Sunday, 8 April 2007

The Amazing Race 11 (All-Star Edition), Episode 8

Ojcow National Park (Poland) - Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) - Batu Caves, Selangor (Malaysia) - Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia)

After the fact, it's easy to criticize Joyce and Uchenna on The Amazing Race for booking flights from Krakow to Kuala Lumpur with a only an hour to change planes in Frankfurt, and losing out when their flight to Frankfurt arrived too late to make the connection.

But they were only doing what most other travellers choose to do. As a travel agent, I constantly found myself having to warn customers about tight connections (often the connections which, because they provided the shortest total journey time, were listed first by CRS's and airline Web sites), or talk them out of insisting on choosing connections which, while they satisfied airlines' recommendations for "minimum connecting time" (MCT), left no margin for routine delays of the incoming flight.

It's tempting, I know. If there's a choice of a "legal" one-hour connection, or a six-hour connection, which would you choose?

Learn from their mistake: If you are making connections to an infrequent or heavily booked flight that you can't easily afford to miss, make the extra effort to book flights with more connecting time. You may not have a million dollars at stake like the racers, but unless you are certain there is (A) another later flight (B) on which seats will be available © that you would be willing to wait for, at your own expense, at the connection point, you should choose another option.

Airlines and travel agents sometimes speak of a set of flights that satisfies the recommended MCT as a "legal connection". But that means only that airline rules allow them to issue through tickets for those connecting flights without being required to give the customer any special warnings about the risk of a missed connection.

But a "legal" connection is never a "guaranteed" connection. Even if the connections are recommended by the airline, and ticketed at a through fare, the airline has no responsibility except to put you on the next flight with seats available on the same route -- whenever that might be. Most long-haul flights are no more frequent than daily, so a missed international connection usually means at least a full day's delay, perhaps in some expensive international hub like Tokyo or Frankfurt. (See the analysis of the cost of missed flights on pages 22-27 of my comments on the USA's proposals for "vetting" of international passengers.) If the next flight on the same airline isn't for two or three days, and the next available seats aren't for two or three weeks, the airline has no obligation to reimburse any of your costs for accommodations, food, etc., during the delay.

Minimum connecting times are specified by the airlines, and vary substantially by airport, terminal, airline, and sometimes even specific flight number. I've seen them be as short as 25 minutes, and as long as 4 hours (6 hours if the connection involves a change of airports).

Most airline ticket Web sites don't allow you to see what the recommended minimum connecting time is between two specific flights, or even the defaults for the airport (which the airline might have overridden, or to specify that you prefer longer connection time. Typically, you're only shown the shortest connections satisfying the MCT. It's one of my pet peeves about the way travel Web sites are "personalized" to sell you more stuff, rather than to serve you better. To make reservations with a longer margin for delay of the inbound flight, you may have to phone the airline, go to a ticket counter in person, or contact an offline travel agency.

As a general rule, I would allow at least one hour more than the recommended minimum connecting time for any international connection, connection to the last flight of the day, or connection at a time (such as a holiday) when later flights might be fully booked. The longer and more prone to delay the incoming flight, and the less frequent the onward flight, the more time I would allow. Making connections to a once a week flight (at various times I've booked a lot of people on what were then weekly flights between San Francisco and Khabarovsk on Aeroflot, London and Asmara on Ethiopian Airlines, Delhi and Athens on Bangladesh Biman, and Mumbai and Cairo on Egypt Air), I'd plan to arrive at the transfer point least 4-6 hours before the scheduled weekly departure.

That may sound unpleasant. But the alternative -- getting stranded for a week or even "just" overnight -- is worse.

Link | Posted by Edward on Sunday, 8 April 2007, 23:59 (11:59 PM) | TrackBack (0)
Comments

Your column on connection times is one of your most important for business travelers and leisure fun-seekers alike.

So many trips ruined by not only weather, but compounded by missed connections and poorly routed connections when you come into one terminal, then must go to another. I believe you probably have received 40, 50 e-mails by now with horror stories about Heathrow connections and BA's
much vaunted "connections center" in Terminal One. Ugh!!! (And the situation will not be any better when all BA's long haul and Euro-connections are in one terminal (#5) come the next year!!! - Am I correct on that?)

About five year's ago I decided to stop the running to the next terminal, next gate, and with NO exceptions padded all my connections by three hours in Europe and Asian airports. Maybe it would cost equivalent of $20-$50 higher than "best, legal" connection fares, but it was worth it!! Several times when I heard attendant say upon landing in Heathrow or Frankfurt to clear the aisle for those having close connections, I would smile and relax. My best to you and your efforts

- Doug Lemza
Chicago, Illinois, USA

Posted by: Doug Lemza, 10 April 2007, 14:16 ( 2:16 PM)

Dear Edward, I'm just dealing with Continental on the exactly the same issue. My wife has flown internationally arriving from Tel Aviv to Newark to continue to Atlanta on the 24 March 2007 with a 55 minutes connection time. You can guess the outcome; she spent the night in a hotel in Newark instead of meeting the people she scheduled meetings with in Atlanta. I am asking for compensation from Continental. What do you think it's fair or customary for the airline to offer as compensation? BTW they did pay for the overnight stay of course.

Thks and best wishes; your article is an eye opener; I wish I would have read it before my wife's flight to Atlanta.
On 2nd tought, even then I did, I woudn't have known better because the eticket did not mention the connection time or the arrival/departure times in the transit city (Newark).

Gadi Moskovitch

Posted by: Gadi Moskovitch, 26 July 2007, 01:45 ( 1:45 AM)
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