web Musings of The Global Traveller

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Having a backup plan for flight misconnections

Many readers of this blog or my trip reports on Flyer Talk (eg this trip report) know I spend a fair bit of time preparing for the possibility of things going wrong with flights. Not matter how well prepared there is always a chance of the unexpected causing a flight misconnection or to miss a meeting - be it stormy weather, airline schedule changes, aircraft maintenance issues, new security rules, hold ups for VIPs to arrive or airshows to take place, and so on.

Today I have such a potential issue to deal with and am taking a few minutes out of my busy day to prepare myself as well as I can. When I booked this trip many months ago, a connection I have later today seemed more than reasonable with an acceptably low risk of misconnection. However, heightened security and immigration checks following the underpants bomber incident the other day means I now have a higher risk of not making the onward flight. It is not certain that I will misconnect, but the chance is higher than my threshold for comfort and worry-free travel.

So there are a few steps I'm taking now to mitigate the risks.

1) Consider if it really matters if I misconnect? If it isn't too important then I should stop worrying and do more fun &/or productive things instead.

Unfortunately for me, misconnecting here will cause significant inconvenience.

2) Try to check in for the onward flight. If already checked in this reduces the risk of misconnection in two ways. First, I save time from not needing to go to check in at the transfer airport (with a likely struggle to meet check in deadlines) and instead can go directly through security to the departure gate. Secondly, the airline operating the second flight is more likely to hold the flight a few minutes if necessary so I can board if I am already checked in than hold it for a longer time if I am not already checked in.

Unfortunately for me, I have not been successful in checking in for the onward flight.

3) See if other flight options are available.

Using availability tools (like I see there are several possible solutions if I misconnect. I could be rerouted and there are a couple of flights with spare seats operated by the same airline that still get me where I need to go in time for when I need to be there, and most crucially depart an hour later than the flight I'm booked on. Or, I could be moved to one of 2 other airlines that operate this particular route, both of which have later flights with spare seats. Both of these solutions depend on the goodwill of the airline which I'm booked on.

A misconnect would only occur for reasons outside my control (I haven't just arrived at the airport late due to sleeping in). I am travelling on an expensive ticket. I have high frequent flyer status with the alliance the airline is a member of. So, I think the odds are good that they would accommodate me on one of those options if needed.

4) Consider whether to be proactive or reactive. I have a choice to make - take the flight I am booked on and hope to make the onward connection, or change my flights to a less risky alternative? The change option requires either flexible tickets with the alternative being within the ticket fare rules, or acceptance by the airline that the risk of misconnection is high enough to warrant a proactive change.

In my case today, a misconnection is not sure enough for the airline to volunteer to make changes proactively. However, I do have flexible ticket and so could reroute (but not switch to the other airlines flying the same route as this is not within the fare rules and thus not allowed as a voluntary change). I've decided not to reroute voluntarily because it does not seem necessary in my circumstance - I'll either make the onward flight (most likely outcome in my view) or the airline will satisfactorily resolve a misconnection (quite likely in my view). Being stranded seems fairly unlikely, based on current information I have and I am lucky enough to be in a position to be relatively well informed of any late developments. (This isn't always the case. Many times I've been travelling a complicated itinerary when something has gone wrong and had to make decisions based on little information, and more importantly try to convince airlines to make changes on the fly at the same time.)

5) Keep an eye open for changes to the situation. There may be things between now and boarding of my next flight that changes the situation. For example if the flight is significantly delayed then the risk of misconnection becomes much greater and the airline may be willing to reroute or rebook of their accord. One way I can keep appraised is to check, as well as watching departure screens (if accessible) and news websites for any major change to security rules.

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