Will I make my connecting flight?
November 30, 2012 4:03 PM   Subscribe

I'm flying from the Birmingham (AL) airport to the Manchester (UK) airport next Friday, with a connecting flight at ATL. There will only be 53 minutes between my first flight arriving at ATL and my second flight departing. What are the chances I'll miss my second flight?

A few weeks ago, I booked a flight on Delta between Birmingham (AL) and Manchester via Kayak, with a 53-minute layover at Atlanta. I'm worried about the chances of missing my second flight, particularly as it's the only flight to Manchester on that day.

I called Delta to doublecheck that the connecting time is legal, and the guy I spoke to said that it is (and that I'd have to pay a fee to change it), but he also gave the impression that I can't be confident of making the flight. For those who know the layout of ATL, my first flight is likely to land at Terminal A, whilst the second will probably take off from Terminal E.

I assume I'll go through all the security etc. at Birmingham, and my suitcase should be checked all the way through, so that will save some time. (I'm a UK citizen, if that's relevant.) That said, there's always a chance my first flight will be delayed, and I know that international flights are supposed to close 30mins before departure. If I don't make the flight, I'm pretty sure the next direct ATL-MAN flight is 24 hours later.

So, although I'll be dependent on my inbound flight arriving on time (& my outbound flight not departing early), what are the chances I'll make the second flight? What (if anything) can I do to maximise my chances? And, if I get unlucky and don't manage to make it, what can I do to minimise the repercussions? Any other advice would also be more than welcome!
posted by littlegreen to Travel & Transportation (18 answers total)
Best answer: Are both flights on Delta?

If so, and your first flight is delayed, causing you to miss your connection, my understanding is that Delta will either reroute you to Manchester (possibly via London or Dublin or something?) or provide a hotel voucher and get you on the next flight*. My understanding is that because Delta confirmed that the layover is legit, they assume the responsibility to get you to your destination.

In terms of maximizing your chances? Pack light in terms of carry-on stuff, try to sit as close to the front of the plane as possible, do an aisle seat as opposed to a window seat, and be ready to ask people to let you through if necessary. Use the restroom during the flight so you don't have to hit the toilets in the airport.

Familiarize yourself with the Atlanta airport and how the various terminals work. Are you dependent on a shuttle bus, or can you walk the whole way? Do trams arrive at regular intervals? Are there moving sidewalks and such? Is it a straight shot from A to E along a big concourse, or are they totally separate terminals?

(BTW, if you do miss your connection, the Delta terminals at ATL have customer service kiosks with ATMs that will print out vouchers, new boarding passes, etc. I highly recommend using this instead of mobbing to talk to a customer service agent. Also, be extremely polite if you do end up dealing with a person rather than an ATM. Of course.)

*This actually happened to me during the holidays last year. Luckily there was one more flight that night, and it had exactly one empty seat. So I was in the clear. But the rebooking ATM kiosk thingie printed me hotel and food vouchers just in case I did not get on that flight, and it all worked pretty seamlessly.
posted by Sara C. at 4:20 PM on November 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

It's been years since I flew through ATL, but when I have done so, I found that the automated train that connects the terminals is pretty fast and runs frequently. I think it's doable. But I would tell the flight crew on the BHM to ATL flight about your tight connection, and ask them to let you deplane first if at all possible. That should give you plenty of time, except if there's a delay. Keep carryon luggage light and maneuverable.

Beyond that, what Sara C. said.
posted by brianogilvie at 4:25 PM on November 30, 2012

Best answer: Seconding sitting as close to the front of the plane as possible - which likely means paying for an "Economy Comfort" seat on the Birmingham-ATL leg. Otherwise it can take a LONG time to disembark on these flights as everyone has huge complicated carry-ons in order to avoid bag check fees.

If you have a smartphone, download the Delta app. A lot of their flights have WiFi, and you can use the Delta app in-flight without having to pay the WiFi fee. This way you can keep up-to-date while in the air on the anticipated arrival time of your first flight (especially useful if in-flight announcements are lacking), as well as the gate for your connecting flight.
posted by peanut butter milkshake at 4:29 PM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

The airport in Atlanta has a long central axis that leads off the main terminal (where you check in). The terminals A through E are built out from this axis at right angles; the train runs through it. So it is essentially one big building - you won't be going to a totally different physical terminal, like you might have to in Boston.

A big worry would be if they make you go through a security check to get into E, the International Concourse. They did not do this in the past, and I actually had a domestic flight out of E some years ago, with no second check, but I don't recall if that was before or after 9/11. Really there is no good reason why they would do a second check, but I am speculating that this is the kind of dumb idea that may appeal to the TSA. The airport's website, the airline, or the TSA should be able to answer that for you.

The train is quick. It should take you about 15-20 minutes to get to it (the train area is downstairs from the gate area), wait for one, and ride out from A to E. So, if the first flight is on time, it's certainly possible that you will make the connection, but it will be a little tight. However, in recent years, I have almost never been on a flight that arrived on time, and this is what I would worry about most.
posted by thelonius at 4:37 PM on November 30, 2012

Seconding brianogilvie. I was on Southwest recently and we landed in Chicago 20 minutes late, and the flight attendants asked us all to let two connecting passengers deplane first. Their connecting flight was at the other end of the terminal, but the plane had been held for them, and they got off first with no problem. Definitely notify the check-in agent as you board.
posted by Angharad at 5:00 PM on November 30, 2012

Best answer: A big worry would be if they make you go through a security check to get into E, the International Concourse.

Concourse F opened this year, and now handles most international flights. E still does a few, though. I didn't see a checkpoint on Concourse E when I was there a couple of months ago (on a long-haul domestic flight) but the international gates may be cordoned off.

As Sara C. says, if you're booked through with Delta and miss your connection in ATL, they'll try to re-route you as best they can. The kiosks have access to the same routing information as the agents, although perhaps a bit less wiggle room for putting you on another carrier, which is sometimes an option. If it looks like there's going to be a delay before you even leave the ground in Birmingham, talk to the gate agent there and see if there's an alternative routing they can come up with. Ask the cabin attendant to confirm your gate in Atlanta when you're on board.

(The Delta smartphone app can do a lot of this, as well as providing a QR code in lieu of a boarding pass. It is actually very good.)

The train between is fast and regular, and there's not much point in trying to outrun it. Get your bearing when you emerge, walk briskly in that direction. It can be a bit of a trek if you're stuck at the end of the A/B-concourses. Don't get run over by the beep-beep buggies.
posted by holgate at 5:13 PM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Anecdotally, I have rarely had the BHM-ATL leg be delayed at all, and it has comprised of the first leg of probably 90% of air trips I have taken. You'll want to be prepared to have to move fast given the chances of flying into the very end of Concourse A though.
posted by ndfine at 5:40 PM on November 30, 2012

I flew through ATL on a domestic to international connection in September. I don't remember whether we left from concourse E or F but I didn't have to go through security again. I'd say the biggest time such would be walking from the gate to the train and turn walking to your next gate. The train itself is very fast and seems to run frequently.
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 6:12 PM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you all so much for your quick & helpful responses! I've marked a few that were especially helpful, but appreciated & have taken note of all of them. (I've also upgraded to Economy Comfort on my first flight, & I'll download the Delta app asap.)
posted by littlegreen at 7:29 PM on November 30, 2012

Best answer: So... Delta lied to me over the phone this summer about whether a similarly short domestic-international connection was 'legal'. I ended up resorting to @DeltaAssist on Twitter, who are very responsive. I started by asking what the 'minimum connecting time' domestic to international was at LAX (as far as I know, this depends on the airport), got told 90 minutes, said "What do I do if I have a shorter connection?" and the person changed my reservation via Twitter DM without charge. This was after Delta phone reps had assured me on two different calls weeks apart that the connection was not an issue. (I remember one telling me the schedule had only changed by five minutes, so there may have been two schedule changes. Anyway, I changed flights like two days before I left.)

It is worth noting that the connection had become 45-55 minutes (I don't remember) due to a schedule change. That said, I just looked at my original receipt and I bought the ticket with an 86 minute connection, so you'd expect I'd have forfeited my right to complain that the connection was 'illegal'. (I keep putting 'legal' and 'illegal' in quotes as that seems to be the term, but it's divorced from 'illegal' in the sense of 'against the law', as far as I know.) I believe Delta's policy is that if the schedule changes by more than an hour, you're allowed to alter the reservation without charge.

One thing to keep in mind is that if you miss the connection, you're going to be in Atlanta and will probably miss all the other direct flights to Manchester from anywhere in the US that evening. I haven't searched exhaustively, obviously, but transatlantic flights to Manchester are basically once-a-day affairs and there tends to be only one from any given airport (maybe JFK has more, or there's a JFK flight and an EWR flight). Certainly that Delta flight is the only ATL-MAN direct flight.
posted by hoyland at 7:48 PM on November 30, 2012

I regularly fly from ATl to either the UK or Ireland. Your schedule is very tight and depends on several variables over which you have no control. Sarah C's advice is excellent. If you feel it is imperative to arrive in Manchester as scheduled, and your finances make it possible, I would reschedule the first flight and pay a penalty. you are right--if you do not make it you will most likely be staying in ATL or almost certainly have a circuitous route to MAN. You are in fact calling it quite close--When you say you purchased it on Kayak--did you link directly to Delta or another booking agent that will guarantee re-booking for a flight that is missed due to scheduling. This is very important because if the connection is not covered by the booking agent you will also be out the cost (some/all) of the transatlantic leg. It also depends on when your first flight departs--there is a greater chance of delays at both airports as the day progresses. Since most transatlantic flights are scheduled for evening chances are you are leaving Birmingham late in the day--this does not bode well. As I said--depending on your own schedule and finances I would consider re-booking the originating flight with at least 2 hours layover before a long haul flight.
posted by rmhsinc at 12:38 AM on December 1, 2012

Response by poster: hoyland, thanks for the idea to contact DeltaAssist - I followed your advice & they reassured me that it's a legal connection (though the minimum connecting time at ATL is typically 60 minutes).

When you say you purchased it on Kayak--did you link directly to Delta or another booking agent that will guarantee re-booking for a flight that is missed due to scheduling.

I should've been clearer - the Kayak listing linked to the Delta site, and I assume that the flight wouldn't have appeared as a single ticket if Delta hadn't approved the connection. So, I think (but please correct me if I'm wrong) that even if I miss the flight, Delta should rebook me at no extra cost?

Taking everything into consideration, though, I don't think I can afford to change the first flight. It'll be a horrendous pain if I do miss the connection, but I won't be out anything except time, & I'm on a grad student budget. But thank you very much!
posted by littlegreen at 2:39 AM on December 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am glad you booked through Delta--you will be safe if there is a problem. The odds are that things will go as scheduled and you will arrive in MAN, on time, as planned. Hoping all works as planned and you are comfortably seated on the long haul flight 20 minutes before take off.
posted by rmhsinc at 6:32 AM on December 1, 2012

Best answer: Well, first of all, here are all the afternoon-evening non-stop Skyteam (Delta's alliance) transatlantic flights from ATL on the 7th of December:

- Delta to Paris CDG at 1530
- Delta to Frankfurt FRA at 1630
- Delta to London LHR at 1730
- Delta to Amsterdam AMS at 1730
- Delta to Brussels BRU at 1745
- Delta to Dublin DUB at 1750
- Air France to Paris CDG at 1820
- Delta to Madrid MAD at 1900
- Delta to Manchester MAN at 1910

- Air France to Paris CDG at 2105
- Delta to London at 2235
- KLM to Amsterdam AMS at 1050

What you really want to do, though, is this: find out the SkyTeam alliance partners' connections that will get you from Birmingham to Manchester (maybe get Birmingham UK/Leeds as well just in case?) and take it along as a printout - that way, if the worst happens *and you're delayed in Birmingham, Alabama*, you can have a paper reference to show someone at Delta without them looking things up without considering all the options. It'll be handy to have all the relevant airport codes as well.

Not to knock Delta or its employees, but while (presumably) airline employees know where their own airline flies, I wouldn't expect a Delta check-in agent in Birmingham, Alabama to know that KLM flies to, say, Leeds and Durham and Newcastle and Glasgow as well as Manchester, or that if they did, that Leeds, in particular, is close enough to Manchester to consider re-routing you there if you were open to it and the connection was better.

To generate the printout, head over to the amazing ITA Software Matrix flight search site. Plug in these values on the "one-way" search page:

- departing from: BHM
- on the next line, paste this, with no quote marks: "/ alliance skyteam"
- destination: MAN (if you're open to Birmingham, UK as well, add it in with a comma: "MAN, BHX" - you can add as many UK airports as you like this way!)

These are all possible flights on Air France, KLM, Alitalia, and Delta, and their Skyteam partners, which are going from Birmingham, Alabama to Manchester, UK next Friday. There are A LOT of possible combinations.
posted by mdonley at 7:13 AM on December 1, 2012 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you so much for the link to the ITA flight software; I had no idea that existed, but it looks extremely cool. (& I will definitely follow your advice about prepping a printout.) I'm not trying to threadsit or anything; I just wanted to be sure I thanked you for this.

It's also reassuring to know that Delta has a flight to London that night - hopefully I'll be able to get that one if I miss my own.
posted by littlegreen at 10:34 AM on December 1, 2012

In my limited experience at ATL, 50-something minutes is a workable proposition as long as you hotfoot it off the plane. Nthing ask to be let off first; it's a completely reasonable request, especially since Delta is responsible for this situation wall-to-wall.
posted by randomkeystrike at 11:16 AM on December 1, 2012

Did you make it?! :)
posted by mdonley at 3:54 AM on December 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I made it! My flight from Bham got in on time, & I raced across ATL - my second flight was already boarding, but I got on just fine. Thanks so much again for all the helpful responses!
posted by littlegreen at 6:35 AM on December 9, 2012 [3 favorites]

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