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How much time for international connections?

Greetings,

Apologies if this topic has been covered before. We are traveling to Europe in June, planning to fly into London for a few days, then taking Eurostar to Paris for the June 7-13 Best of Paris tour, flying out of Paris back to the U.S.

I've been watching airfares for months and still have fingers crossed for a drop in non-stop fares for our dates, but am preparing for the possibility that we'll end up making stops if the fares continue to be substantially cheaper.

This will be our first international trip, so what I'm wondering is how much time to allow for connections in and out of the U.S. For example, we could fly from Chicago to Boston, then to London. One itinerary shows about 90 minutes to make that connection in Boston. Is that enough time, assuming we'd need to change terminals and check in for the London flight? Is there additional security or procedures for the international connection, or would we be good to go once we cleared security in Chicago?

Same question applies on the return. If, for example, we flew from Paris back to Chicago, through Boston or any other airport, how much time should we allow for that connection? I assume it would take longer coming back into the U.S., having to go through customs.

Any thoughts from you experienced travelers out there would be most welcome and appreciated.

Cheers!

Posted by
166 posts

Depends on your personal comfort level. We have always built in several hours of cushion time so that if our plane was delayed leaving our city we would hopefully still have adequate time to change planes. I would rather pay $$ to join an airline club for the day and sit in their lounge for a few hours than deal with a missed connection, canceling a hotel night and possibly losing money, missing the start of a tour, etc. It means a really long travel day but at least I arrive on time--or have so far.

Posted by
731 posts

With regards to airports and waiting, a remark I heard has really stuck -- "you can be either stressed or bored". Most of the time that 90 minutes will work. Are you willing to accept the consequences if it doesn't? Flights these days are so jammed that if you miss the connection you might not get out the same day. I would prefer 3 hours minimum to connect.

My personal choice is not to connect in the US on a flight to Europe. There are many more flights between cities in Europe than there are flights from the US to Europe so missed connections are easier to fix. If I were in your shoes I'd find a direct flight from Chicago to some European city and then connect on towards London (or maybe via Eurostar if I landed in Paris). For example I just looked on Google Flight and saw an Aer Lingus flight direct to Dublin, then connect on with a 2 hour layover to London. If you miss the scheduled connection to London then Aer Lingus has 5 later ones, and other carriers fly that route as well. I'd choose this.

Two more approaches: 1) find a direct flight you like to Europe and start your vacation from there. We have done this several times since from the West Coast there are direct flights to Amsterdam, Paris, and Munich. 2) Stay a nite or two in the US city. We saw some Broadway shows and walked everywhere in NYC on one trip since a direct flight we wanted left from there. You book these as multi-city flights.

On the way back I don't really care as much about missed flights so I'll connect in either Europe or the US, but I still like 3 hours minimum for the connection.

Posted by
2295 posts

Ideally I go for 2 hours minimum, 3 is fine, 4 seems like too much. As another responder said, I'd rather be bored than stressed, and have known the agitation of having to run through CDG in my socks to catch a plane; despite having a 2 hour layover there were issues beyond my control.

Posted by
1994 posts

The choice between stressed and bored is a brilliant way to characterize the issue. I intentionally choose at least 3 hour layovers, particularly on outgoing flights. I worry less about missing a connection on the way home. I fly from the West Coast and have learned to avoid connecting flights within the US. I will pay more to have a connecting flight be in Europe, so I have more choices if I missed the connection.

It seems that the airlines are scheduling more unrealistically short connections, and I'd guess that may be because the number of flights had been reduced. Each time I book it seems that "buyer beware" becomes more relevant.

Posted by
731 posts

The choice between stressed and bored is a brilliant way to characterize the issue.

I like the line too! It came from a RS guide on a trip we took last summer when people were asking how early they should get to the airport to fly home. It does really crystallize the choice ;-)

Posted by
3580 posts

If you are flying United Airlines from Chicago, you may be able to get a non-stop flight to Frankfurt, Germany. From there either fly to Paris or London OR take a train to Paris. To answer your question, I probably would not feel comfortable with a 90 minute layover. But, if the next available connection is 10 hours, I would take the short connection and be ready to hustle on thru the connecting airport. You can ask airline personnel for advice for the quickest route to your next flight.

Posted by
4645 posts

You wouldn't need to check in again in Boston for your flight to London if it is all part of one ticket. If you have to change terminals, you will need to go through security again. If you stay in the same terminal, no security. When departing the U.S. on an international flight, you do not need to do any extra security nor is there any exit immigration procedure.

Coming back to Boston, you would go through immigration and customs, which are separate processes.

Posted by
9546 posts

If I had the choice of a non-stop I would probably bite the bullet and book that one. Since I choose to live in Idaho, lol, I usually have 2 or 3 changes and sweat each one. There is a reason flights with connections are sometimes cheaper and that is because you have more exposure to risk. Coming back, as long as you don't have to be at work at a certain time, connections are fine.

I can't remember if I have said this to you or not, but you should plan to travel to Paris the day before your tour starts.

Posted by
8282 posts

Like Pam, we have to change at an airport somewhere in the US, and Boston Logan is one of my favorites. One great hairdresser, and two good Legal Seafood restaurants in the airport, not to mention, catching a water taxi across to visit the city for a few hours. I'd have no problem with the ten-hour layover. I wouldn't want a stressful 90-minute one.
But if I were going from Chicago, it would be non-stop flights to Europe and back.

Posted by
333 posts

You guys have me nervous! I only have an hour layover in Minneapolis before my flight to Amsterdam! I think I had a similar layover 3 years ago and really had to hustle to get to my plane (they were already boarding when I got there) but I made it. Fingers crossed all goes well, eh? I prefer a 2-3 hour layover, which is what Ive got on the way home. You're always too tired to hustle on the way home, lol!

Posted by
912 posts

I definitely prefer being bored to stressed. I won't take less than a two hour connection, and the two hour ones make me stressed, especially on the way over. On the way back I'm more willing to take the risk.

Posted by
2081 posts

fella,

It will depend on how the flights are booked.

If your flights are booked as "one ticket" then the airline is responsible to get you to your final destination. If you book them as separate tickets, then all bets are off.

What you can do since you have time and have been monitoring your flight costs, i would contact the airline(s) you plan or think you will use and ask them about the specific connections/flights. Its way better than getting everyones "guess". Also, dont forget, Customer Service is there for those types of questions.

also, dont forget those times are ASSUMING everything goes with any hitches or delays!

just any for your info, i had a short(er) connection in Amsterdam (AMS) last year and made my connection. I DID ask the airlines about the short (to me) connection times and they informed me i had 15~30 minutes extra - ASSUMING all the flights were on time.

Happy trails.

Posted by
9546 posts

@Rankster, you probably have been thru MSP before? Take a look at the MSP website and the gate map so you will know where to go without hesitating. I would make sure you are seated at the front of the plane even if you have to bump up to Economy comfort or whatever your airline of choice calls it.

If it's on the way home, no big deal. I do sometimes have 38 minutes to transfer in SLC! If the plane is on time I can make it (with a pit stop) with no problem.

Posted by
747 posts

Thanks to all for your responses. Good, sensible advice. I described the "stressed vs. bored" comparison to my wife, who much prefers "bored" in this scenario. So if we do go for flights with connections, I'll be sure to build in at least two hours.

The suggestion to make connections in Europe rather than the U.S. makes excellent sense, as well. If we missed the night flight out of Boston, we'd probably be stuck, whereas missing our morning flight in Dublin would just mean picking from multiple later flights. And with fares for our dates still not coming down significantly, we may well opt to "bite the bullet," as someone said, and just pay the man for non-stop peace of mind.

Pam, we're already locked in to arrive in Paris on the day of our tour, as I've booked Eurostar tickets for that morning. We'll arrive in Paris around noon and have three hours of so to make our way to the hotel, which should take 30-40 minutes via Metro. I realize we'd be screwed if there's a problem with the train, but it sounds like that's pretty rare. Hopefully, we'll have worked out our jet lag during our 2 1/2 days in London before heading to Paris. Can't tell you how much we're looking forward to this trip.

Thanks again for all the great advice.

Cheers!

Posted by
8293 posts

stoutfella: don't forget that Paris is one hour ahead of London, so you will be "losing" an hour.

Posted by
2418 posts

Here is an example we had of missing a flight in the US. When we first started traveling several years ago we had not fully figured out the better ways to book air travel. And I found a 2 connection flight on Expedia at a decent price from Philadelphia to Budapest, leaving 6:30PM, arrive in Boston 8:15, leave Boston for Zurich at 9:45, arrive Zurich 10:30AM and then out to Budapest at 12:30 PM. All USAir or code shares. And in the months before the flight I realized this was silly since USAir flies direct to Zurich from PHL leaving around 6PM, but was stuck - and if I had stayed on airline sites I'd have avoided the extraneous flight to Boston (same for our return, leaving Krakow, we went to Munich, but were then forced to DC to connect, rather than the direct flight). I noted as travel day arrived that there were still a few seats on the PHL->Zurich flight, and wondered if I could talk them into a change at the airport. On Flugtag, there were summer weather delays up and down the east coast. It was a fairly easy task to backtrack our plane from PHL to Boston and see that it was getting further and further delayed every step of the way as it took its odd routing to eventually get to PHL. When we got to the airport, with time to spare, we went straight to the USAir desk after security and explained the situation. And were greatly helped as the agent looked up what was happening and saw that we were NOT going to make our flight out of Boston. And if we did not, there was no way to get to Budapest that night, we'd be delayed well into the next day in Boston. Fortunately, there were still 2 empty seats on their Zurich flight, and she switched us in, no charge (and was delighted when she started to do this and asked for our luggage checks and found that it was all on our backs!). I did check the next day and was able to find out that our initial flight to Boston landed at 9:37 so we would have been stuck. Only downside was we were now on an old USAir jet rather than on Swiss Air, and we now had 4 1/2 hours to kill in Zurich, without cash or credit cards since I had not reported Switzerland as part of our travel for that day. A couple sandwiches cost way too much of a $20 bill. Had we been able to get cash or use our cards we could easily have trained into downtown Zurich for breakfast (so the other moral of the story may be to alert your bank to the country of your connecting airport, just in case). Again, as so many have said, if the flight is missed in Europe due to delays they have a lot of options to correct this with. There was no way to fix this if we got to Boston late.

Posted by
747 posts

Norma: Yes, thanks, I've factored in the time difference. As I say, unless something rare happens with the train, we should be able to get to the hotel well before the 3 p.m. meeting time. Cheers!

Posted by
747 posts

Larry: That's quite a tale. Glad it worked out for you other than the expensive sandwiches.

As I say, we may very well just spend the extra money for non-stop peace of mind. After all, what's another $500 or $1,000 in the grand scheme of a trip like this? And since it's our first experience with international travel, peace of mind may be worth every penny.

Cheers!

Posted by
8293 posts

About 10 days ago the tunnel was closed for most of a day because of a "lorry" on fire in the tunnel. Rare occurrence.

Posted by
747 posts

Thanks for the encouragement, Norma ;-)

Tickets are already purchased. Fingers crossed.