By Mark E., our newest blogger, WhatHappensNow staff member and traveler extraordinaire. Welcome Mark!
Are you an “illegal” traveler? Of course you’re not (I can hear you saying no). Well, before you answer no (again), chances are you could be and not even know it.
On a recent trip back from the Virgin Islands, my travel plan was to have a brief layover in Miami before heading home to Minneapolis. However, I was told at the check-in counter that my return booking was “illegal”. Huh? But I’d booked online through a travel site. I had all my flight confirmations, ID and passport organized and right there as proof. C’mon – I had just helped a little old lady across the street. I had petted a stray dog. So now I’m “illegal”? – what gives?
Ok, while the term “illegal” might be a little strong, it was the term that the check-in counter used and I did indeed violate an airline policy. I had booked my trip through a travel website and the 40 minutes of time allowed for layover in Miami was insufficient per the airline’s 1 hour standard for layovers.
What can this mean for you? Basically, that all bets are off and the airlines responsibility of getting you home per scheduled events is lifted. What could happen if you don’t book a longer layover:
- worst case scenario: they don’t let you on the plane
- your luggage won’t route correctly and may be delayed
- you won’t make your connection time and may have a longer layover (which the airline may or may not pay for if overnight)
While you may not be aware your online booking company is violating layover times, there are some smart things you can do in advance to be prepared and help the airline booking people help you:
- When booking your next flight, pay attention to your layover times. If traveling internationally and booking a connection, shoot for a layover that lasts at least 1-2 hours. Why so much time? When returning home to the U.S. you’ll need to grab your luggage and clear customs, even if you’re a U.S. citizen. And that takes time.
- Know the airlines’ policies. Here are phone numbers and websites.
- Be as cooperative and helpful to the ticketing staff – that includes being prepared. Help them help you.
As it turns out I did get on the plane to leave the Virgin Islands (a little bittersweet there). However, I had to spend the night in Miami on my dime and my luggage arrived at my home destination two days after I had got back.
Lesson learned? Be prepared, because petting the stray dog isn’t gonna get you any points. Help the old lady though. It’s just a nice thing to do.