Picture this: You’re at the airport waiting to board your flight, but you don’t see your plane at the gate and you have a limited connection time to your next flight. We have all been in this position before. I flew over 150,000 miles last year both on revenue and award tickets. Luckily, I have never missed a connecting flight in my entire career of frequent flying. Here are my top 10 ways on how to navigate a tight connection and avoid a misconnecting flight:
1. Print out your itinerary on paper. This way, you will know what time your flight is departing and arriving. Print out two copies just in case you lose one and it will be an easy reference when you need it. I am a visual learner and I like how some of the airline’s websites give you full details about departure and arrival times on their own easy to read website format. I despise the “e-mail your itinerary” copies as it is a lengthy block of jumbled text, so I make my own. I use the Print Screen button on my keyboard and use the Windows “Paint” app, then hit “PASTE” under Edit. I then crop out my itinerary and hit print.
2. Use the World Clock. Add all the cities of your itinerary on your iPhone/smartphone built-in “World Clock” app so that you always know the correct time zone when you depart and arrive.
3. Use Google Search. Use Google on your smartphone to give you up to the latest details about your flight departure terminal, departure gate, flight arrival terminal, and their respective times. It can tell you whether your flight is on time, delayed, or cancelled. For example, if you’re on an American Airlines flight 79, type: AA79 on Google search. You must know the 2 letter abbreviated airline code in order for this to work.
4. Use Flightstats. For up to the minute details on your flight, use Flightstats as it will tell you real-time updates from the ATC (Air Traffic Controller).
5. Track your inbound flight. Picture this: You’re at the gate during your boarding time, but you don’t see the plane parked at the gate. Well, you can track where the inbound plane is coming from and find out its arrival time. Use Flightaware and put in your flight details.
Then click on “Track inbound flight”. You can see that AA Flight 79’s inbound is AA 1487 which arrived on time at the gate. If you see that your inbound plane is super late on arriving, be sure to proactively contact your airline.
6. Read your airline magazine. It helps to read the airline magazine in the back of your seat pocket. Often times, there are pictures of the major airport terminals around the world. You will want to figure out where to go before landing.
7. Figure out which terminal you are departing and arriving from. I would use #3 to figure this out. You might be arriving in an international terminal and connecting to a domestic terminal. Sometimes, your connecting flight might be in the same terminal or better yet, the next gate over!
8. Pay attention. If you need to collect your bags upon deplaning, I would highly suggest you pay attention to the announcements as they will often give you a baggage claim number. Often times, there are 10 or more baggage carousel so you will want to know which one to go to first if you need to make a tight connection and re-check your bag. This happens often when you are arriving at an international gateway from an international country and connecting to a domestic US flight.
9. Sign up for Global Entry. It takes me more time to reach the Global Entry kiosk from the gate than go through the US Customs process. It literally takes me less than 2 minutes now that they have a “No to All” button when you don’t have any goods to declare. It costs $100 for 5 years, but it has saved me a lot of time and helped me avoid a few misconnects. Best of all, you don’t need to fill out the blue US customs paper form.
10. Devise a gameplan. If you need to get from JFK to EWR, EWR to LGA, LGA to JFK, figure out in advanced how you plan on connecting to the 3 different New York area airport co-terminals. Figure out your bus, subway, light rail, Airtrain, LIRR, and taxi options before landing so you don’t miss your connecting flight. From personal experience, it takes 2 hours to get from EWR-JFK (Airtrain to NJ Transit, NJT to Penn station, Penn station to Jamaica station LIRR, JFK Airtrain to terminals)