The global spread of infectious diseases is facilitated by the ability of infected humans to travel thousands of miles in short time spans, rapidly transporting pathogens to distant locations. Mathematical models of the actual and potential spread of specific pathogens can assist public health planning in the case of such an event. Models should generally be parsimonious, but must consider all potentially important components of the system to the greatest extent possible. We demonstrate and discuss important assumptions relative to the parameterization and structural treatment of airline travel in mathematical models. Among other findings, we show that the most common structural treatment of travelers leads to underestimation of the speed of spread and that connecting travel is critical to a realistic spread pattern. Models involving travelers can be improved significantly by relatively simple structural changes but also may require further attention to details of parameterization.