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In  a perfect  world, none of us would ever have to deal with a flight connection; all our journeys would be a seamless jaunt directly to our desired destination. But when you’re on a budget, and that itinerary with the connection promises to save you a few bucks, you go for it. Here are a few tips on how to make flight connections as stress-free as possible—and what to do if you do end up missing your connection.

RELATED: 5 secret ways to breeze through the airport

Avoid connections altogether—if you can

The best way to avoid the stresses of a flight connection is, of course, not to have a flight connection at all. “Only choose a connection if it will really save you big dollars since a connection means double your chances of something going wrong,” says travel expert Johnny Jet. Also keep in mind that time is money and connections always take longer. Additionally, you have to factor in the cost of an unwanted layover:  For example, if you miss your connection due to a weather-related delay, the airline is not responsible for putting you up in a hotel. And if your connecting city is, say, New York or London, you’ll be shelling out a few hundred extra dollars for that room. Always do the math to make sure the connection is worth your while.

Woman at the airport

Book an early flight

When you do have a connection, timing is indeed everything. It’s in your best interest to choose the first flight out of the day. It’s much like being in a doctor’s  office—as the day progresses, those little delays add up and by the later flights in the day, a 10-minute delay can become one that’s a few hours. That can make the difference between making that connection and reaching your destination, or not. For that reason, avoid evening flights whenever possible.

Don’t be tempted by short connections

It might be tempting to book the shortest flight connection time available—after all, you’re eager to get to your destination faster and avoid airport sitting time. But don’t do it. “Don’t choose the shortest connection time allowed because if your first flight is delayed, you’re going to be bumming as there aren’t many empty seats on planes anymore,” says Johnny Jet. “You might be spending the night.”

Book both legs of your trip on the same itinerary

If for some reason you book the various legs of your trip on different airlines or on different itineraries (watch out for so-called “hacker fares”), the second airline may not be obligated to wave change fees if the first one makes you late and you need to be rebooked. If you can, stick with the same airline or partner airlines.

Look up a map of the airport in advance

You’ll know you have this connection days, weeks, maybe even months in advance. Take that opportunity to make a plan of action. Go online and find a map of the terminals and see what you’re in for.  If your airport destination involves traveling between terminals and having to exit and re-enter security, you can’t book yourself a 40-minute connection (we’re looking at you, LaGuardia). Even without delays, you’ll run a serious risk of not making that connection. For example, you don’t want to get to Heathrow with 30 minutes to make a connection and discover you need to change terminals and go through security again! (We’ve done it, it’s not fun.)

Airport in the rain

Choose airports with good weather

Bad weather causes delay, regardless if the storm’s happening in your departure city or your connecting city. “In the winter time, avoid the Midwest and the Northeast. Instead, go through the southern airport hubs [like Atlanta or Houston} where the weather is better. In the summer, avoid the airports that usually get late afternoon thunderstorms,” says Johnny Jet. Always check the connecting city’s weather before leaving your home airport. “If it’s bad, you can ask the check-in agent if they will switch you to a different flight,” says Johnny Jet.

Avoid notoriously difficult airports

Besides the aforementioned weather, several factors could contribute to making an airport “difficult.” Consider an airport like Chicago’s O’Hare with its separate international and domestic terminals that are connected only by train. Or think of New York’s sprawling JFK, where only two of the six separate buildings are connected behind security. Meanwhile, London’s Heathrow is not only Europe’s busiest airport, but also one of its most confounding:  Besides its massive size, the airport’s confusing security protocols have famously made it one to avoid.

ALSO: Turn an unwanted layover into a “playover” with these amazing Orbitz hotel deals!

Group of people standing in queue at boarding gate

Avoid checking bags

Many airports such as LaGuardia require you to “recheck” your checked bag for international flights, which will eat up a significant chunk of your connecting time. Also, if you do get stuck somewhere, you’ll want to have your belongings with you (you probably won’t have access to anything you checked). Keep critical items like your passport, medicines, glasses, toothbrush and at least one complete change of clothes with you in your carry on or personal bag. “Place copies of your passport/prescriptions/vital documents in your checked luggage, but always keep the originals with you,” says Grainne Kelly, a former travel agent and founder of BubbleBum car travel innovations. You will be prepared and equipped to handle the ups and downs of airline travel comfortably when you plan ahead for potential mishaps or delays.

Notify your check-in agent

If you happen to have a tight connection, always tell the check-in agent. They have the power to put you near the front of the plane so you get off sooner, but also to move you to a later flight if they know you stand no chance of making that connection.

Talk to the flight attendant

On the same note, tell the flight attendant you have a tight  connection once you land. They can also move you closer to the front once the descent starts so you can get off the plane sooner (though be warned, you won’t be the only one asking). It’s the worst to know time is ticking to make that connection and still be stuck behind 40 people taking their leisure time deplaning.

female hands holding smartphone sitting in the airplane with phone

Always get inflight internet

“Use the ability to check flight status, weather conditions, airport maps and amenities,” says Kelly. If you don’t pay for in-flight internet access, alerts will load upon landing and that might not give you enough time to make a calculated mid-trip change when you need to. For example, when you book on Orbitz, you’ll receive mobile Care Alerts that instantly advise of you of flight delays or gate changes. “Keep in mind there can be a delay in notifications sometimes, but you are more likely to get the timely information you need to make those connections,” says Kelly. Should you find yourself on an unwanted layover, the Orbitz app also offers mobile-only hotel deals to make your delay just a bit more comfortable (and affordable).

If you do miss that flight, know your rights

“The IATA ruling for full-service airlines is if the delivering carrier is delayed and a passenger misses their connection, it’s [the delivering airline’s] responsibility to reroute the disrupted passenger onto the next available flight to the passenger’s destination,” says James Vaile, President of Thai Airways USA & Canada. The caveat here is each airline will have slightly different rules and regulations on this subject. If there are no flights left on that airline that day, ask to be put on another airline that will get you to that destination—airline agents don’t like to advertise this option because they lose money if they have to endorse your tickets to another carrier, but it is an option.

And rebook quickly

With some delays, you and almost everyone else on your plane will need to queue up in the customer service line to get rebooked. Many of you will unknowingly be clamoring for the same small number of seats on the next flight out. Give yourself an advantage by calling the airline’s customer service line while you’re waiting in line: Whichever agent gets to you first will have a better chance of grabbing a seat for you before they’re all gone.

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Note: Orbitz compensates authors for their writings appearing on this site.

Aly Walansky
Aly Walansky is a NY-based lifestyles writer.

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