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The 101: when you’ve got a tight connection, and a plane to catch


My first piece of advice: avoid the tight connections. They’re stressful, EVERY SINGLE TIME! But I also realize that sometimes they’re unavoidable, either because of delays, life scheduling or otherwise. So if you’re in this boat, heed this advice for finding your way (quickly!) onto your next flight.

  • Carry on your luggage; you could check your luggage, but there’s a high likelihood your luggage won’t make it to the other side of the airport to join you on your next flight.

  • When booking flights, try to keep tight-connecting flights on the same reservation (i.e. in the same booking) as airlines are under no obligation to help you if you missed a connection that has its own ticket. More on that below.

  • Request a seat as close to the planes exit doors as you can. This will help save a few minutes when you’re deplaning.

  • Try to find out in advance what gate you’ll be arriving into, and what gate your next flight departs from. Sometimes a ticketing agent can tell you this when you check-in, often times a flight attendant will receive this information, and I’ve also had good luck with updates in the airlines mobile app. This info, plus a map of the airport (check the back of the magazine in your seat pocket) will help you sprint in the right direction.

  • If you have to go through Immigration (i.e. you arrive into Amsterdam on your way to Italy) then you need to factor in even more time for this process. Ask your flight attendant in advance to give you an overview of what you can expect when you land to get to your connecting gate.

  • If the line at Immigration looks like it will take longer to get through than time you have, look for an airport representative monitoring the line, and let them know what gate you’re heading to, and when the flight departs. Sometimes they’ll help you jump to the front of the line.

  • Airlines want you to make your connection. It’s a big headache for them if you miss a flight and need to rebook. As an example:

    • Let’s say you book an American Airlines flight from Miami to Portland, and there is layover in Dallas.

    • If your plane is coming in late, and you only have 45 minutes to get to your connecting gate, the gate agents will see in their system when your flight landed in Dallas, and will try to hold the boarding gate open as long as possible so you can join the flight.

    • But on the flip side, if you booked your Miami to Dallas flight with American Airlines, and then booked your Dallas to Portland flight with Southwest Airlines, there is no way Southwest Airlines will know that you are on a flight from Miami to Dallas that is delayed.

  • Know in advance what your options are if you miss a flight. For example, is there a flight out (to the same city you’re heading) that leaves a few hours later? If so, request a standby seat on this flight ASAP. Or if you’ll need to stay the night, to catch a flight the next day, what is your airlines policy for covering the hotel expense?

Need help exploring flight routes that won’t drive you mad, or lead to a stressful start or end to a trip? Drop us a note to learn more about our custom Travel Design services. 

Living Big Founder + Chief Adventurer and Travel Designer