Friday, January 24, 2014

How your connection city can impact your trip and the 5 things you need to know.

This is the season when many of you are heading south for a much needed respite from the cold. Unless you travel a lot,  you probably don't think twice about the city you are connecting through to your final destination.

I recently took a trip to Jamaica and flew back to Boston with a layover in Miami.

I arrived into Miami airport on a Monday night. Now mind you 
it was not on a holiday, but January is high season for south Florida.

Upon arrival, it was apparent that the wait for immigration was quite long. 
Luckily, I had applied for and received my Global Entry card,, in the fall and was able to bypass those lines. It took all of about five minutes to get through immigration.

The big surprise came at baggage claim. It was so crowded that there wasn't a clear access path to get to the other side where I needed to be. Like an ambulance chaser trying to get through traffic, I got behind a woman pushing a wheelchair in order  to get over to the line for Global Entry passengers to go through customs.

I made a quick exit after that and within twenty minutes I was grateful to be sitting on my balcony at the Hyatt Regency Coral Gables. If I had a connecting flight without my Global Entry access, I'm not sure I would have made the connection.

This leads to the question: Where should you connect through when making flight reservations?

Here are some things to consider.

1. Cost. One airline may be significantly more expensive than the other. You have to consider the upside and downside of connecting through busier hubs like Miami or JFK. If American Airlines is having a sale it may be to your benefit to connect through Miami if you are looking to stay on budget rather than purchasing a higher priced ticket to go connect through a smaller hub.

2. Availability.  If you are booking your flights during a busy holiday period or close to departure you may have to be flexible since seat availability may be limited. Your choice of connecting point may be out of the question. 

3. Airline Preference and  Frequent Flier Program. I have my biggest stash of points with one carrier so I try to use that carrier as much as possible. This may be a consideration for you as well. If you have a lot of Delta points, but don't like the thought of taking the tram to
connect in their hub city of Atlanta, you may want to rethink who you might accumulate your points with.

4. Traveling with kids or an elderly person. This is a situation where you definitely need to give yourself some leeway. When checking flight availability, look for flights that have extra connecting time. 

5. Mobility. If you or someone you are traveling with has mobility issues, by all means call the airline in advance and request a wheelchair. When you arrive at the airport notify airline staff that you have made this request. There is a special line at customs and immigration designated for those passengers needing wheelchair assistance. Keep in mind that riding in a wheelchair is a great relief if your knees aren't up to standing for long periods of time or if you have had a recent surgery and are just beginning to regain your mobility.

Sometimes an airport can be very busy at certain times of the year or when a particular event is happening in that city. There are also certain times of day that are busier than others.
For example, U.S. airports on the east coast generally receive international arrivals in the afternoon. Knowing when an airport will be filled with fellow travelers can help you prepare for your trip. 

What have been your experiences when connecting through airports?