Longest-flight-first rule stops most connection problems

The longest-flight-first rule can save hassles when forced to fly on connecting flights.

longest-flight first ruleNobody likes connecting flights — well, almost nobody. Admittedly, I’ve known a few people who like a chance to stretch their legs, or take a smoking break, and sometimes the extra miles from a connection might be necessary to reach status. But, in general, given the choice, travelers like nonstops.

Try first to take the longest flight when connecting

If a connection is necessary, besides allowing enough time, there is one rule I recommend to all travelers, if possible — take the longest flight first.

  • When traveling from San Francisco to Europe, take the flight to Europe first and connect there, in London, Frankfurt, Paris, or Amsterdam.
  • When traveling domestically from San Francisco to Aspen, for instance, book a flight from SFO to DEN with a connection from Denver to Aspen. Don’t plan on a flight from SFO to LAX and then to Aspen — if something goes wrong, connections are far more difficult.

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This doesn’t mean that a passenger has to calculate the miles exactly. If the alternatives are connecting two cities in the middle of the country, the connecting city with a lower price or better weather is probably the right choice.

Getting the longest flight out of the way opens other options

5 Ways to Avoid Flight Delays DownloadAs airlines are digging out from their mini-computer meltdowns, I’ve had several clients going from San Francisco to Europe, with destinations that do not have nonstop flights. All of the flights were connecting in Frankfurt, Munich or London. Plus, most of their flights were over an hour late out of San Francisco. As might be expected with computer meltdowns, some of the clients missed their connections. But, since they will be landing in Europe, there are plenty of options and United and I have been able to get them all rebooked to arrive the same night as scheduled.

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In one case, we booked a passenger with a delay connecting in Berlin onto a two-hour-later flight from Frankfurt. Then, while walking to the new flight, he passed a gate with an earlier delayed Frankfurt-to-Berlin flight. He asked if he could board that flight. Plus, he had only carry-on, so they said, “Yes.” He ended up arriving barely later than originally scheduled.

At times, with flight delays, I’ve even had clients — especially those connecting to short commuter flights — decide to drive or take a train to their destination.

If a short domestic flight is delayed, the next connecting option might mean a considerable wait

Last week, bad weather delayed many flights from San Francisco, but my travelers to Aspen were able to rebook easily via Denver. Had they chosen the option of a San Francisco via Los Angeles flight to Aspen, the only alternatives would have been trying to get on connecting flights from Los Angeles, through Denver after all, to get to Aspen.

VPN: Key for Travelers' Internet Security DownloadIt gets worse for an international destination. Land late in a US city, miss your connection, and the next flight is likely to be the next day, quite possibly even a full 24 hours later.

Sometimes, especially from smaller airports, the only possible origination flight is a short flight, often on a regional jet. And, for international destinations, even larger airports may not have many options. So, sometimes the “longest flight first” option is impossible.

In those cases, the best solution is just to allow as much time as possible for the connection. Being hours late is annoying. Being a day late is likely to seriously upset your plans.