How long does it take you to get through Sydney international airport?

19 replies

Kevin Cheung

Member since 13 Sep 2016

Total posts 8

In cases of both departing from and arriving at SYD T1, how long does it take you to get through and what's your best time? For departing flights this would be from check-in counter to immigration and security and to the lounge, for arriving flights it would be from stepping off the plane to getting into the public area of the terminal.


Member since 05 Mar 2015

Total posts 25

Hmm, how long is a piece of string? Totally depends on your timing. It's all about avoiding the peak hours, which you don't always have the luxury of doing. But if for example you are flying out of SYD and you get to the airport before 6am or around 10am or late afternoon and late evening you are missing those busiest peak periods.

As a QF Platinum One I can use the Qantas first class checkin area although these days I do the digital or self-printed boarding pass so I can head straight to immigration via the express path. My 'personal best' was less than 10 minutes from arriving at the airport to greeting Nestor at the entrance to the QF F lounge but that was in one of those off-peak times. There's a noticeable window after the morning peak and before lunchtime, if you check the Qantas schedule you can spot where the flights are all clustered around, that window used to be around 9am because by then everyone has arrived for their morning flights, but these days I think it's more like 10am?


Member since 20 Nov 2015

Total posts 43

I love flying out on CX138, it's one of the last flights to leave SYD and there's not much of a queue at all. Mornings are the worst time at SYD because you have so many of the long daytime flights to Asia, as well as to LAX.

Ironically the real 'choke point' can be the express path to immigration because this often opens up into the same set of desks as everyone else. So you are skipping the queue but you still end up merging into the same line of passengers who are very infrequent flyers or who have little English and don't seem to be able to follow the e-gate instructions. Very frustrating, when they have e-gates just for Express Path users things run so much faster.


Member since 14 Jun 2013

Total posts 109

One tip is even if you have an express path card, sometimes the queue for the express path security checkpoint can be longer than the regular checkpoints, if for instance only one express path checkpoint is open. A few times I have veered right to the main checkpoints instead of left to the express path checkpoints and gotten through much faster. Not that a few minutes makes a big difference but it's certainly less frustrating to be on the move than standing in line.


Member since 24 Oct 2010

Total posts 1,016

QFP1 is on the money with observations of peak and off-peak times for flying out of Sydney T1. The difference between 6am and 7am can be staggering! Oh, and forget about trying to get a TRS rebate in those morning peaks too!

In terms of arriving flights, you don't have any control and all it takes is a few flights arriving around the same time to gum up the works, especially when SYD decides not to open its green Nothing To Declare lanes for inbound customs.

I actually clocked up a Personal Best just two weeks ago for an inbound flight. I was on BA15, which generally ties with QF2 as first into SYD once the 5am curfew lifts. Was in business class and close to the front of the cabin, so was among the first to step off the aircraft; walking along and noticed QF2 sitting at the gate and thought "Okay, they beat us and there's going to be a whole A380-load of passengers ahead of me." But nope, QF2 had just pulled up at the gate and was yet to begin disgorging its 480-odd passengers.

With no queue at the e-passport machines and my having travelled with only a carry-on bag, I went straight through customs, and as it happened the staff hadn't even unlocked the doors which exit into the public part of the terminal, so there ended up being a few of us standing there waiting. I was the third passenger out of SYD that morning and it would have been 10-15 minutes between stepping off BA15 and stepping into my waiting Uber.

Andrew Barkery

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

Member since 21 Mar 2011

Total posts 433

Coming back to Aust, as to how fast, it also depends if ABF opens the glass bifolding doors, or make you walk all the way around the back of the lounges (at least I think its the lounges, I can sort of make out table lamps or something, maybe its another office, or something, but you can sort of make out low set coffes tables) at SYD T1 as you walk on the outside of it.
You will also see 2 or 3 of the ABF dog crates sitting agains the wall, without dogs inside them of course.
If they open the bifolding doors, directly prior to Smargate, it can save a lot of time.
But if they make you walk all the way around, behind the frosted back of the lounges, you will spend at least 10 mins making left and right hand turns to appear into the Smartgate area.
As the above have said, it does depend on other flights, and also if your flight has a group that the ABF speaks to when they collect your IPC from you, just before you get to the open zone.
Coming in from NZ, I get little questionings, guess if I came back from KUL it would be an indepth drug swab.
From getting off plane, (from NZ), mine would be about 45mins, but then, I always make a loo stop before getting to the Smartgate line.
I am HLO.
Maybe some people can make it from deplaning to Smartgate, collect bags, Quarantine, and then IPC collection in 30mins.
I am told that they do also have profiling, some say no such thing, but I am told that Smartgate can give messages to the IPC person, or that the cameras around the immi area can also/might also ping their interest.
Lots of variables.
Last editedby Andrew Barkery at Apr 25, 2019, 04:58 PM.

Neil R

Member since 28 Feb 2014

Total posts 55

Avoiding the morning rush is the best bet. I like the evening flights to Europe / Asia, as while it is a little busy, the flow of passengers works. Arriving - well my passport has not worked on the E Passport machines for over a year now (it still has 8 years to go), and lining up with the inbound passengers for customs is a real killer. I came in on Malaysia the other night, and the Air Asia flight was just before us, and it was a total mess at the inbound customs desk.


Member since 10 Jul 2017

Total posts 86

1-2 hours is plenty

Chris C.

Member since 24 Apr 2012

Total posts 1,116

"I am told that they do also have profiling, some say no such thing, but I am told that Smartgate can give messages to the IPC person" - that's correct. When you retrieve your SmartGate ticket from the barrier, the machine will have printed a letter onto the ticket (usually in the top corner), and that letter is a way of telling the person at the end whether you're clear to exit or have been flagged for a certain type of check or questioning (barring any random selection, etc). Of course, the meaning of the letters is highly confidential / classified, and they regularly change in any case, so there's little reason to even notice them.

Back to the topic, flying out of Sydney International the other week and seeing the queues of people everywhere made me appreciate that Brisbane Airport is normally my departure point! It would have only taken about 20 minutes from entering the terminal to being through the formalities thanks to priority check-in and Express Path, but looking at the lines everywhere else, non-priority passengers would have been waiting much longer.

(Compare that to my record of six minutes from car to Qantas international lounge in Brisbane - without even reaching for an Express card - and you'll see what I mean!)

Neil R

Member since 28 Feb 2014

Total posts 55

Chris - Re my issue with my passport, going through the outbound process the machine will accept my passport, but the officer will walk over to the gate and escort me over to the desk for manual processing. On the inbound, I will always get the " We cannot process your passport today" message at the Kiosk. No one at either the passport office or customs can tell me what is wrong, as my passport works fine in other locations with automatic gate. I know this is off topic, but it is very frustrating especially at peak times coming back into Sydney.....


Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

Member since 20 Aug 2014

Total posts 195

Plus 45 mins to get the last 500mtrs by road to the terminal.


Member since 17 Sep 2015

Total posts 73

Plus 45 mins to get the last 500mtrs by road to the terminal.

SYD has a very good airport train (the one bad feature is the high station access fee) that a growing percentage of travellers find is a great alternative to driving or being driven.

Andrew Barkery

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

Member since 21 Mar 2011

Total posts 433

MEL and SYD also have a high proportion of flights, esp to Asian destinations.

As mentioned above, some Asians love their metal or plastic bottles of drinking water, and are not to pleased when told "mao shui" or no water, no liquids, then when the see one who understands a bit of English doing it, they all do it, thus holding up the queue, and they will all stand in line drinking up their water containers.
Have seen it in SYD.
Bad if the Expresspath door is open, but then the bunting or what you call it, leads you to general outgoing security processing and immigration.
Have gone international out of BNE, and its a nice airport.
Fewer flights out to HKG.
Re: why even outgoing immi passport processing needs an officer to walk across and manually process, don't know the answer to that one.
In my case, outgoing immi seems the easiest, just slip passport into reader, look to the right at face recogniser, bright lights come on, gate opens.
Maybe we need a special line in outgoing international security screening for Asian ladies with their water bottles!
Was taken aback when I first saw it, and then on later trips, ah, I get it now, comes into my head.


Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

Member since 25 Nov 2016

Total posts 93

I found on average 30-45 minutes tops both ways. Even in the early morning rush with the incoming Europe/Asia flights I found it looks worse than it is, same with Customs. I do fly at the pointy end of the plane. Departing with the Express pass is a mixed bag. Sometimes it leads you straight to the general queue but you do get access to the Express scanning lane. Last trip the agent asked an Asian couple in front of me if they had any liquids, no they responded. The agent then pulled a 750ml bottle of Penfolds 389 out, that was confiscated. Anymore? The man pulled out a 750ml bottle of Penfolds port. The woman then pulled out her mobile and took photos of the confiscated wine. Of course the agent had her delete the pics. I found it very entertaining, the person behind me did not. I offered to help drink the wine on the spot with them but the offer got lost in translation. This added time. Could the processes be better? Absolutely. But I've been through worse.


Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

Member since 17 Nov 2014

Total posts 78

You can clear customs and immigration for departing flights ex-SYD within 15 minutes, even on peak times such as Christmas and Easter.

If you can use eGates arrivals can take usually 30 minutes, if you have goods to declare, then it will be another 15 minutes.

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