Never run in an airport

I have not run in an airport since at least 2012.

I used to be one of those sweaty, harried people who sprint from Terminal B to Terminal C in O’Hare — you could see me sprinting, shoulder down, suitcase tucked under an arm like an NFL running back.

Now, I am not.

Even if it means I risk missing a flight, even if the airport is on fire. I do not run.

There are very good reasons to never run in an airport, but I’d probably insist on the practice even if there weren’t. It’s one of those irrational, idiosyncratic, stubborn rules that I have for myself as a “matter of principle” as much as a rational choice.

I have a lot of these when it comes to travel — I carry a complete coffee preparation situation in my suitcase at all times; I refuse to change my cosmetics brands just so I can buy travel-sized, even when it means messily repackaging conditioner into a third-party container; I always fly with more books than I could possibly read given the trip length.

That said, I think you should also never run in an airport. Which is why the rest of these thousand-ish words are devoted to the good reasons, and to convincing you to join me in this stubborn, not-actually-that-weird-I-swear habit.

Why never run in an airport? Three reasons:

  1. It’s almost never the difference between missing and making the flight
  2. Missing a flight is not actually that bad, especially for anyone with status
  3. Not running is never the root cause of missing a flight

Let’s go through them in detail.

It doesn’t actually help that much

Hypothetical math time: assume you’re flying United from San Francisco to Toronto, with a connection through O’Hare. Almost all UA flights from Chicago to Toronto are actually codeshares with Air Canada, which means it’s likely that you’ll have to walk from United’s C Concourse in T1 (the one that you take the tunnel with the rainbow neon to get to) all the way to Concourse F in T2, where Air Canada normally flies from.

This walk takes twenty minutes, fifteen if you’re hustling.

If you’re running? Twelve. Maybe ten. You just can’t move that much faster in street clothes with luggage in tow. And that’s assuming you jog the whole time, which would be miserable and leave you a sweaty, panting mess.

In my hundreds of flights, I’ve been in a scenario where those three minutes were the difference between making and missing a flight exactly twice. In practice, it’s almost never that close — you’re either going to make it, or you’ve already missed it.

I’m being generous here and picking a long walk, by the way. Most same-carrier connections and security-to-gate walks are closer to ten minutes, even in places that use a central-security-and-a-train system like ATL, DEN and CVG, which means you save even less time by running.

(Related ATL hot tip: domestic travelers who don’t have bags to check are allowed to go through security at the international terminal. The traffic getting there is normally better and the security line is almost always shorter, especially during peak business traveler times like Thursday afternoon)

Missing a flight isn’t that bad

Even if I knew I were ten minutes away from the gate and the door was closing in eight, I wouldn’t run.

Missing a flight just doesn’t matter that much, in the grand scheme of things. The airline will rebook you on the next available flight, which is often only a couple of hours later even if you’re flying to strange non-hub airports.

Head on over to the lounge, break out some work or a book (this probably goes without saying, but always have constructive things to do during unexpected airport downtime). Enjoy the time as bonus focused time, or even naptime — it’s only wasted time if you waste it.

Heck, even if they can’t get you out until the morning, so what? It’s certainly inconvenient and a little unpleasant, but it’s not the end of the world. You’re only losing an evening and the cost of a hotel, which you can probably expense anyway. You’ll still get where you need to be soon enough.

Not running is never the reason you miss a flight

This is the real reason I don’t run. It’s also the part where this crosses into stubborn curmudgeon territory; where it becomes a personal philosophy, not just a practical recommendation.

Think about a football game where your team is down by two points with six seconds on the clock. It’s fourth down, but you’re in field goal range—one last chance to win. The kicker comes out, lines up the field goal, and shanks it wide right. No good.

So, was losing the game the kicker’s fault?

Of course not. He could have won the game for his team, but the game was lost in the preceding fifty minutes and fifty-four seconds, when the defense didn’t stop enough touchdowns, or the offense didn’t create them.

The same goes for airport running — it might (but normally won’t) fix your time crunch, but it never causes it. Waiting until the last minute to leave, having to go back for a forgotten item, not giving yourself an appropriate buffer for traffic or an extra-long security line; these are the real causes of the race against the clock you’re now in.

Which is to say, I don’t run in the airport because I create a scenario where I never need to run in the airport. I pack the night before, from a checklist. I get there early enough. I allow time for unexpected things to happen. I don’t book tight connections, because I’d rather wait the extra two hours and be sure I’ll make it — waiting in airports is always better than running in them, because you can use planned waiting time productively (and non-sweatily).

Even if my first flight was delayed enough for my connection to be in that running-seems-plausible danger window, I don’t run. This is mostly because I give myself enough buffer time that if I’m in such a scenario, the entire network is likely FUBAR, and my outbound is probably waiting for some Global Services passenger or crew member or first-classer from my flight anyway.

When it’s truly tight, I ask the gate agent from my first flight to call the gate at my second and tell them to hold the flight a couple of minutes for a delayed connecting passenger, they say they’ll do their best, and since everyone else on the flight is also about to miss a connection, they normally actually do.

And then I walk briskly. If I get to the other gate and the plane is already gone, I call the premier desk and get a new flight as I’m walking to the lounge. I choose to be unruffled about it. Heck, I’ll often call the premier desk as soon as I know I might miss my connection (sometimes before I take off, but often right when I land), and get a new flight that I’m guaranteed to make.

Act like a pro

In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield discusses the difference between a professional and an amateur.

A PROFESSIONAL IS PREPARED: […] The professional is prepared at a deeper level. He is prepared, each day, to confront his own self-sabotage.

Amateurs run in airports because of the self-sabotage of unpreparedness, because they’d rather run to (maybe) get to the plane than take the time to understand and schedule their travel in a way that avoids such crises.

Pros walk, because they’re prepared. They’ve given themselves the time and the knowledge to make sure it’s not an issue.

I’d recommend acting like a pro.

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