For a multi-leg transatlantic flight, what can I do to minimize the likelihood of connection problems, involuntary bumping, etc.?
May 30, 2007 6:07 AM   Subscribe

For a multi-leg transatlantic flight, what can I do to minimize the likelihood of connection problems, involuntary bumping, etc.? First leg (on US Air) is LGA to PHL to LGW, and I'm hearing a lot of anecdotal reports that both USAir and PHL are worse-than-average for connection problems.

On a Friday and Saturday in August (i.e., near the height of the U.S. summer travel season), here's what I'm doing:

FRIDAY:
• midday flight LGA to PHL, on USAir (then 6-hour layover in PHL)
• overnight flight PHL to LGW, on USAir (then 4.5 hrs between LGW arrival and LHR departure)

SATURDAY:
• afternoon flight LHR to Belgrade, on JAT / Yugoslav Airlines
• evening ground travel from Belgrade to Sombor, my destination city in Serbia.


I'm scheduled to start my responsibilities in Sombor (teaching) on Monday morning, about 36 hours after my arrival. So there's not much room for error here, especially since the LGW-to-LHR transfer time is fairly tight and there's only one London-to-Belgrade flight a day on JAT.

Beyond hearing that PHL is especially bad for delays and connection problems, today I saw the NY Times story titled "Overbooking, Bumped Fliers and No Plan B" (saying this summer is expected to have a high percentage of involuntarily bumped passengers with little recourse since all flights will be fuller than usual).

So, solutions:
• I'll be getting to LGA plenty early;
• I'll be bringing only carry-on luggage;
• I have no special travel or security issues and I'm an experienced flier & transatlantic traveler.

What else, if anything, should I be doing? Is there any way, other than being early, to make oneself less likely to get bumped from an overbooked flight?

This teaching is something I am co-organizing and basically volunteering for (i.e., there's no deep-pocketed org that could step in with any extraordinary measures if something went really wrong with the travel). My co-organizers can adapt if I'm delayed, but obviously I want to do everything I can to make this work as planned.
posted by allterrainbrain to Travel & Transportation (30 answers total)
 
Well, it sounds like you have quite a trip ahead of you.

PHL is horrible in terms of delayed flights. I could go on a really long rant here, but I won't.

Ultimately, getting to LGA early isn't going to help you if there are delays at PHL or anywhere else along your route. Though, it always is good to get to the airport early!

I think you're okay actually, unless there's really bad weather or a plane problem. You have a good amount of layover time between each flight, which normally sucks, but in this case is good in case one flight is running a bit behind.

Have fun!
posted by misanthropicsarah at 6:18 AM on May 30, 2007


It's probably too late now, but the best thing you can do to avoid being bumped is to not buy the cheapest tickets possible on the plane. If someone's getting involuntarily knocked off a flight, it's going to be someone with a rock bottom, discounted, no flexibility fare. If you've paid full fare--even for a coach class seat--you're going to be safe until all those people with crappier tickets than you have been bumped.

Travelling on an airline where you've accumulated significant frequent flier miles also helps.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:27 AM on May 30, 2007


Yikes... well, unfortunately this flight was selected solely because it was the cheapest I could find for the dates I needed (perhaps because of its oddly punishing route -- transferring through PHL on the outbound flight and Charlotte NC [!] on the inbound flight). I also think this is my first flight ever on USAir, so I'll be the opposite of a frequent/valued customer.

Fromwhat you're saying it sounds like I'm unusually likely to get bumped from the USAir flights.
posted by allterrainbrain at 6:36 AM on May 30, 2007


transatlantic bumps are extremely rare, and I seriously doubt you will run into a problem with that. Given a six hour layover in PHL, I can't imagine any connection problems there. The only place something seems possible to go wrong is at Gatwick. A 4.5 hour layover is pretty reasonable, so I doubt that you'll have trouble there either. If you had checked bags the combination of clearing customs and transferring to another airline could be deadly, but with only carry-ons, I think you will be fine.

PHL is a terrible airport, but the worst case is usually lost checked baggage and maybe a 2 hour delay. The big problem is usually getting in the air outbound from PHL, landings usually go OK.
posted by Lame_username at 6:49 AM on May 30, 2007


Try not to panic, even increased odds are relatively low. Like any other airline, USAir will try for volunteers first before they bump someone involuntarily. Just don't volunteer and there's a good chance someone else will.

If it helps, you *should* be relatively safe from bumping because of your itinerary. USAir won't want to bump you from your first flight--because they're also responsible for your second flight and won't want to have to find you two replacement flights. (If they do, for some bizarre reason bump you from flight #1, ask them to find you a flight direct to London, rather than trying to follow your original routing. There are about 98 zillion flights a day from New York to London, so that should be possible.) I volunteered to be bumped from a flight on USAir recently, but they wouldn't do it because it was the first of two legs, and they would only bump someone who was only flying the one segment.

This is just a theory, but I'm guessing they also won't prefer to bump you from your second flight--because bumping someone who is in mid-transit from an overnight flight will force them to put you up in a hotel. Far better for them to bump someone who is starting out there and can be sent home, rather than put up at the airline's expense.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:52 AM on May 30, 2007


Fromwhat you're saying it sounds like I'm unusually likely to get bumped from the USAir flights.
I disagree. When they bump, they take volunteers, which is usually enough 99% of the time. If somehow they still needed to bump someone, it wouldn't be a connecting international passenger. Frankly, loads on most US planes have not been anywhere near 100% in my recent experience. The don't normally bump cheap tickets, they bump people who were late checking in. I can't remember the last time I've seen an involuntary bump and I fly US a whole lot. The odds of getting bumped for you are extraordinarily low. Getting hit by lightning low.
posted by Lame_username at 6:55 AM on May 30, 2007


I never panic, I just plan. :) Connection delays are more of a concern than getting bumped.

Looking at the numbers: the NYT article reports there were 676,408 involuntary (non-volunteer) bumps in 2006, out of "555 million" total flights -- so if we use exactly 555 million for the # of flights, this comes out to 0.122%, or 1 involuntary bump for every 820 attempts at a flight.

This rate varies seasonally, has been steadily rising, and is predicted to reach a ten-year high this summer. But even so, let's guess that we're talking a summer rate of 1 bump per 650 to 750 attempts... I see the logic that my itinerary makes me less likely to get bumped, so my likelihood might be half or a third of that, or lower -- not getting struck by lightning low, but lower than the article's language and section-front-pageness might suggest. (Glad they at least put in the numbers so people could crunch them.)
posted by allterrainbrain at 7:31 AM on May 30, 2007


The leg I would be worried about is in London - is it correct that you're flying into Gatwick, taking a train or something to Heathrow, then catching a flight at Heathrow to Belgrade? Because this means you have to clear customs in London, take a 1 hr ride to Heathrow (well, there may be a high speed train?), then check in to your Belgrade flight in 4 hours...it's doable, but it doesn't leave much room for any delays on the previous flight.
posted by muddgirl at 7:36 AM on May 30, 2007


Also, frequent and/or savvy fliers clamour to get bumped on any trans-oceanic flights. In my experience on overbooked trans-oceanic flights, there are far far more volunteers to be bumped than the airline requires. I imagine the payoff makes it well worth while, whether it be in complimentary upgrades, free flights, status miles, etc.

I'd be more concerned about getting from Gatwick to Heathrow than any of your other connections. The fastest way between the two airport is probably via coach and the website lists this as taking approximately 70 minutes. Trying to get into central London, taking the tube, and then getting on the Heathrow express is probably more hassle than it's worth.

I would imagine that you'll need to recheck in at Heathrow and then go through security all over again. Be well aware that this can take quite a bit of time. Also, Heathrow's gone draconian about carry-on baggage. You are permitted exactly ONE bag. Not one laptop bag and a carry-on, or a handbag and a carry-on, or even a plastic carrier bag with a newspaper in it and a carry-on, like every other airport permits. Just one bag. If you show up at security with more than one bag, they'll turn you right back around. If you're only taking carry-on luggage, be aware of this!
posted by lumiere at 7:45 AM on May 30, 2007


4.5 hours to get through immigration and customs, travel from Gatwick to Heathrow and through security is likely to be very tight indeed. The airports are over 40 miles apart. Allowing for an hour to retrieve luggage and clear immigration and customs, it'll take you at least an hour and a half on public transport to get between airports, and it's taken me over an hour to get through security at Heathrow to get me airside. According to the JAT website, you are required to check in at least two hours prior to flight time for international departures.

Also, I (and many other people) had horrendous problems with US Airways a couple of years ago when they cancelled ALL flights out of Charlotte on a Saturday night because 'they didn't have enough crew'. The best they could offer me was a flight the following Wednesday. I made other arrangements. It turned out this wasn't the first time it had happened, I understand from Flyer Talk that it's happened since too, although rumour is they've improved since merging with AmericaWest (I wouldn't know, I haven't flown with them since).

On the plus side, you can get a decent Philly cheesesteak at PHL.
posted by essexjan at 7:45 AM on May 30, 2007


The odds of getting bumped for you are extraordinarily low. Getting hit by lightning low.

They're even lower when you're flying internationally. Don't even worry about getting bumped for an oversale. You're so much more likely to miss your flight for some other reason (weather, mechanical problems, etc.).

And I imagine jacquilynne is incorrect about cost of the ticket being the most important thing in not getting bumped, so I wouldn't worry about that. In fact, it may not even be considered. On the airlines whose policies I know inside and out (disclaimer: not US), it isn't.

What's more important is your status in the airline's frequent flier program. If you aren't a member, join, and associate your FF# with the travel record. And after that check-in time is probably the most important thing within your control. If you can check-in online for an international flight, do that as soon as allowed.

The coach is probably the best way to travel between the two airports. Unless traffic is really bad.

I'll be bringing only carry-on luggage;

One more note: in the UK, you are only allowed to carry on one bag. You do not get an additional "personal item" as in the U.S. For example, this means you cannot take a laptop bag and a purse—that would count as two bags, despite the smallness of each.
posted by grouse at 7:51 AM on May 30, 2007


I recently had to take a USAir flight from PHL to AMS (I would usually fly out of EWR but this was a last minute deal and there were no seats out of EWR) and I have to say that PHL is a crappy airport (I was early and with delays I had to spend 5 hours there) and I found USAir to be a crappy airline (going to the bit of Europe that I normally go to I usually fly Continental to AMS or Virgin to LHR). That's not to say that you'll get bumped (actually my flight was half empty but that was a couple of months ago) I very much doubt you will, but my flight was quite delayed so that we wouldn't land early (I've never heard of this before but it may be USAir policy.)

Still, I think your main problem is going between LGR and LHR as others have said. There is a free transfer between airports, but if you're delayed this is cutting it really fine. I would seriously consider looking into a car service or a car rental rather than relying on public transport. You'll be doing the trip at the weekend so the traffic may not be so bad but still I would take every precaution to make sure that you can make the connection. Good Luck!
posted by ob at 8:12 AM on May 30, 2007


Oh I just read that this is in August. If it's a bank holiday weekend in the UK that could mean more travel problems. I don't want to be alarmist but it is something that you should be aware of.
posted by ob at 8:15 AM on May 30, 2007


I've never had a problem taking a laptop and/or camera bag with my normal carryon luggage at UK airports. I think you'll be OK as long as you're not trying to get your full size allowance out of 1 bag and then taking an additional bag
posted by missmagenta at 8:20 AM on May 30, 2007


To contradict missmagenta and though this may very well not be the case at other UK airports, Heathrow is very strict with its one bag policy. I flew out of Heathrow a couple of weeks ago and security guards were kicking people out of the queue to clear security if they were unable to conglomerate their carry-on luggage into one bag, even if the second bag was small. As mentioned in my previous comment, they weren't even letting people bring a separate plastic bag from the shops through with them! Of course, as soon as you get through security, you can walk around with more than one bag but they were unbelievably strict when I was last there.
posted by lumiere at 8:37 AM on May 30, 2007


You can take only one bag onto the plane in the UK.

Passengers are allowed to carry ONE item of hand baggage, no larger than:

56 centimetres tall (approximately 22 inches)

45 centimetres wide (approximately 17.7 inches)

25 centimetres deep (approximately 10 inches)

through the airport security search point. Please note, this is the maximum bag size allowed through security.

Other bags, such as handbags, laptop bags, camera cases, etc. may be carried WITHIN the single item of cabin baggage, not in addition.

posted by essexjan at 8:38 AM on May 30, 2007


There is a free transfer between airports

There is not a free transfer between LGW and LHR. If you bought all of the air travel on one ticket, it may have included transportation between the two airports, but it may not. You should check if you think this is the case.

missmagenta, I believe the rules changed in August. If you were able to take multiple bags with you after that point, you just got lucky.
posted by grouse at 8:45 AM on May 30, 2007


Sorry I always thought that there was a free bus transfer between the airports. Apologies for the misinformation!
posted by ob at 8:51 AM on May 30, 2007


And I imagine jacquilynne is incorrect about cost of the ticket being the most important thing in not getting bumped, so I wouldn't worry about that. In fact, it may not even be considered. On the airlines whose policies I know inside and out (disclaimer: not US), it isn't.

It's not the most important thing--though how it balances with frequent flyer status depends on the interplay between ticket price and level of frequent flyer status--but it's the one most directly in control of a person at any given time. He can't magically go back and become a frequent flyer in the past, but he might be able to change his itinerary to a full fare rather than discounted coach ticket. Ultimately, I don't think the bump risk is high enough that he should bother--the connection in London is by far the riskier risk--but if he's that worried, that's the place where he can spend some bucks and possibly help his cause a little bit.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:54 AM on May 30, 2007


Thanks for all the interest in my question (and thanks for caring about the baggage specifics). This is ultra-useful. Quick follow-ups:

1) Am I right that the National Express coach, at 70 mins and £19 (and running every 5 to 10 minutes), is the best way to travel LGW-LHR short of a private car?

2) The LHR carryon restrictions actually don't matter in my case because JAT's rules are stricter (one bag, 115cm [45"] total and 10kg [22lb] or less)

3) calling everyone "he" sucks (especially in a case where, if you want to use a pronoun, the OP's gender is one click away in her profile)
posted by allterrainbrain at 9:29 AM on May 30, 2007


National Express is probably your best option, but if there's bad traffic on the M25 it can take a while longer than that. But on a Saturday it should be much better than midweek when the traffic is horrendous (example, it took me 3 hours to get to Gatwick from Essex last Wednesday morning and 2.5 hours coming home for a journey of 62 miles).
posted by essexjan at 9:51 AM on May 30, 2007


though how it balances with frequent flyer status depends on the interplay between ticket price and level of frequent flyer status--but it's the one most directly in control of a person at any given time.

I did a Flyertalk search on this, and at least one person who claims to be a US Airways gate agent also claims that it doesn't matter, only status and check-in time.

Am I right that the National Express coach, at 70 mins and £19 (and running every 5 to 10 minutes), is the best way to travel LGW-LHR short of a private car?

I'm afraid it's 80 minutes from the South Terminal of LGW, which is where US is. And it can be worse. At Friday I was at LGW and Delta had a mechanical problem with their aircraft, so they sent me on a private coach to LHR. It took about 90 minutes even without the extra stops the public coach will make. And then after Virgin Atlantic refused to accept Delta's passengers at LHR, we got back in the same coaches and it took about two hours to get back to LGW. Now that was Friday afternoon on a bank holiday weekend, so hopefully it will be better when you go on a Saturday morning. Although, as ob alludes to, 4 August and 25 August are in bank holiday weekends, so I'd expect more traffic. Ask essexjan or someone else for how much more to expect, I don't drive regularly. :)

I think the fastest rail-and-tube-only journey will take at least 90 minutes and be a big hassle for you. But if you can somehow figure out on the morning if the M25 traffic is unexpectedly horrendous (maybe one of the car drivers here could make a suggestion), then you should take the Gatwick Express to Victoria, Victoria Line to Oxford Circus, Bakerloo Line to Paddington, and Heathrow Express to Heathrow Airport. All that cost £33.40 for a through ticket last month, but it may have changed in the May fares update. It pains me to ever recommend the Heathrow or Gatwick Expresses because I think they are both rip-offs, but I guess you won't consider this unless you are desperate.
posted by grouse at 10:26 AM on May 30, 2007


On the plus side, you can get a decent Philly cheesesteak at PHL.

In the airport? Where?
posted by oaf at 10:26 AM on May 30, 2007


oaf: Philly Steak & Gyro, Concourse C. Fast food, but all cooked to order. There were lots of pilots queuing up there each time I've been through Philly, so once when I had time I tried a cheesesteak and it was really good.
posted by essexjan at 11:27 AM on May 30, 2007


though how it balances with frequent flyer status depends on the interplay between ticket price and level of frequent flyer status--but it's the one most directly in control of a person at any given time.

I did a Flyertalk search on this, and at least one person who claims to be a US Airways gate agent also claims that it doesn't matter, only status and check-in time.
The post that you quote details US's Byzantine upgrade/stand-by process and does not describe the involuntary denied boarding process. The post is also way old (like pre-merger old) and as such describes a process that is no longer extant, although it looks pretty much right (except that a new FF status has been added, so there are status from 1-5 instead of 1-4). That being said, if you just join the program and add it to your PNR, you are a US4 and people who aren't in the program are US5 -- so you'll have better status than them. As a practical matter, if you have a confirmed seat assignment, you will never get bumped if you arrive on time.

A better link would be this one where he says that the contract of carriage (the law for such matters) defines the bump order as status and then check-in time. However, the whole thread is about a case where the airline didn't follow its own rules. All this arcane airline knowledge won't matter -- the OP will never get bumped on an international route. They might not make it to Heathrow on time, but they won't get bumped.
posted by Lame_username at 12:28 PM on May 30, 2007


The post that you quote details US's Byzantine upgrade/stand-by process and does not describe the involuntary denied boarding process.

Yes, I knew that, but I assumed that the priority list used was the same, as it is on another airline I fly that uses a PALL command for a priority list for everything. What process do they use now? In any case, my point that the OP should join the FF program, check in early, and not worry about the ticket price still seems to stand.
posted by grouse at 12:46 PM on May 30, 2007


grouse, there is some friction with the new process, but it appears that there are two classes of upgrade seats, some which are grabbable by those who do web check-in with any elite status at the 24 hour window and some that are processed at the gate using the process you showed. HP's bump process was agnostic to FF status and just bumped those who (1) didn't have assigned seats and (2) were the last ones to report to the GA. They are supposed to use the same process now, but it appears that ex-America West locations use their old process and the East locations use the old US Air process. In any event, the OP isn't going to get bumped. He might land two hours late, fail to make it to Heathrow and find out that neither airline thinks it is their fault. But I'm trying not to freak him out.
posted by Lame_username at 5:02 PM on May 30, 2007


Why do people keep calling me he? You can debate the content of external links but you can't see my post above? :) Anyway:

Again, I'm really grateful for the debate -- this thread has shown me that, assuming I check in online and arrive early, the place where I most have to concentrate on preventing problems is the LGW to LHR transfer. I also notice that Germanwings flies to Belgrade from several cities that are easily accessible from London, meaning I'm not totally dependent on JAT's one daily flight should the London transfer fail.
posted by allterrainbrain at 7:43 PM on May 30, 2007


Because the external links are relevant to the question, and your gender isn't? People are trying to help you, how about cutting them some slack?
posted by jacquilynne at 7:18 AM on May 31, 2007


I've made it very clear how grateful I am for the help.

You think pronouns are irrelevant, I think otherwise and I'll be clear about that.
posted by allterrainbrain at 8:41 AM on May 31, 2007


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