All you need to know about connecting flights...
Glancing hurriedly at the departure's board can eat up a few minutes at the world's biggest airport hubs
Making a transfer between two flights can be a great way of getting somewhere cheaply, but it can prove stressful too, and especially so if the first flight is delayed, or if the connection is tight.
Happily, every airport has an MCT (minimum connecting time), which is a semi-scientific calculation of the time needed to change planes there. It takes into account the amount or walking involved for passengers to get from one gate to another, and how quickly the airport is able to move hold luggage from one plane to another.
The MCT is different for each airport. Vienna airport’s MCT is just 30 minutes, but Heathrow - between terminals 1 and 4 say – is an hour and a half.
The good news is that airlines, web booking sites, and travel agents, will only book connecting flights that are equal to or more than the MCT for the transit airport on your journey.
However, things don't always go to plan, so here are some tips on how to make a smooth connection...
When booking: save stress and book flights that are a decent time apart - 90 minutes is a sensible blanket minimum. It makes sense to have some leeway, just in case, plus I prefer to stretch my legs, browse of the shops, and as likely as not have a beer in the bar.
If you are worried at the booking stage, choose an aisle seat towards the front of the aircraft - it could save you a good 10 minutes when you are trying to disembark from a packed flight.
When packing: it's vital to know what's happening with you hold luggage. If you are transiting an airport like Dubai or Singapore on the way to your final destination, then you won't need to collect your luggage as it will be checked all the way through. However the rule is that you need to clear customs at your first point of entry to a country, so if you are flying from London to Baton Rouge via Atlanta, then you will need to collect your luggage in Atlanta, check in and make your way to the next flight's gate.
Try to keep your hand luggage to a minimum as you will have to lug this between gates when you change planes.
Airport signage can resemble a challenge from the Crystal Maze. An airport map can save time
In flight: the departure gate of your connecting flight may be printed on your boarding pass, but if your flights are long haul it is unlikely the airline will know so many hours in advance.
some airlines have real time flight connections information on the in-flight entertainment menu, or sometimes this is shown on the overhead screens just before landing. You can save valuable time if you already know the gate number your next flight leaves from before you land. To stay ahead of the game you should download a flight status app onto your smart phone or tablet - handy for airlines with in-flight wi-fi.
Once you know the gate number of your next flight, you'll probably find a gate map of the airline's hub airport in the in-flight magazine. If not, look for one on the airport's website using wi-fi, or look at the airport map that you printed out before you left home.
Some terminals are vast and have bewilderingly complicated signage - especially confusing if you are in a hurry with little time to spare - as you can't always afford to make a mistake. If you don't know the gate, look at the first departure screen you see, or ask a member of airport staff so they can point you in the right direction.
If your first flight is delayed: the airline will help out – possibly by delaying the second flight, or by escorting you to the next plane. And if you miss the second flight altogether, and through no fault of your own, the airline will book you onto the next available option, at no extra cost.
Don't suffer in silence; the sooner you let the airline staff know, the better. Tell the cabin crew, as they can help with terminal directions, seat you towards the front on landing so you can get off quicker, or if you are very late, get someone to escort you to your next gate, or even drive you across the tarmac to your next flight.
Low cost airline connections: none of the above applies if your flights are on two different bookings, even if they are with the same airline. If so you are on your own.
The same goes for connecting on low cost airlines like Wizz and EasyJet etc. Though Ryanair has just announced that it plans to introduce the ability to book connecting flights through its website. The company is trailing the idea in Rome and plans to roll the concept out 'pretty quickly'. You'll have to leave a minimum of three hours between flights, and then bags will be automatically checked through to your final destination.
Air Baltic is a low cost carrier based in Riga, Latvia, which already operates a booking and baggage system that handles connecting flights, so that passengers flying from London to Tbilisi say, will have their bags checked through.
As airports grow ever larger, walking distances between gates balloon too
Cities with multiple airports: like Paris, New York, Tokyo or Buenos Aeries, can be tricky. Only book flights that connect through the one airport. London has six airports, and schlepping from one to another is a big hassles. You'll have to cart all of your luggage (including any checked into the hold) to the next airport, plus the extra expense of taxis and traffic.
At first glance you might think that using the Underground or Metro system is the best option, but you'll have your hold luggage with you. Best to book a direct bus between the two airports.
Do you need a transit visa? Travel agents should tell you if you need a transit visa to make a connection in another country, but this won't be the case for online bookings.