One of the best aspects of travel — and particularly river cruising — is that is presents endless learning opportunities. While traveling home from a Christmas Markets cruise onboard Viking River Cruises’ Viking Freya in December, I had another learning opportunity — and this one concerned flights.
I had booked flights on KLM that would take me from Nuremberg to Amsterdam, then on to Vancouver. The flight from Nuremberg to Amsterdam was just under two hours, followed by a two hour connection at Schiphol airport — probably one of the easiest airports with which to change aircraft.
On paper, it looked perfect: There were no tight 90 or 60-minute connections, and the two-hour layover would give me, I figured, time to spare between flights. Just to be on the safe side though, I changed my seats when I checked in, moving from the rear of the plane to the first row of economy seating.
It turned out to be a wise decision.
In Nuremberg, a massive cold front that would bring plenty of snow by afternoon was just one of many problems compounding our departure. The second issue was that the entire airport’s computerized systems were down, meaning that one agent for the entire flight had to manually check passengers in, and hand-write baggage tags.
Our aircraft was a tiny Fokker F70 operated by KLM Cityhopper that could barely hold 80 passengers and yet, after two hours queuing up, I was no closer to dropping my bag off. Web check-in or not, the process was bogging down.
Due to the ongoing computer issues, we took off 80 minutes late, and I watched my 120 minute layover shrink to just 40. This was when Murphy’s Law kicked in and dictated that my arrivals gate should be as far apart from my departure gate as possible.
I ran off the airplane, through Schiphol, and made my flight just as they were going to shut the door. My seatmate must have been thrilled to know that this dishevelled, sweaty, harried looking man would be their companion for the next 10 hours.
So what did I learn? Here’s a few things I changed in the wake of this:
I bought wheeled carry-on luggage. Before, I had a shoulder bag that was convenient, but incredibly difficult to do anything more than a brisk walk with. Now, I can pull my luggage behind me in the event I have to make a “mad dash” across terminals.
I started sitting at the front of the plane. I’ve always been a fan of the rear of the plane (which rarely fills up) or the over-wing sections. Now, I purposely select seats as far forward as possible when I fly with connections under two hours. Changing from 25F to 14A that day allowed me to make my flight.
I read statistics. Look at sites like FlightAware; it will tell you how many instances a particular flight has been delayed or cancelled for any reason. If there are a lot of these, you might want to either give yourself more time or rethink your flight strategy all together.
Take it from me — you don’t want to find yourself running across an airport to make your flight.