On Travel Planning Mistakes and Good Airport Customer Service

AKA London Gatwick came through when I screwed up.

 Image via  Visit London

Image via Visit London

When I was piecing together a flight itinerary for Italy back in February, which was several power hours of Googling over a weekend, I ended up doing a combo of different airlines and cities to get where I needed to go on a budget.

What I ended up going with was this:

Outboud

SJC-LAS on Delta 

LAS-LGW on Virgin Atlantic using award points, SFO was booked out on our departing date but Vegas was open in Premium Economy

LGW-NAP on Meridiana 

Return

FCO-DUS-SFO via AirBerlin

A little rough on getting to Europe, but not awful. I was more or less content with my bookings.

Fast forward to last night, when I realized that the 90 minute connection time I left myself at London Gatwick was probably not going to be as easy as I thought, even with carry on luggage only. For some reason, maybe due to my brain being overloaded by airline itineraries and airport codes, I had foolishly forgotten to take in account the following two things- I would have to get from South Terminal to North Terminal, and would need to get through Customs Border Patrol at South Terminal and through Security at North Terminal. 

Important lesson: when booking itineraries and connecting on separate airlines, always check what terminals those airlines arrive at and depart from, how quick it is to get between terminals, and if you need to factor in going through Customs and Security between connecting flights. Don't be like me, here!

So, with 90 minutes to connect I realized that's pretty tight. It relies on landing on time, no delays, and everything going as on schedule as possible. It's not impossible, but it can be hard, and this morning I went into pre-emptive damage control.

Here is where good customer service has made me feel a little better about the situation.

I tweeted at Gatwick, asking about my connection time and getting through Customs. One of their representatives, Lisa, tweeted back fairly quickly within the hour with a recommended email address to reach out to. 

I emailed my query to said address regarding connection time, customs, and how to expedite the process. From looking on their site, I saw they offer a service you can book called Premium Passport Control, which for £12.50 per person fast tracks you through Customs. I asked in my email if this was a service I might want to consider to make my Meridiana flight on time. I sent the email at 11:12AM, not expecting to hear back for 1-2 days as usual with business inquiries, and was really surprised to get a reply at 11:45am, just shy of 30 minutes later.

One of their Information and Passenger Assistant agents, also named Lauren, said that 90 minutes was "cutting it a bit fine" but that having carry on only would help and she did recommend booking Premium Passport Control. She mentioned the shuttle between the two Terminals, how often they run ( every 2-3 minutes) and how fast the journey is (2 minutes), and that there was also the option to purchase a fast-track through Security at North Terminal via the Sky Break Desk. 

I was quite please at how quick they responded and that they provided actual answers and recommended solutions. Sure, they aren't free options, but it's good to know they exist and are budget-friendly as international travel goes. Less than 20 quid for a bit more peace of mind getting through Customs? I can live with that.