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Flight Connections: How to Avoid Missing Your Connecting Flight

Direct non-stop flights are best but sometimes, due to price or departure airport, flight connections are necessary to get to where you ultimately want to go. Here's how to avoid missing your connecting flight.

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Never miss a flight connection again

Let’s say you’re flying from Boston to LAX with a tight connection at Chicago’s O’Hare airport. That’s a potentially tricky itinerary on paper, but there are ways to ensure you don’t miss your connecting flight. No matter where you are traveling, here’s what to do when booking your airfare, how to handle your flight connections while in the air, and how to proceed once on the ground to avoid missing your next flight. Find out the 15 secrets airports don’t want you to know.

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Use a single airline

One of the simplest ways to avoid missing your connecting flights is to book your entire itinerary on a single airline. Doing so will not only reduce the possibility of needing to frantically switch terminals during a layover but you will have the assistance of flight attendants on your first flight to get connecting gate info and, if needed, alert the next flight of your tight flight connection time so they don’t leave without you! These are the least reliable airlines in the world.

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Avoid the final flight of the day

To avoid missing a connection and being stranded at an airport overnight, try not to book the final flight of the day. This is especially true when flying into and out of an airport in a northern climate susceptible to snow and ice-related weather delays and cancellations in the winter. Here are the times an airline could owe you money.

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Pick the best seat

When you know that you will have a tight flight connection, that is the time to flex your frequent flier status or pay a premium to sit toward the front of the plane. This will help you fly off the plane and over to your next gate so that you can avoid missing your flight connections. You may also get some extra legroom too! Find out the very best airplane seat for every need.

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Give yourself at least an hour

When booking a flight itinerary that will involve a connection, try to give yourself at least an hour—but preferably 90 minutes—between the scheduled arrival time of your first segment and the boarding time of your second. This time will be useful for moving through the airport from one gate to the next without having to lace up your running shoes, as well as for using the bathroom and getting a quick bite to eat. If you do get stuck, you’ll want to know these 15 best things to do for free at an airport.

Aerial view of airport. Airplane taxiing to runway before take off.Jaromir Chalabala/Shutterstock

Fly direct

It might seem obvious but the surest way to avoid missing a connecting flight is to not have a connecting flight. It is a misnomer that nonstop flights are always more expensive than those with a layover, so shop around and shop smart to find a direct flight to your next destination. Check out these bizarre reasons for flight delays.

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Rely on your flight attendant

As you approach your layover airport, ask your flight attendant for up to the minute gate information—both the gate your current flight will be arriving at and the gate your connecting flight will be departing from. This info may also be available on the airline’s app. And then…

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Study the airport map

Maps of airports commonly used by the airline you are currently flying are located in the back of the in-flight magazine found in the seatback pocket in front of you. Once you are armed with the current gate information, map out at your route from points A to B, with any required pitstops for snack reinforcements along the way. Which airline has been awarded for having the best airline cabin crew?

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To check or not to check, that is the question

If you must book trips with tight flight connections of 45 minutes or less, consider using only carry-on bags. While this will mean lugging your own luggage from gate to gate in a rush, it will be your best bet to guarantee that your clothes and shoes reach your final destination on time. This is because baggage handlers may have difficulty getting your suitcases from the hold of one plane and onto the next aircraft before departure if your connecting flight is soon after landing. If that does happen, make sure you know these 7 steps to take when an airline loses your luggage.

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Use technology

In early 2019, United Airlines rolled out ConnectionSaver, “A new technology that automatically identifies departing flights that can be held for connecting customers, while ensuring those who have already boarded the aircraft arrive at their destination on time.” ConnectionSaver, which is being introduced one airport at a time (starting in Denver then launching in Chicago O’Hare this summer with LAX and Houston up next, per CrankyFlier), “Sends personalized text messages to every connecting customer (who has opted in to receive notifications) with clear directions to the gate for their connecting flight and information about how long the walk will take.”

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Pick the right airport

The airport of your layover will go a long way in determining whether you make your flight connections so it is important for you to select the best possible airport hub. Here are the most reliable airports in the United States, each of which would increase the odds of your first flight arriving on time and you avoid missing your connecting flight.

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Check-in online

By checking in online for your entire flight itinerary before your first segment you will reduce the hurdles needing to be leap over in order to promptly board your flight connections. Make sure you know which foods you can’t bring through airport security.

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Charge your phone and screenshot your boarding pass(es)

Very few travelers are wielding paper boarding passes these days, so another way to avoid missing your connecting flight is to ensure your phone is charged and all your boarding passes are either saved in a digital wallet or screenshots are stashed in your photo library. This will come in handy should cell service be spotty and/or airport Wi-Fi not be functioning properly. These are the things your TSA security agent isn’t telling you.

Passenger traveler woman in airport waiting for air travel using tablet smart phone. Young business woman smiling sitting with travel suitcase trolley, in waiting hall of departure lounge in airport.Maridav/Shutterstock

Ok, so you missed your connecting flight. Now what?

You may have followed all the advice above to avoid missing your connecting flight and something out of your control still caused you to miss your flight connections. Head to your airline’s customer service counter and explain your situation, calmly and with as much of a smile as you can muster. With luck, you’ll get help to be rebooked on a flight departing sooner rather than later, avoid being stuck at the airport, and be back on your way to your final destination. Next, read on to find out the 22 things your flight attendant won’t tell you.