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Minimum Connection Times for International Flights


Dear Jessica,

I have a connecting flight from Barcelona to Mumbai via Paris. There is only one hour and five minutes between the flights. As there is a possibility of missing the flight, what should I do? What are the flight changing charges if I want to change my flight of Barcelona to Paris? I am traveling on Air France.

Dear M.D.,

There isn’t an across-the-board rule when it comes to minimum connection times. Unfortunately, the lack of a standard rule can make it tricky to know in advance if you’ll have adequate time to make your connecting flight.

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, as in your case, M.D.

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. (Example: Chicago-New York-Paris on American wouldn’t require more time than Chicago-New York-Miami on American.)

But, if you reverse the former itinerary—Paris-New York-Chicago—you’ll need much more time to make your connecting flight back to Chicago. 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. For international connections like these, you’ll want at least an hour and a half to two hours, if not more.

If you’re making an international connection on two different airlines, you’ll need even more time. For instance, if you fly on American from New York City to London, and connect on a British Airways flight to Mumbai, you’ll have to consider whether you’ll have to switch terminals and the time it will take to pass through security. In these cases, an hour and a half is the absolute minimum.

As a rule of thumb, try to book a flight that has at least a 90-minute to two-hour connection time, if not more, and don’t rely on your airline’s reservations system to ensure you have enough time. When booking, consider whether you’re connecting at a large or especially busy airport, and if you are, plan a longer connection. If you’re traveling on several different airlines, leave yourself even more time. Personally, I’d rather grab a snack or read a book while I wait for my next flight instead of worrying that I’ll miss my connection.

In your situation, M.D., you’re in a bit of a bind. Sixty-five minutes is a tight connection for the itinerary you mention, but if you want to switch flights, you’ll likely have to pay a change fee. You could try contacting Air France to see what it suggests, but keep in mind that you might have to pay to rearrange your flight.

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