On my last blog post about planning your trip to Scotland, I covered how you need to decide when you're going, who you're going with, how you're going to get around and how long your trip will be. The next thing I do is book airline tickets.
I use Trip Advisor, but you can use any travel website that compares prices from all the airlines. (Some people prefer Google Flights.) Do a search for Trip Advisor. On the top menu, click "Flights." In the first box, type in your departure city or airport. In the second box, type in the city you prefer to arrive in. For Scotland, that would be either Glasgow International Airport, United Kingdom (GLA), or Edinburgh, United Kingdom (EDI). Please be aware there are three airports called Glasgow and two of those are in the UK. If you're flying from the US, you'll want the GLA airport. If you're flexible, you could try both Edinburgh and Glasgow to see how the prices compare.
In the next box, choose your dates of departure from the US and your departure from Scotland. Again, if you can be flexible on the dates, you might find some good deals and lower prices for some dates.
In the next box, choose "Economy" to save money. If your funds are unlimited, then you might choose "Business" or "First Class" for more luxury. Next, choose how many adults, seniors, and/or children you're buying tickets for. Click "Find Flights."
Unless you're in one of the cities with flights directly to Scotland, such as Newark, Philadelphia, Chicago, etc. then you'll have at least one stop (layover) or maybe two. I prefer one stop because it's less aggravation, less stress, and far easier.
Next, you'll see the flights offered by different airlines and the prices. On the left sidebar, you can click "1 stop" and see if any of these are available. Sometimes one stop costs more, but it might be worth it. When I just did a search from my area, I found that there is only a $10 difference in price for one stop vs. two stops. On the other hand, sometimes flights with only one stop might be several hundred or a thousand dollars higher.
Click "Show Details" and you can see when flights take off and land. You can see how long the stops (layovers) are. You can see how many hours you will be traveling from take-off at your home airport until you land in Scotland.
Don't choose flights that say you have to change airports. That could be a nightmare.
Every flight I have taken to Scotland has been a red eye or overnight flight. This is the norm.
Between each individual flight's details, you'll see the layover. What you don't want there is either a warning about a short layover or a long layover.
What is too long and what is too short?
I've found the ideal layover for me is about 2 hours (1.5 - 2.5 hours). You may be able to get by with a 1 hour layover on a stop when you're leaving the US. Most people think the shorter the layover the better, but consider what that means. If your first flight is late, then you may miss your next plane. Or you may have to run through a huge airport in order to catch your next flight. I've done this a couple of times and it's stressful. Another reason for an approximate 2 hour layover is that when you're arriving back into the US from a foreign country, called the first port of entry, you want a longer time frame because of the additional security measures. Even a 3 hour layover at the first port of entry might be a good idea. There are a lot of things you'll have to do at this point (customs, baggage claim, and going through security again. Yes, if you have one layover on your return trip, you'll have to go through security twice, once at the Scottish airport and again at your first port of entry into the US). Usually there are long lines. You may even want time to eat or get a snack after the stress of dealing with all the airport stuff. I probably wouldn't choose a 4 hour layover, unless that's the only option. I would say a max of 3 hours should be long enough at this point in your trip.
Typing in different departure and return dates can result in different prices that can vary by hundreds of dollars. There are also theories about which days of the week and what time of day airline tickets are cheapest to purchase. You can do an online search for that if you're interested. I only learned about this recently so haven't used it.
On the website you're using to find flights, go down the list looking for your ideal layover or stop times and see how they compare. In my own example, the first flight I'm being shown has a 50 minute layover in Newark. It might be okay, but I'd rather be safe and get a slightly longer layover if one is available. You won't have to do much during this stop as you're leaving the US. You've already gone through security at your home airport and you won't need to claim your bags at this point. They'll automatically be moved onto your next plane by the airport personnel. That's another reason for an approximately 2 hour layover--it gives the personnel time to get your bag moved from one plane to another.
In my example, for the dates I chose, I'm only being offered two flights and both have that short 50 minute layover. So I have to decide whether to take a risk on that or choose 2 stops, which will give me several more flight options. Or if my dates are flexible, I can choose different dates.
Pay close attention to the layover or stop times. Some of the prominent airlines will try to slip you a 16 hour layover. What a nightmare that would be! Clicking "Duration" can assist you in finding the ideal layovers you're looking for.
Although I've flown through other foreign cities, such as Amsterdam and Paris, I don't recommend it. This only adds more problems and more time to your overall travel. You will probably even have to go through their customs and their security.
If you prefer a certain airline, you can search for that one only. Or you can choose several of your favorites. In the details, you can check out the amenities, such as wifi, power, movies, etc. On all the transatlantic flights I've been on, a free meal was offered because it's a long flight. Free snacks and drinks are usually offered on both short and long flights. I say free but it's included in the price of the airfare. Some flights will offer free movies and others will require you to pay for them.
From my area, I usually find that United offers the lowest fares and some one stop flights to Scotland. From Trip Advisor, I go to the United website and book from there. Take note of the flight numbers and make sure you are booking the flights you chose. I have the United app on my phone, so I get notified immediately if there are flight delays or changes. Depending on where you are in the US, a different airline might have better rates.
While booking your flight (flights), you'll be shown a seating chart for each plane you'll be traveling on, both leaving and returning, so that you can choose your seats. This article explains the pros and cons of window seat vs. aisle seat. And noise level from front to back of the cabin. Be aware that if you sit by an emergency exit, you must be able-bodied and willing to help other passengers during emergency landings. Another thing to consider is that the people toward the front of the cabin disembark first. If you have a short layover, getting off before most of the other passengers in coach could help you get to your next plane on time. When entering Scotland or any foreign country, and on return flights, sitting near the front of the plane (the beginning of the economy seats) could help you get into the front of those long lines at customs first. Some of the seats toward the front cost more because of the extra leg room. A couple of rows back might be good.
It's best to book your flight early. I usually book three months in advance. Airfare could become more expensive if you wait until the last minute. Booking early also helps with getting the seats you want.
Please check out my next post about Planning Your Scotland Itinerary.