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.

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  1. Kevin says:

    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.

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  2. Kaydiv says:

    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.

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  3. Tom R says:

    One more:

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

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  4. Claire says:

    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.

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  5. AJ says:

    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.

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  6. Tyler says:

    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.

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  7. Michael Senchuk says:

    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.

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  8. Brian says:

    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.

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