10 Tips for Surviving Connecting Flights

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People waiting in an airport
Photo credit: Cindy Richards

Missing a connecting flight is every traveling family‘s nightmare. When the flight missed is a long haul one, it can get even trickier, since it can also involve additional waits at the airport and unplanned extra expenses for food or lodging. But there are ways to lessen the chances you’ll miss a connection. These tips for surviving connecting flights with kids will get your started.

The extreme weather challenges and post-pandemic realities of flying today mean that planes are packed, cancellations are common and the resulting travel disruptions painful. It’s a time when booking direct flights is the best choice. But it doesn’t work for everyone.

If you have to book a connecting flight for your vacation, follow these 10 tips to help you and your family survive these stressful situations.

1. Book Early Flights

Yes, we know. Getting everyone up, dressed and out the door isn’t easy on a school day. But, getting them up, dressed and out the door for a trip to Disney World? That might be easier.

Even if it’s not, booking that early flight (we’re talking between 6 and 7am) has two advantages:

  • It’s likely to be cheaper because, well, most people don’t want to get up at 3am on the first day of their vacation.
  • It’s more likely to take off on time, which means you’re more likely to arrive in time to catch that connecting flight.

If it’s too hard to get them up at home and to the airport in time for a super early flight, consider booking an airport hotel that offers free shuttle service to the airport.

SheBuysTravel Tip: You might want to book a REALLY early flight — like a whole day early. This is especially important if your destination is some irreplaceable event, like your parents’ 50th anniversary party, your cousin’s wedding, or you’re boarding a cruise ship that will leave at its appointed time, with or without you. The cost of an extra night in a hotel room is well worth the cost if it ensure you don’t miss something like that!

2. Never Book a Tight Connection

When you make your flight reservations, don’t accept a connection shorter than two hours for a domestic and three hours for an international connection — even if the airline representative assures you it is all right.

Again, we know that entertaining kids at an airport is never fun. This is not the time to get stingy about electronics. Download some Disney movies to the iPad and bring headphones for the kids. Buy a splitter so two kids can watch a movie at the same time with their own set of headphones. And definitely remember to bring a power strip. It’s getting better, but there still are not enough outlets at airport gates to keep everyone’s devices charged up.

If you’re flying internationally, remember that you’ll have to clear Immigration and Customs at the first airport you land in. If the airport you land in happens to be busy, you might be stuck in a long line that can exceed the time you have between flights.

Add that to retrieving several items of family luggage and taking them to your next terminal, along with passing through a TSA checkpoint and you might run out of time faster than you anticipated.

child reading book in airplane seat while wearing headphones
Book seats at the front of the plane so you’ll be able to deplane quickly, increasing the chances you’ll make your connecting flight. Photo credit: Grisell DeNapoles

3. Chose Seats at the Front of the Plane

The closer to the exit door you all sit on the plane, the faster you’ll reach your next gate; choose your seats carefully.

Airlines have mastered the pre-boarding process, but when it comes to deplaning, everyone wants to get off — and fast! The scene only gets more chaotic if the flight is delayed. Once the plane reaches its destination, most fellow passengers don’t really heed the flight attendant’s plea to let those passengers with connections to catch exit the plane first. Instead, most will dart out as soon as possible and won’t be concerned with those who might end up missing their connection. If you’re seated in the plane’s back section, it can take as much as 20 minutes to deplane.

4. Commit to the Carryon

One of the most frequent woes passengers experience is the delay or loss of their checked luggage. The chance of experiencing such mishaps exponentially increases when taking multiple flights.

In many cases, when you check your luggage at the initial airport of departure it will continue to the next airport without you, should you miss your connecting flight. The best way to avoid such mishaps is to travel with carry-on luggage that you can have access to at all times — especially if you are delayed or diverted from your original itinerary.

And, yes, it can be a lot to manage kids and bags. The biggest upside of the new four-wheel spinner carryons is that kids as young as 4 can easily push their bag through the airport.

Mom and son pulling a suitcase at the airport
Commit to the carryon! Even young children can pull or push a rollaboard suitcase. Photo credit: Cindy Richards

5. Download or Print a Map of the Airport Where You’ll Connect

This will allow you to know where everything is located and help you navigate the premise faster when you are short on time. Make sure to mark restrooms, food venues and the transportation between terminals if needed.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Get everyone up to use the lavatory on the plane before the pilot turns on the seat belt sign to prepare for landing. It can save precious minutes if you don’t have to wait in long restroom lines between flights. Read our tips for changing a diaper on a plane and you’ll be a pro in time!

6. Download the Airline’s App

Sign up for email and text notifications. Chances are you’ll be the first passenger at the gate with the information that the flight has been delayed, the gate changed or some other critical flight information.

7. Follow the Airline on Facebook and Twitter

Sometimes a tweet about an issue you are encountering during your travels can be addressed faster than calling the customer service line.

8.  BYO Snacks

Carrying a chocolate bar or candy can prove priceless when you need to rush to the next connecting flight and your child is whining about being hungry. If you forget to pack something, take the in-flight snack with you or purchase an inflight snack box to take off the plane.

9. When All Else Fails, Ask for Help

If your flight is delayed and you have limited time to get to your next gate, ask the flight attendant for help. Crew members can notify the staff at your next gate of the delay, and arrange for an airport cart transportation to zip you to your planned departure gate.

10. Have a Back-Up Plan

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the importance of flexibility. If you must fly with a connecting flight, have a back-up plan in case you miss your flight. That can range from having a refundable reservation at an airport hotel to booking a rental car to drive the rest of the way to your final destination.

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