Tight Airport Connection? Here Is What You Should Do

The proliferation of the hub and spoke model for airlines means that, unless you only ever fly from one big airport to another, connections are a necessary evil. As much as a long layover can be a headache, a tight connection can be equally stressful. Here’s how to manage your connection strategy to minimize the risk of missing your flight.

Tight connections can make a good trip stressful. Photo: Wikimedia

Understand the minimum connecting time

Every airline sets out a minimum connecting time at all its hubs. Sometimes it’s not easy to uncover this information, but if you’re booking your flights as a single itinerary, the system will automatically make adjustments to allow suitable time for connections. In the event that your first flight arrives too late to connect, the airline will be obligated to put you on the next available flight without charging any fees.

Sometimes these standard connection times can be incredibly tight. For domestic to domestic, they are typically under an hour, and can be as little as 30 minutes. When you’re transiting through a large airport, this can be incredibly stressful, as the distance from gate to gate is often massive.

Airports can be huge, so know your way around. Photo: Pexels

For international flights, it’s almost always more than an hour, and often as much as two hours or more. If you’ve booked on a single itinerary and you don’t think your schedule is in line with the airline’s minimum connecting time, speak to them directly to find out what you can do.

Where minimum connecting time doesn’t apply

Where you can run into trouble is if you’re booking the separate legs of your journey independently. For example, if you’re flying a big airline like British Airways transatlantic, but then want to hop on a cheap flight from Spirit or Southwest to complete your journey, the second airline is not obliged to help you out if your long haul is delayed.

The best strategy here is to err on the side of caution, leaving plenty of time in your schedule for a late connection or a long airport walk.

If you’re concerned about this, it’s a good strategy to stick to one airline or one alliance when booking your flight. If the airlines codeshare, you’ll not only earn miles for the entire trip, you’ll also be assured of a manageable connection time in your schedule.

Choose your seat wisely

Sitting near the front of the aircraft will mean you’ll disembark faster. While not such an issue on a small, regional jet, on a packed in single aisle aircraft, it could mean a difference of 15 or 20 minutes.

Although many airlines will charge for pre selecting your seat, it can be a worthwhile investment if you’re expecting a tight turnaround time. If you can’t find the seat you want online, skip the check in kiosk and head to the desk instead. Pleading your case with the staff member here may get you the seat allocation you need.

You could also try speaking to the flight attendants on board, as they can often be sympathetic to connecting passengers. Time your request kindly, when they’re not too busy and everyone is sitting down. Even if those seats are taken, they might consider moving you for a few minutes at the end of the flight so you can be one of the first off the plane.

Don’t check your bag

Avoid unnecessary holdups by taking carry on only. Regardless of when you deplane, all that saved time can be for nothing if there’s a delay in getting the bags to the belt in the airport. If your bag is checked all the way through to your connecting airport this shouldn’t be a problem, although it’s typically the situation where most baggage gets lost.

Rushing off the plane is no good if your bag’s not there. Photo: Wikimedia

Knowing the layout of the airport you’re transiting through can be immensely helpful too. Most large airports will have a map of some sort online, so print off a map so you know where you’re going.

If you’re arriving from an international point of origin, see if there’s a way to speed through immigration. Some airports offer services like CLEAR to get you to the front of the queue. Again, while this might come at a cost, it can be a good investment if it’s absolutely crucial you make that connecting flight.

Speed through immigration with pre-clearance, if you can. Photo: Wikimedia

Don’t book the last flight of the day

It’s the oldest tip in the book, but still as relevant today as ever. If your connecting flight is the last one of the day, you risk having to shell out for an overnight stay at the connecting hub and will arrive a day late at your final destination.

Although, when booking a single itinerary, airlines have a responsibility to put you on the next flight, they don’t have to pay for accommodation too. Clearly, the sooner the next available flight is, the more likelihood there is of you getting on a flight the same day if you do miss your intended one.

Keep this in mind for the first leg of your trip too. The later in the day your flight is, the more chance there is it won’t run to schedule. The aircraft has probably been on two, three or more other trips already that day, and any hiccups with previous services will filter down to make your flight not run on time too.

Have you ever missed your connection? Got any more tips for managing multiple leg trips? Let us know in the comments!