Curious about the differences between domestic and international flights? Then you’re definitely in the right place! This detailed guide to domestic flights covers everything you need to know about them, from the exact definition of the term to some fun facts about the longest domestic flights in the world. And everything in between.
Read on to learn what domestic flights are, how they differ from international flights, and what you should know (and prepare for) before you book a domestic flight.
A domestic flight is a flight that takes off and lands in the same country, whereas an international flight is a flight that transports passengers out of the country. Domestic flights can pass through other countries and foreign territories – as long as they land in the same country they took off from, they’re considered domestic flights.
Domestic flights are generally shorter and cheaper than international flights, with different rules and requirements for passengers. I’ll cover those in more detail below, so keep reading!
The requirements and rules for domestic flights are a bit laxer than for international flights. You’re not leaving the country, so there are a lot fewer things you need to worry about when you arrive at the airport.
Passports are not required for domestic flights if you’re a resident of the country you are traveling in. You need a boarding pass and some sort of ID, but it doesn’t have to be a passport. Also, you usually don’t need to go through immigration once you land and you could pack a suitcase full of cash without declaring it – at least in the United States.
Another rule specific for domestic flights inside the US is that you need to present a REAL ID. All REAL ID-compliant driver’s licenses and IDs have a star marking in the upper right corner, and this is the fastest way to check whether your ID can be used for domestic flights.
It’s worth noting that similar rules apply if you’re traveling inside the Schengen Area of the EU. The open borders mean that flying from Germany to Greece has pretty much the same rules as flying from Munchen to Berlin, even though the former is technically an international flight. However, the rules only apply to EU nationals – if you’re a US citizen or resident of a country that is not a member-state of the EU, you will need your passport for travels inside the Schengen Area.
Baggage rules are also different for domestic and international flights in both the US and the EU. International flights usually allow two or three pieces of checked baggage and a carry-on, but domestic flights rarely allow more than one free piece of checked luggage. Most airlines also lower the maximum allowed weight for free bags, so your 7-kg carry-on could actually be subject to overweight baggage fees on domestic flights. The baggage rules for domestic flights also apply for travel inside the Schengen area.
It’s worth noting that the exact set of rules in place for domestic flights depends on the country, airline, and your specific flight. It’s important to double-check everything, and be sure to ask what type of ID they accept – some airlines won’t take your driver’s license, which is the most common type of ID people present for domestic flights.
Domestic flights are often cheaper than international flights, and it’s not just because they’re shorter. The airlines don’t need to pay taxes to foreign countries for domestic flights, which allows them to offer cheaper plane tickets. That’s why a 50-minute domestic flight is usually cheaper than a 45-minute international flight.
Also, most airlines use smaller airplanes on domestic flights. There are fewer passengers on domestic flights so operating smaller planes on shorter flights makes perfect sense. However, this does mean that the baggage rules are different than on international flights, but this is dependent on the airline. In most cases, a smaller aircraft means less cabin space, so the chances of you having to check your carry-on luggage are higher.
Boarding is quicker and easier for domestic flights. You don’t have to clear customs and immigration and there are fewer things you need to do once you arrive at the airport. Plus, since these flights usually have fewer passengers, the process of boarding the plane just goes quicker and smoother.
Fun fact time – the world’s longest domestic flight took place in 2020. Because of the pandemic and all the different rules and restrictions for international travel, Air Tahiti Nui started operating a non-stop service from Paris to Papeete. The usual route of this flight stops at LAX, but this wasn’t an option because of the restrictions in place at the time. The 16-hours flight from France to French Polynesia holds the record for the longest domestic flight ever.
Other examples of very long domestic flights are any flights that operate between Hawaii and airports on the East Coast of the US. These are often 4000-5000 miles long and last for approximately 10 hours. And of course, let’s not forget about all those flights in Russia – the longest domestic flight is 4,203 miles from Petropavlovsk to Moscow, and it’s just one of many.
Anna is the co-owner of expert world travel and can't wait to share her travel experience with the world. With over 54 countries under her belt she has a lot to write about! Including those insane encounters with black bears in Canada.