Our Airport Lunch Cost Us $1,400 — Reader Mistake Story
Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Karen, whose family underestimated how long it would take to get to their gate:
We arrived at Rome's FCO airport three hours early for our flight to London, knowing that we might have to check our carry-on bags because of Alitalia's weight limit. After checking in, checking our bags and going through security (where our passports were checked a second time), our family of four decided to have some lunch before going to our gate.
About 90 minutes before our flight was supposed to depart, we started towards our gate and discovered we still had to clear passport control or "exit immigration." Unfortunately, the line was very, very long, and our youngest was too young to go through electronic passport control. There were only two agents working this big line, and they were moving at the relaxed speed we had come to expect after being in Italy for eight days.
After 75 minutes in line, we received notification that our flight was delayed by 15 minutes. We hoped that would help us make our flight, but we didn't get to the passport agent until the new departure time for our flight. We decided to try to get to the gate quickly anyway. As we were rounding the corner to our gate, we heard the last call for boarding with our names. We literally arrived at the gate as the message was ending and were told the flight had already left.
Alitalia agents told us to go to customer service for help. Customer service tried to send us back out to the ticketing counter (past passport control) to buy another ticket. Knowing the next flight left in two hours and we would never make it back through passport control in time, my husband decided to go into the Alitalia lounge for help (since he has Delta Platinum status through the Amex Centurion card). The agents there suggested we book our ticket online and they would help us with seat assignments and get our luggage redirected to meet us when our flight arrived in London.
The only tickets available were $350 per person, up significantly from our original cost of $70 per person. Fortunately, we had Membership Rewards points we could use to reimburse the expense of our tickets, since no flights for the same day were showing up in the American Express or Chase travel portals.
If we had gone all the way to our gate before stopping for lunch, we would have made our flight. Instead, our lunch at FCO cost us $52 plus the Amex points to cover $1,400 in additional airfare, resulting in our most expensive lunch ever! If we had researched the airport before arriving, we would have seen other horror stories about the long lines and the "exit immigration" process. Our future travel planning will include research on all of the airports involved.
Airports all serve the same general purpose, but each facility is unique, so heed Karen's final point and do some research before you visit an unfamiliar airport, especially when traveling abroad. Try to locate your gate based on your airline — if you can't pinpoint it that accurately, you can usually narrow it down to at least the right terminal. Next, plot out a path to (or from) your gate, including any stops you plan to make along the way (like at a lounge or perhaps some less common amenity). Finally, look for general advice about transiting that airport, preferably from other travelers; their anecdotes should inform you about quirks like particularly long security lines or distances between terminals.
With that said, you can study ahead of time all you want, but the best way to get the lay of the land is to actually walk it. Before you settle down for a meal or to wait in a comfortable spot, I recommend going to your gate to verify how much time you'll need to get there and what obstacles lie in your path. If you're traveling in a group, send one person ahead to scope out the terrain while the others relax. You might have to pass through an extra layer of security (like Karen did), hop on an infrequent shuttle, or walk farther than you thought through the terminal. Or you might find that your gate is 30 seconds away and you can breathe easy. Either way, you're better off knowing in advance.
Related: What To Do When You Miss Your Flight
I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. In appreciation for sharing this experience (and for allowing us to post it online), I’m sending Karen a gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I'd like to do the same for you. Please email your own travel mistake stories to firstname.lastname@example.org, and put "Reader Mistake Story" in the subject line. Tell us how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what the rest of us can do to avoid the same pitfalls.
Feel free to also submit your best travel success stories. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure. Due to the volume of submissions, we can't respond to each story individually, but we'll be in touch if yours is selected. I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!