If you’ve booked an itinerary with connecting flight to save a little money, airlines generally allow for as little as 30 minutes for you to deplane, grab your carry-on, switch terminals if needed, and find the right gate. It’s an especially tight window, but possible in small airports. This risk can backfire, though, and per USA Today, a 30-minute connection wasn’t enough for one unlucky passenger whose arriving flight was recently delayed by 25 minutes.
“I got to Reagan and found that I had to change terminals on a bus to make the connection,” he told USA Today. “I sprinted to the bus, begged the driver who was in no hurry to get going, finally made it to the terminal and sprinted to the gate. When I got there, I found that the door was closed, and they refused to let me board even though the aircraft was still there.” In the end, he did make it to his destination — though it took another flight and an additional eight hours.
Booking an itinerary with a tight connection is a gamble. And while airlines may grant you a minimum of 30 minutes to make your flight, you should always consider your arrival and departure times while booking an itinerary with a connection over a non-stop flight.
Allow for enough time to make your connection
Before you book a connection, you should consider how much time you have to make your flight. You might prefer a comfortable one-hour layover over a six-hour one. Conversely, you might also prefer the safety-blanket of a one-hour layover over a connection of 30 minutes, especially if you are required to switch terminals or pick up a checked bag at baggage claim.
USA Today recommends a 60-minute minimum when connecting in larger cities and a 90-minute minimum if you have checked bags. For international flights, which might require lines for immigration, customs, and security, allow for at least two hours.
You should also research your connecting flights’ terminals in advance so you can easily make it to your gate. Connecting to or from an international flight might require you to switch terminals.
“They re-use the same flight numbers for routes, so you could see where those gates/terminals are for the next few days to get an idea,” u/jadeoracle writes on a recent Reddit thread. “...In addition, I’d also check and see if you missed your flight, what are the next possible flights you could get on? [Being] armed with that information may help to get re-booked faster. Or if it’s a weird case where your flight is just once per day, you’ll know to plan for that.”
If you miss your flight, you don’t want to wait another day until the next opportunity to fly out, so consider an airport that might have more flights available, too.
Research your airport’s amenities
Next, and for your sanity, do an online search for your airport and terminal to find out what amenities you can take advantage of, like restaurants or bars. If your connection is three hours or longer, it might be useful to research your airport’s available airline lounges and guest day-rates so you can take advantage of their perks, like free Wi-Fi and snacks.
Also, you should take into account whether your connection might allow you to leave the airport for time to explore if a day-trip sounds appealing. In this instance, you should account for traffic and re-entering security at your layover airport.
Pay attention to your estimated departure and arrival times
Make sure to check for any delays in your proposed itinerary. If either flight on your itinerary is delayed, you could miss your connection altogether.
You can use Google Flights to predict these delays which uses historical data (and an algorithm) to make estimates. For example, an itinerary from JFK to Honolulu with a one hour and 10-minute connection at LAX in the U.S. estimates that the first leg of the trip is often delayed by more than 30 minutes — which could compromise your ability to make the connection at all.
When you’re at your connection, you can also use FlightAware to look up possible delays for your inbound flight. Search by airline and flight number or origin and destination and you can better estimate how much time you might be forced to spend at the airport. At check-in, or while purchasing your flight, you can also sign up to receive updated travel alerts from your airline.
Some airports in America, like Chicago O’Hare, are also notorious for delays, so you should do an online search to see whether delays are common at both your departure and layover airports. The FAA’s website provides updated travel delays at several major U.S. airports if you're travelling within the country.
Lastly, you should obviously consider cost when choosing a layover over a nonstop flight. You might find that a connecting flight is more expensive than a direct one in certain cases. For this reason, you shouldn’t immediately filter results for indirect flights because they might seem like the cheaper option.
Do some research and look for all available flight options so you can book the ideal itinerary. You could even book your own connecting flights, though it might take a little extra legwork.