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I will be attending a conference to give a presentation in approximately two months. I would like to buy plane tickets to and from the conference location, especially because I am living outside the US and the conference is in the US, so travel to the conference is not an easy thing.

Unfortunately, the conference organizers have yet to confirm and announce the conference schedule. I do know that the last possible presentation session ends at 2 pm on Tuesday, so if I wanted to book plane tickets now, the earliest flight that I could catch would leave at 4 pm. However, if my presentation is on Monday, I might prefer to book a flight that leaves early on Tuesday morning, skipping some of the sessions at the conference.

Question: Should I book my flight tickets now at "safe" times? Or should I book my flight tickets, leaving early on the last day, hoping that I don't get scheduled for the very last presentation slot?

Response to answers/comments: I don't need to leave early. I have just often observed that at every conference which I have attended in the past, the attendance at the last few sessions is rather low, and it just seemed to be "normal" to leave early. Based on the answers/comments, it seems that just because many others leave early doesn't mean that I need to when I can stay at the conference, learning things and meeting people.

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  • 1
    How much risk are you willing to tolerate?
    – Bill Barth
    Apr 8 '16 at 14:38
  • 3
    Don't forget Murphy's law.
    – scaaahu
    Apr 8 '16 at 14:46
  • 3
    Response to response to answers/comments: People leave early because they have to. Don't leave early just because other people do. Apr 9 '16 at 15:03
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First, I would ask whether you think you really should skip part of the conference---you're going such a long way, and presumably it's a community that you care about, so are you sure you want to abandon part of it?

If you really do want to skip, though, I would recommend a third path that I have often seen work: contact the conference program chairs, let them know your travel dilemma, and ask them if they can schedule you on the prior day. If they are likely to be flexible, this will let them be flexible now and let you book; if not, you'll know they're unlikely to be flexible at other times either and thus know that it's not safe to plan to skip until the schedule is announced.

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  • +1 for the first paragraph in particular. If the last session is on Tuesday, just after lunch, that suggests to me that the conference is only a couple of days long anyway. So skipping the whole of the last day is a significant fraction of the conference. Apr 8 '16 at 16:14
  • I actually like the second paragraph better. Ask first, then you know what you need to do.
    – scaaahu
    Apr 12 '16 at 13:12
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Should I book my flight tickets now at "safe" times? Or should I book my flight tickets, leaving early on the last day, hoping that I don't get scheduled for the very last presentation slot?

There is certainly a risk to this, but in practice it seems like a small one. The question is, what is the worst that can realistically happen? You get scheduled to the last session, and you have to send the PC chairs an email with an apology and a notice that you can't make this session and request to be scheduled sometime earlier. They may or may not be annoyed by this request, but ultimately will have to schedule you earlier (what else is there to do for them?).

I assume that even the risk for them to be more than slightly annoyed is not very big - I can tell from experience that special requests w.r.t. to speaking time are so common when planning a conference that it seems unlikely that they will remember your request longer than what it takes to find an alternate slot for you.

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  • Depending on the conference (and if the schedule is not clear, it's probably not that big), it's worthwhile contacting the organisers and ask. Apr 8 '16 at 15:12
  • @CaptainEmacs This seems like one of those cases where I would pragmatically suggest to apologize rather than ask.
    – xLeitix
    Apr 8 '16 at 15:27
  • And get your talk scheduled in the wrong slot? ;-) Apr 8 '16 at 15:33
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A plausible solution to your problem

There is nothing wrong with contacting the conference organisers confirming your part of the schedule.

As your reason is perfectly legit, you may state the same details as you posted here to the organising committee. Even if the total schedule isn't finalised, you could at least request your part of the schedule to be fixed. Of course you may not be the only one to make the request, the expected numbers of people making such a request would presumably small considering the number of people selected.

Why do conference committee delay the schedule announcement?

I know this isn't part of the question but I thought this might help. A conference may consist of several papers which may be grouped into several fields as mentioned in the scope of the conference. A good conference ought to have domain experts pertaining to those certain fields to be at the corresponding panel. It is getting their appointment that might take time to allot the slot of the schedule for groups at their convenience.

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Send an e-mail to the organizers, and ask for your talk to be scheduled on Monday because you need to leave early on Tuesday. Apologize for the trouble, and cite personal reasons or whatever you feel appropriate to divulge about the motivation.

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