Unless your flying is confined entirely to trips from one big airport to another, you will likely encounter the need to connect from one flight to another. This "hub and spoke" model that most big airlines practice is based on the premise that they will serve all but their busiest city-pair markets with connecting flights.
Connecting flights allow one-stop service from almost anywhere to almost anywhere else, but that process also puts you at risk of missing your connection. And while you can never completely eliminate that risk, you can at least minimize it. Here's how.
Know the minimum connection time required at your airport
Each airline sets standard minimum connecting times at each hub it serves. With any connecting flights you book as a single itinerary, through either an airline's website or a travel agency, the airline's system automatically adjusts for minimum times at your connecting point. If you miss your ongoing flight, the airline is obligated to put you on the next available flight with no additional charges.
Most airlines post their own connecting times on their websites. Some of those minimum connecting times are incredibly short for a big airport, as low as 30 minutes in some cases, and usually less than 60 minutes for domestic-to-domestic connections. International times are usually more than an hour, and can exceed two hours at airports with separate international and domestic terminals. Some airlines add even more time for connections involving jumbo jets.
But individual airlines' postings typically do not show connecting times for connections between different airlines. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) compiles extensive minimum connecting time data, but does not offer this information to the public. The Global Distribution Systems (GDS) that travel agents use show connecting times, and the OAG (Official Airline Guide) and Skyguide also publish connecting time information, but only to subscribers.
If you don't use a travel agent or subscribe to something, you're out of luck. I've been unable to find any comprehensive online listing of IATA connecting times that doesn't require payment. And, in any event, airlines often post minimum times that are shorter than IATA times.
Fly on a single ticket when you need to connect flights
Typically, any connecting itinerary you arrange on a single ticket conforms with whatever connecting times apply. That's true even on tickets that involve two airlines, as long as those airlines have interline agreements. The booking systems automatically incorporate requisite times. And single tickets usually provide for checking baggage through from origin to destination, including interline transfers.
But I recently heard from a traveler who ran into a problem, even with a single ticket. A ground agent refused to check her bag through from Europe to the U.S., claiming that her airline checked through baggage only when it connected to another airline in the same alliance. As far as I know, this is a rare event, a result of poor training rather than bad customer policy.
Stick to one airline or alliance on a connection
Where possible, book connecting flights on a single airline or on airlines that are partners in an alliance. Typically, at big hub airports, airlines try to make sure that their gates and partner gates are close together. If not, they provide inside-security people-movers or shuttles to any gates they use.
Even with a valid interline ticket, however, connecting at some big hub airports involves leaving security at one terminal and re-entering at another. And, at a few airports, a single airline may use two different terminals. Airlines should build time necessary to connect through separate terminals into the itinerary.
Avoid two-ticket trips when connecting flights
If at all possible, avoid an itinerary consisting of two separate tickets on separate airlines. Minimum connecting times apply only to itineraries on through-tickets. If you're on two separate tickets, your first flight is delayed, and you miss a connection, the second airline treats you as a no-show; it can cancel your reservation and make you buy a new ticket for its next flight. Sometimes, you can argue your way onto a later flight without penalty, but that's not a guarantee.
If you check baggage on a two-ticket itinerary, you almost always have to check it just to the connecting point on the first airline, exit security, claim it, haul it to the second airline's counter, re-check it, and re-process through security. Obviously, you need to allow a lot of extra time for that process.
Occasionally, separate tickets can be on the same airline. For example, if you buy a ticket to a nearby gateway to connect to a frequent-flier award trip. Here, whether or not you can check yourself and your baggage straight through to your destination is a crapshoot: Some agents will accommodate you, and some won't.
Pad your schedule
As noted, if you're on a single ticket and miss a connection, the airlines involved are on the hook to put you on the next available flight. But putting you on the next flight — providing, that is, if a seat is available — is not always a satisfactory solution.
Getting off a plane and walking to a distant departure gate can easily squeeze a 30-minute connection close to zero. That's why many travelers deliberately pad their schedules by scheduling a longer layover than minimum at a connecting hub. Airlines usually allow you four hours or more maximum connecting time. An extended layover is easy if your airline runs a lot of flights on both legs of the trip. But if the only feasible itinerary involves a close connection, you face white-knuckle time.
Allow lots of extra time whenever you're on a two-ticket trip. I always allow at least three hours. Four is even better.
Avoid the last connection
One of the world's oldest travel "tips" remains as valid as when it was first pronounced, probably more than 60 years ago: Avoid booking the last flight of the day out of your connecting airport. The reason is obvious. Yes, the airline has to put you on its next flight, but if your original connecting flight is the last of the day, the next flight will obviously require an overnight stay at the connecting hub and arrival a day late.
A corollary, based on the same principle, is to book a connection as early in the day as practical. Clearly, the more "next available" flights, the better your chance of arriving on the day you planned.
Pick the right hub for your connection
Often you have a choice of hubs, and you can avoid some white-knuckle hours by avoiding the hubs that are most prone to delays. According to current data, the worst big U.S. hubs for delays are Chicago O'Hare, Dallas/FortWorth, New York JFK, Newarkand San Francisco. The sunbelt hubs generally do better.
Unless you're on a single airline, avoid U.S. hub airports with separate terminals that lack inside-security or "airside" people movers. The worst airports for this are Boston, Chicago O'Hare, Los Angelesand New York JFK.
In Europe, London Heathrow crops up on almost everyone's "avoid if at all possible" hub airport lists, along with Paris De Gaulle and Frankfurt. Travelers generally prefer Amsterdam (Sky Team) and Munich (Star Alliance), along with such secondary hubs as Brussels, Copenhagen, Helsinki, Madrid, Romeand Zurich.
Come up with a baggage plan for your connecting flight
There is no one-size-fits-all "right" way to deal with baggage on connecting flights. Checked baggage can miss a tight connection or even go astray for a few days, but dragging a carry-on bag from one end of a huge terminal to another, even a carry-on bag with wheels, can slow you down and tire you. Decide for yourself which approach fits you better.
Where you sit on the plane matters when you have a tight connection
With a tight connection, try to get a seat toward the front of the cabin on your first flight. Even if you have to pay, being near the exit door can shave 5-10 minutes off your deplaning time.
Download one or more apps that can help you with the connection process by tracking delays and posting up-to-date information on departure gates: GateGuru can steer you to the right gate, Weatherbug will help you check on weather at your connecting hub, and AirportMaps shows you where you can grab a quick bite to eat as you're passing through the terminal.
And if you're worried you might have to spend the night at a connecting airport, HotelTonight could help you locate a bed. You'll probably also want your airline's app, too.
Direct flights are still the best option
A non-stop or direct flight is still the best way to avoid connection problems. Figure that a connecting itinerary adds a minimum of two hours to total trip time, and more likely three, so driving up to 200 miles to/from a different airport to catch a nonstop is often a good idea. As has been noted many times, the best way to deal with O'Hare is at 30,000 feet above it.
See which airports have the longest walks between gates:
- Know the minimum connection time required at your airport. ...
- Fly on a single ticket when you need to connect flights. ...
- Avoid two-ticket trips when connecting flights. ...
- Pad your schedule. ...
- Avoid the last connection. ...
- Pick the right hub for your connection.
- Avoid Booking Several Different Airlines on One Itinerary. ...
- Intentionally Book Long-ish Layovers. ...
- Don't Forget About Customs. ...
- Avoid the Final Flight of the Day. ...
- Try to Book Seats in the Front of the Plane. ...
- Download and Study a Map of the Airport.
No. You need to ensure that you have adequate time between flights to make your connection. This will vary depending on the airport, and if you need to go through an international border. At an international border, you will need to leave additional time for passport control as well as customs.How many hours is enough for connecting flight? ›
Two hours. Mayers recommends two hours as a standard buffer between flights to be safe. This gives you a cushion in case things go wrong during your journey. You'll definitely want at least a two-hour window if you've booked a “hacker fare,” as opposed to flying with the same airline your entire trip.What if I miss my connecting flight because of the airline? ›
If you missed your connection due to the fault of the airline, the airline should rebook you on the next available flight to your destination. If the missed connection means that the flight is no longer serving the purpose of your original travel plan, you may also want to make use of your rights of reimbursement.What happens if an airline makes you miss your connecting flight? ›
Missing a Connection with the Same Airline
If you miss your connection booked with the same airline that your were on for your first flight, and the issue is due to a delayed take off or anything else that's in the hands of your airline, it's the airline's responsibility to rebook you on the next available flight.
Allowing yourself at least a 60-minute layover for domestic flights and a two-hour layover time for international flights can often be a much more comfortable and stress-free journey than booking a flight with a very tight connection.Is 40 minutes enough for a layover? ›
If the airline you are traveling has issued a ticket with 40 minutes connecting time, yes indeed that's sufficient. Different airports have different minimum connecting times or M C T. It's decided by looking at the infrastructure, distance between terminals and other things.Will my connecting flight wait for me? ›
Do connecting flights wait for delayed passengers? No, if your first flight is delayed and you won't make it in time to catch your connecting flight, the plane won't wait for you.What to do if you have a tight connection? ›
- Change your flight. ...
- Change your seat. ...
- Pack up your carry-on. ...
- Travel carry-on only. ...
- Ask for your connecting gate. ...
- Look at the airport map. ...
- Don't make any stops in the airport. ...
- Wear comfortable shoes.
Always fly direct
That way if you are delayed, you don't need to worry about making your next flight. If you can't avoid connecting, don't book the shortest layover, because you'll be building in stress and the possibility of missing your flight. A one-hour layover is not enough anymore. Thirty minutes, not a chance.
What is the difference between a layover and connecting flight? While these terms are often used interchangeably, they are not the same thing. A layover is the time you spend at the airport between two flights. A connecting flight is the next flight in your itinerary that you're waiting at the airport to take.Is 1 hour 30 enough for connecting flights? ›
If you can't avoid connecting, don't book the shortest layover, because you'll be building in stress and the possibility of missing your flight. A 1-hour layover is not enough anymore. Thirty minutes, not a chance. In most cases, 3 hours is safe.Do you need to go through security again for a connecting flight? ›
Yes, a security check is mandatory when you take a connecting flight. This is because there is a time lag between getting off one aeroplane and getting on-board another to reach your destination.Do airlines pay for hotel if you miss connecting flight? ›
There are no federal laws requiring airlines to provide passengers with money or other compensation when their flights are delayed. Each airline has its own policies about what it will do for delayed passengers. If your flight is experiencing a long delay, ask airline staff if they will pay for meals or a hotel room.Do airlines know if you have a connecting flight? ›
The time between connecting flights can be pretty short – as little as 40 minutes for some airports. The airline is aware of your connection and will sometimes tell you which gate you need for your next flight. They might even offer assistance if you have a short connection time.Is 1 hour and 40 minutes enough for connecting flight? ›
Give yourself a fighting chance
As a rule of thumb, on domestic routes, you need a minimum of 45 minutes between flights. That's because you don't have to go through security, customs, and immigration.
In a passenger context, MCT is defined as the shortest time interval required in order to transfer a passenger and his luggage from one flight to a connecting flight, in a specific location or metropolitan area.Is 90 minutes enough for a connecting flight? ›
In most cases, airlines recommend allowing at least two hours between connecting flights to ensure that you have plenty of time to make your connection. This allows for any potential delays or unexpected issues that may arise during the flight and gives you ample time to get from one gate to another.Can you make a 35 minute layover? ›
35 minutes must be the absolute minimum connection time, and as such is very risky especially for an international flight. If the international flight is to YVR then not so bad but if it's the ANA flight to Tokyo or a similar long haul then it's touch and go. Don't think about Duty free. Go straight to your flight.
In general, if you are on board, they will hold for late passengers. If you are dashing for it, they won't hold it. Anybody who is persistently anxious about tight connections shouldn't ticket them.Is 55 minutes enough time for a layover? ›
Agreed. 55 min should be ok. You might need to take the shuttle trains to another set of departure gates, but if your arriving flight is on time, that should be tight, but ok. Check out the arrival & departure gate locations and see where they are on the airport map.How long is long enough to leave the airport during a layover? ›
A 4-hour layover may be enough time to leave the airport and explore the city. But it also depends on the airport's location, the time of day, and the immigration and customs procedures.What is a normal layover time? ›
The average layover time is between 2 and 3 hours. This most popular flight configuration allows you to reach the transfer gate with no airport rush. It allows enough time for walking around, shopping, having a drink, gets fresh and ready to board the connecting flight.How much time is enough to leave the airport during a layover? ›
Sometimes the security process won't go smooth, and you may have to spend more time at the screening area. It may result in missing your flight. So, always try to get back around 60 minutes before the departure time for domestic flights and around 90 minutes for international flights.What is one disadvantage of a layover? ›
One of the biggest issues with layovers is that if one flight is delayed, it means missing the next one... and that can be a huge hassle.Is it better to fly nonstop or layover? ›
Layovers are preferable if you want to save some money and have enough time in your travel schedule. Layover flights are usually cheaper than both direct and non-stop flights. Though you might spend a lot of time landing, disembarking and with layovers, you get to rest and stretch in between your journey.How do checked bags work with connecting flights? ›
When you purchase a connecting flight, checked baggage is usually forwarded to your final destination, and will change planes when you do. The agent at check-in will usually ask if you want your luggage checked through to your last stop.Do you stay on the same plane for connecting flights? ›
It depends on how long the layover is. Typically through passengers (those continuing on) are asked to remain seated at the end of the flight so flight attendants can count them. Then they start boarding the next flight as soon as the first flight's passengers get off and the throughs are counted.Do you have to check in again for a connecting flight? ›
In most cases, you'll receive your boarding pass for your connecting flight already when you check in for your first flight. This means you don't have to check in again for your next flight.
In cases where the connecting flight is one another airline or another terminal, passengers must go through a security and baggage check once again before you get on board the connecting flight to reach your destination.Do you have to go through security again for a connecting flight? ›
For connecting domestic flights, you almost never have to exit and reenter security, though there are some exceptions at airports where the terminals aren't all connected. For domestic-to-international connection, it's still pretty rare that you have to exit and reenter security, even if you're changing terminals.Am I automatically checked in for a connecting flight? ›
Check-in baggage will be made available to the passengers at the final destination and boarding passes till destination airport will be issued at the origin airport. Passengers are not required to collect the bag or check-in again at the connecting airport.Do I need 2 boarding passes for a connecting flight? ›
Re: Do I have to get a new boarding pass to connecting flight? Yes. Each flight requires its own BP. Usually, you get all of them when you check in.Do you check bags twice on connecting flights? ›
If your flights were booked under one ticket, your bags will be checked through to your final destination. If your flights were booked under separate tickets, you will need to collect your bags and recheck them before your connecting flight.Will a connecting flight wait for you? ›
No, if your first flight is delayed and you won't make it in time to catch your connecting flight, the plane won't wait for you. However, if you're travelling on a through-ticket, the airline must rebook you on their next available flight to your destination, provided that there are seats available.Is 30 minutes enough time for a connecting flight? ›
In most cases, a 30-minute layover for domestic flights and an hour for international flights is considered a minimum, or short, layover.What happens if I stay at a connecting flight? ›
If your itinerary was purchased as one ticket (as in: you have only one itinerary and one confirmation number), and the connection time was too short and you miss the second (or third) flight, you can rest easy, no matter what happens. The airline will simply put you onto the next available flight, free of charge.