One of the numerous annoyances of checking in for international flights, even if you've mastered the efficient organisation of your belongings to ensure your bag hovers just below the maximum weight limit for carry-on luggage so you don't have to pay extra, is having to show evidence of an onward or return flight from your destination.
It's an understandable precaution against visitors overstaying in a country or sneaking in to find work and staying permanently, but for innocent travellers like me who prefer to make things up as they go along, it can really stamp down on your freedom to set a return date and next destination so far in advance. How am I supposed to know where I'll feel like going in three weeks' time? Who am I, Nostradamus?
Alright, so this goes beyond first world problems into whatever ridiculous, responsibility-free realm I currently inhabit, but it's a problem many people share, as I've seen plenty of forum discussions where people are asking for advice. Most people suggest buying the cheapest onward flight you can find and cancelling it later, or just letting it go to waste if that isn't an option and you don't choose to go through with it. Sometimes I've tried to guess when booking these flights in advance and ended up regretting it, as neither the destination nor the airport itself seemed appealing any more when the time came.
That's why I usually follow these simple, stress-free and borderline illegal steps to fabricating a foolproof fake flight.
Five fundamental factors
There are a few important things to keep in mind when producing a fake flight itinerary:
1. Use a different airline to the one you're flying with and showing the doctored document to. I know it sometimes seems that they're completely incompetent and don't have you on file even when you have a genuine flight booked with them, but don't be similarly foolish yourself. If you can choose an airline that doesn't even fly from your departure airport, you could feel even more secure.
2. Fake a real flight. Don't just type the names of two cities into a Word document and insert a Clipart arrow between them. Look up a real flight and make your itinerary as detailed as it needs to be.
3. Print it out, otherwise there's no point. Your word isn't worth anything, but having something to hand over that looks reasonably convincing should be enough.
4. Have some money ready and be prepared to book a real onward flight if they somehow see through your ingenious ruse.
5. I am not responsible for you getting in trouble. Good luck!
Finding a flight
If you already have a flight itinerary or e-ticket saved somewhere on your computer or in your email archives, this is a good starting point, especially if it's in a format that can be easily edited on a word processor. PDFs can be a bit tricky, but copy-pasting an email into a document and including the company logos and ad banners should look just like the real thing.
I find it useful to use a third party flight search site rather than a dedicated airline website, as this will give you more choices and the itineraries are usually easier to change around. Use this same website you used for your real flight itinerary in the past (if you have one) to search for a flight you could potentially take before your visa or visa-free period expires in the country you're about to visit.
Making the edits
You should now replace all the relevant items on your old flight booking with the new ones, including dates (be sure to change the year if it's an old one - I tend to use one from 2010, as that's the only time I booked through a search engine), the airline, flight number, airports and airport codes, times and the price.
Not so real
If you don't have a previous flight itinerary, you could find it easiest to go through with the booking up to the point where you make payment, copy and pasting the details onto your document and not keeping the 'Make payment' button like a dumbbell. Maybe you could come up with a convincing enough payment section on your own, they're not likely to pay too much attention to that part.
At the airport
When you're waiting tediously in line to check in for your flight, worrying whether you'll get caught out for not having a real flight and trying to mask the slight strain in your face so they won't ask to weigh your cabin bag, try to stay calm. Only hand over the fake flight itinerary if they request it, in a nonchalant manner that suggests 'take a look, it's just a normal flight itinerary.' Importantly, you should not actually say this as it tends to arouse suspicion.
Less naughty alternatives
An even better option would be to book a real onward flight with an airline that lets you cancel the booking without losing your money, apart from the minor booking fee that's probably worth not having the slight stress of being caught.
You could also consider alternatives to flights like international ferries. This really threw them off when I checked in for a flight to Japan and presented a doctored itinerary from a real ferry trip I'd taken between Japan and South Korea previously (altering the dates, of course).
Some websites will even let you make a booking without paying and automatically cancel your reservation within a few days if payment hasn't been received. That's just inviting this sort of abuse.
Is this illegal?
I don't know, but it's pretty naughty. Most of the time, the need for an onward flight is set by the airline and immigration won't need to see it when you arrive, so it's probably the airline that'll get in trouble if you're irresponsible enough to overstay your welcome.
If you're concerned about the immorality and eager to make amends, try to leave a positive impact on the country you're visiting by not littering, being respectful, spending plenty of money and not acting like an entitled dick. That way, there won't be a court in the land that could convict you.*
* Not actual legal advice.