Looking out the window from a plane onto mountains

Flight Smackdown: America vs. Australia

September 27, 2011

in flying

I’ve taken enough domestic and international flights since I moved to Oz to know a thing or two about the differences between the flying experience here and in America.  Is flying just aggravating everywhere? Is security as strict in Australia as in post-9/11 America? Here is a point-by-point comparison and which country’s system I prefer for each.


America: You must take off your shoes and put anything made of metal along with electronic devices in the security tray. Liquids can be no more than 3.4 oz. I have never received the wand or been pulled aside for “further inspection” by security personnel.

Australia: You keep your shoes on and take out electronics — security here seems to be a little less strict about metal, though you may have to remove your belt. Liquids can be no more than 3.4 oz. I have been pulled aside for closer inspection. Must be the olive skin.

I prefer: Despite the extra security concern I apparently aroused in Sydney International, getting to keep my shoes on is something I really enjoy. Especially when my feet are smelly. TMI?


America: Varies by airline, but generally up to three hours before an international flight and two hours for domestic.

Australia: Ninety minutes for international flights and only 45 minutes before domestic. Other carriers offering cheap Australia flights may only require you to arrive 30 minutes before departure.

I prefer: Come on…Australia. Less time wasted.

Looking out the window from a plane onto mountains


America: Depends on the airline, but you often board in zones and children, families and business class go first.

Australia: Airlines usually board one half of the plane, than the second. No differentiation between families and the general population.

I prefer: Australia.

In-flight amenities

America: Usually some kind of snack or drink for free, then meals to buy. A movie screen or individual television (unless you’re on United) is normally available.

Australia: It varies by airline, but I find it’s rarer to get snacks, drinks other than water or in-flight entertainment of any sort. You can sometimes rent devices for a fee.

I prefer: America. Because I want to be fed and entertained.


America: I’ve flown into and out of airports in the New York and Philadelphia areas a lot. These cities are much bigger than Sydney. They are more hectic and staff are more overworked. This has led, in my opinion, to some very gruff workers who do not think the customer is always right. Airline flight attendants can also be a bit curt, and the image of in-shape, nice-looking staff went out the window a long time ago.

Australia: On the whole, the staff are more pleasant and less likely to jump down your throat. Airline flight attendants tend to be younger.

I prefer: Australia.


America: Long lines. Mean-looking staff.

Australia: Long lines. Mean-looking staff.

I prefer: America. Neither country offers a completely pleasant customs experience, but I get less scrutiny in my home country. Plus, on my last trip home, the official who stamped my passport smiled and said, “Welcome home.”

How have your pre-flight and flight experiences varied in different countries?

13 Comments - Add Yours!

  1. Christine

    Oh my gosh I prefer Australia BY A LANDSLIDE! I only fly Virgin here, and I was shocked the first time I flew at how easy it was to get through security and that my flight was actually ON TIME. I can’t remember the last time that happened in America. I think security and delays just ruin the whole experience at home. Although I will say that going through customs is nicer in America just because I can go in the American line 🙂

    1. Lauren Post author

      I know, isn’t it great? There have been a few burps along the way with some Aussie flights, but generally the whole experience is a bit easier. It will be interesting when I return to the States for a visit in a few months.

  2. Rebecca

    Oh, things have changed in Australia! When I flew domestic back in 2008, you could bring as many liquids as you want to carry on. Large bottles of water, here I come! And Virgin Blue made you PAY for water on board, which drove me crazy. No free drinks, what-so-ever.

    Granted I travel on a US passport and rarely get stamped in the US, Australia (and maybe NZ) are the only countries I would ever feel comfortable making a request from immigration on where to stamp my passport, on a specific page and place. I feel much more comfortable with them then I ever feel in the US, even though I have never had an issue in the US, you never know and because of that, they stress me out. Though maybe travelling via NZ every time I entered Australia may have helped (no wait or customs check!).

    Nice little smack down!!

    1. Lauren Post author

      I didn’t realize Oz had gotten stricter. The bottle of water thing does get me here. You need to stay hydrated on a plane!

  3. Erik

    I traveled to Australia in the wake of 9/11, and the paranoia hadn’t hit there yet, so they were still very nice. I took seven domestic flights while there for 2 months and always had good experiences.
    As far as experiences in airports, I will only say that the experience of flying out of Israel’s Ben-Gurion was like nothing else. Obviously, the security situation was very thorough.

    1. Lauren Post author

      I think even 10 years post-9/11, while it seems from Rebecca’s comment Oz has gotten stricter, they are a little less intense about security. Still thorough, but not fanatically so. I would be interested to hear about your Israel airport experience.

  4. Victoria

    I personally think the pull-aside security checks are done randomly. I’m white Australian and seem to get pulled aside everytime I travel! I think they have to do a quota during the day and anyone is fair game!

    1. Lauren Post author

      You know it’s weird, I feel like I’ve noticed more minorities getting pulled aside (including an Asian friend from the States I went to Auckland with who was NOT happy about it). It happened to me, but I’ve also been mistaken for something other than 100-percent Caucasian throughout my life, plus I was super-tan when it happened. Who knows!

    1. Lauren Post author

      It is cheap, but you know, it’s gotten less so since I left. I think some of the deals a certain low-cost airline puts out here are pretty darn good. I’m going to Tassie in a few weeks for $100 return — not too shabby.

  5. Amanda

    I haven’t flown a lot in Australia, but I HAVE flown quite a bit in New Zealand. And New Zealand would win in a smackdown against America ANY DAY. From the relaxed security procedures to relaxed boarding to friendly flight crew, I actually really enjoy flying Down Under.

    And, as for your mention of free drinks and snacks on American flights… well, I hate to break it to you, but that’s hard to find these days, too! Most airlines will still offer you something to drink for free. But you’re lucky if you even get a free bag of peanuts on a cross-country flight now. No joke. I flew Pittsburgh to Los Angeles this spring, and was given a tiny bag a pretzels on the 4+-hour flight. Any other food, you had to pay for. Compare this to Air NZ, who give you free pretzels or lollies on an hour-long flight!!

    1. Lauren Post author

      Boo on the American flights! I don’t like that you have to pay for even a coffee on the AU flights. Just one free something besides water would be nice!

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