and drop it off again. The two times I've had to do it in this direction it wasn't very far - looked extraordinarily disorganised, but my baggage got where it was 'sposed to, so it must work. Two hours isn't a huge amount of time to get through LAX though, so move quickly. They generally have transfer info and all the paperwork you need to fill out on the plane, and the nice QANTAS staff should be able to tell you anything you want to know, they may even know the gate number. (check this though)

Don't buy any liquids until you go through security in LAX or they will confiscate it, or you'll be forced to skoll that 1L of gin. Reentry info for US citizens here.

But generally the deal is, get off the plane, follow the transfer signs, find the gate info for your next flight, follow the signs to that gate, going through any immigration/customs/security requirements that you find on the way to that gate. Don't dawdle until you actually find the gate, as they can be a very long way away. Keep liquids small and near the top of your bag. Know where you passport and ticket are at all times. If you get lost or confused, ask someone. I actually find that night time flights are the worst, as I don't sleep well on planes. Your last five hour flight will feel relatively short if only because of the relief of having made it through LAX.
posted by kjs4 at 3:31 AM on December 21, 2008

« Older Hot Buttered Rum in Seattle?   |   Churros or something quite like them? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.