The Risk of Wasted Time

A reader named Tom Lehnert of Herndon, Virginia, lobs a query that should be filed somewhere between Existentialism and Opportunity Cost:

Have you heard this before: If you don’t miss a plane now and then you’re spending too much time in airports.

Or the corollary: If you don’t get a ticket now and then you’re wasting time in traffic.

Although I very much value efficiency, I never a) miss a plane or b) get a speeding ticket. That would explain why I a) expend so much effort (too much?) trying to maximize my time in airports; and b) live in New York City, where I don’t have to drive much, and therefore avoid traffic.


Missing a flight will probably cost you a fair bit of time and inconvenience, not to mention any fees or charges the airlines decide to slap on for re-booking. It's also quite possible to be fully productive in the airport - most airports have wi-fi, and frequent travelers have BlackBerries, iPhones, Kindles, etc. Time spent in airports is no longer "wasted" - you can actually be almost as productive as you can in an office. Buy yourself a nice pair of noise canceling headphones and a day-pass to the airline club, and it can even be a little bit relaxing.


The model for determining time gained by speeding vs. ticket cost would have to take into account that if you speed consistently on a certain route, especially if it's through a residential area, cops are more likely to set up speed traps along that route/area.

Tom R

One more:

If you don't get caught bluffing at least once per session, you are not doing it enough.


I don't know about other people, but I get a ton done waiting at the airport. Leave work earlier, no distractions while I'm there, no anxiety about my flight.


That assumes every minute spent at the airport is completely wasted, which is not true.
Airports have restaurants, wifi, and chairs to sit and read a book. All of these allow you to do useful things at the airport (and making your flight) rather than doing the same thing at home or the office, and missing your flight.

Incidentally, I fly 3-4 times a month and haven't missed a flight in a decade.


That philosophy doesn't really capture the asymmetric outcomes of missing a plane versus being early. If you put the cost of having to rebook on a later flight, missing whatever event for which you wanted to get into your destination city in time, the additional wait time until the next flight, and any other inconveniences (lost hotel charges) versus the extra half hour of leeway reading a magazine in the terminal. Would take a ton of the latter to equal one of the former, in my opinion.

Michael Senchuk

That's an interesting theory. I'm one of those people that's - for lack of a better word - anal about getting to the airport with plenty of time for my flight. So I'm always looking to ensure I make the best use of my time that I can in the airport - I often use it as a good chance to catch up on my reading pile, or catch up on email, knowing there will be a ton more when I land.

Might be worth exploring, though, seeing how close I can cut it the next few times, but tbh, I'm usually leaving for the airport from home, not the office, so I'm not sure my time would be better utilized, or I'd just sleep more.


I would have agreed with the statement up until a couple of months ago. My wife has the same opinion as Tom - she hates spending time in airports, so we tend to cut it really close when arriving for flights. I discovered to my chagrin the last time that we flew that Delta had implemented a new policy where all bags have to be checked in 1 hour before the flight - no exceptions. We missed the flight, avoided additional fees only through extensive complaining, we rerouted through a connection, and ended up at the destination five hours later than planned.

Since there seem to be new flight rules implemented all the time in the post- 9/11 world, it's probably better to be safe than sorry on balance.


And if you don't hit at least one pedestrian then you are driving too cautiously.

Wonks' Brother

The version of this that I believe is about third base coaches: if none of your players get thrown out at the plate, you're not sending enough of them. But then there was Wendell Kim.


Also, airlines now make it very difficult to board on short notice. I thought I was doing well once by getting to the Tampa airport 45 minutes before my flight. It's a pretty small and easy to navigate airport, but the airline cancelled my reservation (because they have some 40 minute cutoff for checking in) and I had to go to the ticket counter to get the matter resolved. OK, so I still got on the flight but the annoyance factor was huge. If I had to do that every time, I'd rather waste the extra 30 minutes or so browsing the airport gift shop. Being entertained by watching people purchase cheap trinkets is a far better use of my time than hassling with underpaid, disgruntled airline employees.

Al V.

Tom R's corollary is an excellent one. If I am successful every time I bluff, other players don't know I bluff, and thus I'm not maximizing the amount I win when I'm not bluffing. However, it's important not to lose too much when I'm caught bluffing.

Don't get caught going too fast over the limit. Don't miss a flight with a really expensive ticket or really high change fee.

Susan Permut

I wouldn't ever miss a plane in Europe again, especially not when traveling Air France. When we missed our flight, they refused to put my daughter and I on another flight from Heathrow to Paris and it cost us $500 to get tickets on British Air.


The speeding issue may be a corollary to those who percieve excessive thrill seeking or disobeying laws as "requirements" for success. He sped and thius had more time since time is $. Does his speeding, perhaps through lights, endanger others? How does this need to exceed play out with suppordinates or others in the office? It is typical of a "top" salesman to have larger sales up front but cost the company more in employee turn over, recalculating deals, lower customer satisfaction with a product that was sold to meet all demands. There is a pathology here.


Driving fast is also correlated to, you know, killing people, so I don't know if that's a good rule to live by.

Ben B.

I believe that many of the comments here are missing the point by bringing up specific airline experiences. No where does the original post say missing a plane is not expensive or a huge pain, because it is. The idea is that every time you've caught a plane by waiting unproductively for an hour is more of a burden and a greater loss of production than the very rare occasion of missing a flight. On the other hand, making waiting time at an airport more efficient through use of a laptop (or by any other means) will eliminate the risk of missing a flight and the loss of production, but that's not the point.

The best example on the board here is that of the 3rd base coach. In essence, you aren't maximizing potential unless you're flirting with failure.


Before the days of CT scans, an old surgeon's adage went something like this:

"If you're not opening up patients with abdominal pain and occasionally finding a normal appendix, you're not sending enough patients to the OR."


The best example on the board here is that of the 3rd base coach. In essence, you aren't maximizing potential unless you're flirting with failure.

Dave M.

If you've never been slapped, your sexual advances aren't aggressive enough.


Similar to mastering a sport:

If you don't fall occasionally, you're not skiing/biking/climbing hard enough.