My Three Hour Layover Wasn't Enough — Reader Mistake Story
Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader David, who nearly missed an international connection:
A few years ago, I was traveling to Bohol in the Philippines. We booked one round-trip flight to Manila (MNL), and another (on a different airline) from Manila to Tagbilaran (TAG), leaving about three hours after our first flight was scheduled to land. I assumed that would be plenty of time, since we were arriving and departing from the same airport.
After landing an hour late and filling out forms for lost baggage, we still had about an hour to make our Bohol flight, which I thought would be fine since we just needed to get from Terminal 1 to Terminal 3. It turns out we couldn't get there on foot, and since it was rush hour, we were told the shuttle would take 40 minutes to get between those two terminals of the same airport! There was no faster connection, so our only option was to hail a cab and convince him to drive like a maniac. We almost got into three accidents, but we made it two minutes before the gate closed.
If you're booking two separate flights back-to-back, it's customary to leave extra time to deplane, collect bags, and re-clear security. But don't forget to also consider the transfer times between terminals; it can take longer than you think! I would recommend looking up the airport ahead of time so you know what to expect.
I agree with David that researching unfamiliar airports in advance is prudent, especially if you have a tight connection or need to get somewhere quickly upon arrival. Most major airports offer information like terminal maps and transit options online, but you can also find independent sites (like this transfer guide to Manila airport) that go into much greater detail. Some navigation apps also include interactive airport maps; TripIt Pro, for example, offers point-to-point navigation in 78 airports worldwide. All of these resources can help clarify what to expect on the ground.
No matter how efficiently you navigate an airport, however, you're bound to run into problems if you don't schedule enough time between flights. To that end, I recommend checking the minimum connection time (MCT) posted by your airline (and others serving that airport). You're unlikely to be scheduled for less than the MCT if you're transiting as part of a single itinerary, but if you're arriving and departing on separate tickets, checking the MCT before you book is crucial.
Both Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific list minimum connection times of three hours between Terminals 1 and 3 at MNL, so while David assumed he had scheduled adequately, in reality he left little margin for error. He probably could have taken a leisurely pace if not for the late arrival and lost baggage, but delays are inevitable in the long run and you have to account for them. You can make up lost time if you don't mind deplaning in beast mode and sprinting through the terminal. But if you prefer a more relaxed layover, just book the next flight out instead.
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 me to post it online), I’m sending David a $200 airline 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 email@example.com, 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. I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!