web Musings of The Global Traveller

Monday, January 04, 2010

Backup plan for flight misconnections - part two

Several days ago I posted some ideas about having a backup plan in case of flight misconnections, using my own potential misconnect as an example. At the time I wrote it I was comfortable the risk was both low and could be mitigated easily.

In the event there was a circumstance which I hadn't factored in, because it is so unusual. In transferring between these two flights I had to clear immigration and customs, go landside to check in for my onward flight, and go back through security to board. Unfortunately for me, at midnight 1 January the immigration computers went down. My flight landed after midnight and I joined a queue of at least 1500 people.

With the computers down processing was incredibly slow and it looked like it might take 6 hours to clear immigration. This would mean not only would I miss my flight, but by the time I'd arrive at the check in counters the staff would have all gone (the last flight for many hours on that airline having long departed) and so the backup options of rebooking would also be difficult to apply.

When I realised this I found someone official looking and enlisted their assistance. I was polite, clearly explained the situation, and left it to him to find a solution. I picked the right person and the right time to ask because he assisted me to jump the queue - passing several hundreds of travelers ahead of me. If he hadn't been able to help I would have tried other people - even to the extent of going backwards up the queue to find a police officer if necessary. It was a close call - by the time I cleared immigration and customs and reached check in it was only 15 minutes before departure - but I made it.

If I hadn't asked but instead had just waited patiently in the queue until it was my turn, I definitely would have missed the flights that were my original backup plan. I might not have been able to fly on the next flight options over 12 hours later (these were full although my frequent flyer status would have put me at the top of the queue in case of no shows), and I certainly would have missed other onward flights on my itineray, requiring further rebooking of flights.

What are the lessons I learned?

1) Be prepared. By having all the facts about onward flights I knew what my options were and were not. Even while it was tense waiting in line I knew if I was still okay or not. Knowing is better than not knowing.

2) Being aware of time limitations. I knew when the check in staff would be finishing up, so could wait patiently while there was still time but act differently when I needed to.

3) Enlisting help. Instead of just accepting a misconnection I enlisted others to help me out.

It is not the first time I've been in this situation, and I doubt it will be the last time. By being prepared I was able to be proactive instead of reactive, which lead to a much better outcome for me.

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