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1.5 Hours to Connect in Heathrow on Different (non-partner) Airlines

ETA: I was told my connection is a "legal connection" whatever that means ...

My travel agent assures me that it won't be an issue, but here's my dilemma:

I arrive terminal 4 from Doha (via Qatar Airways) at 13:15. I depart terminal 2 to Chicago (via United Airlines) at 14:50. They are not partner airlines, so there will be no interlining. Will I have to process through immigration, claim my bags, go through customs and exit the terminal? Then will I go to the United ticket counter and re-check my bag? Is there a way to re-check bags without leaving the terminal?

I've gotten conflicting answers to this question, with some saying I won't have to go through immigration - only security. But I don't see how when ticketing is outside immigration and customs.

I travel all the time (business traveler), and this is the first time my travel agent has ever booked me on non-partner airlines.

Help!?!

Posted by
503 posts

That connection is far too tight for Heathrow - and find a new travel agent :-)

Posted by
533 posts

The Heathrow website has a handy "flight connection planner" that tells you what to expect. When I plug in your flights (for a random day, but it doesn't really matter), I get this. As long as you're booked on a through ticket (which you should be if you're working with a travel agent), you don't have to pick up your luggage, and you can change terminals airside. It says the minimum time for that connection is 90 minutes, and you have 95 minutes. That would make me quite nervous, but presumably the good folks at Heathrow handle connections like this all the time.

Posted by
10 posts

Thanks for the reply. I am NOT on a through ticket (no interlining). I have no idea why my agent did this, but she did.

I also checked the LHR website, and saw the same estimate. But that estimate doesn't include the time it will take to claim luggage and re-check it (I have been told I absolutely have to do that because Qatar Airways won't check to my final destination).

I think there's no way I'm making that connection (especially since United requires that bags be checked at least 45 minutes before departure time).

Posted by
533 posts

Just because the airlines aren't partners doesn't necessarily mean you're not on a through ticket. You wouldn't be able to book a trip like that yourself on a single reservation (as far as I know - there might be some secret I'm unaware of), but a travel agent can. You should clarify with your travel agent whether you're on a through ticket or two independent reservations. (If it is indeed two independent reservations, then get a new travel agent.)

Posted by
10 posts

I asked her (travel agent) this very question. I also asked United. They both told me that I'd have to claim my bags at LHR and re-check them.

What's interesting is that I can see all details of my flights on both United and Qatar websites. I can't makes seat changes to the United legs on Qatar's website and vice versa, but they're both visible.

As this will be the return portion of my trip (my outbound is on Friday/Saturday and has over three hours of connection time), I'm going to time how long it takes. If it's more than 45 minutes, it won't work on the return.

Posted by
533 posts

If you're not making the connection airside, then there's no way you have anywhere near enough time. Terminals 2 and 4 are nowhere near each other - they even have different stations on the Underground (and taking the Underground is one of the suggested ways of transferring between terminals).

But the fact that both legs of your flight show up when you look up each one on the airline's website makes me think that you really are on a through ticket, and somebody somewhere (almost certainly including your travel agent) doesn't know what they're talking about.

Posted by
12139 posts

Even if it is a through ticket, if the bags cannot be checked through, they will have to go through immigration to reach baggage claim, then pick up and re-check the bags. And then go through security again.

There is also the issue of the landslide transfer between T4 and T2. I am not sure how that works.

Posted by
11261 posts

Note the disclaimer on the Heathrow Connection page (it's on the bottom, before you put in your flight details):

Connection times: important information

Pages within this section may quote minimum connection times. These only apply if you have booked a through-ticket with an airline or travel agent, and any baggage is checked through to your final destination

Minimum connection times do not apply if:

You have arranged your own flight connection; or
You need to pick up baggage at Heathrow.

In these cases you should follow arrivals, then go to departures to check in for your onward flight. You should allow extra time for your journey.

So, I'd try to find out from Qatar Airways whether they will be checking your bags through to Chicago, and whether their system shows you as having a connection. If you have to pick up bags and go through immigration, there's NO WAY you're going to make this. Even if you do have a true connection, you have (per LHR's own website calculator), five minutes of leeway. How lucky do you feel?

Posted by
10 posts

I don't feel lucky. I'm already looking at hotels in the area for that night ...

Thanks for all the feedback. I'll post an update after my outbound flight on Friday.

Posted by
2453 posts

Yeah, good idea. Even if this were a single ticket that is a very tight connection at Heathrow. See if you can get reticketed now to be sure you have a seat.

Posted by
6517 posts

Give your hotel bill to your travel agent to pay for for your LHR hotel. Her huge mistake!

Posted by
10 posts

In all fairness to my travel agent, she was told by the airlines that it was a "legal connection," so I don't really blame her.

This is business travel, so it'll get billed to the client, regardless. But we need to do better in the future. I travel all of the world, and this is the first time I've encountered this sort of problem. I always opt for the cheapest flights (keeping costs down is important), and I'm often able to upgrade because of my status on Untied. The issue was finding an airline that goes into Qatar (none of the big US airlines do, and any of the United partners required multiple connections). We tried to keep it simple, with the separate tickets, but it backfired . As I approved the trip, I can't fault her. I just didn't realize the implications of not being able to check bags to final destination at the initial check-in.

It'll be interesting to see how long it takes on the outbound flight. That's when I'll know, and I'll get her to change my return.

Posted by
5011 posts

You are not going to make that connection, period.

Your bags will NOT be checked through, because United and Qatar do not "interline" bags (technically there are different kinds of "partners"). United used to interline with Qatar, but United ended their interline agreement with the Qatar and 4 other major Middle East airlines as of May 2017 (this was apparently part of a snit that the major US legacy airlines threw because they claimed the Middle East airlines are too heavily subsidized by their respective governments, so United, American and Delta have been stamping their collective feet and complaining to the US government; when that didn't get them anywhere, they started making things more inconvenient for their customers - this end to interlining is one result of that). So you will have to do the bag drag and all the extra time consuming hoop jumping that requires.

The term "minimum connection time" (or MCT aka a "legal connection") is a misnomer. It does not mean that's all the time you will need to make your connection. It's what the airline's computer program thinks will work on a good day under ideal conditions, so they can sell you a ticket. There are no days when conditions are ideal if you're connecting between 2 different non-partner airlines at LHR from Doha to Chicago with checked bags.

I think you need to execute your Plan B.

You also need to fire that travel agent, who is pretty clueless and is not doing you any favors.

Now, all that said, there is one potential way this might resolve itself...but it's a gamble and depends on two things beyond your control (both would need to happen):

  1. One of your airlines having a schedule change between now and your flight, which would tighten your connection time even more - this is quite possible if your flight is not for many months. Airline schedules shift constantly, and if your connection shortens, your airline should be willing to rebook you on a different flight (in fact, potentially a much better one) if you ask; and...
  2. The airline's CS agent is willing to do that for you. They frequently will. But there's no guarantee of that. If, as you say, you have some status with United, then it's nearly a sure thing they would accommodate you.

If it were me, I'd look into Plan B (but I'd also look into what "better options" might appear if there's a schedule change in your favor).

Good luck.

Posted by
10 posts

David, thank you! This was a great reply that confirms my suspicions. I'll get my agent working on a fix ASAP.

P.S. My outbound flight is on Friday, and the return is on the 30 June. I'd say the chances of a schedule change are zilch.

Posted by
5011 posts

Agreed - if it's just a couple weeks, fuggedaboudit, the schedule change trick is not gonna happen.

Good luck, safe travels!

Posted by
7400 posts

This is business travel, so it'll get billed to the client, regardless

Your travel agent screws up and your client gets screwed.? WOW!

Posted by
10 posts

Joe, given that I could have spent five times the price I paid for the ticket, and still be under my client’s estimated travel cost, it’s not really an issue. Moreover, my client appreciates my willingness to save them money on a regular basis, and my travel agent is a huge part of that.

There’s no need to be rude or snarky. I asked for advice and opinions on the situation I described, not on my travel agent.

If you don’t have anything productive to add, please refrain from replying. Otherwise, you’re just being a troll.

Posted by
1131 posts

You might go to the Air Travel forum on Tripadvisor.com and air (no pun intended) your dilemma. Lots of savvy travelers on there can probably give you some helpful advice and/or tips you can use on all of your air adventures. They are a very experienced group and might even help you solve your current tight connection at LHR. Posters there have prevented some foul ups for us over the years. Most of the posters there don't use travel agents and are experts at details travel agents are unaware of. And if you aren't using frequent flyer miles earned on some credit card you are missing the boat. Example -- round trip first class Tulsa (TUL) to Anchorage (ANC) next month for $11. Can't afford to miss that. Last year RT Dallas (DFW) to Auckland NZ, coach, for two, $212. Couldn't afford to miss that either. Good luck.

Posted by
3173 posts

In all fairness to my travel agent, she was told by the airlines that
it was a "legal connection," so I don't really blame her.

Absolutely not. I'm sorry but you absolutely SHOULD hold her accountable. Nothing about two separate itineraries is a "legal connection". There is no connection whatsoever. Thus you hired somebody who knows nothing about airline travel yet calls herself a travel agent. To add insult to injury, she gave you a mere 90 minutes at Heathrow and David is right; you will NOT make your 2nd flight.

Posted by
5011 posts

That's a pretty unvarnished view of things, but Continental is essentially right.

Anyone who is working as a professional "travel agent" should know what MCTs (aka "a legal connection") really means. Anyone with experience (or at least some interest) should know that 90 minutes at LHR (a notoriously bad airport for quick connections) would be impossible for many connections (even with no checked bags, I'd be skeptical), never mind yours in particular. For yours, I'd want a minimum of 3 hours for what you're up against. Your agent is really doing you a disservice to send you on your way with your current plans.

People make mistakes - this was certainly one. Maybe it's an outlier, but I would not have a high degree of confidence in this agent's knowledge going forward.

Posted by
10 posts

As my company requires that we use this travel agent, I have zero say in the matter. I didn't hire her, nor can I fire her (or "hold her accountable"). When she purchased the ticket using a consolidator, it was packaged that way (with the 1.5 hour connection). She didn't build it that way; it's what the system priced for her. Qatar Airways still maintains that I can make the connection (I called them myself). United says, "not a chance."

Berating her will accomplish nothing, and in the end, it'll strain the relationship. As I have to work with her frequently (I travel at least 50% of the time - usually more), I'd rather have a good relationship. Were it up to me, I'd make all of my own travel arrangements and book direct. My company doesn't allow me to do that.

But this is now a moot point because she changed my return from LHR to the next day. I'll spend the night in London, which, let's face it, is not a bad place to spend an evening, and fly home the following morning. As someone who deals with all kinds of travel-related delays and inconveniences, this isn't a big deal.

Posted by
7400 posts

I could have spent five times the price I paid for the ticket, and still be under my client’s estimated travel cost, it’s not really an issue. Moreover, my client appreciates my willingness to save them money on a regular basis,

is a much better/clearer statement about the reality of the situation than

This is business travel, so it'll get billed to the client, regardless

You are the one who brought up the subject.

Looking forward to read about how it turns out

Posted by
3460 posts

Glad your agent was able to work out an agreeable solution.

We faced a similar issue at my company about being told which travel agent to use. It was a very unsatisfactory arrangement to say the least. We can now book our own travel, using the same web site as their agents do, and are much happier even with the restrictions we face (lowest price regardless of how long the flights take being one) because we can take the time to look at multiple options where the agents just always seemed to pick the first one that popped up. I keep hoping they open up the corporate jets for our use. :-)

Posted by
10 posts

Joe, given that I didn't ask anything about the financial aspects of this dilemma, and only posted the client-billing comment in response to a suggestion that I bill the travel agent for the hotel, I didn't think I needed to provide a "much better/clearer statement about the reality of the situation."

I posted in this forum because I was looking for constructive advice about making the connection, not a critique of how I do business.

Posted by
3173 posts

As my company requires that we use this travel agent, I have zero say
in the matter. I didn't hire her, nor can I fire her (or "hold her
accountable").

I would escalate the incompetency you experienced to your direct superior to prevent a repeat performance.

From your experience alone, it looks like your company picked some fly-by-night operation as opposed to a firm like Carlson Wagonlit that excels in business management travel. I worked for two firms whom, like yours, retained a business travel organization for all travel bookings. Both used CW. If your company did retain CW or a firm of equal calibre, your escalating the incompetence you experienced could remove that agent from client interaction and returned to training.

For a travel agent to be so utterly clueless about the basic definition of what a connection is let alone a "legal connection" is akin to a pastry chef being unfamiliar with what sugar is.

Posted by
2769 posts

Those of us who get to make our own travel arrangements should feel compassion for the OP. Corporate vendors can be so difficult to deal with when they are seemingly not accountable to anyone-or maybe this travel agency has an insider connection to someone in the Executive Suite. Honestly, I am reaching the point where I am no longer surprised by extreme institutional incompetence.

Posted by
3147 posts

For Heathrow, I strive for a 3 hours layover. Anything less is pushing it for reasons like long lines going through passport control, having to change terminals, late arrival, or as happened once to me, sitting on the plane for 45 minutes after landing waiting for the busses to take us to the terminal.

Posted by
1682 posts

What's an illegal connection? Is it worse than the legal one?

Is there a difference between a professional and unprofessional travel agent? I've hooked my own business travel for years thus saving everyone a lot of money and peace of mind. Thank you, internet.

I'm not being snarky just asking as the original question seems to have been answered, my friends.

Posted by
7400 posts

And to think all of OP's (potential) problems could have been avoided had OP been booked on the direct flight from Doha to Chicago. ( Qatar air flt 725)

Help!?!

Book direct flights when available

Posted by
10 posts

Chicago is not my final destination. It’s just another connection. My final destination (home) has no direct flights to or from any cities outside of North America. My new flight on Saturday morning connects through Houston instead of Chicago.

Believe me, I would LOVE nothing more than to book my own flights. In the end, I usually do all the leg work anyway, and just tell the agent what to book. For this trip, I had no insight into what she was doing until it was too late. Had I seen the itinerary before she booked it, I’d have told her to revise it.

I appreciate the advice and encouragement in most of these comments. They were incredibly helpful!