What Is the Minimum Time I Should Allow for Layovers?
Airline minimum connection times are not set in stone. Most airlines do not sell tickets for connections that are impossible to make, but it remains the traveler’s responsibility to allow enough time to make the connecting flight. If your next flight is on the same airline, gate agents might hold the plane for you if your current flight is delayed, but this is never guaranteed. Make your experience at the airport more comfortable by allowing plenty of time to make a connection.
If you are continuing travel on the same airline, it is likely but not guaranteed your next gate is relatively close to the first. In most airports, you do not need to claim your luggage or go through security again. Connections of less than an hour usually are possible if everyone in your party is fit and healthy, and you do not have gate-checked items such as a stroller. For peace of mind, particularly when connecting in a large city, try to schedule a layover of at least 60 minutes. If you have gate-checked items or are traveling with someone with special needs, extend your layover time to 90 minutes if possible.
Changing airlines sometimes means changing terminals or even going back through security, depending on the layout of the airport. In most cases, the airlines do not communicate with one another about delays, so the odds of having someone hold your next flight are slim. Allow at least 90 minutes to get through the airport and find your next gate, especially if anyone in your group moves slowly or has special needs. This may seem like a large amount of time, but short layovers are stressful and large airports can take awhile to navigate, especially if you don’t have access to an airport map. A missed connection is never fun, so choosing a long layover and giving yourself some extra time to change terminals and get through any security checks is always worth it to get to your final destination!
Some destinations, including the United States, require all travelers to go through Customs and Immigration at their first point of landing. Depending on the time of day and the number of international flights landing at approximately the same time, the processing lines can be long. Allow at least two hours to claim luggage, clear Customs, go through security screening and get to your next gate. Definitely allow a longer layover for this kind of flight connection. Going through customs and passport control can especially take a long time and a longer connection is necessary for this kind of global entry. You will likely be flying different airlines for this kind of connection as well and will need to check-in with your new airline at the international airport and go through the process to recheck your carry-on and checked bags for your air travel.
At peak travel times such as major holiday weekends, airports are much more congested than usual. Allow at least 30 minutes to one hour extra for your stopover during a peak time. Also consider the size of the airport in which you will connect. The bigger the airport, the farther you might have to walk between gates, and the more crowded the airport is likely to be. Large international airports like the London Heathrow Airport, Dallas Forth Worth Airport, New York’s JFK Airport, the Atlanta Airport, the Los Angeles LAX Airport, San Francisco SFO Airport, and the Frankfurt Airport are large and sometimes complicated to navigate.
If you have a tight connection, let the flight attendants on your first flight know. They might move you to the front of the plane, call your next gate to inform agents you are on your way, or give you tips on the speediest way to navigate through the connecting airport. Don’t expect special favors, but the advice often is invaluable.