Avoid The Great Gate Airport Mistakes: 7 Easy Tips

Airport departure gates at Amsterdam's Schiphol International airport

 

Never chance time when you’ve got a flight to catch.

So, you’re off to a good start – arriving to the airport with plenty of time to spare. But, that’s the first part of reaching your flight on time. Next you have to make sure all goes to plan between checking in and reaching your gate in time for departure – sounds simple, right?

But it’s the ‘great gate airport’ mistakes that can throw a simple process into jeopardy and leave you rushed, panicked or worse, missing your flight.   Here’s the ‘gate airport mistakes’ I’ve made and learned from;

  • almost missing a flight because I trusted the terminal departure board screen status
  • when the gate was so far away I had to put my running shoes own (figuratively speaking)
  • when the customs queue was unbelievably long I truly thought that I had no hope in reaching my gate on time.

After years of solo travel, passing through countless airports and transiting between flights, I’ve had a few reminders that no matter what, go to your gate with plenty of time to spare.  Time, is the one simple takeaway point from the 7 tips for reaching your flight on time. 


#1   DON’T TRUST THE DEPARTURE BOARD STATUS

At least two times I’ve been caught out relying on the terminal departure board screens that announce the flight boarding status. Once it was a gate number that had changed and wasn’t updated on the board. More recently, a flight out of Sydney to Fiji - ultimately, my instinct was telling me that something didn’t seem right and I headed for the gate.  I got there for the final boarding call - the terminal board stated ‘Gate Open’ – it should have read ‘Boarding’.  


Departures in Lisbon Airport, Portugal, also known as Lisbon Portela Airport.

I know how the status updates work - from ‘Relax’ to ‘Gate Open’, or ‘Go To Gate', to ‘Boarding’ to ‘Final Call’ and then ‘Gate Closed’ – more or less along those lines at airports across the world. According to the board for my flight to Fiji, I had plenty of time. Can’t say why the board wasn’t updated but in any case it was a good reminder – don’t trust the departure board status updates.  

On a positive sign, a lot of airports now have signage that tells you how long it will take to get your gate, or otherwise find an information desk if you’re not sure.


#2   IMMIGRATION BORDER CONTROL

A simple mistake is not factoring in time for immigration border control queues, and the distance to reach them.  Some airports are notorious for long queues to pass through border control. I had a flight last month in Mumbai, India and it was just domestic screening and the queue was more than 20 minutes.  In addition to allowing time for the queues, it’s also a good idea to make sure that after you check in for your flight you know where the Immigration entry point is so you know how much time to allow to reach it (if your planning on staying landside, that is, before Immigration, for a while).

If you’re flying business or first class many airports offer priority processing which should save you some time.  Ask the airline representative when you check in if there is priority and where it is.

#3   EXTRA SECURITY

It’s not like this for Australian airports, but many countries have two airport security checks. One after immigration (or before you enter the airport terminal), and one again at your boarding gate.  Each security check means you need to allow more time to reach your gate in time to board before the gate closes.
  

#4   GATES CLOSE

Gates have set times of closure before a flight.  Check your boarding pass – it should say state how many minutes prior to your flight departure the gate closes and/or otherwise state your boarding time. The easiest thing to do is to get your facts at the check-in counter.  Ask these 3 questions when you check in if you don’t already know.

  • When does the gate for the flight close?
  • How far is the gate from immigration control (if it’s international)
  • Is there security screening at the gate?

Once you know the answers you’ll know what extra time you need to add to the flight departure time, to reach your gate on time.

It’s so easy to stroll around the airport, looking at stores, taking a coffee or bite to eat and suddenly a lot of time has passed, and you find yourself scrambling to get to the gate before the boarding for your flight closes.


#5   CHECK IN ONLINE

An easy way to give yourself more time to get to the gate is to check in online before your flight. Airlines usually have a separate queue at the check-in counter for passengers that have already checked in online.  I’ve always found the queue a lot shorter, and sometimes no queue compared to the queue for passengers that haven’t checked in online.  Also it’s faster as you’ve already stepped through some of the check in procedures when you check in online.


#6   TERMINAL TRANSFERS

Transiting between flights at an international airport or from an international to domestic flight can be daunting if it’s new to you and if you’re  new to solo travel, being without a travel buddy, it may be more reason to fell daunted by the prospect.  You have to navigate a new airport, plus you’re not sure how long it takes to get between each terminal.

Firstly, if you’re connecting between flights there are minimum connection time rules for tickets. When you book flights on the one ticket this is generally well managed but if you are booking separate tickets and connecting between the flights that are on separate tickets you need to take care if you are making this arrangement, and seek advice on the minimum connecting times.  In short, the minimum connecting time is set to be the reasonable time frame required to connect from point a, arrival to point b, departure for your next flight.  Your travel agent will be able to give you some advice. For example they can tell you the airlines stipulated minimum connection time, and whether or not you have to change terminals. What we can’t know in advance is the gate for the departure which can have a major bearing on the walking distance between flights. If you’re uncomfortable with a tight connection consider your options for your second flight to be later.

 

#7   ASK ONBOARD

If you’re on your first flight, and in particular if that flight has a delayed arrival, ask for some advice onboard - tell a flight attendant you’re worried about your connection time -  if they recognise there’s an urgency,  they may arrange for you to disembark with priority (hopefully). Also, if your connecting flight is on the same ticket that helps as airlines are across who is connecting from where, for their flights.  I was on a connecting flight that was so late I felt for sure I’d not make the next flight.  But, the airline stepped in.  There were just a few of us - we were given priority disembarkation from our first flight, met by an airline representative, whisked down some stairs from our first aircraft to the tarmac and then onto a bus to meet the next flight on the tarmac, up the side stairs onto the plane, – we made it and that aircraft door shut quickly behind us.

The reality is, that, flight delays can happen.  If you book your flights with code share partners or the same airline, all on the one ticket, then the airlines will assist with getting you on the next available flight. But also, no matter what, take out travel insurance that covers you extended delays or cancellations.


In a snapshot, not all departures at all airports are the same.  Before you travel it may help to seek out airport information online.  Most airports have websites with terminal maps and have helpful traveller information for check in and transferring to your departure gates.


Never chance time when you’ve got a flight to catch.

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About the author

Justine Waddington

Justine Waddington is the founder and director of Encounter Travel, a company that creates holiday groups exclusively for solo travellers. As a solo traveller with 57 countries under her belt and 10 years of leading travel groups, Justine is in the unique position of being able to offer tips and advice from the perspective of an experienced solo traveller and also that of a travel agent.

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