If you’re flying to a destination and are using an airport that’s in a popular city or a hub, you may be lucky enough to get a direct flight to wherever you’re going. If not, chances are good you’re going to need to use connecting flights.
Theoretically, connecting flights are great ways to get from Point A to Point C – they just happen to have a Point B in between them ;-). If you have plenty of time between flights A-B and B-C, you’re fine; although you’ll spend some extra time hanging out in Airport B, you’ll also have plenty of time to catch your B-C flight. But if you’ve given yourself a tight connection, you want to do everything you can to get to your plane that’ll get you to Point C in a timely manner.
There are plenty of ways to help ensure you’ll get to that plane on time. But there are a couple of things that passengers may not always think of. I’m going to go through both lists.
(Note: for all of the following, I’m talking about if you scheduled yourself for a tight layover. Here’s what you can do if you made adequate plans but then may miss your connection through no fault of your own, such as a delay of your first flight)
Know the airport
If your connection is going to be at an airport you’re not very familiar with, make sure you know that airport well, so you’ll know where you have to go as soon as you land. Before your travels even start, study, download or print a map of your connecting airport. Make sure all the terminals are included, and you know what terminal (and possibly gate) your connecting flight will be from, ahead of time (it goes without saying that when you get to Airport B, you should double-check that the terminal/gate hasn’t changed).
If you’re going to have to get your bags and then re-check them again (i.e., for an international flight), make sure you know where the baggage carousels and Immigration/Customs are, as well.
Don’t check a bag
If your connection is with the same airline, or even with a codesharing partner, chances are you won’t have to worry about your checked bags – everything will be on the same reservation and you’ll almost always be able to check them all the way through. But if you switch airlines at Airport B (say, you fly American to JFK but then switch to Delta or Virgin Atlantic the rest of the way), you’re going to have to collect your bags and check them in all over again, since American and Delta don’t “talk” to each other.
If you can, don’t check a bag. I know that’s easier said than done for some people, myself included. But if you can, it will save you a whole lot of time on that tight connection.
Know the people you’re traveling with
I don’t mean that in a “don’t travel with strangers” sort of way. I mean YOU may be able to run from Terminal A to Terminal D, but the people you’re traveling with may not be able to run nearly as fast or as far – especially young children (and ESPECIALLY especially if you have to wait for their stroller that you’ve gate checked). Take that into consideration when you’ve boxed yourself into a 1-hour stopover at JFK and your next flight is international. 😉
If need be, plead your case
Befriend anyone who can help you get to your gate faster. Have to go through TSA Security again because you switched terminals, you only have 35 minutes until your flight leaves, the wait at TSA is 30 minutes long and you don’t have PreCheck or CLEAR? After kicking yourself for the latter, explain your situation to the TSA agent and maybe they can help you jump the line.
Don’t book the last flight of the day
Tale as old as time…the last flight of the day (A) has the buildup of potential lateness for all the other flights before it and (B) means you’ll have to wait until tomorrow if you miss your connection.
But wait, there’s more!
Those are the biggest things to consider. But there are a couple of things that people generally don’t think of. Consider them:
Every second will count
If you’ve got a tight connection, whether by your own doing, a delayed takeoff or the airline rescheduling you, every second will count. So plan and do ahead:
- This tight connection is your own doing? Make sure you have reserved your seat(s) to be as close to the front of the plane as possible, preferably in an aisle seat. You’ll get out of the plane many minutes before those who are towards the back of the plane.
- If you don’t have a front seat, ask a flight attendant for any help they can offer, once you’re in the air. Maybe they can get you to a closer-to-the-front seat if the flight isn’t 100% full. Maybe they can ask everyone else to allow “people with tight connections to exit first” (other passengers may or may not comply with this – I’ve seen both – but it’s worth a shot)
- Make sure you and your family have done everything they can ahead of time to avoid stops at Airport B. Use the lavatory towards the end of the flight so no one has to stop at the airport to pee. Have some protein bars available to avoid stopping for food. Figure out who is going to carry which bags (i.e., I get tired fast if I run. If we’re rushing, Joe will take both carry-on bags, plus the heavier personal-sized bag so I can get the one lighter bag – that will help me to go longer before I run out of steam). Know where your boarding pass and airport map are for the next flight. Plan ahead.
Compare time vs. money
This is something you should consider from the very beginning. When you’re making your reservation, consider if spending $25 less is worth getting a tight connection you may or may not make, especially if your first plane is delayed. If you don’t make your connection, you may not get to your final destination for an extra 4, 6, 8 hours, or maybe even not until the next day. Was that worth saving $25 for? Obviously, this is a Your Mileage May Vary situation, but maybe you would’ve been better off spending the extra $25 on the other flight that gave you a better layover time. Or the flight that cost $50 more but got you there nonstop.
Feature Photo (cropped): Thomas Nugent / Geograph.org.uk (license)
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