Sometimes tight airline connections sneak up on you!
You thought you had two full hours to grab a bite to eat and wander to your next gate, but then your first flight has a mechanical delay and suddenly you have 30 minutes gate to gate.
Sometimes airline’s minimum connection times don’t take the reality of airport sizes into account, so even if your first flight is on time, you still have to channel your inner Usain Bolt to make it to your next gate.
We’ve all been there.
Here are my best tips for Tight Airline Connections
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Change Your Flight
If the connection time the airline is offering you during booking makes you feel rushed, call the airline before completing your reservation and ask about booking a flight with a different connection.
There is usually a small fee for completing a reservation over the phone, but it’s always hundreds less than any potential change fees down the road.
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Speak to a flight attendant about mid-way through your flight about your options. If your first flight was significantly delayed, you can work with the onboard team to ensure a quick exit from the plane. I’ve been on flights before when they’ve asked us to remain seated so connecting passengers can bolt.
I’ve also seen people moved to the front of the plane during the final portion of the flight so they can hit the ground running to make one of their tight airline connections.
If your connection is on the same airline, the flight will sometimes wait for you if they know you’ve landed and are rushing over, but you have to speak up and check in with the cabin and ground crew as you go.
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Be Vocal During Security
This is especially important when traveling internationally, as you often need to go through security again, even if you are just a transit passenger. If the lines are long and slow-moving, you can approach agents at the beginning of the line to ask about your options, as some airports have “mercy” programs in which the security team will pull passengers from the line to help them make their tight airline connections.
But if you don’t speak up, they won’t know you need help!
If the officials aren’t interested in expediting the process for you, consider asking your fellow passengers if you can cut them in line. I’ve gladly let frantic travelers ahead of me at security when they have 20 minutes to take off and I have 90.
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Pack with Checkpoints in Mind
If you want to make your short connection, you need to prepare!
Don’t keep your ID in the darkest depths of your backpack. Make sure your toiletries are all under the limit and in a clear bag that’s accessible, preferably near your laptop so you can take them out at the same time. Wear shoes that are easy to slip on and off.
It drives me crazy to be stuck behind travelers in the security line who don’t seem to know what is expected of them, even though there are signs and security agents everywhere explaining the procedure.
Some quick things to remember when packing for short airline connections:
- Liquids, gels, and aerosels must be less than 100ml (3.4 oz) that fit into a 1 quart (or smaller!) clear bag.
- Your laptop should be taken out of your bag and placed into a bin by itself.
- Don’t put anything in your pockets while going through security.
- You might not need to take your shoes off; it depends on the airport. Listen for instructions.
This way, you won’t be scrambling through security. You can progress through it quickly and be on your way to your gate in no time.
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Study the Airport Map Before Hand
This step is usually undertaken by travelers who know they have a short connection because it was assigned during booking. You can check the airport website for the campus layout and make note of which terminals their airline uses and how they are connected.
However, for surprise short connections born out of delays, you might not have this luxury. Luckily, most airlines have maps of the major airports they service in the seatback magazines. It might also be worth it to pay for in-flight wifi so you know what to expect when you land.
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Use the Facilities during Your First Flight
Stopping for a bathroom break can cost you precious minutes when trying to make a tight connection! Instead of waiting in long lines for the airport bathroom, make sure to use the facilities on the plane.
A good time to go is when the captain announces your initial descent, this way, even if you have an active bladder, you can make it to your next aircraft before you need to go again.
I spent about 10 minutes waiting in line for the toilet at Charles de Gaulle in Paris last fall, and ended up arriving at my gate at 10:10…for my 10:10 flight because the passport control line was so long. 0/10 would not recommend.
Make a Note of your New Terminal and Gate
Take a picture of it on the screen, text it to yourself, write it on your hand, whatever you have to do. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been running through an airport chanting “2A” to myself and have suddenly been like “Wait…what’s my gate?” Having to find the monitors, stop, and check again costs precious time.
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Literally just Run
Sometimes you just gotta book it. I connected through Paris Charles de Gaulle both to and from my Grand Tour of Europe last fall and due to an apparent lack of staff, it was packed both ways.
On the way in, I was late getting off my flight from Houston because the jetty had an issue attaching to our plane, but luckily there was a man on my flight who was also going to Berlin. He was going there to run the marathon, so he sprinted ahead and let the ground grew know I was on my way.
On my way back, it was all up to me, so as I ran through the airport in flip flops and superman pajamas pants, I tried to concentrate on just not throwing up. I made my flight, coughing up a lung and probably with shin splints, but I made it.
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Know Your Rights
Airlines usually have a minimum connection time, so if you miss a tight connection due to no fault of your own (like long lines at passport control, or delayed first flight for mechanical issues), you can work with gate agents to rebook your flight at no charge.
If the next flight to your destination isn’t until the next day, the airline should provide lodging and food vouchers, but you usually need to bargain for them.
Remember to be polite! In many places (including the USA!) there are no laws around passenger rights, so kindness will get you a long way.
If you miss one of your tight airline connections due to weather, airline employees are usually not willing to book you into a hotel, but they will work with you to rebook your flight.