Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Connecting Flights

Flight #76/77 – US Airways 
Austin (AUS) – New York (LGA) via CLT 
Sunday, January 19, 2014 
Depart: 11:51AM / Arrive: 5:52PM (Scheduled)
Duration: 5 hr 1 min 
Aircraft: CRJ 900 / Airbus 319 
Seat: Row 13A, 13B and 13C (Economy) 
Earned: 1,576 miles 
Cost: $254 / person (round trip) 
 Lifetime Miles: 142,469 miles

I'm fortunate enough to live in the BEST city in the world. In fact, it's so great that there are three well-trafficked airports serving New York City (JFK, LGA and EWR). And furthermore, EWR is a primary hub airport for United Airlines. That means that I can almost fly anywhere in the United States, most large European cities and the major Asian cities on direct non-stop flights.

However for many of us (especially those outside the main hub airport cities), there are times when the destination isn't served by a single direct flight. Connections can add a lot of frequent flyer miles and oftentimes bring down the cost of your airfare, but they can also often cause you to spend a lot of extra time in transit or worse, stuck at the airport if you happen to miss your connecting flight.

Our return trip coming back from Austin was one of those risky connecting flights where there wasn't much room for error. We were scheduled to land at CLT at 3:19PM and our departing flight to LGA was scheduled to depart at 4:09PM, meaning they would start boarding at 3:39PM (just 20 minutes after our first flight was scheduled to land on the runway (not even dock at the arrival gate)!

Normally, my father thinks through these types of scenarios before booking the flights and plans accordingly. This time, however, he decided to risk the tight connection in Charlotte, because (a) he knew that CLT was a US Airways hub airport so there were several other flights to New York that afternoon and (b) we were flying in on Sunday and still had Monday (MLK Day) as a buffer in case we somehow weren't able to get on another flight that day. An extra night in Charlotte might not be so bad (especially since I've yet to visit anything other than Gate 15 of their airport).

Flight Delayed
Around 8AM the morning of our flight, my father received an alert on his Blackberry Travel App letting us know that our first 11:51AM flight was delayed by 25 minutes and wouldn't land in Charlotte until 3:45PM at gate E15.

Even at 2 years old, I realized that we would not have enough time to (a) taxi to the gate, (b) get off our plane, then (c) run to gate C10 (an entirely different airport concourse) with enough time to make our next flight that would stop boarding at 3:59PM.

I told my father to be proactive, so he went online to and looked up our itinerary. Of course, US Airways still had our flight being "On Time," but my father knew better than to go against Blackberry Travel, which always seemed to have better & quicker information than what the airlines choose to publicize.

Next, my father went on ITA Matrix to search for all afternoon flights from CLT to LGA (on both US Airways and other carriers) before he called US Airways to change our connecting flight. Why? Because he wanted to know what our alternate flight options were in case the US Airways agent had less than perfect reasoning ability information. He then went back to to see if they were still selling 3 seats on any of those afternoon flights. Everything was sold out until the 6:45PM flight.

Armed with some viable options, he then called US Airways (which he has programmed in his phone along with all the other airlines) and inquired about the flight status of his itinerary. Upon looking closer, the agent saw that the first flight was showing Delayed and that our connection might be too tight. She then gave us a second reservation on the 5:46PM flight so that we could still try to make the 4:09PM flight, but if not, we had a reservation on the 5:46PM flight. In this scenario, we'd have reservations on BOTH flights just in case.

If you're not familiar with traveling, this "solution" may sound like it would work out, but we knew better.
  • First, having a reservation isn't the same thing as being ticketed (confirmed) with seat assignments. We'd essentially be going standby on the 5:46PM flight, meaning we'd only get ticketed if there were seats available. Assuming we weren't the only ones connecting, there may have been a mad rush for the seats on that flight, and we don't have any frequent flyer status/priority on US Airways.
  • Second, we had a some luggage with us (including my car seat) that we could choose to either (a) check in or (b) carry on. This "solution" of double reservations pretty much meant that we could NOT check-in our car seat, because the baggage team would have NO idea if we were on the 4:09PM flight or the 5:46PM flight. In fact, given the tight connection, there was no way they'd be able to transfer onto the 4:09PM flight at all. So that meant we'd have to bring everything as a carry-on, which would make it that much harder for us to transfer all the way from Gate E15 to Gate C10 (as shown on the map above).
  • And finally (and most importantly), my father already saw that the 5:46PM flight was sold out per

So after confirming quickly with my mother (who always seems to see the right answer through a much simple lens than my over-analytical father), my parents decided to just take it easy and CHANGE our flight to the later 6:45PM flight.

By doing it this way, we would give up our seats on the earlier 4:09PM flight, but we would confirm our tickets and secure seat assignments on the 6:45PM flight. After a few minutes on hold for the US Airways agent to make the change, we were all set by 8:15AM and on our way to our free breakfast downstairs at the Westin Austin.

You Have Chosen Wisely
Now at the Austin airport we could check in my car seat and our larger bag (for free due to Star Alliance Gold status through his United Platinum status) and just pick them up in New York. Then we'd have about 2 hours to have an early dinner and relax at CLT airport between our flights. No frantic rushing or worrying. Plus, CLT Airport was a US Airways hub airport, so there were several US Airways Club Lounges we could access using either:
  1. Our cancelled Platinum American Express cards that we kept for this exact reason even after closing the accounts;
  2. My parents' Star Alliance Gold cards from foreign Star Alliance airlines (Aegean and Turkish); or
  3. Our two US Airways lounge passes that came free with our Barclays US Airways credit card that we applied for in Feb 2013.
And to further reinforce our decision to confirm ourselves on the later 6:45PM flight, on our drive to the Austin airport, we received another notification that our first flight to CLT was further delayed another 40 minutes so it wouldn't depart until 12:55PM (more than an hour after originally scheduled).

At the end of the day, everything went as planned. We checked my car seat and large bag and had enough time to relax in the United lounge at AUS Airport before boarding our first flight. Then in the Charlotte airport, we enjoyed some mediocre Mexican food and virgin margaritas at one of the airport restaurants before going into the US Airways Club Lounge to watch the Broncos-Pats game. Our second flight departed on time and even had in-flight wifi available for $6.95. Our bags made it to LGA safe and sound and we were home by 9:30PM.

Summary Advice
  • Use an App. It was key that we used a trip monitoring app such as Blackberry Travel that alerted us for flight delays before the airline notified us. If you're not a prehistoric smartphone user, then we recommend TripIt available on iPhones and Android.
  • Have a BackUp Plan. We knew that there were multiple flight alternatives back to LGA (and even more to JFK or EWR). These were available to us because we didn't book the last flight of the night or the last day of a long weekend.
  • Be Proactive. Checking available options BEFORE calling the airline. It's always good to know your options to feed the agent instead of relying on their concern for your well being.
  • Think Through the Implications. Switching (and committing) to the later flight allowed us to check our bags and secure good seat assignments in advance (I love my window seats). We valued those features over getting home quicker and feeling rushed to get to the departure gate all the way across the airport.


  1. Intelligent Travelers travel with confidence, as any two year old can tell you.

  2. When booking connecting flights, it tends to be cheaper booking each leg separately. -JasmineT