Nobody likes standing in line at the airport, but you don’t always have to be a frequent flyer or a business class passenger to skip the queues and fast-track your way to the lounge, a restaurant or bar, or the boarding gate.
Whether you’re flying within Australia or overseas, here are some of the ways you can save time when travelling through Sydney Airport.
Sydney Airport’s T1 international terminal (all airlines)
Begin your journey abroad with as little stress as possible by completing online check-in for your flight wherever the option is available.
That’s because many airlines operate an ‘online check-in’ or ‘bag drop’ queue at the airport, separate to the main economy line: and these queues tend to be shorter and faster, which means less time spent waiting and more time spent relaxing before you depart.
Also, if you’re eligible for Sydney Airport’s Express Path – generally by being a business class or first class passenger or by holding top-tier frequent flyer status – do make use of it, even though it can be quite a trek from some check-in desks.
For example, Singapore Airlines’ check-in counters are found at Row J at Sydney Airport, so to find the Express Path entrance, you need to walk past what seems like the correct departures entrance…
… before finding the separate door to the Express Path area:
Just note that American Express Platinum charge card and Centurion cardholders can no longer access the Express Path on presentation of their AMEX card, as was possible until July 2017: as with all passengers, they’ll need an invitation from their airline to use this channel.
After security and passport control, if you're heading to the southern wing of the terminal – where the Air New Zealand, Emirates, Etihad and Singapore Airlines lounges live – you'll get there faster by veering right, through a channel marked 'TRS', which avoids navigating the duty-free maze to the left:
There is a TRS claims desk off to the right for any GST refunds, but straight ahead you’ll see signs towards gates 50-63 the associated airline lounges.
Sydney Airport’s Terminal 2: all Virgin Australia, FlyPelican, Jetstar, REX, Tigerair domestic flights
First things first: if you’re flying with Virgin Australia as a business class passenger, Gold or Platinum frequent flyer or a Lifetime Lounge member, the airline’s Premium Entry channel is usually the fastest way to clear security screening at Terminal 2.
While it’s designed for passengers arriving at the roadside without checked baggage, you can of course check-in your bags at the normal service counters in the terminal proper, before wandering outside to the Premium Entry door: avoiding the queues at the main security checkpoint, where there’s no fast-track lane.
If Premium Entry isn’t available to you, or you’re flying with another airline, there’s one more option to avoid that main checkpoint when the lines are long.
Instead of going through security right next to the check-in desks, take the lift or escalator downstairs to the arrivals level where baggage claim is located, and walk to the far right, where there’s another security checkpoint tucked away.
This checkpoint is primarily used by passengers arriving into Sydney on selected regional flights and continuing their journey onward from Sydney, but any passenger can use this checkpoint.
Sydney Airport’s Terminal 3: all Qantas, QantasLink domestic flights
In addition to the ‘main’ security line for Qantas passengers in Terminal 3 and the priority screening channel to its left (for business class flyers, Qantas Gold and Platinum cardholders and Oneworld Sapphire and Emerald members), T3 also features a second security screening point.
You’ll find it down near the Qantas priority check-in desks, and while there’s no priority lane at this second checkpoint, I often find the queue here shorter than the 'fast-track' line at the main screening area – making this an even faster fast-track!
It’s for this reason you’ll often see Qantas crew members zipping through this checkpoint, as well as frequent flyers in the know:
One final tip, for Airport Link train passengers: Regardless of which terminal you’re arriving into at Sydney Airport, the lines to top-up your Opal public transport card can be long at the automated top-up machines found at the station – and if your balance is too low, you’ll need to do this before you can hop on the train.
However, the staffed service windows at both the Domestic and International airport stations can also process top-ups, and I usually find this the fastest option, and have rarely been kept waiting for more than a minute.
As an added bonus, you can use American Express at the service windows to pay for your top-up: useful for business and corporate cardholders, but also individuals maximising their points, because the self-serve Opal kiosks that everybody else queues up for don’t accept AMEX: only Mastercard and Visa.
There’s no surcharge, nor are these top-ups processed as a ‘government’ transaction, so you’ll earn points at your card’s full rate, before heading into the city or home.