Missing a connecting flight is one of the most stressful and frustrating things that can happen to you when flying. If you want to avoid it, you need to give yourself ample time between flights, and do a little homework before you fly.
Photo by Benson Kua.
Ever had to sprint through an airport terminal to catch your next plane? There's a simple reason why. When listing ticket configurations online, airlines use what are called "minimum connecting times", or MCT, to determine which flights line up with your requested itinerary. It's an automatic formula that's designed to get you to your destination as quickly as possible, but can also lead to some very tight connections. You might have as little as 30 minutes to get from one plane to the next, and if there are any delays with the first flight, you're practically guaranteed to miss your next flight.
So what's a flyer to do? For starters, pay close attention to your layover times when you're booking your flights. A 35-minute layover may sound like you have time to use the bathroom and grab a quick bite, but it's probably barely enough time to make it to your next plane. Most people will tell you to give yourself at least an hour layover time for domestic flights, and two hours for international flights. But if you can manage to add an extra hour on to each of those, even better. With two hours for domestic flights and three hours for international flights, you should never have any issues. That gives some wiggle room for delays, using restrooms, and eating some slightly-less-terrible-than-aeroplane-food.
It also allows you time for something I forget about all the time: Finding your next gate. Unless you're pretty familiar with the airport you're flying into, you'll need a little extra time to get your bearings. After all, you'll need to disembark the plane (which always takes longer than you expect it to), find a flight status board, look for your flight listing, then actually make your way to the designated gate. And that isn't even taking into account all the other obstacles airports can throw your way.
Does the airport have construction going on? Is your next flight on a different airline? Do you have to go through extra security? Do you have to go through customs? Do you need to change terminals? Do you need to take a shuttle or train in order to change terminals? Is your connecting flight the last flight of the day for that airport? Catherine Hamm at the Los Angeles Times says these are all questions you should ask yourself and try to answer before you book those tickets. You also need to take into account your ability to read signage and navigate large buildings, and consider your level of fitness. If you have a bad sense of direction, or know you can't hustle from gate to gate, give yourself even more time.