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By The Way
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Pick your plane seat wisely. It matters in a tight connection.

Beyond your seat, having a game plan when you are in a rush is key

(Min Heo for The Washington Post)

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As a frequent traveler, I knew to give myself ample time during a late January trip to make my connection at Miami International Airport, a major hub for flights to the Caribbean and South America.

Trouble started shortly before boarding, with several delays eating through my precious connection time.

I knew my travel itinerary front to back: a three-hour, 10-minute flight from New York’s JFK Airport to Miami and a roughly one-hour, 45-minute connection before flying to St. Kitts. I had my passport in hand; no checked bags; and my required travel documents, including a negative coronavirus test, saved on my phone. I felt well-prepared during what has been easily the most confusing and stressful time for travel.

One thing I didn’t pay too much attention to: my seat on the airplane, a completely full Boeing 777-200ER with a whopping 273 seats, including 146 in the main cabin alone — where I was.

On travel itineraries with tight connections, I usually sit close to the front of the aircraft to be able to quickly leave after landing. This day, however, I booked a seat toward the back of the aircraft for closer access to the lavatory and to avoid a dreaded middle seat; the last few rows of this particular 777 have just two seats instead of three.

This confirmed to me how much your seat and game plan can matter during a tight connection.

The completely correct guide to getting off a plane

With a nearly three-hour delay, we would land at the tail end of the boarding process to St. Kitts. That meant I would need to be among the first off the plane if I wanted to make my connection.

Panicked, I explained the situation to a flight attendant.

The pilot “will probably hold the plane for you. They typically do that if there’s a limited number of flights,” she said. Just one American flight operated per day between Miami and St. Kitts, and if I didn’t make that one, I’d have to crash in Miami overnight. It would mean having to take another coronavirus test and update my entry form with the Kittitian government.

With the friendly flight attendant’s words (slightly) reassuring me, I settled in for the rest of the flight. We landed, and my worry came roaring back: I would be among the last passengers off this plane.

I was convinced that if I missed the flight, it would be because I’d picked the wrong seat and, running through the airport, swore to never sit at the back of the plane again if I had a tight connection. I made my flight — the gate agent telling me, “We were waiting for your flight” — and all was well.

How to pull off a short flight connection, and when to give yourself more time

But the experience got me thinking. Weeks later, I wanted to see if there was anything I could have done differently. I spoke to my flight attendant friend, Dave, who works for a major U.S. carrier, about whether picking a seat closer to the front of the airplane would have actually helped me make a flight with a super-tight connection. His response surprised me.

He says it’s possible to be moved closer to the front of the plane before landing if there’s enough space, and flight attendants may notify gate agents as soon as the door is open. He also said passengers could do something: simply allow travelers with tighter connections the opportunity to exit the aircraft first.

“When passengers take the time to explain (without resorting to hysterics or anger) their situation and do so early enough, we’ll do our best to work out a game plan,” he told me.

Knowing there was little I could have done brought more comfort than I’d hoped — Dave tells me flight attendants typically know when a traveler has a tight connection; the connection saver program airlines use is a mostly automated process.

Having a game plan for my next tight connection is essential. That means, at least for me, avoiding having to gate-check a bag so I can simply grab my stuff and dart off to my next flight. And, to avoid the anxiety of missing a tight connection, building in a more flexible layover — even if it means hanging around the airport a little longer.

Victoria M. Walker is a travel reporter and the founder of lifestyle site Travel With Vikkie.