You can say I am a bit of a free spirited daredevil and have very much thrived in the excitement and thrill of all things that make travel wonderfully unique. Booking crazy flights gets my heart racing almost as much as doing the world’s highest bungee jump, white water rafting in grade 5 rapids or going shark cage diving (yep I’ve done all those things multiple times).
When I book flights that are not originating in London, my reasons are generally two-fold. Partly it’s to save money on premium fares (UK has one of the highest aviation tax/fees in the world) and partly just the whole sense of adventure about it all. On rare occasions I might be chasing a very specific aircraft!
What is a Positioning Flight?
Put simply this is a flight you purchase to get you to an airport where your primary flight of a trip departs from. You may do this for cost efficiency reasons, to fly specific airlines/aircrafts that do not depart from your home airport/s or a hard to pass up flight deal.
My Recent BA Positioning Flight
Being limited in the time I could take off work, recently I booked a positioning flight with BA to get me into Frankfurt just under 3 hours prior to an unconnected long haul flight to Singapore with Singapore Airlines, part of a wider Asia trip. I did not give this much thought until the morning itself when I realised what a terrible idea it was given British Airway’s awful track record of flying to schedule for last previous few months. It seemed disproportionally worse for short haul flights co-incidentally too.
I booked a 4.25pm flight to arrive at Frankfurt at 7.10pm with my entirely separate booking with Singapore Airlines flight taking off from Frankfurt at 9:55pm.
I nervously arrived early at Heathrow, but not early enough to be able to catch an earlier flight, which ironically only left the gate a full hour after I arrived with an hour delay on that previous flight.
In the lounge I had lunch and a drink and managed to find a seat in the super crowded space and as you would have it, my flight was showing a 30 minutes delay.
I tried to stay calm, thinking that is still fine.
The Waiting Game
About 20 minutes before original boarding time, there was once again a further delay of 15 minutes. And I started to get tense. What is going on? Is this air traffic? Ground control? Inbound aircraft? It just was not communicated.
Lo and behold, there was then a further delay. At this point, I was just getting uncomfortably anxious. I asked one of the staff who advised the inbound flight was late coming in. So I started tracking that flight.
I wondered from one screen to another hoping there was no further delay, and finally my flight showed a gate number so I dashed out the lounge as quickly as I could.
Once at the gate it looked like there were a widebody worth of passengers for a A320.
Was anyone boarding? Off course not.
The staff came on the intercom to state this would be a very busy flight (with earlier flight cancellation) and requested boarding groups 3-6 hand over larger carry on trolleys for check-in to make things more manageable. This process took at least 15 minutes.
And then we finally started to board. It was a slight sigh of relief. At this point I thought, I could still make it just about, if I run.
Boarding took 20 minutes or so to complete, yet there was no sign of doors being closed. Our 4 timed revised push back time of 18:35 came and went. It was now 18:45pm. I’d momentarily resigned to the fact that I will not make it, thinking I might as well get off the plane than be stranded in Frankfurt for the night.
Finally the captain comes on to welcome everyone onboard and apologise for the continued delay. There were not 1 but 4 different compounding reasons from the late arrival of the aircraft, ground handling itself and then having to switch over crew as they exceeded their maximum flight time.
At 6.52pm we left the gate. I needed some luck on my side if we were still going to make my flight. And it seemed there was a glimpse of that, our aircraft had a very quick taxi into the runaway and we took off within the few minutes after that.
I still not did not think I would make it given that this flight would arrive into a different terminal and I would have to enter Germany and go out again from a different terminal.
I informed the crew of my predicament and to their credit they did what they could to reassure me there will be no further delays. Even though I was seated in row 5, they offered to help me move me up to row 1, just so that I can get off the plane as quickly as possible after it lands.
The flight must have only lasted 40 minutes when the captain announced our descent and I was beginning to hold onto some hope of making it.
But there was more hurdles..
The Scramble Continues in Frankfurt
Our BA plane was not due to fly back out until the morning and therefore we were going straight into a remote stand!!! Oh come on I thought!! Let the drama unfold once again..
It took about what felt like a long 6 minutes before our doors were released while the busses arrived. Despite the crews efforts to help save me a few minutes, this now amounted to nil at this point.
I thought to myself I could not give up the fight to make it into my flight and as soon as I stepped foot in the terminal I reached out to the first ground agent I found there to bring to their attention I had a flight from Terminal 1 in under 50 minutes and pleaded for them to reach out to Singapore ground agents if they could.
What followed was perhaps the biggest blur, as I switched onto a whole new gear to run out of the terminal and back in. But there was off course going to be more spanners in the works. Frankfurt airport has no airside transfers between terminals nor any quick ways to switch between them other than getting a buss, which does various slow loops. And onto a bus I get, which obviously meant a few more minutes waiting on both sides.
When I reached passport control at Terminal 1 it was just 15 minutes left to flight departure ( most international flights close gates 20 minutes before )
And there were agents at passport control! All booths empty.
Almost as if they were no longer expecting any other passengers. After looking for assistance, a gentleman nodded a border police agent out of nowhere my way. I could not help but observe the contrasting composure between the two of us, here I was flustered, out of breath and panicking while he was just casually picking up my passport to stamp it out of Germany!
Fortunately Singapore Airlines app was very handy with notifications to alert of my gate number, so I made one last long dash for the gates. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever run this fast in my life, besides a school sprinting competition!
While running, I must’ve been at least 80 metres from the gate when I could see there were still a couple of agents there and my flight was still active on the board. They then shouted out my name and I felt this huge sigh of relieve and could not help but slow down to take a breath. It was just 2 minutes before departure time, and it seemed they kept the doors open. Phew!!
I should add that I only managed to make this flight because I was travelling with carry-on only. There is simply no way I would have made it otherwise if I had to wait for baggage from London to come out, then re-check in. Bag drop/check-in closed well before I got to my terminal in Frankfurt! I was able to go straight through security with a mobile boarding pass.
A Same Day Positioning Flight is Very Risky
This day could have easily ended up in a travel logistics disaster. And despite the run around, I had a lucky escape. The stress of the whole ordeal negated any cost saving for booking such a flight. You can easily be £1000’s out of pocket and most likely your travel insurance will not cover it.
This shall be the first and last time I will be booking anything so risky. I have done a couple same day positioning flights before without any hiccups but with 4-5 hours to spare in-between and even that is potentially risky. You can have a whole host of factors snowballing any delays. 4-5 hour flight delays are not that uncommon with BA or other airlines. Just have a quick scan of any city pairs in FlightRadar24.
Any number of small things could have meant that I did not make it. The last passport agent could have clocked off. Maybe I could’ve got directions to the terminal or the gates wrong? An airline is under no obligation to delay any planes, let alone a massive A380 for any missing passengers that they are under no duty to help connect from unknown flights to them.
I am ever so grateful for both sets of Lufthansa and Singapore agents that I think played their part in this.
To be in the safe side you would want to do this with 6-7 hours in-between so you could theoretically at very least execute a backup plan such as take a different flight on another airline if delays keep snowballing. But then again you have to question wasting a whole day in the process.
Another helpful tip would be to book your positioning flight with the same airline, but in this case, I could not have done this off course as Singapore Airlines do not fly from London to Frankfurt. However I still think if I had booked a Lufthansa positioning flight it would have been more helpful as they are both Star Alliance carriers and their agents are more likely to work together in situations such as these to help connecting passengers.
As ThriftyTravel suggests, it would help somewhat to book your positioning flight with a credit card that has delay and cancellation coverage. Whilst this will not cover your costs for replacement/rebooking of missed main flights, at least you can have some of the costs reimbursed.
With regards to BA specifically, unfortunately they have a woeful track record with delays. In the last few months, I know of several dozens of people who have experienced severe delays with BA flights with terrible handling and recovery. It is almost as if the airline has failed to do any sort of contingency planning to prepare for delays and therefore everything just snowballs.
BA ground agents tried their best to get things going, but this alone cannot fix wider shortcomings by the airline to proactively manage delays and have backups in motions for the various cogs in the wheel to function so to speak. And yet to be fair to them, there are many many airlines that are guilty of this short sightedness.