How much time do you need to make your connection? It's hard to say...
I have an 18 year old bone to pick with a certain travel agent in Kingston, Ontario. As a naive (some might say angelic) first year university student with virtually no travel experience, I eagerly put my blind faith in the itinerary given to me when I presented myself in their office to book my holiday flight home. With just a 45 minute layover in Toronto's Pearson airport, I thought I had won the lottery. Who would ever want more time? Ha! I learned the hard way that the 45 minute layover is synonymous with disaster. Let's just say I got my cardio that day -and I vowed to be master of my own travel game.
Readers often ask me if they can make a connecting flight within a certain time frame. Unfortunately, it's an impossible question to conclusively answer. There are so many variables for every traveler and airport. But I can share my best strategies and advice for making the most of a tight connection and improving the odds of catching your next flight. So tighten your shoelaces and prepare to abandon all moral principles! This is how you make it through an airport in record time!
Pay and pick
Want to save up to an hour of time? Pay a little extra to pre-select your seat at the front of the plane. Sitting as close as possible to the front exit has been our number one strategy for successfully making tight connections. Back of the plane passengers are delayed up to an extra hour as they wait for everyone else to exit. The seat selection fee is well worth the time you save, every time.
Prepare for battle
As soon as the seat belt sign is turned off at the gate, you should be on your feet and ready to move! Organize your gear before you land. Put your jacket on, tie your shoes, and get ready to run.
Speaking of tying your shoes.... Stilettos are a fine choice for most occasions, but they're not up for an airport battle. Running shoes are the way to go! And with a little luck, you'll know exactly which way to run once you exit the plane. Most airline magazines have a map section towards the back that gives the layout of the major airports on their routes.
Ask for help
If your connection woes are the result of a delayed first flight, ask the flight attendants if there's anything they can do. They might let you switch seats to the front so you can get off the plane right away. They might have insights into corresponding delays at your destination. They might be able to announce gate changes.
If your connecting flight is with the same airline and part of one flight path and there are many passengers in the same situation, the connecting flight MIGHT be held until you arrive. But probably not. I've never been lucky enough to have this happen to me! Bottom line: be courteous and hope for information, not miracles.
The first thing I do when I get off the plane is double check the gate information so I don't accidentally run in the wrong direction. (Actually, I've ran in the wrong direction a number of times but that's just me!) Departure and arrivals gates change all the time, so it's smart to take a minute to double check your directions. There are apps that alert you to gate changes as well so if you're technologically inclined, check some out.
Surrender to security
Are you flying into a international terminal and then switching to domestic departures? Does your terminal change require you to go outside? Are you switching airlines? These are just some of the reasons you can be asked to go through security again. So be ready to abandon that water bottle and show your papers at a minute's notice!
I've never managed to master the rules of why I have to go through security in some circumstances but not others so my default expectation is security, security, security. All the more reason to sit at the front of the plane! And if you're combining security with a visit to customs, well that's all the more reason to......
Be the airport a$%
Hey, I told you to abandon all moral principles! Those aren't little old ladies in front of you - they're obstacles. Move aside, Grandma!
KIDDING! It's never okay to risk the safety and security of others and it's never okay to be an airport a$%. But it IS okay to run like heck and it IS okay to call out a polite "Coming through! Excuse me!" when making your way through a crowd.
Considering that every person you pass on route to customs represents 5 minutes saved in the line, it's well worth making a spectacle of yourself. I think people expect to see all kinds of chaos at an airport. Running like a deranged - yet courteous - wildebeest is acceptable, even expected. Find your spirit animal and GO!
You know I'm gonna say it.... PACK LIGHT!
For the life of me, I can't really keep track of all the checked luggage rules when it comes to connections. Do you have to go to the carousel? Will they just forward it through? Do you need to collect and recheck? What if your flight is a code share? What if you're connecting through a different country? It's madness, I say. Madness!
All of this is nothing compared to the trouble you'll face if you ARE supposed to collect and recheck your luggage - but it doesn't arrive. It's virtually impossible to travel without your checked luggage, so if your connection gets rescheduled and you beg your airline to bump you to an earlier flight with a code share partner, you better have your suitcase in hand.
There's an argument to be made against carry on luggage, as the extra weight can prove unwieldy as you dash through the airport, but I think the pros outweigh the cons here. Plus, you can use that swinging pack to knock people out of your way as you run. (KIDDING!)
I'd love to hear from you! Have you ever missed a connection?
If you enjoyed this article, you'll also like:
Why We Love Layovers So Much
Layover Logistics 101
Your Ultimate Travel Budget Planner
No wildebeests were harmed in the making of this blog post.
15/1/2016 10:09:32 am
I have yet to miss a connecting flight, but I recently missed my first departure. BY A MINUTE! Because of Pan AM traffic :( To make things worse, they gave my seat to the person standing in front of me while I was trying to get on board!! Oh, and did I mention I was heading to a friend's wedding?! Eeeek. Great tips in your post -- especially re: asking flight attendant for help (that is why I haven't missed any connecting flights) -- they can be super helpful.
15/1/2016 07:54:44 pm
ARGH!!! I hate it when you miss out by such a tiny sliver of time! Hopefully that act of kindness will one day come back to help you in a future trip.
Great advice! It can always be a tricky to make those tight connections. Your advice about being an airport @ss made me chuckle because its so true. I hate to be that guy, but when you're just standing there on the left side of the moving walkway, you're gonna know it when I'm barreling through, lol
15/1/2016 07:58:55 pm
The moving sidewalk situation drives us kinda batty. It's not there as a substitution for walking, people! It's there to supercharge your walk!
Vanessa this is a great resource. Connections are something I still get confused about when I travel. I landed from an international flight in Calgary and had a short connection to my next flight. There was no signage or departure screens telling me where the next gate was and I went through the wrong security checkpoint (they looked at the boarding pass, but obviously they didn't really check the gate). I had to go back outside security, and run to the other side of the airport. The flight was delayed a few minutes so I luckily made it on time.
15/1/2016 08:02:59 pm
When we fly out of Ottawa to the US, we automatically go through customs before boarding the plane - it's great for landing and zipping through but we also take it for granted so when we fly out of other cities to other countries we always forget about customs!
16/1/2016 04:02:15 pm
This, right here, is exactly why I will do whatever is necessary to fly direct! I LOATHE connecting flights and leave myself, at a minimum, at least two hours when changing planes in Europe (domestically all bets are off). I also refuse to run through an airport because, instead of being an airport a$% I am apparently an airport snob :)
17/1/2016 05:22:14 pm
Agreed. If I can at all avoid them, I do. Unless I have nearly 24 hours to properly explore! Or if the direct flight is crazy expensive - but when at all possible I go direct. Sometimes it's a challenge when flying out of Ottawa as so many of our flights go through Montreal or Toronto.
The dreaded connection...we've been pretty lucky, the one time I had to run was by no fault of my own. I got to Toronto airport with plenty of time to make my connection but Air Canada wouldn't let us through to customs with the excuse that we didn't have enough time to clear. Finally 10 minutes before the flight was due to take off they let me through because I had no bags to check. It was the mad dash, hearing my name being called overhead, I took off my flip flops and ran through the Toronto airport. When I finally got to on the plane I had to walk the gauntlet of glares all the way to the 29th row. Damn you Air Canada! haha
17/1/2016 05:25:57 pm
I've had staff tell me that too - I'll never make it, there's not enough time. I always ask them if they wanna put money on that? I let them know that while I am an elephant on regular land, I am a cheetah in the airport!
17/1/2016 10:17:39 am
I've never missed a flight in my life, thankfully. But my little brother, who was very late for his flight, once managed to get through security and run to the gate at Copenhagen Airport in just 7 minutes. He actually thought he was gonna pass out after running that fast, haha! :D
17/1/2016 05:26:36 pm
I think that must be a world record - but when a flight is on the line, you gotta do what you gotta do.
Just recently, my flight from Montreal to Zurich was super delayed, and then delayed again. We were rescheduled after the first delay, and then the second delay meant we would arrive with only 25 minutes to spare, and I know that Zurich makes you re-do security (but only one way - SO FRUSTRATING - how are you supposed to remember all these things?!) and customs.
18/1/2016 01:32:12 pm
SO SO TRUE!!! If you must check your bag, have - at the very least - clean undies and a clean T-shirt on your carryon. A full, proper outfit if you can manage it. Not only will it save your butt in a crazy connection situation but it's just darn nice to have on hand in case you spill stuff on yourself during the flight. (Not that I experienced that.... nooooo.....)
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