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Handling Risks in Connecting Flights

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Unidentified airplane in the sky

This is all going to seem so very commonsense and simple–and perhaps more than a bit boring–but so many people allow too little connecting time between flights and do not handle short connections well when they have no choice.

When you arrive at Chicago/O’Hare late at 9:30 a.m. and miss your connecting flight to New York/LaGuardia, you usually face few worries. With so many later departures to NYC-area airports, you’re nearly certain to get on something, and may not even have to wait very long.

Arrive late at that same airport at 9:30 p.m., and you probably have a problem. In most cases, expect to stay overnight at your own expense. There are also extra connection risks when traveling to less busy airports, which have fewer flights and a last one that perhaps leaves quite early in the day.

Missed connections to most international destinations can wipe out an entire day of your trip or more, as all nonstop flights tend to depart solely within a few hours of each other. In the case of Europe from the east coast, this means in the very late afternoon or evening. In the case of Australia or New Zealand from the west coast, this means solely in the late evening.

In these cases, you may have to wait a night plus nearly a full day for your next ongoing flight if you miss the one you booked. Again, these days, don’t expect the airline to pay for this involuntary stopover.

Of course, I am asking you to allow ample connecting time when a missed connecting flight has such consequences. The so-called minimum connecting times allowed by airlines are based on ideal conditions and less stressful times.

However, what if you have no choice? What if the cheapest fare does not seem to allow ample time?

If the cheapest fare involves separate tickets on two different airlines, simply do not buy this itinerary. Airline #1 won’t be responsible if you miss airline #2. You may be forced to pay airline #2 for a new ticket—at a last-minute price—and lose at least some of the value of your original ticket, if not all, on airline #2.

If your cheapest fare requires one ticket, even though it may include different airlines, buy it, but consider standing by for an earlier flight from your point of origin.

For example, if you’re booked on American from Chicago to Los Angeles with a 90-minute connection to Qantas because that had the cheapest fare, seriously consider standing by for an American flight that would give you a three-hour or more connection.

Most airlines allow you to standby for earlier flights. See Standby Flight Tips.

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