When flying abroad, there are very few direct flights. On long-haul travel in particular (basically everywhere is long-haul from the south of Africa), you’ll most often have to deal with the dreaded connecting flight. Here are a few things to remember when booking tickets for your journey over the seas.
1. Be careful of booking too many airlines on one itinerary:
If you are booking your whole itinerary on the same ticket, the airline is generally responsible for broken connections (delayed flights) and will try to get you onto the next flight if you happen to miss your flight. My cousin and I missed our connecting flight through no fault of our own. Unfortunately, it was the last flight of the day. Fortunately, the airline paid for us to take the train to our destination, which turned out to be almost as fast and much more scenic.
If you are, however, booking separately through different carriers, making the connecting flight is solely your responsibility. This could lead to trouble especially if you are booking on budget airlines that do not permit last minute changes or refunds. Sometimes, it is worthwhile paying a little extra for your ticket to avoid stress and confusion.
2. Plan for enough time between flights:
Transferring from one airplane to another can be a rather arduous affair, depending on whether your connection is domestic or international. Sometimes, it can involve clearing customs, picking up your luggage, moving to a different terminal, rechecking your bags and clearing security again. Other times, if your transfer is just a stopover at an international airport, the process may be a little easier. Time is still important and interesting surprises may await you at foreign airports (see no.3). If the first leg of your flight is delayed, you might miss the second leg and have to wait for a good while to be put on the next flight.
When booking your itinerary, you may sometimes see a connection that the airline thinks is reasonable. These time frames are often not possible, except if you jump over everyone to get out of the aircraft first and sprint to the next gate. It feels like a slow-motion action movie; you can hear the announcer calling your name over the PA system while you run and trip and run again and the boarding gate starts to close while you’re just metres away. Rather, wait a little while longer on your layover than miss your flight altogether because you didn’t plan enough time between the two tickets. And if you do arrive on time, there are often opportunities to catch an earlier flight (subject to availability and possible increase in fare, of course).
3. Don’t forget about customs:
With international connections, check online or with your travel agent to see if the transfer country requires a transit visa to go through the airport. Some countries (United States of America, Canada and sometimes the United Kingdom) require passengers to go through immigration even if they are just transferring between flights. Doha (Qatar), Singapore and many other popular transfer airports do not. Other countries like Hong Kong or Australia will ask people of certain nationalities to obtain a visa. Make sure you do your homework beforehand as it is up to you to have all necessary documentation ready upon arrival.
Moral of the story: you never know how long customs will take. And it’s not worth biting all your nails, pulling out your hair or groaning as loudly as you can waiting in the immigration queue.