Do you have enough time to make your flight connection?

When Mike Conrad bought an airline ticket from Washington to Berlin, the last thing he considered was his connection in Frankfurt, Germany.

But the flight, booked through United Airlines and operated by Lufthansa — an arrangement known as a “codeshare” flight — gave him only 65 minutes on his return between the time he was scheduled to land in Frankfurt and when he would depart for Washington.

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“I’m concerned about the connection,” says Conrad, a government worker who lives in Falls Church. “A United agent told me that I’d have plenty of time. But will I?”

Probably. Minimum connecting times, which are defined as the shortest interval required to transfer passengers and their luggage from one flight to a connecting flight, may be one of the airline industry’s least understood balancing acts. Although airlines go to great lengths to determine your ideal transit time, the system doesn’t always work. A few simple steps can ensure that you won’t miss your plane during the frenetic holiday travel season.

Conrad asked United via e-mail whether he had enough time. “Barring any unforeseen delays, your connect time should be sufficient,” a representative assured him.

But during busier air travel periods, such as the Christmas and New Year holidays, the system is tested — often with undesirable results. Philadelphia attorney Jeanette Viala recalls a flight from Marseilles, France, back to Philadelphia via Frankfurt, also on Lufthansa, that experienced a connection-time glitch.

“The Marseilles flight left at about 10 a.m. and was scheduled to arrive in Frankfurt around 12:30 p.m. We’d have about 90 minutes to make our next flight,” she says. “Tight, but doable.”

Or not. The airline rebooked her on a 6:45 a.m. flight because it determined that the minimum connection time wouldn’t be enough. But it failed to notify her, she says. “So when we arrived at the Marseilles airport for the 10 a.m. flight, they wouldn’t let us on board,” she remembers. She spent an extra two days in France before she could catch another flight home.

It helps to understand how minimum connecting times are computed and your rights if your trip is interrupted because of a miscalculation.

Airport connection times are initially set by a group of scheduled airlines or by an airport operating committee. They pass the recommended minimums along to the International Air Transport Association and the airline reservations systems.

Airlines also adjust their minimum connection times on a flight-by-flight basis. They describe this fine-tuning as a carefully orchestrated process involving multiple divisions within an airline.

“Our engineering department will do a study,” says Michelle Mohr, a US Airways spokeswoman. “They work closely with our scheduling group and our airport customer service team.”

Minimum connection times must be fairly accurate. Underestimate them, and passengers or their luggage won’t make the flight. Overestimate them, and air travelers face a long wait in a terminal.

And circumstances can change. For example, construction in a terminal might cause a slowdown in passengers’ transit from one terminal to the next, requiring longer minimum connection times.

In Philadelphia, US Airways gives passengers arriving on international flights in the A terminal at least 90 minutes to transit through customs and catch a domestic flight leaving from the F terminal. In Charlotte, where the terminals are closer together, the same connection can be done in just 75 minutes.

Lufthansa’s minimum connect times in Frankfurt vary between 45 and 90 minutes, according to airline spokeswoman Christina Semmel. “Usually 45 minutes is the absolute minimum authorized by the airport,” she says.

At this time of year, perhaps more than at any other, airlines pay close attention to their minimum connection times, concerned that passengers may have to spend too much time waiting in a terminal or, worse, might miss their flight.

Even when the minimums are reasonable, missed connections can happen. The best way to avoid that is to review your flight itinerary — preferably before you book it. If you’re using a travel agent, you can ask for a longer connection, but the request needs to be made before you reserve your flight. Remember that under the Transportation Department’s 24-hour rule, you still have the option of canceling your ticket and securing a full refund on most flights, as long as you notify the airline within a day of making your reservation.

Traveling with less luggage and securing a seat closer to the front of the plane may ensure that you’ll make a tight connection. But if you happen to miss your next plane, your airline will rebook you on the next available flight, as long as your itinerary is connected in its reservation system.

You shouldn’t expect it to cover your hotel expenses and meals, particularly if the delay is caused by events beyond its control, such as your inability to get from one terminal to the next at a reasonable speed. The airline’s obligations are outlined in its contract of carriage, the legal agreement between you and your airline, or its customer service plan, which is a non-binding warranty. Both of these documents can be found on your airline’s Web site.

Airlines have a lot of confidence in their minimum connection times, but they understand that some passengers won’t be able to make a connection because of mobility problems. If you need a little extra time, they recommend contacting their special services desk, which helps air travelers with special needs. They can either ensure that someone will help you make a transfer, or they’ll reschedule you on a later flight at no extra charge.

Berlin-bound passenger Conrad hasn’t asked for help yet and is hoping that United will live up to its promise.

“I’ve bought travel insurance,” he says. “Just in case.”

Do you think minimum connect times are enough for the average passenger?

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102 thoughts on “Do you have enough time to make your flight connection?

  1. I have a 1 hour layover in Frankfurt next May. We will need to go through passport control and security again and change terminals. There is a flight every hour from FRA to Berlin, so I’m not worried. I’ll be travelling with my dad, who is 80. He doesn’t need a wheel chair,but does anyone know if you can order a golf cart type transport to meet our flight. That would really be helpful.

    1. Please see my comments about the Frankfurt airport and my problems encountered with using cart transportation. Remember, the walks to gates can be log, so plan accordingly

        1. As if all “foreign” airports in the world are designed the same? That is a ludicrous statement. If you’re on the same carrier your next flight could be in the same terminal and no more than a few minutes’ walk. Obviously that can’t be guaranteed but as the article says, the airlines study this very carefully and I’d be inclined to trust them on it – it hurts them a great deal too when passengers miss connections, so they want to avoid it.

          And even if you do need to go through immigration/customs, I think you may be used to the inefficient, understaffed US customs and forget that many countries do this very efficiently… last time I was in Germany it took no more than 5-10 minutes.

          1. Last time I landed in Frankfurt, I had to wait at least 35 minutes to clear passport control. It was early morning and the lines were terribly long. Everyone was looking at their watches nervously because our plane from the US had landed late.

          2. I flew a packed A-380 back to JFK just the other day. It was my lucky day!
            I was waived by the immigration officer that handled Foreign Dignitaries because he was not doing anything. He said I hit the Lotto that day! Of course, it was a short lived victory since I had to wait for my luggage for a very long time.

            Another thing I noticed is that more and more International Carriers are using Jetblue (B6) as their domestic interline connection. But as I walked out of US Customs in Terminal 1, I did not find a Jetblue Baggage Dropoff counter. Well, that means that connecting passengers need to take their luggage with them on the AirTrain to Terminal 5.

            I wonder if airlines disclose such hassles to their passengers before they buy a ticket.

          3. Sorry to offend you with my ludicrous statement, jpp. Please carry on until you miss a connection and find it time-consumming to get help because you aren’t fluent in the language. The rest of us like to allow a little extra time.

        2. Do you understand what MCT is and who sets it? You can plan how long you want to connect in each airport by yourself but whatever you do still would not affect the legal connecting time in an airport.

  2. Banking on tight layovers for international flights is ILL ADVISED. On my connecting flight to Charlotte (which was then taking me to Dublin), I had a 53 minute layover. I landed, had a 1+ mile hike carrying a 22 pound bad, and 8 minutes to make the terminal. – I arrived late.

    Handicap cars, running, and sprinting were met with a held flight. Rare, but I guess EU 261 might have come into play if the flight departed.

    The same happened on my return flight. An expected 2.5 hour layover rife with delays turned into making the gate with 9 minutes before departure. I lucked out as the Flight was also delayed.

    Moral: 65 minutes IS NOT going to work and YOU WILL MISS the connection: Here’s Why.

    1) Customs Control upon Landing
    2) Trek from Terminal X to Y (Might be quite a trek)
    3) “Obligatory Gate Closes 15 Minutes Early”

    On the very best day, this is an improbable connection. Factoring in the distance of an International flight + potential problems (Slow Boarding, Weather, Maintenance, etc) and the chances are rapidly reduced.

    1. I think you missed the point of the article. The connection times can vary widely and the airlines carefully consider many factors. In this case, Lufthansa knows that the connecting flight is likely nearby (not a mile away across the airport), and they know that the immigration/customs process in Germany is quite efficient. They’ve taken this into account when setting the minimum connection times!

      In addition, there are so many flights between Frankfurt and Berlin that even if the connection is missed, it will be no big drama to be scheduled on the next one – unless it’s a super busy hoilday period, EU flights on legacy carriers don’t have quite the high load factors as in the US.

      So overall 65 minutes is definitely not a huge connecting time – there probably isn’t time for a relaxing beer in the airport pub – but it’s definitely possible and doable in this specific situation.

      1. I find it interesting how some people in forums can make such a sweeping statement like:

        65 minutes IS NOT going to work and YOU WILL MISS the connection

        apparently without doing basic research about how airport minimum connection times are set by an airport local MCT group or by the Airport Operating Committee (AOC) and understanding how airlines may deviate from the set standard by publishing an exception.

        So Justin, how do you reconcile this fact –
        Almost 100,000 MCT records are currently filed with Innovata; and in 2011 Innovata received and processed over 80,000 records changes from airlines. And, the IATA World (default) Standard for International travel is only 60 minutes.

        Maybe IATA and the airports should listen to you and make them ALL at least 65 minutes since as you say YOU WILL MISS your connection if MCT is shorter. But the most likely scenario is they will ignore what you just wrote above.

        1. Tonya
          Airlines are not known for tact. Customs, Switching Terminals, Weather, Slow Passenger Boarding, etc. Too many chances for failure and a very short window.
          Don’t forget, gate closes 15 minutes early. So 60-65 minutes is REALLY 45. So 45 minutes to make customs, terminals, etc is quite a feat.
          Good luck!

          1. All or most of the above are exactly what they measure when they do MCTs. Airports do not want to be blamed for having an impossible standard MCT. When airlines make their on exceptions, it becomes the airline’s problem.

            MCT does not consider LONG flight delays and cancellations. You cannot simply predict these factors in making a reasonable MCT. But the traveler must take these into consideration ON THEIR OWN.

            What you want the airlines and airports to do is quite impossible.

          2. I wont argue, but will say that I’ve yet to encounter a short custom’s line and a light trek from terminal to terminal.
            Airlines aren’t mind readers, but their attempt to create very short MCT layovers are wrought with issue. One small glitch and there’s no window for error.

          3. Based on what I read above, you already ARGUED with official airport MCTs because you do not agree with them. In that case, use your own when you travel. But please do not misinform the general public about your personal minimum of 65 minutes here in this forum.

          4. ….. As airlines are known for their tact and timeliness……..

            In the past five years where I’ve flown semi regularly, I hardly recall flights schedules being remotely static. Terminal changes, flights depart late, arrive late, delayed, etc.

            Maybe my luck, but I doubt that’s the case. There always seems to be SOME glitch that arises. I bet the posters here will concur.

          5. Personally I can’t believe someone is arguing with you over this! No way, under any circumstances, I’d plan for 65 min. on an international flight. Unless I wanted to shell out $$$ for a hotel room in a big strange city where I didn’t speak the language…

  3. Chris,

    In Philadelphia, US Airways gives passengers arriving on international flights in the A terminal at least 90 minutes to transit through customs and catch a domestic flight leaving from the F terminal. In Charlotte, where the terminals are closer together, the same connection can be done in just 75 minutes.

    The exact route my flight took to Europe (Charlotte to Dublin) and Heathrow to Philadelphia. Charlotte is quite large! I had a long trek from one end to the other. Terminal F at Philadelphia at least has a shuttle. The distance is still a hardy workout.

  4. When I’m booking leisure travel, instead of worrying about blame or payment in the case something goes wrong, it makes a lot more sense to simply book additional slack in your schedule to keep something going from causing your vacation to stress you out instead.

    When I book a cruise, I always come in a day early and crash at an inexpensive hotel near the port. Yes, I might could file the paperwork to get trip insurance to cover missing the ship, but a pro-rated refund and reimbursed plane tickets is not, in fact, made-up vacation time. This “insurance” costs $100 or so, but makes departure so much less stressful.

    And yes, for international connections, if I have to make a connecting flight, I try to make sure there’s a second flight between my home airport and the hub I’m going to before my international flight is supposed to depart.

    (On that passenger who’s connecting flight changed and she wasn’t informed… who’s fault was that? Did she book through United (making it the airline’s responsibility to inform her) or did she book through an agent?)

    1. Travel agent or directly with the airline, it doesn’t matter. It is the passengers responsibility to double check flight times and departures. As a courtesy service to my clients, I always check their flight times on their day of travel, but it really is their sole responsibility and it says so in their documents.

      1. How will double-checking the departure time for a specific flight number help if you don’t know that flight is no longer your flight? I always monitor my flights on day of departure as well, but that wouldn’t help me if my flight wasn’t the same that I was checking from the itinerary I had in hand. Airlines have a duty to notify customers if they are rebooking them and to ensure that they received that notification. I shouldn’t have to constantly double and triple check that the airline decided to deliver me a different product from the one that I purchased without my permission or even telling me. It’s that sort of behavior that makes people hate airlines and air travel so much.

        1. I agree that airlines have a duty to notify the passengers, though in this case keep in mind that the passenger was from the US spending time in France – perhaps she didn’t have international roaming on her phone nor was frequently checking email? Maybe they did try to contact her, but she wasn’t reachable. Also, for most airlines you can look up your itinerary online via “record locator” – not flight number – which would show you the new flight details in this scenario. If I knew I was not receiving phone messages for a while I might take the time to check this.

          1. Actually, we did check email – nothing. Tried to figure out how to check the website, but could only confirm flight times, where we did learn of some slight time changes, but didn’t know that the new times shortened our MCT so much that the airline would deem it insufficient and change our flight. We were unable to “look up” our own reservation, or at least couldn’t figure it out on the website.

            When we got home, we found a voice mail message from the airline on our answering machine (this was many years ago, back when we had a machine instead of VOI where we now get our home voicemail sent to our email). This annoyed me because obviously the flight change was from France to US, so how could we get a message on a home voicemail and why didn’t the airline email us, since that’s how they communicated with us for the flights initially?

          2. Put in name and confirmation number — IF there is a possible problem with connecting times, you get a red line as notice of that information.

        2. Once you buy an airline ticket, you should NEVER sit back and wait until the day of departure to verify the itinerary. You should check your reservation once a week and in the last week, it is good to check it even more frequently. Aircraft changes also take place and your seats often doesn’t get reassigned or moved to ones you may not want. Also, if you find a schedule change that doesn’t work for you, you need to call immediately to the carrier and see what flight options you have. YOU the passenger have a responsibility to manage your reservation if you handled the booking yourself. If you book through a travel agent, they handle this…and an OTA doesn’t qualify as the TA, so even with them you need to get your PNR number and check online with the airline to keep up on things. Booking with the carrier directly doesn’t mean you will get every notification. I just had that happen with mine that wasn’t booked via the GDS. Stay on top of your reservation!

        3. You can pull up your entire reservation and review all flight times. And schedule changes DO occur, and even when an airline sends out emails, you might not get them (spam settings) or delete by accident. So ALWAYS double check 2-3 days in advance, just to be sure.

  5. Indeed, the application of greater convenience in the airport is really essential. I see now there are too many procedures and promiscuous interfere with the flight time consuming

    1. I have to admit, I don’t know what a promiscuous interference is. Sounds like something for the mile high club 🙂

          1. Looks like something you might see on a sign at a smaller Chinese airport. “Application of greater convenience in the airport is essential. Too many procedures and promiscuous interfere with the flight time consuming.”

  6. Sometimes, the problem is the baggage connection. I remember a trip through Denver to Las Vegas where we made the connection and our checked bags did not, and this seemed to be known by the airline people except of course no one made any mention of it at the time of booking.

    1. Your bags travel with you, so unless there was a screwup, they’ll arrive with you. So if you got in on time, so will they.

  7. I’d never book a layover of less than one hour at any hub for domestics, and preferably 2 hours for international flights. Just my personal policy, and it’s served me fairly well so far. I know that sometimes the airline websites will try to force you into it, but I’ve always been successful in fiddling with the flight searches to get what I want.

  8. My own personal experiences with Frankfurt airport tell me that this is not enough time. One time I went through from the US to Romania, we landed, had to walk what seemed like a very long distance, rode a tram, walked more, went through security twice (my luggage was thoroughly searched at one of those checkpoints) and barely made my flight. I practically had to run through the airport. This was a 95 minute layover.

    Last year I had a 2 hour layover in Frankfurt, and I felt that a more appropriate amount of time.

    65 minutes probably can be done if everything goes well, but if one thing should hold up the process, it could cause that 65 minutes to be too little time.

    1. Were you on the same airline for both flights? If you’re on two different carriers and changing terminals, it makes a big difference. The OP is on Lufthansa for both flights; Lufthansa knows this, and is setting the connection time accordingly. I agree it’s not generous but they wouldn’t allow this if they didn’t think it was reasonable. The airlines have too much to lose if passengers regularly miss connnections.

      1. No, my flights were not Lufthansa but Delta to, and Tarom from. However, the system that provided the flight schedule/ticketing should allow for what is an acceptable amount of time for connections, or not allow the flights to be connected together.

        However, assuming that Lufthansa knows what is going on, at least to me, is inviting disaster. Frankfurt hasn’t been the easiest of airports to maneuver through. Knowing this firsthand, I would want more time than given regardless of the airline.

  9. By my own experiences at FRA & MUC, 65 minutes is more than enough. Usually it take less than 30 minutes and the german Immigration, Custom and Security are very efficient. In Munich the check-in limit times is 40 minutes. It’s 120 minutes around north-american airports.

        1. You are right, I was thinking about with domestic itineraries. For a connection in the USA 2 hours is a good estimate even for Americans (unless you have Global Entry – which I highly recommend).

      1. When I landed in Frankfurt on Turkish Airlines from Istanbul, a German police officer asked to see my passport when I was exiting the plane and still on the jet way.
        Once he cleared me, I was selected for a thorough secondary screening.
        Luckily, I had a long connection time before my flight to the US.
        I give them credit for being thorough.

  10. Many, many years ago, I was traveling back from Germany, through New York (La Guardia, I think) to BWI. I was a very inexperienced traveler at the time and hadn’t even considered my connection time as an issue, but I seem to remember that it was something less than 90 minutes. Needless to say, by the time I got through Customs – this was all well before 9/11 – I had something like 30 minutes to make my flight. I was connecting to an Allegheny Air puddle-jumper and had no idea where the Allegheny gate was. Additionally, I was carrying three extremely large pieces of luggage and there was not one luggage cart available. I asked someone at Customs where the Allegheny gate was, and they pointed me to the other end of the airport. I took off at a dead sprint in that direction. Got there, couldn’t find it, was informed that Allegheny was indeed back at the other end of the terminal. Did my OJ Simpson impersonation through the airport again, just to find that it wasn’t there, either. Another person told me that Allegheny was at a DIFFERENT airport building altogether! Hopped in a cab, was told in broken English that yes, indeed, the cab driver knew where Allegheny was and he would have me there, no problem. Got in the cab, took off, and the cab driver asked, “Where’s Allegheny?” Eventually, I made it to the plane. They actually held the plane for me! Don’t think that this would happen today, although, I would have to believe, that if a large number of passengers – pick a number – missed a connection, that an airline would hold the connecting flight. Am I being too generous?

    Funny sidenote – the cab ride to the other terminal building was $10. I had a $100 bill; that’s it. As I said, young, inexperienced traveler with no credit card – not sure that would’ve mattered. Cab driver said he had no change for $100. I proceeded to unload my luggage and thank him for the free cab ride. He came up with change pretty quickly. No tip!

    1. You are correct that airlines will hold flights if a group of passengers are late for a connection. I personally experienced this a couple years ago when connecting in Atlanta. The incoming flight from JAX was delayed due to weather. I was connecting to the west coast to LAX, and apparently so were about a half dozen other passengers on my JAX flight. After our delay, the ATL flight should have left about 20 minutes before we landed, but it was held. We sprinted through the terminal as a group and they closed the doors behind us as soon as we boarded. Due to the length of the flight to LAX, the pilot was able to make up the time in the air and we actually were on the ground a few minutes early in California.

  11. Frankfurt, Germany’s airport is horrible
    for tight connection times. I have transited through there a few times in the
    past two years and twice, have made my flight back to the USA by the skin of my
    teeth. Certainly, the schedule allows one “adequate” time for
    transfer. One time was 50 minutes and another 1 hour and ten minutes.

    Problems arise when you are
    flying in from another country and the originating flight is delayed for one
    reason or another. One case was a 30 minute delay for deicing coming from Budapest.
    So, the flight was late arriving, parked on the tarmac and we had to be bused
    to the terminal. Busses do not move until they are fully loaded (ten minute
    wait there). Then you have to go through checkpoints and security while
    changing terminals. One instance, we arrived at the entry point to the terminal
    for our departing flight to Dallas/Fort Worth, TX, only to find there was one
    person checking through passenger documents against his list on a laptop. There
    were over sixty people backed up there and more passengers arriving all the
    time. We managed to find a priority lane for passengers with first/business
    class but it still took us fifteen minutes to get through. We walked as fast as
    we could and we got to the airplane which had already been boarding for about
    twenty-five minutes with no time to spare.

    No time have we come into
    Frankfurt where our departing flight was in the same terminal as we arrived.
    And, every time we have transited through Frankfurt, our flights have been
    parked on the tarmac and we have had to be bused to the terminal. Sometimes,
    the busses are five minutes or so late in arriving to the plane, wait for them
    to load, a few more minutes to the terminal to clear immigration, rush to
    another terminal up and down stairs or get an elevator while changing
    terminals; go through at least one more security checkpoint to a gate. It take
    a lot of time!

    In another instance, I injured my
    right knee on a Lufthansa flight from the USA and needed to return home when we
    got to Frankfurt, I hobbled through passport control and to a check in counter.
    Lufthansa managed to get us on a flight back home on United, leaving in 1 1/2
    hours. They told me to go to their waiting room (about 500 feet away. I hobbled
    there and was told to have a seat; carts were really busy. Some ten minutes
    later a cart came and took us about another 1000 feet to a security checkpoint.
    Get off here and sit. We have to wait for another cart to arrive on the other
    side of the checkpoint before you can go through the checkpoint. Waited twelve
    more minutes and when cart finally arrived, operator and others stood around talking
    for three minutes before they allowed us to go through the checkpoint. Got on the
    cart and we sat for another five minutes before the cart driver began to move.
    Went another little distance to a police checkpoint. Had to hobble through that
    one and then have a seat again and another cart would pick us up. After fifteen
    minutes there and no cart, I gave up and I managed to find an elevator to take
    us up to the departure gate floor and I hobbled for about fifteen minutes and
    got to the gate.

    Does this tell you about the
    availability of handicap/assistance carts in Frankfurt? Be prepared for a long
    time consuming journey.

    My suggestion is, try to allow
    yourselves about an hour and a half connection time at Frankfurt if at all
    possible. There are so many people and it is slow going through the various
    customs, police and security checkpoints.

    1. All right, I’ll ask… HOW did you manage to hurt your knee on a plane? All you do is sit. Was Chris in front of you slamming his seatback back again?

      1. Actually, I had knee arthoscopy on it some seven years back, the cartlidge in my knee is worn down and while I was bringing down my wife’s bag from the overhead bin on the flight so she could get something, I twisted the knee just right. I have since recovered, but it took me about four weeks. The orthopedic surgeon is ready, willing and able to do a total knee replacement, but I am tyring my best not to do that right now. 🙁

  12. I try to always make sure that I have at least a 2 hour layover if I have any connecting flights and that is just domestically. Only once have I gone against this self imposed rule going through DFW and though I didn’t miss connecting flight, my checked luggage did. Never again will I make that mistake.

    Besides, I like taking the time to stretch and relax between connecting flights. So I think its a good idea to build in extra time into your travel plans, when possible.

  13. When booking through my corporate TA I typically do not get a choice for longer layovers, and I have learned to always seek more than the “minimum” required time. Too often my original flight departed late, there is no gate available at the intermediate airport so we must sit on the tarmac until a gate opens up, meanwhile that connection time has disappeared completely. It takes a lot of effort to find longer connection times, I wish longer connections times were not so hard to find and book.

  14. 65 minutes is not enough time.
    United Airlines has a more time consuming boarding policy. They are at the “Z” gate now so what gate is your flight from Berlin landing? What happens if your flight arrives late because you departed Berlin late? If your flight from Berlin parks on the tarmac and not at a gate, you have to board a bus and then be transferred over to the terminal.
    The last flight from FRA to IAD on United is at 5:00 p.m.

    In addition, United makes you turn in your Lufthansa boarding pass and get a United boarding pass. Their security folks will also ask you a series of questions: did you pack your bag? was your bag always with you?
    Even with a 1.5 hour layover scheduled, I have run through the Frankfurt airport like a crazy person trying to catch my flight.
    From now on, I schedule my entire flight on Lufthansa so I don’t have to deal with United.

    1. I actually try to avoid FRA, LHR, and CDG whenever I can. I think AMS (and MUC and ZRH to some extent) are better for connections. It’s not just the minimum connection time that matters. It is also how the airport is laid out and what passengers have to do to go from one terminal (or gate) to the another.

    2. I got the impression that Dulles to Frankfurt is on Lufthansa, not UA. Though I suppose the article isn’t quite clear whether the codeshare was for the Dulles to Frankfurt or Frankfurt to Berlin segment. If Lufthansa is operating both flights, it means they are both in Terminal 1 (Piers A/B/C)- admittedly it could be a bit of a walk depending on the gate, but they shouldn’t be in the remote Z pier.

      1. In the 2nd paragraph, Chris mentions his concern on the return portion of his trip.

        I think going over was not going to be a problem.

  15. A legal connection time and a reasonable connection time are very different. In FRA, one hour is a legal connect from LH to LH: This what my airline computer shows. However, I try to give at least a two hour connection.

    ONLINE .45 .45 .45 .45
    OFFLINE .45 .45 .45 .45
    ** OR * ARE ALL
    LH-LH DD 1.00 EQP ALL – BUS
    LH-LH DD 1.00 EQP BUS – ALL
    **-LH DD 1.00 ALL – QKL
    **-LH DD 1.00 ALL – ZWS
    **-LH DD 1.00 EQP TRN – ALL
    LH-** DD 1.00 QKL – ALL
    LH-** DD 1.00 ZWS – ALL
    LH-** DD 1.00 EQP ALL – TRN
    **-** DD 4.00 INTER FRA – HHN
    **-** DD 4.00 INTER HHN – FRA
    LH-LH DI .45 FLT 1 – 399 – FLT 400 – 799
    LH-LH DI .45 FLT 800 – 1499 – FLT 400 – 799
    LH-LH DI .45 FLT 5140 – 9799 – FLT 400 – 799 ‡

    1. Yes, reasonable would take into consideration the probability (and the expected extent) of a delay.
      Some kind of reliability theory in practice.

  16. A couple of times the airline has changed my schedule and I’ve thought a connection was too close. The computer may have changed my res, but it takes a human to fix my problem. I just called the airline and they booked me on better flights without charge.

  17. I was scheduled on Southwest from Allentown, PA, to Spokane, WA, with one of my two plane-change stops in Minneapolis with only 10 minutes from touchdown to takeoff. So I checked into the desk and asked if maybe I could have a few seconds more. The agent said they had changed it to only 3 minutes and re-routed me. Had I
    not looked at my ticket for that very reason I would have been spending the night in Minneapolis. No hotel/meaks comp? Really?

    1. I think you mean the old NorthWest, SouthWest has never flown out of ABE, AirTran did but as soon as SW took over the AirTran flight ended.

  18. In older internet times I used Easy Sabre and, after checking fares and booking class, I would book my own connections based on the amount of time i wanted to spend in the connecting city. That time was based on minimum connecting time, the likelihood of being on time, risks involved in missing a connection, and a desire to perhaps sightsee a bit at the intermediate point. Generally, so long as the connection does not exceed 4 hours, the connection does not count as a stopover.
    But as the internet matured, with much of it getting dumbed-down, the ability to book by class has, in most cases, been made more difficult or impossible. For the most part, only those connections constructed by the carriers are readily bookable, even though some passengers might want to construct different connections that allow for more connecting time (thereby increasing overall reliability of their travel plans). Between ITA software and using the carriers’ multi-leg booking capacity, it may still be possible to do this, but this can be cumbersome and time-consuming. It would nice if carriers (or third-party booking sites) were to, once again, offer text-based command lines for booking.

    1. Tip …

      Break the flight legs into their individual segments and enter every flight segment in the search entry screen.

      For example a flight from MRS to PHL should be entered (in the multi-city or multi-destination) search page as:
      Flight #1: MRS-FRA
      Flight #2: FRA-PHL
      on the same date (as in the above case).

      This will give you a chance to pick flights of a per segment basis.

      1. If I am fare conscious, then for a particular city pair I want to know, first, what are the various fares and fare bases available, and, second, what flights can I choose from which have the proper booking class available? Since the multi-leg option only provides local, not through, fares, I first need to search on the regular one-way or round-trip options to get the through fare rates and fare bases. Then I need to go back to the multi-leg option to search each leg for availability with that particular fare basis. It can be done (at least on the websites of some carriers), but the two-step process it is cumbersome.

        For me, Easy Sabre was easier for this type of task. Travel agents continue to have this capability (though how many agents know or want to do this versus just “pushing the button” for what’s easiest for them?).

        1. Sadly, newbies to the travel industry don’t want to be bothered with learning the GDS and as such, they are doing a disservice to themselves and their clients. Most newbies to the industry come from a past of booking themselves online and think they know what they are doing and from agent forums I have been on, they don’t have a clue and sadly don’t care. The GDS is the only tool for booking airline reservations that has everything you need to know in one place and due to regulation, is fair with the schedules and fares.
          As a GDS trained agent, Easy Sabre was awful to use. Better than the internet to see what you are actually booking, but slow and tedious to use. You must have had to queue your PNR over to a travel desk to ticket, right?

          1. I agree with every point. There are newbie travel agents who may know how to push a button to allow a computer to do its work, but would faint if faced with having to determine an allowable routing consistent with the tariff and hand writing a ticket, having to build an itinerary between two points for which there is no through published fare, or anything else other than auto pricing simple return tickets. And notwithstanding it being the most powerful system available for consumers, there were shortcomings with Easy Sabre. In sum, few people like to travel (most who say the contrary simply like being someplace else, and don’t really like the travel part, i.e., the process of going somewhere else), and few people have the competence and patience to plan travel. As a result, most self-booked travel itineraries simply reflect carrier defaults as to connecting times, inadequate as they may be at times.

          2. Ha, can’t handwrite tickets anymore and that would probably throw a few off it we still could. There are many tricks on the GDS that can be done that no internet system can do so when I hear someone say they got a great fare online, I just smile and say to myself, I bet you didn’t!

          3. The airlines must be really happy. They got rid of commission earning agents, replaced them with robots and websites and the customers are all too willing to buy whatever the machines are vending. Now they are also consenting to pay for luggage and new ancillary fees the airlines can think of. Pure dumbed down consumerism.

        2. You can still achieve what you want using a combination of ITA and Hipmunk

          Please bear with me as I will walk you through each step.

          (1) Using Itasoftware’s Matrix do a search and uncheck the Only show flights and prices with available seats box.

          Read the Fare Basis Code (and booking class code) of the resulting itinerary. Since your search ignored availability then the LOWEST FARE BASIS is displayed.

          (2) Redo your Ita Matrix search this time with seat availability box checked. If the price is higher for your selected dates, then you know you are not on the cheapest booking classes.

          (3) Do another search which more date flexibility and this time click Advanced routing codes and then add the airline and booking class search parameter (sample below) on each Departing from and Destination field

          :: UA+ /f bc=K

          [The example above will search UA flights with seats available on K booking class code.] Change the airline code and booking class code accordingly.

          (4) Once you find the flights you like, you can go to Hipmunk and replicate the same search you made. Hipmunk will accept some ITA search language commands like dates and airlines (but not booking class). But ITA already found the dates when those cheap fare classes are available and all you need now is to buy tickets. Since Hipmunk is also powered by ITA QPX engine then you will most likely find an OTA that has the flights you found on ITA.

          1. I haven’t encountered Hipmunk before, so I’ll have to take a look! But the essential part on using ITA is similar to what I do when I am requested to research air travel.

            What is the worst, however, is booking bus travel. For many years virtually all carriers were members of NBTA (the bus version of ARC), but in recent years there have been many defections so that single ticket travel is no longer possible (the largest defection being Megabus). But even within NBTA it is impossible for a consumer to book a multi-leg itinerary of their own choosing; only carrier-specified connections are permitted, being through Greyhound’s site or any independent company’s site. Moreover, connections can be even more critical on the bus side than on the air side, given the industry’s lacking of an effective reservation system and lack of second sections, and I’ve heard stories of substantial delays on account of missed connections and denied boarding, sometimes in the middle of nowhere and being forced to wait outside when stations close for the night.

          2. Actually we (in the airline industry) have the same problem with Low Cost Carriers (LCCs) since most of them really do not interline or participate in all common GDS(es).

            But since they are cheap, passengers like to fly them to save money. It is a challenge to include a LCC in an itinerary. If they do not perform or if there are delays and cancellations, the next flights may be noshows.

  19. Then you have airports that are so badly designed, it’s almost impossible to catch a connecting flight…I’m looking at you Atlanta and Denver!

  20. Jeanette Viala’s story does not make sense …

    But during busier air travel periods, such as the Christmas and New Year holidays, the system is tested often with undesirable results. Philadelphia attorney Jeanette Viala recalls a flight from Marseilles, France, back to Philadelphia via Frankfurt, also on Lufthansa, that experienced a connection-time glitch.

    The Marseilles flight left at about 10 a.m. and was scheduled to arrive in Frankfurt around 12:30 p.m. We’d have about 90 minutes to make our next flight, she says. Tight, but doable.

    A Lufthansa MRS-FRA flight departing Marignan at 1010AM can make a legal connection to a Luftansa FRA-PHL at Frankfurt airport. There is about 75 minutes between flights and the MCT is 45 minutes.

    1*LH1087Y 01MAY TH MRSFRA SS1 1010A 1155A/O $ J01 E
    2 LH 426Y 01MAY TH FRAPHL SS1 110P 400P/O $ J01 E
    ALL OK
    #LH1087 MRS FRA 1010A 1 1155A 1 E90
    #LH 426 FRA PHL 110P 1 400P A 343 FRA II 45

    The airline rebooked her on a 6:45 a.m. flight because it determined that the minimum connection time wouldn’t be enough. But it failed to notify her, she says. So when we arrived at the Marseilles airport for the 10 a.m. flight, they wouldn’t let us on board, she remembers. She spent an extra two days in France before she could catch another flight home.

    If the airline failed to tell her about the change of flights, then how did she know it was done to comply with Minimum Connection Time (MCT)? Maybe the MRS-FRA flight was simply not operating (NO OP) for that day and that is why they put her on another flight.

    1. That was what the ticket agent told us when we attempted to check in for the 10:00 am flight, that the MCT was 75 minutes (due to international connection) and there was only going to be 65-70 minutes between our flights. I believe that the MRS to FRA flight time was made 5-10 minutes later and our FRA to PHL flight moved slightly earlier, which shortened our connection time. There were other passengers who were checking in for that flight MRS to FRA, so the flight was “operating”. Mostly, the annoyance was that the airline moved us to a completely different flight without any notification.

  21. I had a one-stop flight for our honeymoon, PHL-LAX-OGG, that united changed to a two-stop PHL-ORD-SFO-OGG, with layovers of 38 minutes at ORD and 32 minutes at SFO!

    I called and protested and they said, “that’s an acceptable connction.” To which i replied, “this is not the itinerary i agreed to when i bought the ticket, and if either of these flights is delayed by even a few minutes, i will be forefeiting my first day of vacation.” There was not a later flight between the mainland and Hawaii on that day. I successfully nudged them to put us on another one-stop flight making the concession to depart three hour earlier. Worked out great.

    I had another case like this when they changed our PHL-DEN-ORD-Grand Junction by tightening one of the connections. I protested and asked politely and emphasized that the revised itinerary is not what i chose and any delay would threaten my vacation. I successfully got them to put us on a better flight with just one stop.

    Be careful of booking tickets well in advance of a flight since seemingly slight schedule changes can turn an acceptible layover into an unacceptable one. And airlines are not eager to change your itinerary. They want to keep your itinerary through the same airports. If you’re going somewhere with a stop, you generally only care about the endpoint not the connecting cities and might have to ask them to change it

    1. With schedule changes, you can get put on any flight you want, with no fee, if the new flights are not doable for you. I have never, ever had a problem with rebooking with schedule changes. The same class of service doesn’t even have to be available to do this. Sorry you did, but it shouldn’t have happened.

      1. bodega, not sure I understand.. are you saying that anytime a schedule change happens, a traveler can get the airline to make a change without cost? In the cases I mentioned above, one was the same itinerary with no flight number changes, etc.. just a change to the flight times. In the other case, they were trying to re-book a canceled flight with a far less desirable itinerary.

        As I said, I successfully got this done both times, but had the impression that they only changed it because I gave them a compelling reason.. not because they HAD to change it for me. I know that if they changed your departure time for example by many hours, you would have a case getting it changed back to one like the original one. But in the case of the first leg’s departure time and last leg’s arrival not changing all that much but changes to the connections in between making a tight connection – are you saying that they have to offer an alternative without additional cost?

        Please enlighten me. In the anecdotes I mentioned, I thought I had just been successfully negotiating for an improvement from a position of disadvantage.. or that I got someone at the airline who was in a good mood that day that felt I deserved a break. Thanks

        1. Yes, with the exception of just a few minutes here or there, a major schedule change can get you a refund or reaccommodated, for no charge. I have done hundreds of these over the years for clients.

          1. Amen – and they can work with you in several other ways at that point as well. Had clients leaving Detroit for Puerto Vallarta, and flights changed to double connections taking all day. So instead, they allowed the clients to fly into LAX the night before, but them up at a hotel, and flew them out directly the next morning. NO charge. 🙂

          2. And I am sure those who book online want to know where this is written. There are several ways of working with the carriers that you just learn over time that aren’t in full print.

  22. In Beijing T3, the minimum connecting time domestic to international is 120 minutes. This is required because, after flying your domestic segment(s), you must pick up your luggage, check in for your international flight, then go through Security and Customs. This was a complete surprise to me (a million mile flyer who has never faced these requirements at any other airport). The reality is that it is much safer to allow at least 3 hours.

  23. Minimum connecting time is actually set for luggage and not humans. Learned this a number of years ago from an airline employee I knew. She told me that when I was talking about changing in Charles de Gaulle in Paris. She said the MCT was short but allowed time to transfer the luggage. She said that passengers should allow more time because of the distances between gates as well as security. Good advice I have followed since then.

  24. As a frequent international traveler, my tips:

    1) Login to the transfer airport website and look up your flight numbers (arriving and departing). Usually, the gate assignments are similar day-to-day. I do this to check to see if the flights arrive/depart from the same or nearby terminals.

    2) Factor in immigration. If arriving from a domestic/Schengen country and leaving for an international destination, you have to go through passport control. That adds a good 30 minutes.

    In my case, we had gone through Frankfurt and our incoming flight was late so we got to the gate 5 minutes late and had to reroute and wound up going to another city in the USA and then flying home from there. It was an adventure but not terrible.

    One lesson I learned was not speaking up to the crew. If I’m tight on a connection, it helps to speak up to the crew and I have had escorts to the gate through security and passport control to get on the flight. Some airlines are better at this than others.

  25. I just want to add one additional tip. I read a lot of accounts (and I bet Chris does too) of people booking connecting flights with two completely separate tickets and reservations For example, you might book a Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt to Chicago and then a completely separate reservation on Southwest from Chicago to Oakland. Extreme caution is advised here, as the second airline (Southwest in the example) has no requirement to put you on a later flight if your first flight is delayed or cancelled. In fact, Southwest would have no idea you were coming from anywhere else and just assume you started in Chicago.

    Just wanted to bring this to everyone’s attention since it often comes up. I recommend very generous connection times here…at least double the MCT. Depending on the airline, you might have to claim and recheck baggage. Southwest doesn’t interline baggage, for example. If you really want to book one of these connections, you can have a competent travel agent ticket this together so that you’re protected from delays.

    Oh, and if for some reason things go south, many airlines will help you out for free or a pretty small fee. Just be sure to be very nice to the agent, as they’re usually bending the rules in your favor here.

    1. Southwest CAN NOT be ticketed with another carrier in one PNR. This would be two separate reservations. A passenger would have to recheck their luggage with Southwest when they checkin as they can not be checked all the way through at their international point of departure. IMHO, this is not an acceptable way to book your travel if cost is the reason you are doing this.

  26. I returned from London last week via Newark to Ft Lauderdale on United and had this same time frame between flights. I was traveling up the front and have Global Entry. If I had been at the back without Global Entry I would not have made the connection.

  27. I personally experienced the exact scenario described in this blog. I was traveling from Nice connecting though Frankfurt with a final destination of Philadelphia on 11/16/13. I was booked on Lufthansa from Nice to Frankfurt, and US Air from Frankfurt to Phila, with a 65 minute layover between the two flights. My flight arrived in Frankfurt at the domestic terminal (A), and since there was no jetway, we had to exit onto the tarmac and load onto a shuttle bus which drove to the terminal. From Terminal A, I had to walk to Terminal C, go through passport control (which was not a short line), get re-screened at security (including a personal search of my carry on, and a pat down of myself). Then at the entrance to the gate for my flight to Phila, a one-on-one question session with security. Finally, at another desk, a final check of my boarding pass and checked bag claim ticket, to insure everything reconciled with what was in the computer. I boarded the Phila flight 15 minutes prior to its scheduled departure time. I feel very fortunate to have made the connection, helped no doubt by the fact that my Nice-Frankfurt flight arrived early. Given all these obstacles, I am not sure I would accept a 65 minute layover under a similar scenario again (at least at Frankfurt).

  28. Frankfurt is Lufthansa’s primary hub in Germany, and 45 min never works. Since Lufthansa has multiple daily flights to and from Frankfurt, they are not really concerned with getting you there, eventually. But if you are not interested in enduring the hassle, you need to plan accordingly.

    Factors that will add to your connection time are:

    1. Will the flight arrive at a gate, or will you be bussed to the terminal? If you are bussed, then add 20 minutes.

    2. If you are arriving on an international flight, you will also have to go through security. This will add anywhere from 5 to 45 minutes.

    3. If you are arriving on an international flight, and connecting onto a flight into the EU? If you are, then you will need to go through passport control. This can take anywhere from 5 to 45 minutes, depending on how many other flights are arriving near that time period.

    4. Have an idea what gates your flights will be operating from, that will give you an idea how long it will be to make that walk. Most of the time, Lufthansa’s EU bound flights operate out of the A-gates. The C-gates were specially constructed for the A380, and will also handle most of the bigger 747’s. The B-gates handles the bulk of international flights, including Star Alliance partner international flights. If you are bussed in, you will arrive in the B area. Check out Google Maps of the terminal, it is about 2-3 km long, and you do not get to walk in a straight line while inside the terminal.
    The fastest connection that I have made is about 55 minutes; while I made it with a little time to spare, I definitely did not enjoy that experience. I normally give myself at least 2 hours, as I like to enjoy my travel experience, and to be able to take my time.

  29. The real problems come when entering the US, where CPB takes a lot of joy in forcing folks to miss flights–it’s a power thing, to be sure.

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