Part of the “Ask me How I Know” Series
BEFORE THE FLIGHT
Let’s face it, flying is no longer the elegant luxury of yesteryear. Over the years the increasing ease and accessibility of flying for the masses has prompted the airlines to respond with ever-increasing hoops and hassles that we must endure to get to that magical vacation we are dreaming of. Since it doesn’t seem that the airlines’ number one priority is taking care of us, the travelers, it behooves us to take measures in-flight “self-care.”
Do not book the last flight of the day
Especially in smaller regional airports that run multiple shuttle flights back and forth to hub airports like JFK, Chicago O’Hare, etc. By the end of the day those flights are often significantly behind due to accumulated delays throughout the day. A 1-2 hour delay can be the difference between making your connection and missing it, and can often be the difference between even leaving your regional airport that day. “Ask me how I know.”
You are better off to choose an earlier flight, even though it likely means a 3 or more hour layover at your connection airport. Granted, layovers are no fun, but they sure beat missing your flight, being delayed arriving at your vacation or even missing the boat or the tour bus. Take a book or your knitting or something that makes you feel happy to have a little time for yourself, even if it is sitting at an airport gate surrounded by strangers.
No tight connections
Nope, not worth it – ever. Here’s what can happen:
- One of your flights is delayed arriving, so you miss your connection. After at least an hour of the joy of standing at the counter trying to get rebooked on another flight, you finally make it on your way, arriving late at your destination only to discover that you made the new flight but your bag did not. “Ask me how I know.”
2. You fail to realize that you are arriving at some weird part of the airport that either requires you to leave the secure area or take a shuttle to get to your connecting terminal. You don’t realize this until after fast-walking what feels like miles only to be told that the ONLY way not to leave security is to go back to where you just got off the plane to find the non-existent sign that points out that just a few steps away you can take a shuttle… which just left 1 minute ago and will now be supposedly 15 minutes which turns into 23 minutes. As you watch the time tick away you know you no longer have time to go through the “security” option. You are trapped… there is now absolutely no way you will make your connection unless your connecting flight is also delayed. “Ask me how I know.”
3. You arrive at your international connecting airport after an overnight flight and after clearing customs you discover that the minimum walking time to your next gate is 15 minutes with no people movers of any sort and the doors are closing to your connecting flight in 8 minutes. You arrive 4 minutes late to the gate, sweating, breathing heavy, maybe with the beginning of a heart attack, only discover that they didn’t wait and closed the doors 2 minutes before even though they knew there was a huge back up at customs due to the arrival of 3 jumbo jets from the US at exactly the same time. “Ask me how I know.”
The lesson here. 1.5-2 hours or more is generally a safe bet. Even 1.5 can feel tight at JFK.
So what do you do if you really have no other option? That’s the next flight tip:
Research your connecting airport
Either on the internet or in the “seat pocket in front of you” you can find a map of your arrival airport. Your boarding pass likely shows your arrival and departure gates/terminals (unless they change it – “Oh yes they did!”). You can also often find them by Googling your flight numbers (ie AA81). Figure out where you have to go and what your path to get there is. Is it in a different terminal? Does the airport have a tram to get you there? Take a picture of it on your phone if that’s helpful. Talk it over with your traveling companion so both of you can look at signs when you depart the plane. And NEVER be afraid to ask. If there is a gate agent at your arrival gate, it can save time to just ask that person (if they don’t have a line). Listen to the announcements if they give gate and arrival information before landing. They will often do this in the case of a delayed flight because they know you need the information quickly. And MOST importantly, check again upon arrival. Things could have changed while you were in flight. Read the boards.
None of these things can prevent the unexpected. Weather delays, plane mechanics, and logistical and security reasons we will never understand, can delay your travel. Hopefully, these tips will at least help some of the avoidable challenges of travel.