The answer to this question is as evasive and elusive as the answers to questions like “What is the meaning of life?” or “Why bacon is so tasty?”, but I will make an effort to offer some clues you can use to find the answer by yourself.
Why is this important? Because if your itinerary involves more than one flight and you didn’t make your reservations with enough time between you land at the airport and you get to the next plane, you might lose your flight or your luggage. This last part is also a consequence of not calculating the time between connections properly, something my friend Bel always does wrong and then her luggage doesn’t arrive to the final destination. So, for her and for you, my occasional reader, I will try to dig more into this issue.
If you want to plan your layover (*) properly, you first need to understand that there’s no universal answer to this question. It’s not that you will always need 2 hours or 10 minutes, because it depends on the airport and the type of flight you are taking, but I will give you a couple of examples of the issues you can find:
- Domestic connections don’t require as much time as International ones because you don’t need to go through passport control. The same applies to Intra-Schengen (**) flights if you are traveling through Europe.
- Some airports (like Changi) don’t require you to go through passport control when connecting between International flights; other airports do, and that alone – passport control – could take more than 30 minutes in very busy airports like Heathrow and several northamerican ones
- Some connections require you to change terminals, which takes a lot of time; changing a terminal in Frankfurt (Germany) will definitely take you more than 30 minutes – if you run like Usain Bolt -, and in Charles de Gaulle (Paris, France), you will most probably need to take a bus between terminals, something quite slow depending on which terminals you are
- When you have a connecting flight in less than 45 minutes to 1 hour, you are risking that your checked bag won’t be transferred in time to your next plane, no matter if you catch it on time. Transfer of bags never takes less than 30 minutes in really busy airports, and it usually takes a lot longer when it requires a connection that include international flights
- If your itinerary includes flights with different airlines, especially from different airline groups, keep in mind that will likely require a change of terminal. Airlines from the same groups share terminals while those from different groups usually don’t.
- You need to keep in mind that some flights have more probabilities of being delayed than others. Apps like FlightTrack will show you statistics about how often a flight departs on schedule, and if your first part of the trip includes a flight that is delayed often, you better keep that into consideration when planning the connection
The above is just a list of the issues you might encounter. There are others but I hope this is giving you an overall idea of the complex algorithm that you need to take into account when planning a trip with more than one flight. Then, some hints to calculate the time between connections:
- If you are connecting domestically, or Intra-Schengen, not changing terminal, and flying with the same airline, you usually need less time (less than 1 hour if everything goes well, in some not so crowded or complicated airports – it even took me just 10 minutes in Munich once)
- If you are connecting internationally and the airport has an international connections area that doesn’t require passport control, you will need more or less the same time that you need for a domestic or Intra-Schengen connection
- If you are changing terminals, or going through passport control, or changing airlines (even if it’s a partner airline), you better calculate enough time for that change by checking the airport website. More and more websites are including maps and information about how much time it takes to connect from one terminal to another, so you better use it before booking your flight
My personal and very general rule for time between connections is: more than 1 hour when I am flying through Europe without checked bags, 1.5 to 2 hours if I am flying with checked bags, and more than 2 hours if I have a connection in the United States. This doesn’t apply to every itinerary and it’s a simple rule I use to quickly check if a connection makes sense to me. I have been told I am extra careful with this; well, I almost have never missed connections or luggage due to the above (well… I actually did but only a couple of times when the flights were delayed for quite longer than expected).
The risk of not booking your flight with enough time between connections is that you might not catch your connecting flights, or your luggage will not get to the final destination with you. Not always you can find the best connections, but if you have the chance, take the above information into account before booking your flight, and start your business or leisure trip with the right foot. And then come and share your experience with me. Always happy to learn more about traveling 🙂
(*) Layover: time between two connecting flights, basically. Airlines call it this way when it involves a hotel stay as well but not many know that airlines call “sit time” to the time between connections.
(**) Intra-Schengen: basically, flights between two countries that are part of the Schengen treaty that allows free movement of people between their borders. This applies to virtually all members of the European Union.