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1 hour and 20 minutes to change planes in Madrid (updated)

See the end of this discussion. The problem has been fixed. My original complaint was:

I managed to reschedule my trip to Spain for March 2022. I am Flying from Detroit to Seville. On the way back I am flying from Madrid back to Detroit. On the way to Seville the first flight arrives in New York La Guardia at 5:00 PM and leaves from JFK at 9:05 PM.

Did I make a mistake by having to change airports?

My next flight arrives in Madrid at 10:20 AM.

My 3rd flight leaves Madrid at 11:40 AM.

How will I manage at the Airport in Madrid, with only 1 hour and 20 minutes between flights? Will I have to wait in line to get my passport stamped in Madrid? What if I miss my flight to Seville? If I miss my flight, I would be mortified at the money wasted and I would have to see if I could buy a ticket for a bus or train to Seville. What kind of punishment would the airline doll out for missing a flight? Could I get banned from flying home? Why don't the airlines prevent such short layovers from existing? Why don't they program the computers or software so that plane trips would not be offered for sale if a layover would be under 2 hours and 30 minutes?

On the way home I have to switch Airports in New York again. But there are 4 hours and 24 minutes between flights.

Posted by
4697 posts

Are the flights from JFK to Madrid and from Madrid to Seville both on one ticket? If so, and the arrival in Madrid is delayed, the airline will get you on the next flight with an available seat, and any checked bag will be on that flight for you to retrieve in Seville. It's a short connection, and yes you will go through passport control on landing in Madrid, but the airline will take care of you if it doesn't work. Based on Rome2rio.com, it looks like there would be a later flight to Seville on a typical day, but no one can predict what schedules will look like next March. If you missed the connection and chose not to take the next flight, you would want to talk with airline customer service people right away about keeping your reservations for the return flights to Detroit. Otherwise, if you just disappear (from their point of view), they'll cancel your return reservation.

The bigger problem, I think, is flying into La Guardia and out of JFK. I can't imagine that this is on one ticket, but maybe it is. Is it the same airline? Have they sent any information about getting between those airports? Looking again at Rome2rio, I see a series of bus and train (Long Island Railroad) connections that would take about an hour under ideal conditions (i.e. no waiting, no rush hour delays). You'd have a bus ride, then a train, then another train -- probably all crowded because of the time of day, and with your luggage. Of course you'll want to be arriving at JFK about three hours before your flight to Madrid, but you should be OK if you're an hour or so later than that.

I hope these flights work out for you and you have a good trip. But if there's any way to change the plan so you don't have to switch airports in New York, it would be well worth exploring even if it costs a little more.

Posted by
18896 posts

It's not all that rare to see routings that involve airport switches in New York City. I saw it myself just last week when I casually priced out a ticket from Washington DC to somewhere in Europe. Google Flights flags that sort of connection as a warning to potential purchasers.

I would not do this. I would be highly stressed about the ground transportation between the NYC airports, and I have no idea how much it will cost.

Posted by
2287 posts

A local will probably chip in, but the only viable option to transit between the airports in New York is definitely a cab. At 5.30-6.00PM on a weekday you will hit severe rush hour traffic on the way and are unlikely to reach JFK much before 6.30-7.00PM, assuming your incoming flight is perfectly on time and you travel with carry-on luggage only. That's cutting it too close, since I believe the wisdom in the US (and elsewhere) is to arrive 3 hours before an international flight.

The layover in Madrid, provided it is on a single ticket, is not the issue here (you will get a seat on the next available flight if you miss the 11.40 AM).

Posted by
205 posts

You'd think that changing planes in Madrid, on the same ticket, would be no problem - but we did have a problem a few years ago. We flew from Boston to Barcelona by way of Madrid on Iberia. In Madrid (it's a big airport, for those who have not been there), we had to go through all the lines. Well, we arrived late for our connecting flight - it left without us. When we went to try to get on the next flight (there were several - that was not the issue), Iberia told us that others from our flight managed to get on the connecting flight, so if we wanted to get to Barcelona, we would have to pay again. We were really upset, but it was the beginning of our vacation and we just paid. But just so you know, this does happen.

Posted by
11263 posts

Oh dear. It is my unpleasant duty to report that your itinerary is full of potential problems.

I am Flying from Detroit to Seville. On the way back I am flying from Madrid back to Detroit. On the way to Seville the first flight arrives in New York La Guardia at 5:00 PM and leaves from JFK at 9:05 PM. Did I make a mistake by having to change airports?

Yes. As said above, you will be trying to get between the airports at rush hour, and any disruption will cause you to miss your flight out of JFK. Since there's only one a day, you would have to wait at least a day to get the "next available flight."

My next flight arrives in Madrid at 10:20 AM. My 3rd flight leaves Madrid at 11:40 AM. How will I manage at the Airport in Madrid, with only 1 hour and 20 minutes between flights?

This can work if your arriving flight is on time and you have no mobility impairment. I don't know which airlines your flights are on. However, if you are on Iberia, that uses Terminal 4 and 4S. (I took that very itinerary - JFK to MAD to SVQ - in 2006). The catches are:

1) These terminals are ginormous. You should prepare to do more walking than you previously though possible.
2) Flights from the US land at the farthest part of terminal 4S, and the flight to Seville leaves from a distant part of terminal 4. You will land, walk and walk and walk, get to the train connecting 4S to 4, then walk some more to immigration, then walk some more, go through security, and walk some more to get to your departure gate. The terminals are very well labeled, complete with time estimates (it will say, for example, "M gates 10 minutes, T gates 25 minutes"). The time estimates are accurate, provided you can keep up a decent walking pace and don't stop. There are bathrooms and food/drink options at all terminal areas, so don't stop until you've reached your gate area.

I don't remember how long I had in 2006 for the connection (made it without problems). In 2017, I had two hours for a connection in Madrid, and made it with plenty of time to spare (I was very worried because there was only one flight a day from Madrid to Bayonne, France). Just be prepared for the size of the terminals and the walking. I know I'm harping on these, but wait until you see them for yourself. If you have any mobility problems, arrange for assistance so you don't miss your plane.

Of course, if you'll be using other terminals (1, 2 or 3), the procedures and times are different.

continued in next post...

Posted by
11263 posts

Will I have to wait in line to get my passport stamped in Madrid?

Yes.

What if I miss my flight to Seville?

If this is due to a late arrival at MAD, they should put you on the next available flight to Seville at no charge. However, if they deem it to be your fault that you missed the connection, then you are responsible for paying for the flight.

On the way home I have to switch Airports in New York again. But there are 4 hours and 24 minutes between flights.

That only sounds like a lot. On arrival in JFK, you go through immigration (passport control), then pick up all your checked luggage, then go through customs. You do this even if you were catching your next flight at JFK. How long these processes take cannot be predicted, but JFK is always very busy and immigration lines, even for returning US citizens, can be very long (for non citizens they're even worse). I'd want 3 hours to make a connection from international to domestic at JFK (and would consider anything less than 2 hours a real crap shoot). Since you have to change airports, I'd want MUCH more time.

Is there any way you can change your Detroit to NYC flights to use JFK instead of LGA? Failing that, can you choose longer connection times in New York? Even if it costs you to change, do it - remember that you will save on cab fare if your connections are all in one airport.

JFK's website estimates that a taxi to LGA costs $33-36 and takes 30 minutes. Scroll down on this website for details (taxi fare is near top of page, details of transfer options between JFK and LAG are lower on page under "Connecting to other airports"): https://www.jfkairport.com/to-from-airport/taxi-car-and-van-service

Posted by
2808 posts

I would agree with Harold about your time frame at JFK. Yes, 4 hours and 24 minutes may sound doable. Who knows. That said, we once had 3.5+ hours @JFK to get through passport control, checked luggage, then go through customs. We barely made it through.
It's always "expect the unexpected." It all worked out.

Posted by
18896 posts

On the outbound leg Mike's schedule has only 4 hr. 5 minutes to change airports, etc. Of course, he doesn't have to go through US Immigration heading east.

Posted by
6717 posts

This is a terrible itinerary, full stop (the 1 hour 20 minutes thing is the least of the issues, even though that's what you're focused on). But you're (ironically) lucky that you're flying the equally terrible American Airlines because there will be plenty of schedule changes between now and March 2022, so there is no need to stress over an itinerary that likely won't even come to pass. If you get notification of a major change or you spot it yourself by checking your flight info, I would select a very streamlined Detroit-Madrid round-trip ticket that does not involve 2 of the worst airports in the country in terms of stress, size, crowds, etc. I know it sounds great to do a multi-city booking, but this is the time of covid and having a straightforward itinerary will give you less headaches in the end and will also save you money. The AVE high speed train can get you from Mardrid to Seville in 2 hours 30 minutes, less time than this inane transfer from LGA to JFK both ways (with not enough slack) which provides no value to you whatsoever. Plus a Detroit-Madrid round-trip ticket will probably knock $200 off your fare, which will be worthwhile in itself. Keep in mind that, even though you bought the most basic fare, if the airline is the one that makes a radical schedule change, then you are owed a new (replacement) itinerary of your own choosing. Stand your ground when that happens - scope out the second best choice online and have that routing ready to give the agent over the phone. It will give you an opportunity to erase this mistake that you obviously already have buyer's remorse over.

People on this forum often encourage using European carries to get to Europe. I would also put Turkish Air in that category. This is a good idea, as you won't be subject to transferring in awful airports like JFK in the first place. Your transfer will be in Europe, so if you miss any connection, there will be more ways to get to your final destination and faster. Plus those carriers have typically better food and service to begin with.

As for why airline algorithms assign tight itineraries, they do so because even those tight itineraries "work" and are physically possible for X percent of passengers....and the airlines' job is to optimize scheduling and maximize profits while pissing off the least number of people (it's a similar concept to overbooking flights to account for "no shows"). It's completely up to the passenger to say "this is not within my comfort level" and to eschew itineraries they know they won't be able to handle or which cause too much stress. So, just because you get a ridiculous routing, doesn't mean you have to acquiesce to it if you know deep down that it won't work for you. Hope that makes sense.

PS. I had an American Airlines flight to Mexico once. They changed the itinerary something like 5-6 times, including the same LGA and JFK transfer issue. When that happened (the final straw), I had enough and cancelled it altogether and found a more predictable airline that didn't have as many flight changes and didn't make me switch airports in NY. It was all good in the end, I ended up getting a cheaper fare to boot. Hope the same happens to you after this debacle, although with your basic fare, you'll be stuck with an Amercian Airlines credit for a future flight (so you won't be able to escape them altogether).

Posted by
219 posts

Wow! I fly to all three of the NY airports often and I would never transfer between them! Just because airlines offer certain itineraries, doesn’t mean you should choose them. This goes for short layovers as well. Just too much stress.

I’m not sure why you are not flying Delta, since Detroit is a hub for them. You can fly direct to either Paris or Amsterdam with them. This gets you over the pond, an advantage should you run into any delays or other problem. From there, you should be able to fly directly to Seville without the extra stop in Madrid. If these options don’t show up with Delta, try their partners, KLM or Air France. Sometimes cheaper flights show up on their websites.

Posted by
6841 posts

Were you forced to take this rescheduling? It is pretty bad considering the amount you paid American

Posted by
656 posts

Yes, the whole itinerary is one ticket.

No, I was not directly forced to take this itinerary. I had a few choices. After I convinced American Airlines to let me reschedule my trip for March, I found out that the original itinerary had picked, which involved switching planes in Charlotte-Douglas, has been discontinued. aa.com doesn't work well anymore, or at least it won't display flights for the itinerary I think I want. Agents gave me a few options on the phone. I picked the cheapest one. Some choices involved transferring in Miami. I dismissed certain itineraries automatically because they would require me to wake up at 5 or 6am for flights leaving at 9:25 am. I had thought transferring in Chicago was bad because it seemed wrong to first go west to Chicago to then go east. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe I should have bought tickets from Tap Portugal but at the time I thought something was wrong with flying on a non-USA based airline. Maybe I was wrong.

I had originally booked a "basic economy" ticket; basic economy tickets are not supposed to be allowed to be changed by the ticket holder.

I am in normal to good health. I won't be able to just run through the airport for obvious reasons, because I will be carrying my carry-on luggage and there will be other people in the airport. On my 4 solo flights to Europe and at least 3 trips within the USA, I took only one to 2 changes of clothes in a travel bag without wheels, and minimal other stuff in a backpack that fit under the seat in front of me or the flight attendants put it in an overhead bin. I figure there is an 80 to 90% chance I will be able to carry everything I have onto the planes from Detroit to New York and New York to Madrid. I never took a flight within Europe. I figure there is a 50% chance the staff in Spain will let me take everything onto the plane.

Maybe I would be better off just flying round trip to and from Madrid and taking a train or bus to Seville or Granada right after leaving the airport, and then working my way back to Madrid as my trip progresses. Maybe I should just see if American airlines can drop my flight from Madrid to Seville. I should have searched for two one way tickets given that aa.com won't work for the multi-city option, and then then I would have picked the right itineraries, I could have called an agent who would have given me a proper round trip or multi-city trip.

Posted by
4697 posts

I have the same reaction you do to flying in the "wrong" direction to get somewhere, but sometimes it makes more sense than the alternatives. I suggest you look for itineraries on American (since you're stuck with them). On a random date next March, I found several choices from Detroit to Madrid via Chicago or Miami. Those are big airports but at least you're not changing airports! Much easier than taking a taxi, or a bus plus two trains, in NYC at rush hour. If American pulls another switch on you, as they may well do given all the uncertainties of the next six months, you might try for one of those itineraries. And try for something similar on the return trip.

I agree with Agnes that flying between Madrid and Seville isn't really necessary since the train service is so good. You might be able to save some airfare, or neutralize a change fee, by just booking a round trip between Detroit and Madrid. You'd have the train fare of course, but it might work out to about the same overall cost. I don't know what your overall plan is while you're in Spain, but if it includes nights in Madrid you could avoid the stress of transferring from the airport to the train station (Atocha) by spending a night or two in Madrid before going south. You will want to be in Madrid the night before your homebound flight, though, instead of rushing there from somewhere else.

Posted by
656 posts

From Detroit to Madrid, American has a sort of ok trip, leaving Detroit as 12:59 pm, arriving in Miami, Florida at 4:03pm, leaving Miami at 6:20pm, arriving in Madrid at 8:45am.

But From Madrid to Detroit, American doesn't offer a good flight. The best flight they offer leaves Madrid at 12:40pm and arrives at JFK at 4:05pm, and then switching airports, leaving LaGuardia at 8:29pm, arriving in Detroit

The other flights from Madrid to Detroit require switching planes in London with only an hour and 20 minutes between flights, or leaving and/or other flights with connection times of under 2 hours, or there is a way to fly from Madrid to Miami to LaGuardia to Detroit. Airline staff would probably give me permission to have the belief that some offered itineraries are irrational, but they would never admit it or validate it to be true.

I am getting screwed. Maybe it is because airlines are cutting back on itineraries offered. maybe I should have bought tickets from another airline.

Edit: Isn't it rather unethical or worse that after airlines take your money, they do everything legally possible to resist giving refunds, even when your travel dates have not passed yet? (yes or no?) No other businesses do this, like for example, I am sure that if I owned a house instead of renting and I had to call a plumber, he/she wouldn't make me pay in advance and if I called to cancel before the date the plumber was supposed to arrive, he/she would not try charging me anyway or making me put up with a credit for service before a certain date.

Posted by
6717 posts

There is nothing you can do right now without incurring a change fee (I assume you have one as a condition of your ticket, right?) because you have a restricted ticket - any change, however small, results in a brand new itinerary and brand new price plus the change fee. Only when AA changes your itinerary (of more than 2 hours on any of the legs), can you act and make another change without being financially penalized. I would not get wrapped up in alternate itineraries right now since many will probably experience multiple changes (so, in a sense, they are probably as unrealistic as your current itinerary). I would hold tight and wait until AA changes your schedule. Then you can think about what you want to do instead. In they change your schedule in a meaningful way, you'll even be able to cancel and get all your money back but you'll still be stuck with a credit and the pressure to use it within a certain cut-off date.

PS. AA does have the option for multi-city bookings. It's called "Advanced - multi-city search"...the link is under the blue "search" button. But airlines in general make it very hard to rebook a changed itinerary without getting an agent on the phone.

Posted by
7479 posts

I had originally booked a "basic economy" ticket; basic economy tickets are not supposed to be allowed to be changed by the ticket holder.
Agents gave me a few options on the phone. I picked the cheapest one.
Edit: Isn't it rather unethical or worse that after airlines take your money, they do everything legally possible to resist giving refunds, even when your travel dates have not passed yet? (yes or no?)

From what you say, I do not see that you have a basis to complain about or infer that the airline is being unethical.

At this point you can: a) make changes to a more suitable schedule and pay the difference; b) wait and hope AA makes a schedule change that gives you a chance at a re-do; c) make plans on the best way to change airports on your current itinerary.

The cheapest price is not always the best deal.

Posted by
656 posts

Thanks for your imput. You are all approximately right. I changed my flights. It cost an extra just under $500, or just under $1,400, or the same price I had originally paid the first time I reserved tickets to Spain. This time I change planes in Miami, Florida, both on the way to Madrid and on the way back from Madrid to Detroit. I switched to round trip to and from Madrid, too. On the way back I will have over 7 hours between flights in Miami, i have to wake up at 5 to 6 am, and I arrive in Detroit after midnight; I had previously thought this flight-itinerary was irrational, but now it looks good compared to switching airports in New York.

The morals are:
-do not buy basic economy tickets.
-Make sure there is enough time between flights.
-Do a round trip ticket when traveling to Spain and possibly to other countries, if your last flight on your trip to Europe will be within Europe and if your last flight will be more difficult and/or take longer than ground transportation from the first airport you arrive at, in Europe.
-I was wrong for thinking I had to take only USA airlines. Maybe by coincidence in the future American or Delta will have the best combination of price versus total trip duration versus length of layovers. Maybe a foreign based airline will have the best tickets. For this trip I could have bought an acceptable-looking trip I saw from Tap Portugual.
-do not just pick the cheapest tickets, unless by coincidence the cheapest tickets have enough time between flights and the total trip durations isn't excessive and there are not irrationally more flights than other itineraries.

Posted by
437 posts

For this trip I could have bought an acceptable-looking trip I saw from Tap Portugal.

Beware of TAP. During the past year they have canceled flights and people are still waiting for refunds. Their customer service sucks.

Posted by
4697 posts

Mike, I think you've extracted mostly the right lessons from this experience, but I'm not sure I understand one of them:

Do a round trip ticket when traveling to Spain and possibly to other countries, if your last flight on your trip to Europe will be within Europe and if your last flight will be more difficult and/or take longer than ground transportation from the first airport you arrive at, in Europe.

A round trip typically means, for example, Detroit to Madrid and Madrid to Detroit (with transfers). That can make sense if you're basing in Madrid or not far away. And there's nothing wrong with it if you don't mind returning to Madrid at the end of your trip. But many people on this board suggest "open jaw" itineraries, where you fly into one city and home from another, especially if those cities are distant enough that returning to the first one costs significant money and/or time. I wouldn't stress about this in your case, though, since Seville and Madrid are close enough together with good rail connections. With that early AM departure from Madrid, I hope you'll consider one of the hotels near the airport for the night before.

Posted by
656 posts

I already was persuaded that open jaw trips often are more logical or work better than just a round trip, On my last trip to Europe I took flights to Amsterdam and my flights home left from Brussels. On this trip I had originally planned to fly to Madrid and fly home from Seville, or fly to Seville and fly home from Madrid. If I had bought my trip from Tap Portugal, I would have changed planes in Lisbon and then from Lisbon the next plane would go straight to Seville or Madrid; on the way back planes would go straight from Seville or Madrid to Lisbon. On American Airlines, if you buy a trip to or from Seville, you switch planes in Madrid. My original tickets involved switching planes in Madrid but the plane arrived at 10:20am and the next plane left at 11:40 am. The next flight from Madrid to Seville leaves at 4pm. With some input from others I concluded that for my trip (Madrid, Toledo, Seville, Granada, and Cordoba, probably not in that order), in terms of the final time I would arrive at the first city of my trip, there is no advantage to taking the extra flight from Seville to Madrid or Madrid to Seville. But for some countries, trips, and/or airlines, yeah, you are right that an open jaw set of plane trips would be more logical.

Posted by
81 posts

I had a similar situation my Mother was staying in Paris to see her Friend while my Father and I had a flight from ORY-Biarritz after flying in from SFO on AF on different tickets and my Father flew in on AA via DFW with my Mother. This was a Saturday and I made sure to allow 5 hours after landing to make this connection.

My Parents arrived earlier than I and I was delayed and we got an Uber to Orly for 25 Euros better than the AF Bus and I checked us in online during the ride and we made it just fine! We got to the gate 90 minutes before departure.

If you don't allow enough time and you are on different itineraries even on the same airline then god help you. We booked this itinerary as it was less expensive. $120 r/t vs $300 r/t on other airlines from CDG and also Easy Jet you paid for luggage and had to go to Beauvis airport.

We stayed in Paris a week after and Orly was closer. Under normal circumstances I would stay under one itinerary but in this case the risk was worth it especially since it was a Saturday afternoon.

Posted by
81 posts

Me personally would not do the transfer as the OP would as the traffic in New York is horrendous. I would be in a panic looking at my wristwatch. I am the type of person who would gladly pay more to fly into JFK on the same ticket and get out to Madrid and on to Seville. I can just imagine the line to get a cab or Uber, the checkin counter at JFK and also missing the cutoff time. You need at least 5-6 hours in between flights to make this work.

What if your incoming flight is delayed due to weather? What if it takes you a long time to get your bags? I hope you can change your ticket to make it more viable.

At least if you are on one ticket the airline would be responsible for flying you out on the next flight.