How to make airline connections during holiday travel

Special tips when taking connecting flights over the holidays

connecting flightsAlmost no one prefers to take a connection over nonstop, but sometimes scheduling, or airfares, make connecting flights the best option. Three of the largest airlines are considered “network carriers.” American, Delta, and United have about 70 percent of their flights connecting through hubs.

The uncertain crowds at airports during the holidays exacerbate problems with connections. Packed flights make rescheduling more difficult. And, just the fact that so many travelers have questions about air travel makes getting through airports more difficult and time-consuming.

How to minimize connecting flights going wrong.

During the winter holidays, there are tips travelers need to know to minimize the chances of a trip with a connection gone wrong.

Allow extra time.

If you’re already booked for this year it might be too late, but in general, you really want to book flights with more than usual connecting time. It’s not just winter weather that can cause problems, but around the holidays — since flights are particularly full — the “next available flight” may mean a long time delay, possibly even the next day.

Make sure your phone is charged.

In a pinch, you want to be able to reach whoever or whatever you use to plan your travel as soon as you realize there might be a problem.

Get refunds in cash when airlines cancel your flightBring food — it will save rushing if delayed and buy-on-board may sell out

Bring food, or buy food at the airport before your first flight.

If your first flight is delayed and you have to rush for your second flight, there’s a good chance you won’t have time to get a meal in your connecting city. With full flights, the backup plan to “buy-on-board” may not work either. I’ve had three flights this fall run out of meal options before they got to my seat in the middle of the plane — and I’ve had many reports of clients with the same issue. (In some cases, when the actual meal options are sold out there may be snack boxes or candy still available, but probably not exactly what you want if you haven’t eaten all day.)

Use airplane lavatories if your connecting flights look tight.

This applies especially if you’re a woman. Sometimes airport restrooms are conveniently on the way with no lines. But not always.

Bring important outfits in carry-on luggage and avoid gate-checking bags

Download Airplane Carry-on ChecklistIf you’re going directly to a holiday event or meal and it’s feasible, bring your festive outfit in your carry-on bag. Just in case you make the connection and your checked bag doesn’t.

On smaller planes with small overhead bins, avoid gate-checking luggage, if you can. Yes, it might be tempting to see if you can avoid bag fees, and it may feel safer to have the airline return your bag to you in the jetway after landing rather than waiting for it at the luggage carousel. But that takes time. I recently had a regional flight where my bag barely fit overhead, but I got it on. And after a delay on the first flight, it took a full run through the terminal to be the last person on my connecting flight. Had I gate-checked it, I would have been stuck in the airport for 2 hours until the next flight.

Keep your travel agent on speed dial — they can help in emergencies

Finally, if you have a travel agent, have them on speed-dial. While they won’t always be able to help, they have more options, and will almost certainly be available faster than waiting in an airport customer service line.

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