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 booking 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.

This winter holiday, make sure to follow this rule as planes start to get filled up. Even the middle seats will be packed. Remember the longest-flight-first rule if you are booking connecting flights to save money or because of frequent flier miles.

Try to use the longest-flight-first rule when connecting

Besides allowing enough time, if connecting flights are necessary, I recommend one rule to all travelers, if possible — take the longest-flight-first rule.

  • When traveling from San Francisco to Europe, fly to Europe first and connect there in London, Frankfurt, Paris, or Amsterdam.
  • For instance, when traveling domestically from San Francisco to Aspen, 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.

Get refunds in cash when airlines cancel your flightGetting the longest flight out of the way opens other options.

As airlines are digging out from their summer 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 out of San Francisco were over an hour late. As might be expected with computer meltdowns, some 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 delayed passenger connecting in Berlin onto a two-hour 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. He had only a carry-on, so they said, “Yes.” He ended up arriving barely later than originally scheduled.

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

The next connecting option might mean a considerable wait if a short domestic flight is delayed.

Last week, bad weather delayed many flights from San Francisco, but my travelers to Aspen could rebook easily via Denver. The option of a San Francisco via Los Angeles flight to Aspen would have been a bigger problem. The only alternatives would have been trying to get on connecting flights from Los Angeles, through Denver after all, to get to Aspen.

It gets worse for an international destination. Land late in a US city, miss your connection, and the next flight will likely be the next day, possibly even a full 24 hours later.

Sometimes, especially from smaller airports, the only possible origination flight is short. Often it is 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.

Get refunds in cash when airlines cancel your flightIn 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 upset your plans seriously.

Photo: Washington Reagan National Airport © Leocha