Sometimes, getting from point A to point B might involve multiple stops in between. Maybe the lack of direct flights to a final destination requires passengers to have layovers at other airports somewhere along the way. Or maybe added stops means a lower price tag for the airfare. Whatever your reason for needing to take a connecting flight, one of the last things you’d want to experience as a traveller is missing that flight, or even worse, getting stranded at an airport!
Juggling more than one flight on a single trip can be quite a challenge, with all the moving parts involved dependent on time. You might find yourself frantically asking questions like, “How much time should I spend at a layover? Will I have enough time to make my connecting flight? What are the best times to depart, connect, and arrive? How much time will my entire trip take?” and so on. But worry not, travelling via connecting flights isn’t as stressful as it might seem, and you can use these tips to help make your journey go smoothly.
How to avoid missing connecting flights
1. Extend the time between flight connections
Perhaps an obvious one: not leaving enough time between connecting flights when first booking them is a rookie mistake! While it may seem more convenient and efficient to have just an hour’s wait, compared to say, 4 or 7 hours between flights, keep in mind that delays are always possible, for a multitude of reasons.
2. Prepare for the unexpected
If you’re travelling during the winter it’s an especially unwise time to risk short layovers, because the weather and traveller traffic (especially around the holidays) can be so unpredictable. Apart from that, some airports are massive and are spread out over various terminals, so try to allot enough commute time for you to catch a shuttle to the correct one; at times, you might find yourself being directed to the wrong gate or terminal by your boarding pass, or you might have to go through baggage claim/baggage check-in or security once again at the layover airport. The point is, it’s best to have a general game plan that leaves room for unexpected occurrences.
3. Be mindful of the timing
Morning flights are typically less busy and planes experience fewer delays, so it might be a good option if your time is flexible. However, do factor in the flight’s estimated arrival time for the first leg of your trip, as this will affect your resulting connection time for the next leg.
In the evening, the interval between 7-10 pm is considered “rush hour” for most airports. This can lead to longer wait times on the tarmac. So even if your flight arrives on schedule, there’s no guarantee when you’ll be able to disembark your aircraft due to long queues or if you’ll be able to catch your connecting flight on time.
Red-eye flights will also be less busy, and sometimes cheaper, but because it’s most likely the last connection, you might be “stranded” at the connecting airport too long, until the next available flight departs for your destination the next morning.
4. Be mindful of the time
Remember that you’ll most likely be in a different time zone by the time you arrive at a connecting airport, especially for long-haul international trips. Even if you did allot for more connection time, your watch or phone (if automatic time zone switching is disabled) might give you the wrong impression that you have “plenty of time” to dilly dally around, when in fact you’re an hour or more behind!
5. Book all your flights on the same ticket
There’s sometimes confusion when it comes to the term “connecting flights”. Simply put, a flight is considered “connecting” when it’s booked under one itinerary and/or one confirmation number. If you booked separate flights on separate tickets, you could be on your own if something goes awry. Airlines aren’t obligated to help you book a new flight if you miss your next one due to a delay on your first. This is viewed as arriving late to the airport—you’re accountable for any new tickets, penalties or cancellation fees you might incur.
Bonus: Book nonstop flights, whenever possible
Given the choice, nonstop flights are the way to go. Not only are they the most convenient option and will save you time, but you also won’t risk getting stranded at an airport in between—because there wouldn’t be any connecting flights for you to miss!
Take note of the difference between nonstop and direct flights. Nonstop flights are just that—they take you from your airport of departure to your destination airport without any stops in between. Direct flights, on the other hand, can be misleading. Though the flight number doesn’t change, it may involve a stopover at an airport or two in between, for refueling or other purposes. Sometimes, you can stay in your seat and wait it out; other times, you may have to disembark the aircraft and re-board.
Other tips to help with your flight connections
Sometimes, it’s the little details within your control that save you time and ultimately help make your flight connections smooth and on-schedule. Whenever possible, try to travel only with carry-on luggage. This saves you a lot of logistical hassle, especially in connecting airports that require you to claim your luggage and do a second check-in.
It should go without saying, but being respectful to airline staff and considerate of fellow travellers on your flight, by practicing proper airplane etiquette, will minimize delays caused by miscommunication or simply bad behaviour.
You should also try to pick seats that are closer to the front of the plane. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get special treatment (unless we’re talking about first or business class seats), but it will give you a head start when disembarking—every minute counts!