In recent years, we have only flown domestically within the region where we live (western U.S.) or else non-stop to overseas destinations. Any domestic transfers that we have made thus far (regionally) have required very little time to make the connection. Soon however, we will find ourselves flying regularly to Nashville and back from out here in the west, but not non-stop, unfortunately. I'm currently considering a flight involving a connection at ATL the day after Thanksgiving. I'm not familiar with ATL, except that it seems like a lot of people don't like this airport, because it is so busy.
My question is, should I book our itinerary with a 40 minute connection time or a connection time of 2 hours at this airport (times offered by the airline)? 2 hours seems a bit long, but 40 minutes seems like we might be cutting it too close (and if so, why would an airline even offer an itinerary with such a risky connection time?) It seems like a missed connection could potentially be a lot more inconvenient that playing it safe with too much time.
I'm also curious to hear what everyone's thoughts and experiences in recent times are with regards to choosing flights with shorter or longer connection times. What factors have most made a difference (airline, airport, aircraft, time of day, week, year, etc.) with regards to making or missing your connections? (Disasters don't count.)
First of all, I really enjoy and like the Atlanta airport. It is up to date, clean, and plenty of dining choices. The problem you are faced with is there are 5 terminals (Counting international) all connected with a nice tram. You will not know where your connection is leaving from, probably till you land.
With this in mind, and baggage?, might I suggest the two hour layover, (That is really what I would do).
You will be able to relax on the flight, have a relaxed snack at the Atlanta airport and if you can, get into the very nice Delta Lounge.
You may get lucky on the 40 minute layover, but if it doesn't work, you may be spending the evening in Atlanta!
Just a thought!
IMO, 40 minutes is tight, considering the door usually closes 10 minutes prior to departure, but depending on your airline (UA has been padding its arrival times by up to 30 minutes to boost its on time stats) and the weather outlook (late-November is probably not too bad) you can probably make it. My wife doesn't like to rush about so we'd choose the two-hour layover. If I was flying solo it'd choose the shorter window.
I think the real answer is in the form of a question, how much of a gambler are you because as you know airline connections are like a **** shoot? Of course you could get technical and over think it by saying hmmmm, we are flying west to east in the fall/winter so we should have a nice tailwind arriving ATL maybe 30 minutes early so a 40 minute connection is a breeze, but ahhh, will we have a gate when we arrive? Not sure if you can find out what the average time is between flights in ATL for Delta, but when I was working my friend at the CO Ramp Tower here told me CO averaged 9 minutes between aircraft and they hate to switch gates. Just food for thought, but I will see if he has any connections in ATL with Delta Ramp Tower folks or Ops and see what their times are running, my guess is they're pretty tight as well.
I love short connection times (when they work), but I usually travel alone, without checked luggage, which can make a difference. The shortest time I can recall in ATL is about 45 minutes and it worked fine. Delta has also been padding arrival time, so flights arrive before scheduled more often than in the past (I had one that arrived more than 30 minutes early recently). Any delay on the first flight could squeeze you and create unnecessary stress. You mentioned the day after Thanksgiving. If it were the day before Thanksgiving, I'd say the 40 minutes is too short.
If I were booking, I'd grab the shortest connection time possible. The airline will do everything possible so that you make the connecting flight. If you miss it, they'll put you on a later one. The only question is how soon that will be. With planes flying more full than ever, that's a risk some may not wish to take.
Some random musings and recent facts about traveling with short connections......
I have had a very good experience in the past years with being 'on time' with flights. However, I have seen the 'on time' flights of the past three - four months change dramatically. It took me two days to get from Florida to DC this month. It took me 15 hours to get from Florida to Indianapolis in May. It took me 15 hours to get from Florida to New York in late April. In each case my connections were more than an hour but I never made them. One cost me a day. I actually asked someone to call the gate and they won't hold a plane unless there is about 20 or so people trying to make the flight who are late but close.
I always have taken the later connection when I have less than 1 hour between flights....even when they were flying on time. For me, it's just too close to gamble and the potential consequences of missing a tight connection are an issue I don't want to deal with. ATL is a huge airport. When busy, it might take time to get to the terminal gate after landing because your flight might be held from passing over an active runway being used for takeoffs. That happened to me. The pilot came on and said we were 15 to 20 minutes from getting to the gate after we landed and stopped because we were being held for outgoing flights. When inside the terminal it's packed with people and you have to go to the center of any given terminal to go down the escalator to wait for the tram that takes folks from terminal to terminal. In ATL, if you have a checked bag and have a tight connection you can pretty much be assured the bag isn't making it. Also, take into consideration that you are traveling Thanksgiving weekend......
So here's a question that might help......is it better to have a two hour insurance policy that costs nothing more than getting to your family two hours later or having a tight connection that might cost you a night in a hotel and one less day with your family?
As an aside, if the trip being contemplated is one they do now it might help to look up the terminal connection as it exists now and the on-time history. If one lands in Terminal E and your outgoing is in Terminal T that's a long way.
Thanks everyone for the thoughtful input. There are a number of factors that affect schedules that I hadn't considered. The two key ideas that hit home for me were the ideas of 1) how much of a gamble are we willing to take, and 2) the free insurance policy that a little extra time can offer.
I was reminded by someone's response about a previously cancelled flight home 3 days before Thanksgiving 2 years ago, and because there was only one flight out/day combined with it being proximal to a major holiday (all of the subsequent flights were flying fairly full to begin with), it took 4 days to fly out of that airport (or pay a lot of money to get to another airport). Makes me realize that the 2 hours (or even 3) connection time would be a no brainer, especially around the holiday. I wonder even if it wouldn't be worth it in some circumstances to drive to an airport further out if it meant being able to catch a non-stop. Planes are definitely flying fuller than they used to.
Tef, you've had some bad luck lately. What a pain. Hope your luck improves, and thanks for the insight.
Go for the 2hour layover especially since it will be the day after Thanksgiving. I always try to book flights with at least a one hour layover. I have to agree with Jerry about ATL being a really nice hub and it's my preferred airport to travel through. It's so easy to get from one Terminal to the other via the train. If I don't like food options in one terminal I'll hop on the train and go to another terminal. Most of the time I find myself at the nice large Chillis in Terminal A upstairs across from the Delta Lounge.
I travel to ATL every week. While I'm not making connections here, I've made plenty of connections at DFW. I would compare ATL to DFW in connections and 40 minutes is cutting it close and would be an absolute minimum for me. Murphy's law usually prevails in those cases and something goes wrong... I've had plenty of 50 minute connections and only missed one by about 30 seconds.... I'm not as young or agile as I use to be, so it was somewhat my fault. Then again, I have enough air miles under my belt that I don't get too upset when things happen... they do and you just deal with it.
As for ATL, I've made it from the front entrance to my gate in D terminal - including going through TSA - in as little as 20 minutes... and again, I"m slow... and it was D55 or so.
One other comment... ATL certainly is working on being a cleaner and more up to date, but they are not there yet. Plenty of other airports have them beat in that department. Kudos for their efforts. At least they beat ORD all to... well...
One big complaint I have about ATL is the lack of flow in the main terminal. Arriving and departing folks all going in 20 different directions at the same time... They could learn a thing or two from SEA-TAC in that department for sure...
If I ever have to connect at ATL I'll just take a bus!
We are just lucky as we normally don't have to make connections unless we're traveling to certain European destinations and even then can make those connections in Europe. You clearly put it all in perspective when you wrote "when things happen....they do and you just must deal with it", very well put.