Minimum connection times for international flights

by Alfie FEATHERSTONE on July 28, 2009

Asking how much time to allow between connecting flight is like asking the length of a piece of string. There isn’t an across-the-board rule when it comes to minimum connection times and the answer can be tricky to find.

According to a spokesman from American, “Minimum connections vary considerably based on the market, the airport, whether there are one or two airlines involved, and how many different terminals, if any, are involved in the connection.”

A spokeswoman from Continental assured me, “The connections that are displayed when booking reservations on our website meet our criteria for minimum connect times.” Although a layover might meet the legal minimum connection time, it still may not leave you enough time to actually make that connection in reality.

You can estimate the amount of time you’ll need based on the circumstances of your trip, however. For domestic-to-international itineraries on the same airline, you won’t need more time that you would need for a domestic-to-domestic connection, so an hour or so should be sufficient.

But, the New York layover will be different on the Chicago-New York-Paris outward journey as on the inward Paris-New York-Chicago one. Why? Because when returning to the U.S., you’ll have to clear immigration and customs, claim and re-check your bags, and go through security before you arrive at your next departure gate.

Generally, 90 minutes to two hours should be enough, but don’t rely on your airline’s reservations system to ensure you have enough time.

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