I hate connecting flights. Really, a lot. I’ve flown enough times to have a pretty good system on how to manage air travel within North America. Obviously when we start looking at crossing oceans, connecting flights are common, and almost unavoidable. However, when looking at traveling within the US and Canada, there are a few key things that are always in the ‘best practices’ category.
• Avoid checking any bags if at all possible. Easier said than done if you’re gone for more than three or four days, but still something to strive for.
• Choose the closest available seats to the front of the plane. Be one of the first off the plane. Your legs, back and rear end will thank you.
• Aisle seats are best for those who want to be able to use the restroom anytime, as well as be standing as soon as the plane gets to the gate.
• Window seats are best for those who need something to lean against on long flights, and have exceptionally large bladder capacity.
• Middle seats suck. Always.
• Keep your passport handy. This means accessible within 2 seconds of needing it. Not rummaging through your bag or purse while making everyone else wait.
• Know how to read your seat number. It usually combines a number (your row) and a letter (your seat in that row), and learn to sit down when you get there. Those aisles aren’t two-lanes.
• Always fly direct.
That last point is crucial, and bears repeating: ALWAYS FLY DIRECT. There are several reasons why, including but not limited to:
1 – If the airline ever loses your bag, I guarantee that it will be the result of a connection.
2 – It is two ascents and two descents instead of one of each. Ears will pop twice as much.
3 – Rarely do they schedule connecting flights within North America with more than 1hr between them. This means if your first flight is running late, God help you.
4 – Connecting flights can route you through smaller, regional airports. Thus severely limiting your available options for solving the problems that make you say ‘oh crap, now what do I do?’.
It’s been a while since I’ve needed to do a connection. I’ve had some bad experiences in the past, so I’ve learned a few tricks to avoid them. Like flying in to the nearest major airport to wherever I’m going and renting a car (which is usually needed anyway) and simply driving the extra distance. This has the benefit of giving YOU the control over being late or not, instead of relying on the airlines and their less-than-reliable schedules.
Also, in my experience (depending on where you’re headed, of course) connecting flights usually don’t save you any time when compared to renting a car and driving. With the lineups at ticketing, customs, security, and whatever other obstacles you need to overcome, you typically need at least 1.5 – 2hrs time before your flight leaves in order to just make it to your gate with enough time left to hit the restroom or grab a quick bite.
So, the story goes that I attended a series of meetings, which were scheduled to occur at a resort hotel in a small-town area. The closest airport was a small regional airport about an hours drive away from the resort. Everything was fine on the way down, but coming home things went awry. First, the flight was scheduled to head out at 4pm. It was at 3:59pm that they realized there were some mechanical issues with the plane.
Now, ordinarily this would be a pretty easy problem to solve. On direct flights you just wait it out, or go to the service desk and say ‘find me another flight’. Easy peasy. However, when you’ve got connections thrown in to the mix, and a smaller airport with very few available flight options, your life gets much more complicated.
There were no other flights with room available out of this airport. None. Everything was booked solid. There was another major international airport another 1.5 hour drive away, which had a flight leaving for my destination at 7pm. By the time get the tickets straightened out and rent a car, I’d be in for a lot more money, and there was no way I was going to make it in time. Not going to work.
So, next step was to go back to the ticketing counter and see what ‘could be done’. Luckily there was no line, as the vast majority of the passengers were still at the gate, frantically calling different airlines on their cell phones. I made the choice to go back out past security and go right to the ticketing desks, even though that meant I would have to go back through security in the event that the original flight got the go-ahead, or I was able to slide in to another connection.
They gave me one option: A flight leaving in half an hour, connecting through Chicago. One seat available on the Chicago flight, and one seat available on the flight out of Chicago to come home. Looks like I’m going to be fine. However at that moment, over the radio held by the ticketing agent, the news came through that the original flight was good to go, and boarding immediately. Dammit. Gotta run back through security to make this one, but fortunately all was fine and I boarded the plane.
Now, I quickly realized that the chance of making my original connection was becoming very low. But, I figured if I don’t make that one, at least I’m in a much larger international airport with many more possible flights home. Pulled in to the gate at 7:30pm, with my connection leaving in 20 minutes. Luckily I only had to run past about 3 or 4 gates to reach my flight home, but I had zero time to spare. I was the second last person on the plane. Just made it.
Looking back, it’s still hard to believe that I actually made the connection. It was cut about as close as you could possibly get, short of jumping on to the plane as they are closing the doors. I tell you though, when I booked the flights, I had that nagging thought in the back of my mind that I really should have just booked a direct flight to the nearest major airport and drove the remainder. Normally that’s what I do, but for some reason this time my usual diligence in not being stupid seemed to be absent. Ah well, that’s one mistake I won’t make again.