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Bags and Customs on Return Connecting Flight

On our return from London to Seattle, we are booked through Chicago with a plane change. (Same airline) We've only flown direct in the past, so this is new territory for us. We have 2 hours to make the connection. I understand we need clear customs when first arriving in the US. We have Global Entry so it should go smoothly.

My question is about our bags clearing customs. Yes, I know carry-on only would make things go most smoothly. We've done that and love it a lot. But for a number of reasons on this trip, we must check bags. They will be checked through to Seattle.

I'm hoping for guidance from seasoned travelers because I can't seem to find the answers on either the CBP site or the airline site. Do we pick up bags ourselves and re-check them? Does this involve leaving the secure area and going through security again? Is 2 hours enough in Chicago?

Posted by
2474 posts

You go through immigration where you first enter a country (or Schengen Zone), in this case Chicago. Which means passport control and then passing through customs clearance. Which means you must retrieve your bags, they cannot be checked through to your final destination, you must drop them to the airline again for the next flight.

I have never been to Chicago, but I know the set-up in Philly International. After you pass through immigration you enter the baggage pick-up hall used specifically for arriving international flights, you find your bag, and then walk out past the customs inspector. How long will this take? I do not know, as we do only carry-on. We are generally through in 25 to 30 minutes as PHL now has the scanning machines, the only hold-up is the queue to pass the customs agent, they like to take their time here. I do not believe Global Entry will get you past customs any faster, but not having GE I do not recall if it gets a separate line for customs as well as passport control. How long it takes to retrieve your bag in order to exit has nothing to do with the government operations, it is solely a product of how fast your plane is unloaded and the bags brought in.

And at the point that you leave customs, you are now at your location in the US. It is OUTSIDE security, and you will have to go through security again after you drop your beads at the airline desk, which is outside security.

Hopefully others here will have experience with how long this can take in Chicago.

Posted by
146 posts

You have to claim your bags and carry them through customs, but airports make it easy to check them back in for your connection. In Atlanta (my home airport), as soon as you pass through customs you are directed toward a baggage carousel for connecting passengers. It's right outside the customs hall. Your bags will be on their way to your connecting flight. Most other airports where I've had to connect have it set up the same way.

Posted by
3657 posts

International arrivals at O’Hare is in terminal 5, which is not connected directly to the domestic terminals. After re-checking your bag at a simple bag drop you will take a tram to either Terminal 1 (United) or Terminal 3 (American) where you will go through security again.

2 hours should be fine with global entry but don’t dawdle.

Posted by
30 posts

I've done this flying home from Paris through Minneapolis. After I went through immigration, our bags were waiting for us. We claimed our luggage and then got sniffed by the cute beagles in the cute green jackets. The beagle sat down next to my bag, so I was taken to a separate room for a hand search of my bag. The only thing they found was the tea I purchased in London. The handler thought that might have confused them. I then rechecked my bag to my home.

Posted by
959 posts

Just out of curiosity, why do you have to go through Customs on your first stop in the US but not in Europe?

For example, I am flying Duluth-->Minneapolis-->Paris-->Berlin. In Paris, I will go through immigration, but not Customs. However, on the return trip, it sounds like I will need to go through both immigration and Customs at MSP, then continue on. Why is that?

Posted by
2474 posts

You go through customs at the first country that you actually enter. On your Europe trip, you embark in Germany. Customs is a country provision And not a provision of Schengen. But you entered the Schengen Zone in France, that is your immigration point. Had your trip been, e,g., to Istanbul through Paris, you would not have entered Schengen in Paris, you would have been passed through on an airside path, as Turkey is not part of Schengen, you actually would never have been in France. When you enter the US, immigration and customs control are at your first point of entry as this is federal authority, your final state has no bearing in this.

Also note that international flight passengers are automatically routed through this process upon landing stateside. Imagine the mess if domestic flight passengers had to be sorted out upon landing to find those who had yet to go though the international arrival process.

Posted by
959 posts

Larry, thanks! I didn't think it through, obviously - that makes a lot of sense.

Posted by
101 posts

Tom, thanks for the concise description of the process at O’Hare. It’s good to know the bag drop is in the international terminal. I was dreading schlepping our bags on and off a tram. I think we’ll be OK, especially with Global Entry. Trixie, I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for the cute beagles! I love working dogs - they always look so happy, proud and confident!

Posted by
11246 posts

I enter the U.S. at JFK either terminal 7 or 8. In the past three years, I have never been stopped by customs and have never seen any sniffer dogs.

Prior to three years ago, the customs agent would look at the slips and ask if you have anything to declare. Then, the immigration agent would ask. The last time the immigration agent just took my slip and said thank you. No questions. I then walked by the customs agent and he didn't even look at me.

I'm not complaining. Different from the UK immigration agent last week who shined a light through pages of my passport to see if it was fake.

Posted by
3657 posts

have never seen any sniffer dogs.

These are almost a fixture at MSP. They are more often seen sniffing those in the TSA line, also at the jetway when boarding transatlantic flights, as well as in the Customs area.

pollyhrae: Finally the tram is running again after being enlarged. It was closed for 3 years requiring taking a bus-- at least they had organized lines in heated tents outside terminal 5, Disney would have been proud.

Posted by
110 posts

Our family changed at O'Hare in 2017. CPH-ORD-PDX We had a very tight connection & I was very worried. I didn't think we had a shot in he** to make our flight. The bag change was very easy. We did not have to leave the secure area. After customs we walked a short way to claim our bags. Claimed them & put them on a belt & we were done. Our flight was delayed so all that worry was for naught

Posted by
101 posts

Mark, thanks for sharing your experience at O’Hare. Gives me even more peace of mind. I’m resting easy.

Posted by
18302 posts

I think the difference between where you go through customs in Europe and the US is how customs are handled there and here. In the US, customs is a bigger deal; you are forced to talk to a customs inspector when you enter the US. In Europe, maybe because of the European Union, which I think started as the European Customs Union, to eliminate barriers to trade, customs is pretty much a formality. I flew into Europe three times in the 80s, and even then, customs was a formality. We went through the customs area, but were just waved through. Today, you don't even go through the customs area unless you have something to declare. I've flown into Munich three times, and we always were sent down to the baggage claim area, then out a door the the world. At the door there were two lines, one said "some thing to declare", the other one was for "nothing to declare".