Airport Connection Time
I’m far from an air travel expert. I loathe booking award tickets, primarily because I’m terrible at it. (Or maybe it’s the other way around.) I don’t care to know the nuances of different aircraft types. I have no fancy tricks to rely on when air travel goes awry. But on that last one, I do implement a rather obvious strategy. It’s one that’s probably ripe for satire in a future Progressive commercial – if it hasn’t been part of one already. Here’s my airport connection time strategy and how it recently paid off yet again.
My Airport Connection Time Strategy
First and foremost, I focus on non-stop flights when available. But we moved from a big to midsize metro area about six years ago, and I’m now faced with more unavoidable connections – especially going out west. My airport connection time strategy boils down to this: I want a three hour connection time, or as close as I can get to that duration.
So why three hours? First, it leaves plenty of buffer for the second flight. If the first flight is delayed, it doesn’t necessarily throw my travel itinerary into disarray. I like to travel efficiently, but I rarely have any need to be in a hurry. Some are comfortable with shorter timeframes. Second, I can generally connect at major airports offering at least one desirable lounge I can visit. Third, flying with my family is more pleasurable at a leisurely pace.
My Strategy Wins the Day
As many of you know or unfortunately experienced, a recent FAA outage resulted in a massive amount of flight delays and cancellations. I was snarled by this. Long story short, my first flight was delayed an hour and a half. Since my original connection time was a hair over three hours, I had no issues. I made my connection with plenty of time to spare – enough to pick up a satisfying snack at the Capital One Lounge DFW.
30 Minutes – What?
Okay, some of you probably don’t think I’m saying anything mindblowing here. Give yourself plenty of airport connection time – gee, thanks. But the airline industry has encouraged travelers to choose very tight connections. And the push just seems to get stronger. Based on my experiences, airfare rates, whether paid with cash or miles, are substantially lower for flights offering short connection times. It’s simply remarkable how tight the times are these days. I’ve routinely noticed airport connection times as low as 30 minutes or so. In order to meet that connection, everything has to go perfectly. When’s the last time your air travel experience was like that?
Indeed, the airlines are basically daring travelers to pick that eye-popping deals with the short connection times. There are warnings all over those itineraries. But they keep offering them; some travelers must enjoy living on the edge.
My strategy definitely isn’t for everyone. I know it’s simply not practical for many. And the thought of shelling out more miles for a longer connection will surely make some avid travelers’ heads hurt. Nonetheless, I don’t see my philosophy changing, especially since we have plenty of airline rewards currencies to burn. If you must connect, what’s your optimal layover time? How did you settle on that duration?
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It can be even worse on international flights. We always look for 1.5 to 2.5 hours as the optimum for these. But we tend to book these well in advance. And often, it seems, the flights change resulting in a shorter layover. Not much you can do about this. You just have to hope things will go well or that the airline will make adjustments when they don’t. We’ve actually had two Europe to US flights held to accommodate us (and others) who were on a delayed connecting flight.
Just why do doors close 10 minutes prior to departure? Movies don’t start 10 minutes early, your restaurant won’t seat you 10 minutes early, why can an airline shut out passengers, customers!, that have tight time constraints?
Passengers are supposed to arrive by boarding time, not departure time. I think doors close prior to departure if all passengers have already boarded.
Benji – You are definitely on the right track with the emphasis on a relaxed trip. Flying is stressful enough as it is, w/o worrying about a tight connection. I think the most unreasonable connections are the short ones through US ports of entry. One hour 35 min at JFK to clear Immigration (I have Global Entry, but many people don’t), wait for your bag, drop it off at the connection counter, go back through security and arrive at your gate on time? Very, very iffy. But if you take it up with customer service, they tell you “That’s the way the computer system is set up. They wouldn’t let us ticket the trip this way if you couldn’t make the connection…”
You nailed it, Aden!
Finally, a travel blogger with some sense about this issue! For years, I have left minimum 3 hours (ok maybe 2 and a half) connection time domestic, overnight for international (8 hours if the connection is on the same ticket). In fact, lately I am tending to leave several days at the connecting point on international itineraries, effectively a free second destination for the price of one airline ticket (usually in points for long haul international). During layovers, I can stop in an airport lounge courtesy of my travel rewards credit cards, have a nice meal and shower, and always have things I need to do for work or otherwise on my laptop. Contrary to 2808 Heavy, my experience is that American offers all the permutations of connections, short or long layovers, on a route throughout the entire day, usually at the same price, or maybe 2 prices close to each other. Much more choices than Delta or even United gives. The ULCC folks (JetBlue, Spirit, Frontier) will usually be nonstop and cheapest, but with the fewest available flights that may or may not work well with my schedule.
Thanks for chiming in!
Depends on the connecting airport and time of year. ATL with its multiple terminals warrants 90 mins minimum. ORD at least that , especially between November and March. PHL and DCA 60 minimum, DTW and MSP also 60. More during winter months. 30 minutes is just a guarantee of stress, headache and an even an extra night at the airport Marriott.
My preferred domestic connection time was 1:15 – 1:30, but after considering your position, I’ll lengthen mine.
…and remember doors close 10 minutes prior to departure. So your 30 minute connection , is really a 20 minute connection.
Personally, I go for a 2 hour layover. Gives me time to grab a coffee-use the restroom and RELAX.
Indeed, my three-hour comfort probably feels the same for you at two hours.
I find it amazing that airlines want to increase the chances that passengers miss their connections. This causes more work, more headaches for their customer service people, online and at the airport. Not to mention pissing off their customers, though the airlines don’t care about that. Is it just a bid to increase your fares on longer-connection flights? That is short sighted as it increases your customer service costs, with more people and more tech needed to handle those customers. And sitting up front on your 1st flight won’t help if you’re 20 minutes late with a 30 minute connection.
I also figure the airlines like leveraging these deeply discounted fares for PR, while conveniently leaving out the part about the 30 minute connection.
American, American, AMERICAN frustrates me to no end with the 30 minute connections windows. And you’re absolutely right, paid or award, it seems to be the norm with them.
My home airport is a hub to no one so most of the time I’m on a regional jet regardless of carrier as I’m often shuttled into their hub for my connecting.
The reason I mention this is because rarely are the gates for regional aircraft in the same concourse as larger mainline aircraft meaning that your connecting gate will probably be a nice stroll, or run, from your arriving gate…so those 30 minute connecting times are a joke.
But even if everything goes well and you arrive at your scheduled time, most planes start boarding 30-40 minutes prior to departure so if you’re connecting window is only 30 minutes that means that your second leg is probably already boarding before you even taxi to the gate on your first leg.
I’m sure they all do this but I see it more often with American that I do with United or Delta.
I don’t like lingering around airports and lounges don’t really move my needle that much anymore, but I still like to build in a buffer as you do Benjy…the peace of mind is worth the time I’ll have to burn waiting.
Preach, 2808 Heavy!