Because connecting is more fun than flying non-stop


With an impending work trip to Hamburg, Germany on the horizon it was finally time to book my flights. There is a non-stop option from Newark to Hamburg on United (I’ve flown it once before) which would probably be reasonable, but I’ve also built in a day of time on arrival to deal with jetlag and get settled and not be too dead for a week of meetings. And that also gives me a bit of flexibility in booking the flights. The non-stop option, in addition to being somewhere between a bit and stupidly expensive (the price has varied from $2000-2900 over the past week), only has middle seats available for the outbound flight (non-reclining in E+ or way in the back for E-). I just did that last week and I’d rather not repeat the experience if I don’t have to.

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Not the sort of seat map you want to see when booking a TATL flight

Plus the business class cabin is already down to 3 seats for sale which doesn’t bode well for a GPU clearing.

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So, given the numbers working against me on the non-stop option I started to explore alternatives. My initial searches were mostly Newark-Europe and then onward to Hamburg there. Zurich seemed to have decent potential, offering up a longer TATL flight for sleeping and a few more miles with the connection, but it also included a four hour layover in Zurich. That’s a bit more time than I’d like to spend in the airport and not enough for me to want to leave and head into town. Milan had an even longer connection option which, given the location of Malpensa, was still a crappy option for getting into town. Plus I don’t really love Milan as a day-trip destination. It was time to get away from the United site and start using ITA to force more creative routings (I did also look at other carriers but none were particularly compelling for price or schedule so sticking with United/Star Alliance made sense in this case).

Comparing my travel options; the green routing I booked ends up being 19% longer than the non-stop option
Map generated by the Great Circle Mapper - copyright © Karl L. Swartz.

My desire for more sleep means I wanted a longer TATL flight. And a later one if possible. Departures between 5-7pm are great for the airline to get planes to Europe and back but not so great for me sleeping on board. Chicago had a few options but the fares didn’t price so well. Time to give Dulles a try. There are not as many European destinations available from Dulles as from Newark but there are a couple late night flights. The 9:50pm departure to Frankfurt is darn near perfect in terms of combining flight time, departure time and onward connection options, at least within Europe. And more miles connecting down from NYC.

As an added bonus, there are lots of flights between NYC and Dulles which means I can have a bit of fun with my day on the outbound. And I’ve got family and friends in the DC area (plus there’s always the Udvar-Hazy Center if everything else falls through; I really like it there). So booking a 10 hour connection was easy enough and offers lots of potential.

Yes, my total travel time is just over 24 hours rather than just under 8 hours. But I’m still pretty sure it is the smart move given my circumstances.

For the return the non-stop was not all that much more expensive (turns out the outbound flight was the fare-limiting factor on that one) so I could have done that quite reasonably. But I’ve been interested in trying out Lufthansa‘s germanwings operation and the forward cabin is completely sold out on the non-stop, making my upgrade VERY unlikely. And I’ve never been to Stuttgart.  So I’ve added a short extra hop there which should be fun and keep up my Dots, Lines and Destinations credibility a bit.

The return trip; routing via London required waking up WAY too early.
Map generated by the Great Circle Mapper - copyright © Karl L. Swartz.

Save some cash for the client, see family & friends and get a couple new travel experiences. I’m calling that a win on pretty much every level.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and .

12 Comments

  1. Germanwings isn’t half bad for a quick jaunt, and you can usually check-in up to 3 days early on their website. Stuttgart is known for the car museums (Porsche and Mercedes-Benz), but not too much else. Enjoy your layover!

  2. How about connecting through IST? Cheap fares and a nice, long overnight flight. I tried to do that for a trip to Budapest last year but unfortunately I could not find convenient connections and while, under other circumstances, a 20 hour layover in IST would be great, I didn’t have the day to spare getting back.

    1. I absolutely love Istanbul and my experiences flying on Turkish have been sufficiently pleasant that I’d consider them again. On this trip I wouldn’t really have enough time for the long stop in Istanbul in either direction and routing via IST on the return makes for a much longer day without a ton of upside other than the miles.

      And no chance at all of upgrading, other than paying cash to Comfort Class on day of departure. Plus no visit with family in DC.

    1. Not on this trip. And I’m completely OK with that. I get a full day on the ground to recover before I’m supposed to be coherent.

  3. How is it that the seat map shows only one seat open yet they are showing 3 seats available for sale? I was under the impression that they don’t oversell the highest cabin

  4. When are you going to be in DC??? Let me know as I’m always up for a jaunt out to IAD …

  5. When you do the stretch out the trip, how do you factor in the increase in flying time? Clearly if you travel during normal business hours there is no confusion in equating flight time to work hours, but if you are choosing to take a longer route, there may be a conflict between your and your employer’s interests.

    1. In this case I calculated the extra flying time as a benefit for sleeping on the TATL and as the cost of getting time with my family. On the return the extra couple hours doesn’t bother me as it is a spent day either way.

      There are definitely many times where this sort of routing wouldn’t work, but it does for me on this trip.

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