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Customs and Passport Control at Final Destination or between Connecting Flight ?

We are flying from Boston, Massachusetts to Rome via United Reward Miles. United does not offer a direct flight from Boston to Rome. If our connecting flight is in a European country, do we go through Customs and Passport Control before our connecting flight or when we reach our final European destination of Rome?

I'm mostly trying to figure out how much time I need to allow for connecting flights.

Thanks and Happy New Year! Let's hope everyone has safe travels in 2016! :)

Posted by
8642 posts

When I flew SEA - Rome, I transited in Amsterdam and did Schengen passport control there. We did the customs walk thru the Nothing to Declare door in Rome.

What transit airports are your choices? You may need more time in some airports.

Posted by
630 posts

Hi Pam, I just started the search process. It looks like my options are Zurich, Frankfurt, Dublin or Munich. My flight choices are limited because we are using Reward Miles. I may be able to get my connecting flight in a US airport, which I think might be easier.

I'm thinking I should leave a 2 hour window in between flights. I would rather be safe than sorry - especially if my first flight leaves late. Because we are using Reward Miles I think it would be difficult for us to change flights if we miss a connecting flight.

Posted by
2313 posts

If you land in Germany, then that will be your Schengen entrance, and immigration control will be there. Customs (walkthrough) will be at the country you go into - Italy.
If you fly through Zurich or Dublin, which are not Schengen, you may or may not have to go through their immigration, depending on how they handle their airport transfers for ongoing passengers. For example, we just flew to Istanbul through Frankfurt, and we were sent straight through air-side without any passport control. Whether you do or don't go through their immigration, you will sill then go through immigration upon entering Italy, along with Customs. Your return flights will operate the same way, though if you fly through Dublin you will also be going through US passport and customs there (rather than here)

Posted by
8889 posts

Pilgrim,
This question is asked often, but the answer depends on the place where you change, if you have one flight booking or two, your final destination, and whether either or both are in Schengen or the EU, But the rules are clear.
You need to understand what Schengen and the EU are.

  • The EU is a customs union, there is no customs if crossing borders in the EU.
  • Schengen is a passport union, there is no passport control crossing borders between Schengen countries (edited: copy-paste error corrected).
  • If you have one through booking, your luggage will go through to your final destination, and customs (if any) takes place there.
  • If you have two tickets, you need to pick up your luggage, go through customs, exit arrivals, double back and check in again. This naturally takes time.

Examples:
1) Boston - Frankfurt - Rome: both Germany and Italy are in both Schengen and EU. Frankfurt - Rome is an "internal" flight with no passport control. You go through passport control for entering Schengen at Frankfurt. Your luggage will go through customs at Rome (the luggage label indicates it is from outside the EU).
2) Boston - Dublin - Rome: Ireland is in the EU, but not in Schengen. You will stay "airside" at Dublin and not officially enter Ireland (provided you have a through ticket). You go through passport control for entering Schengen at Rome. Your luggage will go through customs at Rome

Posted by
630 posts

Thanks, Chris and Larry. Your posts are very informative.

Posted by
3186 posts

I would not choose a connecting flight in the U.S. If there is any problem with the 1st, you might miss the 2nd, causing a long layover. Big European hubs like FRA have many flights to Rome. If you were to miss your ticketed connection, it would be easy for the airline to rebook you with minimal wait time. If they schedule too short a layover, it's their responsibility to get you to your destination.

Posted by
10265 posts

Small note to an above post.

Switzerland is not part of the EU but is a particpant of Schengen.

Posted by
4637 posts

Frank II is right. Switzerland is in Schengen therefore Larry's information is not completely accurate. If you fly from Boston to Zurich you will go through immigration (passport control) there. Then in Rome you go just through customs which is just walking through the gate with green light. If you have nothing to declare. It could be a little confusing. For example UK and Ireland are in EU but not in Schengen. On the other hand Switzerland and Norway are not in EU but they are in Schengen.

Posted by
630 posts

Thanks, guys. All this info is really helpful; I appreciate you all taking the time to respond.

Good point, Rosalyn, about avoiding a connecting flight in US. I was originally thinking it would be easier in case of a missed connection, but your comment makes sense to get to an airport with more connecting flights to Rome.

Thanks again :)

Posted by
8642 posts

I would probably go with a 3 hour connection if you are landing in Europe and going thru passport control. Two is fine if your arrival flight is on time but 3 gives you time to spare if there is a hitch in your overseas flight.

I agree with Rosalyn and would probably also pick the airport that had the most daily flights to Rome!

Posted by
2313 posts

Ilja and Frank II, thanks for correcting me on Switzerland. We were so zoned out with the time we had to kill there on a connection that we had not planned on that I forgot what happened there and then after our flight from there to Budapest. Yes, that is the stamp-through, or out if the flight into the US is from there.

If you are flying the same airline on the same ticket 2 hours should be fine, or for that matter any legal connection. As long as the transfer is in Europe, there will be additional flights that day and if your connection can not be made the airline will get you on the next flight.

Posted by
630 posts

I'll probably go with a 2 - 3 hour connection window. I get nervous because we are using a Reward Miles. If problems happen, the airline most likely will take care of their paying customers before they take care of the Reward Flight customers. Plus we'll be dealing with Partner Airlines and not United directly. And then there's the language barrier - which always intimidates me. :)

Oh, the anxieties of flying LOL. But you all are helping me understand the process, so that helps - thanks!

Posted by
136 posts

I connected in Dublin several times and found it easy: airport is small, you don't go through passport control but only through security, my overnight flight from Boston on Aer Lingus landed there in early morning hours their time and it was not busy at all. Plus, it is only about 5 hours to Dublin from Boston. You will go through passport control in Rome.

Posted by
3924 posts

Delta usually offers me a 1 1/2 hour connection when I'm heading to Europe, but I always select the 2 1/2 -3 hour connection instead. As you stated, you don't want to need to rebook when you've used reward miles. Use the time at the connecting airport to walk around, especially any place with windows to help adjust to the time change.

Posted by
10265 posts

About using Reward Miles...

You are not considered second class versus paying customers. In fact, a reward mile customer shows their allegiance to that airline while that other "paying" passenger may be flying on the cheapest ticket possible and not be a FF. If you book on one airline and are placed on another, the same thing is happening in reverse on those two airlines.

And don't think the partner airline will treat you badly. I was having a serious problem with a reward flight booked on American but scheduled on British Airways. AA didn't want to help unless I paid $200 and then wouldn't keep me on the same flight. BA stepped up to the plate and after a couple of emails, fixed the problem with lots of apologies that it took so long. Not one bit of caring from AA.

If you earn miles any way besides those given by the airline, then those miles were purchased by that third party. Your credit card gives miles, the bank pays for those miles. You shop using the shopping portal offering miles, the airline makes money. So, those miles are not free from the airline. They've already made money on them. (Making it difficult to book flights just shows how greedy the airlines can be. They've made money on miles and now don't want you to use them so they can make more selling seats rather than letting you use them.)

As for English, I don't think you'll have a problem at the airport. English is the most common second language and every airline will have staff members who speak it.

Posted by
630 posts

I connected in Dublin several times and found it easy: airport is
small, you don't go through passport control but only through
security, my overnight flight from Boston on Aer Lingus landed there
in early morning hours their time and it was not busy at all. Plus, it
is only about 5 hours to Dublin from Boston. You will go through
passport control in Rome.

Thanks, Irene. Now that I think about it, we connected through Dublin when we went to London; and it was an easy airport to navigate. I think I might try to go through Dublin again. Plus there's an advantage of not having the language barrier if something goes wrong.

Posted by
630 posts

Thanks Frank II. We've been lucky using Reward Miles so far - I'm just hoping our luck continues.

Posted by
6904 posts

One more addition: neither the UK nor Ireland is part of Schengen either, and some countries that are NOT members of the EU are members of Schengen (Iceland, Norway, Switzerland). (Also newer members of the EU take a while before they will be admitted to Schengen -- i.e. Bulgaria, Romania, Cyprus, Croatia.)

So while one can generally say "Schengen is a passport union and you don't have to go through passport control when crossing between EU countries" 0 it gives you a pretty good idea, but is not completely accurate. (And keep in mind that for now, the French government has reinstituted border checks through nearly the end of February with the state of emergency that was declared following the November terrorist attacks.)

Here's a map showing who's in and who's out:
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-13194723

But Pilgrim, I'm confused. Won't the airline simply tell you what your options are for flights to Rome, and they build that themselves with their own determinations of how long the transfer is expected to take? Why do you have to figure this out yourself? Or is the second part of the ticket being bought separately, not with your miles?

Posted by
630 posts

But Pilgrim, I'm confused. Won't the airline simply tell you what your
options are for flights to Rome, and they build that themselves with
their own determinations of how long the transfer is expected to take?
Why do you have to figure this out yourself? Or is the second part of
the ticket being bought separately, not with your miles?

Hi Kim, yes, the airline does have the connections incorporated into the ticket; however, some of the tickets only have an hour connection time, and I was concerned that wouldn't be enough time. I'm just worried my first flight might be delayed and then I wouldn't have enough time to catch my second flight. We are using Reward Tickets, so I am nervous that if we missed our connecting flight that we would only get seats on the next flight - AFTER the paying customers got their seats. Our connecting flights only have one other flight available that day if we miss our ticketed flight. I am just trying to understand the process of how long it may take in between flights with Passport Control/Immigration, Customs, etc. I'm a nervous nelly, so I like to understand what's going on to help with my flying anxiety. :)

Thanks for all the replies - I really appreciate it! You guys are the best!

Posted by
4994 posts

Regarding the status of non-revenue passengers:

While I think that 20-year old information is not very useful today, when we were returning from the US Virgin Islands on Continental "reward travel", our flight was cancelled. It was very clear that we were treated worse than the paying passengers. Since we were in line, and later standing by the desk for an hour or two, we overheard plenty of accommodations that we did not get. We left Charlotte Amalie eight hours later.

In modern times, we have found that United partner airlines in Europe have treated us very well during cancellations and delays, with no discrimination at all. We were flying partner airlines, with a connection in Europe after the flight from Newark, NJ, because those trips were available for considerably fewer miles than direct United flights. And we found that the partner airlines (which were using their own aircraft, not code-shares) had much better equipment, service, and food, than United.

Posted by
1620 posts

Passport control should be at your first stop in Europe and customs at the last place, assuming your luggage is checked thru to the end.

Posted by
11275 posts

"Passport control should be at your first stop in Europe and customs at the last place, assuming your luggage is checked thru to the end."

As indicated in the above replies, this is only true if you are transiting through Schengen countries and your final destination is a Schengen country (eg, Boston to Paris to Rome). Other situations (eg, Boston to London to Rome) will mean your passport control occurs somewhere besides your first stop in Europe.

Posted by
6904 posts

aha, got it. I admit I have no insight on whether flying on miles puts you at a disadvantage if rebooking is necessary, sorry not to be able to provide anything useful!! Good luck with your research.