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Guidance needed when changing planes AND airlines in London

My girlfriend lives in Los Angeles USA and is meeting me in Berlin and purchased a ticket through Expedia as follows:

  • Departing from Los Angeles to Berlin Germany
  • Leg one is from Los Angeles to London on Virgin Atlantic
  • Leg two is from London to Berlin/Tegel on British Airways

The flight was booked through Expedia as a package, not as two separate flights.

So...

Question 1: Will she need to retrieve her luggage in London from Virgin Atlantic and recheck it on British Airways? Or will her luggage automatically be transferred from one flight to the other since her ticket was purchased at one time through Expedia?

Question 2: Will she go through immigration in London, or in Berlin?

Question 3: Will she go through customs in London or Berlin?

Question 4: Her layover is 2 hours and 25 minutes. Any thoughts you have on whether this is sufficient time for the appropriate scenario above is appreciated. Thanks!

Posted by
16170 posts

If you are certain they are on one ticket (check the numbers and confirmation code) her bag should be checked through.

Virgin Atlantic will come into T3 and the BA flight to Berlin/Tegel departs from T5, so she will need to transfer terminals. She can do this “airside” without going through immigration or customs as long as her bag is. He led through. Follow the purple “flight connections” signs to the bus that will transport her from T3 to T5. She will go through security again.

2 1/2 hours is a “legal connection” and she should be fine, unless her Irvin Atlantic plane is very late in arriving.

Posted by
8889 posts

If it truly is one through booking (and that is a big if, because you booked it through Expedia, not the airlines):

  • Luggage will be labelled through from Los Angeles to Berlin, you will not pick it up until Berlin
  • She will stay "Airside" in London, and will not go through immigration.
  • She will go through immigration for entering the Schengen Area in Berlin
  • She will then pick up her bags, and carry them through customs. But customs is a non-event, they only stop <1% of passengers.
  • As this is a through ticket, in the unlikely event of a delayed incoming flight causing a missed connection, she will be put on the next flight to Berlin.

BUT: Which airport is this? If it is two different airports, all bets are off.
If it is two different terminals at Heathrow, add 1 hour to transfer time, but 2h25m should still be enough.

If this is not a through booking, this is a potential disaster:
Go through immigration in London, pick up bags, customs, possible terminal change, check-in, security again and get to gate.

Edit: "Irvin Atlantic", Lola, I detect an attack of the family-friendly spell-checker.

Posted by
1027 posts

I wouldn't say Chris F is wrong, but my experience is different. My experience was flying Vancouver/London on Air Canada, then connecting to Air France to Paris, so not exactly the same but similar.

My experience was, since you are arriving into the Schengen zone on an international flight, you will clear customs and immigration in London. Then your London/Berlin flight, being an intra-Schengen flight, will be customs free.

If it were not like this, the authorities in Berlin would have no way of knowing whether you came from within Schengen or without.

Fortunately Heathrow has a very efficient connection system. 2:25 should be plenty.

Chris F is correct in that you will stay "airside", but this only means you will not have clear security again. You will have to clear customs and immigration.

Posted by
23237 posts

Chris F is correct since London is NOT in the Schengen zone. Darren is incorrect or just doesn't remember accurately. No customs or immigration till Berlin. Time should be sufficient short of a major delay somewhere. Second, if as Darren suggested, you had to clear customs and immigration in London you would have to go through security again since customs and immigration are outside of the secure zone. But you will be able to stay on the air as Chris F posted. Good luck.

Posted by
11150 posts

Suggest you contact virgin air and find out if they will check the bags through to Berlin.

Unless there has been a change in procedure at LHR, I believe you will go through a security screening. I had to do so on an all BA booking , YVR to LHR to MXP(Milan). Never figured out when I left a secure zone to necessitate a security screening, but had to do it.

If you cannot check the bags through to Berlin, the time frame looks scary short

Posted by
5326 posts

The UK doesn't take on trust any other country's security screening. So anyone doing an airside transfer will at some stage go through security.

Posted by
3 posts

Thanks all for the great feedback. More info: there is one ticket number and two booking codes (one for each airline). The London airport is Heathrow.

Looks like there is some uncertainty in these responses as to whether or not her bag will automatically reroute. I’ll try to contact Virgin today to post the question (I am in Berlin and yesterday could not find a number for BA that could originate in Berlin AND was English speaking - hopefully I will succeed with Virgin)

Any other thoughts are welcomed, I’ll provide an update if and when I learn more.

Posted by
5326 posts

On a single ticket there really shouldn't be any issue. For one thing BA is required to from the undertakings made when it acquired bmi. Still I am sure reassurance from an official source would be good.

Posted by
14939 posts

This is tricky.

First, VS and BA hate each other and are not interline partners.

Second, Just because there is one Expedia reservation number doesn't mean it is one ticket. They could be selling you two separate flights but put it under their own reservation number. You might want to go to the VS website and plug in your booking code for VS. If the flight to Berlin isn't on there, it's two separate tickets. (You could also call Virgin and ask them to look up the reservation numer instead of the booking code. If they can't find it, it's two tickets.)

Personally, I think it is two separate tickets and she will have to retrieve her bag in London. If that is the case, 2:25 is not enough time.

Posted by
3992 posts

Q1. There is no interline agreement between Virgin and BA as you will find out when you call the airlines. Your girlfriend will have to wait for her luggage at the VA baggage carousel & recheck it at the BA ticket area before security.

Q2. Her VA flight will probably arrive at Terminal 3. Her BA flight will probably depart at Terminal 5. She'll have to wait for her luggage, transfer to Terminal 5, check her luggage at the BA ticket window and go through security screening.

Q3. Customs doesn't matter whatsoever if she has nothing to declare. It's a walk through.

Q4. 2 different airlines with no interline agreement, 2 different terminals which means time spent transferring from T3 to T5, additional time waiting at the baggage carousel from the VA flight, time spent waiting to check in bag at BA, time spent waiting at security screening. Last, the Berlin flight could close 30-45 minutes before departure so she really does not have 2 hours, 25 minutes. Last, you're making the assumption that the VA flight from LAX will arrive on time. I would NOT do this itinerary.

Posted by
11150 posts

As your friend has already purchased the ticket, the best chance to make the transfer is having only carry on luggage.

Next , contact expedia and ask them what they will do if the connection is missed.

If expedia is not helpful, research the options of how to get from London to Berlin, if the connection is missed, so she does not have to start at square one to figure it out one while stuck at LHR.

Posted by
2181 posts

The 2 separate booking codes leads me to believe these are 2 separate reservations bundled into one by Expedia. You said "purchased", so that sounds like this is already a done deal. As someone who had 2 separate reservations under BA, but serviced by Aer Lingus on the second ticket, BA would not interline for us out of SEA.

Can she do carry-on? If she can do carry-on AND get her boarding pass for her 2nd flight, she can stay airside. If she goes carry-on, will she be able to check-in for her second flight with her mobile? She needs to know this before she gets there.

If she must check luggage, tell her she needs to move at fast as she can to get to immigration. Luggage will probably be waiting for her once she clears that. Customs is a walk-through and then she'll need to transfer terminals. The LHR website will tell her how to do this. We made it work, but knowing what to expect ahead of time helps. Also, sure that her flight is actually operated by British Air.

Posted by
5326 posts

BA and VS use different CRS so there will be two record locators irrespective of whether there is one or two underlying tickets.

BA and VS do interline bags on single itineraries.

Posted by
3 posts

Thanks again for all of your feedback.

I was able to speak with a VA agent by telephone who informed me that the bag WOULD interline between Los Angeles and Berlin.

The rep from Expedia and the agent from Heathrow (I contacted the Heathrow support team) both informed me she would need to pick up her bag at Heathrow and check it back in with BA.

Until I know otherwise I'll go with what VA told me and at the same time I'll prepare a back up plan (i.e. buy a new ticket on BA from London to Berlin if needed).

I'll do a final update post arrival in Berlin.

Cheers!

Posted by
16170 posts

So different answers from different sources, just as you got here. I tend to believe Virgin, as they have control of the situation, but you won’t know for sure until she arrives at LAX and. He is her bag. If they say it is checked through, fine. But if not, she will face some difficulties at Heathrow ( I.e., will miss her flight to Berlin and have to us a new ticket at last-minute prices). She could try contacting Expedia to see what they will do for her since she missed the flight because they sold her too short a connection.

The whole issue could be avoided by simply taking a carryon bag and getting her boarding pass for the second flight when she checks at LAX (or online). Then she can transfer airside and avoid going through immigration to claim and re- check the bag. ( There will be a new secunity screening at T5, but with 2 hours to transfer, there is time for that..

Posted by
1802 posts

OP,

Is this a trip scheduled for the near term? If it’s been booked for months from now, you should check the scheduled flight times periodically. Airlines often change their schedules which can make that connection better or worse. In the latter case hopefully Expedia would help to reschedule your flights.