Travel Tips

How to Make Airport Connections Work to Your Advantage

Few people like airports and most people like connecting flights even less. If we have the choice, most of us would choose a direct flight over even 1 stop, never mind 2 or even 3 connecting flights. The fact that you need to stop in another airport, disembark, then get through airport security and even occasionally pick-up and transfer your luggage to another flight is fraught with the potential for trouble. If that first flight is even a little bit delayed or, heaven forbid, canceled, you’re likely going to end up missing your connection. In other cases, we end up with hours and hours to kill before we can get on the connecting flight—sometimes because of airline scheduling and sometimes because of delays and cancellations. Traveling is tiresome and hanging around an airport waiting for your connection to show up or scrambling to find your baggage can be even more draining. Connections don’t need to be all doom and gloom, however. In fact, there’s a lot of ways that you can use a layover—be it long or short—to your advantage.

If You Have a Short Layover Short layovers are often a traveler’s first pick, because the schedule is tighter. You can get in and out, which reduces your overall travel time. This is important for people on business trips or strict timelines, since you’re expecting to get from Point A to Point B as soon as possible. For others, short layovers are ideal because it means less time being stuck in the airport and more time actually doing something they want to do. Short layovers can cause a lot of issues, however; cancellations and delays are magnified for those with short lead-time between their connecting flights. A delay of 5 minutes might mean you don’t get on that second flight and have to wait for the next one. However, that can work to your advantage. If your flight is delayed and arrives too late for you to catch your connection, or if your connecting flight is canceled, the airline is obligated to not only schedule you on the next available flight, but to also accommodate you, which can mean offering you vouchers for meals and even overnight accommodations in a nearby hotel, as well as transportation to and from the airport. This is so commonly known that some travelers even purposely schedule their flights so close together that there is no way they can possibly make the connecting flight, which scores them a few free hours or even an overnight stay in a city of their choice. This can be a great opportunity, if you have the time, to visit a place you might never see otherwise. Naturally, this means that you want to pick a connection in a place that you actually wouldn’t mind seeing; if you’re in rural Idaho, you’re probably not going to be as enthused about getting a free hotel stay as if you got “stuck” in Tokyo. If you do plan to take advantage of this, beware: as this tip circulates online, it’s likely that airlines will start to get wise to travelers picking “impossible” connections and flight schedules and stop offering freebies to those travelers who do schedule flights they’ll never make. Of course, there are ways around that, if you’re willing to find them—but maybe not if you’re on company time.

If You Have a Long Layover At first glance, long layovers are the bane of every traveler’s existence: you get to land, go through security, transfer your baggage if necessary and then sit around waiting for your next flight. Heaven help you if your connection gets delayed or canceled, or if your smartphone happens to die while you’re waiting. Airports aren’t terribly interesting places; there’s only so much airport shopping a person can do. While a long layover means you can move through security and customs without feeling too harried, most people think it means you’ll end up twiddling your thumbs for a good long while. The solution here might seem, at first, counter-intuitive: jump for the longer layover. If you have a choice between a 2-hour layover and a 4-hour layover, you’d be better to book the 4-hour layover. Why? The answer is simple: because you can actually use the “extra” time you have to do something. If you’re stopping off in a city where you have friends or family, you could arrange to grab a coffee or a meal with them somewhere near the airport. If you’re on a business trip and you have business associates, or if your firm has a branch office in the area, you could schedule a meeting or, if you have the time, head on down to visit the office. Those who are passing through brand-new territory on vacation could opt to visit a nearby attraction or sample some of the local food at a nearby restaurant outside the airport. You can’t do this on the 2-hour layover; you wouldn’t have time once you’ve factored in getting through security and customs, and then check-in on the other end. Worse, you’ll likely end up hanging out in the airport for a good while, waiting for your flight. If you have the 4-hour layover, you have double the time; security and check-in will take the same amount of time, which means that you have more time to, well, do something you want to do. Time Square Selfie

If You Have an Overnight Stay Some people schedule their connections so far apart that they end up staying overnight in the area. While this might seem like more of a hassle—you’re going to disembark, head out, then schlepp back to the airport at some ungodly hour to get on another plane—it can actually be a very effective way of dealing with connections. Obviously, if you can only schedule a connection with a very long wait time in between, you’re not just going to wait around at the airport. If you have a 14-hour layover, for example, you’re going to get out of that airport and bed down somewhere, whether it’s a hostel, a hotel or a friend or relative’s house. If you’re up to it, you might even do some visiting or sightseeing, depending on where you are. Since you’re staying overnight, this actually offers you the most time to get out and see a city before traveling on to your next destination. While certainly not ideal for business trips or travelers with tight timelines, it can also help combat jetlag and travel fatigue. As anyone who’s ever done the longer leg of a journey second, being on a plane for a longer period of time after a shorter first flight is particularly taxing and wearisome. The overnight break can be a welcome relief! It’s also especially good for those who are traveling with children, who can become bored, cranky and tired on long journeys, which can make everyone, including parents and other passengers, edgy. As mentioned above, you can also score an overnight stay by booking your connections too close together; if you can’t make your connecting flight, you’re likely to be accommodated by the airline until they can get you on another flight. This can also happen if you have a short layover, due to delays or cancellations. If this does happen to you, make sure you see the unexpected overnight stay not as a setback or delay, but as an opportunity. This will help make your experience a positive one—and help you make the most of it. Airport HotelBonus: Skirt Customs Lines If you choose your connecting airport(s) wisely, you can save yourself a whole lot of time in line. Case in point: flying to Sweden, I connected in Iceland, where I went through security and customs at Keflik airport. When I landed at Arlanda in Sweden, I didn’t have to go through that security/customs line again. Since these 2 countries have an agreement, I didn’t need to pass through again. If you flew from Mexico to the U.S. to Switzerland, however, you’d need to go through customs at all 3 airports. The same would be true if you flew from anywhere in the EU to the U.S., and then on to Canada: you’d need to go through customs in the EU, in the U.S. and in Canada. Do a little bit of research and see if any of the airports you could connect in belong to a country that has a travel agreement with your final destination. The Euro zone countries have agreements with each other, so if you can connect in one of those countries before flying on to another EU-member, this is a better option than connecting in the U.S. The U.S. and Canada also have an agreement, where Canadian passport holders get priority treatment in U.S. airports, and travelers passing through Canadian ports can go through U.S. customs on the ground in Canada—which means they don’t need to go through another check when they land in the U.S. Currently, there are plans to implement a similar scheme in Irish airports, so travelers to the U.S. will be able to do pre-customs clearance across the pond as well. We can all agree that doing customs once instead of twice is better! Customs So there you have it! There are ways to use connections and layovers effectively, no matter how long or short they might be. Whether you’re planning to jettison right through or you’d rather spend the night and explore a city or visit a friend or relative you haven’t seen in a while, connections don’t need to be a drag. In fact, they can often be opportunities in disguise. You just have to be willing to take advantage of them. Like this? Check out The 10 Best Airport Hacks