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British Airways: www.britishairways.com
American Airlines: www.aa.com
Easy Jet: www.easyjet.com
Fly Emirates: www.emirates.com
Singapore Airlines: www.singaporeair.com
Alongside receiving confirmation that your visa application has been successful, booking the flights to what will soon become your new home country is undoubtedly the moment when the enormity of what you are about to do turns real. For many, the booking of your flight will be one of the last major steps you take on the long road to emigration – you’ll finally have a departure date fixed; the dream is about to become a reality.
The process of booking a flight, however, is not a step that is to be taken lightly. Unlike past holidays you may have taken, when the airline which offered the cheapest flight closest to your intended destination was likely to be the main motivation behind your decision of which company to fly with, when you’re emigrating there are other important factors to take into account
Without doubt the key factor – aside from which airline actually flies to your intended destination – will be the amount of baggage you can take with you. This is not a two-week holiday where you can get away with packing lightly – this is for life. While the majority of your belongings will probably be shipped over to your new home courtesy of a removals company, the likelihood is that you will arrive in your new home country before these are actually delivered (especially if you are emigrating long-haul). Therefore, you will need to ensure that you have packed all the essentials that will see you through the first (sometimes) weeks of your new life. After all, the last thing you want to be doing when you arrive in your new homeland is start buying things to replace those you forgot to pack and/or are still waiting to have delivered – especially if you’re on a tight budget. This means that, although a flight may look cheap at first, if you then can’t take as much luggage with you as you need to, the costs may soon start mounting up.
The amount of baggage you can take – and what the charges for excess baggage will be – will vary depending on the destination you are travelling to and from, as well as the class you are flying in: economy, business, first, etc. Generally, most major international airlines – including British Airways and Fly Emirates – will allow those who are flying economy class to check in two pieces of baggage for free, with each bag weighing a maximum of around 23 kilograms each. If you exceed these weight limits then you can expect to be charged a hefty fee and you may even be asked to repack your bags then and there. If you’re flying in premium or business class then these allowances will almost certainly be greater. The penalty fees for exceeding baggage allowance will differ by airline, but to give you at least some idea of the charges you will be facing, British Airways will impose a fine worth the equivalent of £40 (depending on which country you’re in at the time).
Almost all major airlines will allow you to purchase extra baggage, but again this will cost you. For example, BA charges £40 (for short-haul) and £90 (for long-haul) for each additional bag, while Fly Emirates will charge around £108 for additional checked baggage. In both instances, however, these prices will work out far cheaper if you purchase this additional allowance online rather than at the airport on the day of departure. If you are travelling with infants you may also be allowed a slightly heavier allowance, whilst some goods, like buggies or car seats, may be allowed on for free.
If you’re travelling from London Heathrow to either Australia or New Zealand, then it is worth noting that, depending on the visa class you are emigrating through, it may be possible to take advantage of special migrant flights through Qantas. This gives you a significant increase in their standard baggage allowance, (which is usually the same as for BA and Emirates) to 40 kilograms. Qantas also offers special air fares for migrants, so these may be well worth inquiring about. In fact, no matter which airline you are thinking of travelling with, it may be at least worth asking to see if they do offer any special allowances for migrants. For example, I have heard first-hand that Singapore Airlines have occasionally been known to allow for increased baggage allowance for those who are emigrating. If you can, try and speak to a representative of an airline before you book as they may be able to offer you deals that cannot always be found on the website.
If you’re flying to and from European destinations, then the temptation will no doubt be to use a ‘low-cost’ airline. However, be warned that most budget airlines do not offer free checked baggage allowance and that the paid for luggage allowance is still likely to be lower than those offered by the major international airlines. For example, Easyjetcharges between £9 and £12.50 per bag if you purchase baggage allowance online and only allows for a weight of up to 20kg per bag. There are also substantial charges if your bag is too big or heavy. With this in mind it may be worth comparing prices against larger airlines based in that particular country which may offer free, more substantial luggage allowances.
No matter which airline you book with, it’s essential to check the location of the airport you are due to land at before you book to make sure it’s close to where it’s advertised as being. The last thing you want to do is book a flight to somewhere that ends up being nowhere near the place you were expecting. This kind of confusion is particularly prevalent in and around Europe where the name of a city may appear in an airport’s name but not actually be based in that city – for example, London Luton and London Stansted – or near where operators say they are. For example, a flight to Reus airport is advertised by certain airlines as being a flight to Barcelona – it is actually located almost 100 kilometres away from the city.
In terms of the actual day of departure there will be much to think about and plan for. For example, make sure you have more than enough with you to keep everyone travelling entertained – especially if flying with young children, and if they have a special toy or comforter, make sure this is with you on the plane and not in your checked-in luggage.
Although this may sound obvious, with all the excitement and trepidation associated with emigrating, the simplest things can often get overlooked – over the years I have heard many stories of people packing their passports and visas in the wrong bags or finding out that their passport is out-of-date at the last minute. There is plenty to think about and your thoughts will be all over the place in the days leading up to waving that final goodbye to your home country. So make a list of all the things you need to take with you on the flight well in advance of departure day and make sure this list is fully ticked off before you leave your house.
If you are emigrating to a location that requires you to make a stopover en route, then it may be worth thinking about spending a few days, or at least a night there. This can take some of the stress out of the flight and may also allay any fears you have over potential delays causing you to miss that all-important connecting flight. What’s more, already tired children (and probably grumpy, stressed adults,) are likely to get extremely bored waiting around at an airport for hours on end, having just had to sit still on a plane for a lengthy period of time. So this may be a good way to split the journey and take a bit of the stress out of what may be an already fraught experience. Again, depending on where you’re travelling to and from, the different airlines will have different stopover locations, so you may also want to take this into consideration when choosing who to fly with.
Finally, once you arrive at your final destination you need to have a plan for the next stage of your journey. Most major airlines have partnerships with car-hire dealers and it may be worth checking these out to make sure that you can: a) rent a car with the driver’s licence you possess; and b) drop the car back to a dealership close to where you live. Remember, when you’re emigrating then, (hopefully) you won’t be returning to the airport anytime soon, so if the deal requires you to return the car from where you picked it up, then that’s no good.
Ultimately, the airline you choose to use should be the one you feel most happy with – the one which ticks most of the boxes that are required for your own individual situation. If you’re searching on internet forums to find out how other migrants have fared using certain companies, then you will undoubtedly hear both good and bad stories about each and every airline. But if you take your time, speak to the airline personally to see how they can help you and make sure you know exactly what you’re paying for up-front. Then you can hopefully help make that final transitional journey between your old life and a new one, as straightforward as possible.