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To connect in US or Europe

Hi everyone—

A recent thread by joe32F has prompted so many questions for me, I thought it best to start a new topic. I need a crash course in connecting flights.

In flying from Chicago to Europe, there are only so many nonstop destinations. To venture beyond these, I have several options and am trying to figure out what might work best for me. There is no way I’m getting my sister to carry on (she has a lot of medial issues and has lots of extras like a heating pad, etc), so checked luggage is involved.

I’ll use Edinburgh as an example because I really want to go there. Other than an unreliable seasonal nonstop flight with United, I think I have 3 options to get to Edinburgh. Which do you think is the best? OR what are the pros and cons of each?

Option 1: Connecting flight in the US. Coming from Chicago, these will most likely be at an east coast airport. Newark or DC perhaps. With this option, is my checked luggage checked to final destination—Edinburgh in this example?

Option 2: Connecting flight in Europe—Dublin or London for this example. Do I collect my luggage in Dublin or London to go through passport control and then recheck for flight to Edinburgh? On the return home, would my luggage be checked from Edinburg to Chicago?

Option 3: Fly nonstop to London and take the train to Edinburgh. For this option, I would most likely take the train to York for a couple of nights on the way. And then for my return home, I would need to stay in London at least the night before my flight. So, this option really adds on some extra days to the trip.

Also, I have very limited flying experience, so I’m not familiar with what airports might be better to connect through. Pretend i know pretty much nothing about flights, because i pretty much don't. 😊

Edited to add: I should also add that I will choose convenience over cost. So, I’m not the type to pick the cheapest option.

Thanks everyone!!

Posted by
5169 posts

Answer to question on option 2: Your luggage is checked all the way through both directions.

Thought on option 3: Open jaw or Multi-city ticket would remove need to return to London on the way back.

Overall observation: Every trip, every connection, every airport always has the potential for a delay to be involved. I would probably base my decision on routing more on factors such as price and overall time from point A to point B.

Posted by
2127 posts

I would choose Option 2 because

Outbound - your luggage is checked all the way through to your final destination, Edinburgh.
Inbound – your luggage is checked through to your first US airport, Chicago.

I would not discount transferring at Amsterdam because immigration only occurs in Edinburgh.

Option 3 is madness.

Posted by
1305 posts

Carol, I appreciate the response. I’m happy to hear luggage is checked all the way through.

Ramblin, you are absolutely right—option 3 is madness. 😊 My fear of connecting flights took over when I came up with that option. Also, thanks for the Amsterdam suggestion. I always hear good things about that airport here on the forum.

Posted by
4690 posts

To me, there is nothing worse than arriving in Europe after a flight of no sleep and then having to drag myself through a huge airport to get on another plane to fly to my final destination. I usually vomit at this point.

I prefer to make whatever connections are needed in the US to have a direct US to Europe flight landing at my final destination. I live in Vienna and my family is in NC. So, that means I take a flight out of Raleigh/Durham to one of the five US airport that serve Vienna directly. I love landing and getting straight home.

Posted by
750 posts

Generally, I agree with Emily—I'd rather front-load my anguish. But there's also the consideration of where are there more fixes if something goes wrong: Late to Newark and the reroute options are all bummers. Late to London, and there's another flight to EDI in 40 minutes.

But there are variables that aren't included in the scenarios as described, and those are the specific schedules for each routing and their pricing. A thousand and one nuances in those.

Posted by
1305 posts

Emily and Scudder, thanks for the responses. That does make sense—easier to navigate a connection after 2 hours of flying than after 7 or 8 hours of flying.

For some reason, I have it in my head that the US airlines are more likely to alter a flight after it’s been booked. They have so many flights, that it’s no big deal if they cancel or change one. But, an airline like aer lingus, that only has one flight a day from Chicago, is more likely to keep that flight. So, if i book with aer lingus i would be pretty confident i'm getting to ireland. If i book with United or other US airline, there's a greater chance they change one of my flight times, making it more difficult to make the connection. Of course, they would have to put me on another flight, but how much time to wait for that. Like Scudder mentioned, there are more flight options once in Europe. In the US, most airlines seem to have only 1, maybe 2 flights, a day to Europe. So, if you miss those, you are stuck waiting til the next day.

It seems a lot of flights are connecting flights and i supposes the majority of them have no problems. It's just that the bad experiences stick in my head. Like poor Pat last year that had her flight to Zurich changed so many times and then i think she was stuck in Chicago for a night. As Emily put it, a situation like that makes me want to vomit.

Posted by
425 posts

I'm with ramblin' on - I'd choose option 2 if possible.

There are only so many transatlantic flights scheduled and they do operate like clockwork in general. I'd rather not allow a delayed domestic US flight cause me to miss the less frequent longest and most predictable flight. Once in Europe there are usually more flights available for the shorter leg in case of delay. Delta has never failed to complete our single ticket flights in a timely manner. We've never had a bad experience connecting at AMS.

I'd never do a connection in the US unless it was absolutely necessary. We've seen numerous delays and incidents in domestic US flights in the past 2 years. I'd be concerned that the more frequent passenger outbursts of insane behavior would cause us to miss the less frequent transatlantic. Perhaps living within several miles of Detroit Metropolitan Airport has just made me more aware of the new strange passenger behavior and it's interference with our flights.

Posted by
373 posts

Great advice from Emily and Scudder. I will only add if you do connect through a European airport, avoid Paris Charles De Gaulle (CDG). I have had really bad experiences trying to make connections there and I don’t think I’m alone.

Posted by
1660 posts

I also suggest option 2 for the reasons suggested above - if there are delays you have more options in Europe for the short flight part of your itinerary than you do for the international flight from USA. I regularly use Amsterdam as my hub and it's a great place to transfer (with at least 2 hours between flights). If you do choose option 1 make sure you have enough transfer time (though I don't recommend a 6 hour layover at JFK, speaking from experience).

BTW, you have way more direct flight options than I do from my west coast airport (PDX). Currently there are zero nonstop Europe flights. An Amsterdam direct flight re-starts in May and there will be a seasonal London and Frankfurt flights back this summer.

Posted by
3662 posts

I think Option 2 is the most desirable, prefer not to transfer at JFK, PHL, EWR, ATL, etc. Looking at a globe these are often hundreds of miles up to 1000 miles or more out of the way.

Noting that Option 3 offers the option of a day flight, the 8:30 am ORD departure arriving London about 10 pm on American. Some people would plan around not having to deal with an overnight flight. However, using London as a gateway to Scotland is a rookie mistake, usually. The trains are expensive and way across town from the airport.

United has reported restarting ORD to EDI this summer but the flights are not loaded yet. That may mean it's not going ahead.

Posted by
78 posts

After many trips to Europe with various airlines and connection points, I now follow this rule: Only connect in cities where you would want to be stuck in case the flight is canceled.
A good connection city is one where English (or your 2nd language) is widely spoken, has multiple flight options, and allows you to exit the airport between flights.
The last point may not seem important when you envision yourself just changing planes, but can become critical if you get stuck there due to a flight delay or cancellation. Ex., I will NEVER again transfer through London Heathrow after being treated like a prisoner while waiting for my onward flight, not allowed to step outside. We were traveling on to Brussels in the last evening flight, and if it had been canceled we would have been forced to sleep in the airport overnight. My friend spent the night sitting on the floor with his baby in a German airport for this reason.

In contrast, I had a 12 hour layover with Aer Lingus in Dublin and went out for a tour of the city before returning for my next flight. Yeah!
I agree with the previous posters who advised transferring in the US, or Dublin or Amsterdam may be good options as well.

Posted by
3830 posts

To me, looking at this from the other direction, US connections are undesirable because you need to recheck you luggage at the first US airport in the US-bound direction, which is very annoying. There is no such thing in Europe.

Posted by
750 posts

Balso - I remember when rechecking luggage for the domestic connections was just like the original check-in. These days the airlines have a much more fluid system—usually an army of agents with handheld scanners poised between the customs exit and the outgoing luggage belt. Claiming the bags does still add a few minutes, but the recheck side is effectively a non-factor.

Posted by
1305 posts

I really appreciate all the great responses. They are all very helpful. I think I understand the pluses and minuses of both option 1 and 2. Knowing how I am, and what my worries are, I think option 2 would be better for me.

Linda, I didn’t realize I might not be permitted to leave the airport. If that’s the case in London, it seems like Dublin or Amsterdam would be better options.

Tom, United had planed to start the seasonal nonstop to Edinburgh in May. But, after that was announced, those nonstop flights got changed to connecting ones. A few RS forum members had booked the nonstop flights, but then subsequently those were all cancelled, and they were changed to connecting flights. I read this on another post in the Scotland forum. So, because of the unreliability of this option, I wasn’t even going to consider it. I would hate to have the nonstop booked and have it cancelled at the last minute and be stuck with whatever alternative United offered me. I’d rather have more control with picking a connecting flight that I would be happy with.

Balso, interesting about flights coming from Europe to the US. The US does like to make things more difficult!

I think what I might do is add one extra night to my trip. That way if something really gets screwed up and I’m delayed a day, it would not mess up my trip plans. I’m not too concerned about getting delayed on the way home. The only thing that gets screwed up that way is my return to work. I can live with that being delayed. 😊

Posted by
245 posts

I prefer to connect in Europe. As others have said, those longer flights are a lot less likely to have issues and once I'm on the right side of the ocean, it seems like I have a lot more options.

As far as leaving the airport, we connected in Amsterdam a few days ago with a 6.5 hour layover and it was no problem to go into the city for a bit. We put our stuff in a locker, making sure to use the ones that are after immigration, then took the short train ride into the city.

Posted by
4694 posts

To me, there is nothing worse than arriving in Europe after a flight of no sleep and then having to drag myself through a huge airport to get on another plane to fly to my final destination. I usually vomit at this point.

While I agree with Emily that changing flights after no sleep sucks, I do think there is something worse. Because most flights to Europe leave in the evening, if you connect in a U.S. city and then miss your connection, the next flight will probably be the following day. To me, having to spend the night at the Newark airport and missing a day of my vacation would be worse than connecting in a European airport.

I would suggest option 2 with a connection in London. I’ve missed connections in London twice due to late arriving flights from the U.S. In both cases, I was able to get on a flight a couple hours later and arrive at my final destination the same day,

I am going to throw in a variation of option 3. There is a non-stop flight from Chicago to London that leaves at 9am and arrives in London at 10:30 at night. I am a huge fan of the daytime flights to London and nearly always take one from Washington Dulles to London when I am traveling to Europe. Because you travel during the day, you aren’t trying to sleep in a cramped airline seat. I arrive in London, travel to my hotel, and sleep in the next morning a bit. There is no first day exhaustion because you’ve lost a night’s sleep on the plane. You would need to plan to stay in London on arrival. So if I were planning this trip, I’d do the following:
1) Buy a multi-city (aka ”open jaws”) ticket Chicago to London and returning Edinburgh to Chicago. Fly non-stop to London (preferably on the daytime flight). If a non-stop back to Chicago isn’t available, choose to connect in a city you wouldn’t mind getting stuck in.
2) Arrive in London and spend a couple of nights
2) Take the train to York and spend a couple of nights
3) Take the train to Edinburgh
4) Fly home from Edinburgh (with a connection, if necessary)

Posted by
4694 posts

Just wanted to add one more thing …

The trains from London to York (or Edinburgh) are only expensive if you don’t plan ahead. To get the best fares, you need to buy yor ticket in advance.

For that reason, I would never attempt to take a train journey on the same day as a flight.

Posted by
1305 posts

Patricia, thanks for the response and info. on Amsterdam. I hear nothing but good things about that airport. In fact, I have another trip planned next year to Belgium and the Netherlands. I had originally planned to fly in and of Belgium. But, after hearing all the positive comments on Amsterdam, I am going to fly in and out there.

Laura, I appreciate your response. And I like your variation for option 3. I’m going to copy that for future reference. I’m thinking for this trip, I’ll try to limit it to just Edinburgh so I can have a shorter, one city trip. But, I had always thought I would at some point do a longer trip combing London and Scotland. Flying into London and out of Edinburgh sounds like the best way to do that. I was thinking we’d need to get back to London. See, I really have no travel experience. 😊

Posted by
12891 posts

Given the 3 options, my choice is Option 3, obviously.

My experience is pretty limited on connecting in Europe after the 11 hour non-stop flight from SFO to Frankfurt or Paris. They serve as the end destinations most often. Then a few times after that trans-Atlantic flight within a three hours upon arrival, I was on the ICE train to Berlin or Vienna. Going to Vienna was pushing it a bit since I didn't get to Westbahnhof until after 11 pm.

I had to connect once in Europe, it was SFO to London Heathrow non-stop, then to CDG. A bit tense since it seemed as if we would miss the connection. The staff gave us priority so that we would make the connecting flight on time...we did.

Bottom line....I would avoid connecting in Europe.

Posted by
143 posts

For me, it’s option 3. But, I’ll always take slowing down and adding a few days to soak up and not have overwhelming travel days.

By the time I get through 1 big flight- I'm done. Yes I can do connecting and I will when need be, but it’s my last choice. Airplanes are a necessary mode of transport, but there’s nothing about it I like so for me expense of time and extra days is worth it for me to work around connections when possible.

Now when I can get to Europe my mind is always a buzz of all the fabulous things I’d like to see/eat/do, so I don’t mind a few nights in one of the key direct cities while I burn off jet lag and adjust. Then on to the vacation. I also don’t mind a night near airport at end of trip so that part is easy either.

Posted by
2090 posts

HiC Cary,
We flew out the day the Courts dropped mask wearing on planes. So we get to San Diego airport, and immediately find out the flight is delayed four hours- to leave at 11:00pm. We find out that the pilot tested positive for covid!!!!!

So we had 7+hrs from the time we left our house until we got off the ground. We missed our connection to Munich, but thankfully , we caught the last connection out that same day, arriving Munich around midnight.

I actually was thinking about you a lot- how would I have handled this solo?

In Munich at that hour, the airport was dead, passport control took maybe 10 minutes. We had to find the S-bahn, knew which trains to get, but fumbled once again at the ticket machines. The machines wouldn't take our visa- no pin #. We thankfully had close to the amount in currency- the machines don't like to give a lot of change, and don't like 20 Euro notes unless your fare is close to that amount. I THINK we could have bought the tickets via the DB app- maybe someone here can confirm.( We had no problem buying subsequent tickets using the app and our visas.)
. Then we board, the S-train starts, and there's an announcement that a construction problem requires us to exit the train if our destination is the central train station. People around we very helpful, figure out on their apps what the next train is and what the platform # is. Thankfully so many Germans were so fluent in English. We find ourselves at 12:30 am standing outside on a cold platform hoping our new-found friends were correct. ( Once again, I thought of you.)
We finally get to Munich central train station, and our hotel is directly across the street, we were told, Guess what- we didn't know which exit was for the main entrance. There's lots of construction around the exit we chose , so at 1:00am we are wondering the street lost, not seeing our hotel. Back into the train station for security ( perceived) , no one to ask, and we wandered to another exit, and whoa- there's our hotel immediately across the street.
A few lessons, at least for myself:
Plan that your first day of flying might take two days. Had we bought ticket to get to Salzburg that first night, it would have been money lost. For us, one connection a trip is enough ( SAN to Munich, not SAN to Munich to Salzburg.)
Plan that you may lose a day at the beginning.
Have local currency in hand including smaller bills.
Know how to make international calls. I learned this now at 70 years old- hit zero two times for ++. I had to call the Munich hotel to hold our room.
Have electrical adapters for the country of your transiting airport. ( I did have UK adapters.)

Access to the Business Class lounge was a life-saver for the extended time in the airport. Actually, we bonded with several passengers also delayed, so that really helped.

More later, but Salzburg is wonderful, no crowds, no tour groups, no one is wearing masks (except on train) but us!!! ( I can see it's easy to get exposed, and I want to go home on time!)
Sorry so long , not sleeping regularly yet, safe travels!

Posted by
1305 posts

Fred and Mary, thanks so much for the responses. Option 3 would be more attractive to me if London as a different city, like Salzburg. 😊 I have this fear of London. The big cities just scare me with my limited travel experience. London, with the tube and all the different train stations, and everything so spread out. I would have to do way more research to feel comfortable going there. I’m not sure I want to do that for this trip. I really wanted to do a quick, maybe 6 or 7 work day trip. I have 2 longer trips planned for next year and thought Edinburgh would work well for a shorter trip. It’s just figuring out the best way to get there.

Hi Pat, I don’t even know what to say. I was for sure hoping you would have an easier time this trip. I’m so sorry you had all that trouble. But, you made it and I hope you have a great trip. I was thinking of taking a day trip to Munich from Salzburg later this year. But, then I saw a video of the Munich train station, and I was like, oh I don’t know. Looks so big and confusing. My sister decided to come along on that trip, so maybe that’s something the 2 of us could figure out. And thanks for the tips!! I’m a big fan of getting local currency ahead of time from Wells Fargo. I don’t care how much extra it costs. 😊

And when we were in Switzerland and ran into some issues with our day trips to France and Germany, we always found everyone to be very nice and helpful. So, that gives me some confidence that I will be able to get some help if I need it. I hope the rest of your trip goes smoothly. I can’t wait to hear about it.

Posted by
2090 posts

Carrie, it wasn't awful, I just look at each trip as an adventure and learn more ways to prepare better for the next outing . I like to travel, and accept there will be unavoidable missteps ; hopefully ones that leave no permanent marks!

When are you going to edinburg? I found London to be a friendly city. Would you consider taking a cab from the airport when first arriving?

The Munich train station didn't seem that big, it's just those damn ticket machines :)

Posted by
2914 posts

I would tweak number 2. Tom_Mn indicates you have the option of a day flight to London. I suggest you take the day flight. Stay overnight at an airport hotel and fly out the next day to Edinburgh. As I always fly in and out of Heathrow Terminal 5, I stay at the Sofitel, which is connected by a corridor to the terminal. It makes for a relaxed and non-fatiguing overseas flight(s). Jet lag is so much easier to handle when you are not tired. Also, as you have not flown much, this will be so much less stressful.

PS. It is much easier to get your second flight after a lovely dinner and sleep at the Sofitel…or other hotel. IMO but I figured this one out after too long of an overnight and then a day flight to my destination…traveling solo. Now I treat myself well.

I don’t check my luggage all the way through though, but you can.

Posted by
112 posts

We were in London December & Edinburgh in January. We trained from Edinburgh to London. Very enjoyable. And someone noted above that if you buy tickets in advance it is pretty reasonable. We stayed at the Aerotel in T3 on the way back. We "liked" the Aerotel. It was a bit small but that is expected. Our surprise was there were no restaraunts open on the public side open (T3) . We ended up going to the convienence store & making a picnic on the hard seats. So be aware of that. There may have been food sources in other terminals but we didn't want to walk. Net,net I would take the train all day long to Edinburgh

Posted by
1305 posts

Pat, I’m glad you can keep a positive attitude. I’m happy to hear you didn’t think the Munich train station was that big. Maybe I don’t need to be afraid of it then. 😊 I’m going to try and use the OBB app in Austria and hopefully use that to buy most of the train tickets. My travel plans for next year are Italy in March with my sister and her husband, Edinburg in May, most likely by myself unless my sister can get the additional time off work, and then Belgium and the Netherlands in Sept. by myself. I’ll see how much money I have left after those trips. 😊 I’d like to take at least 2 trips a year if I’m able to.

Wray and Mark, I appreciate the responses. I think I’m leaning towards avoiding London for now. I flew to Switzerland last year and I didn’t mind the overnight flight. I didn’t have any jet lag going there, but did have some when I got back home.

Posted by
12891 posts

@ Carrie....Keep in mind that the S-Bahn machines in Munich Hbf (central station) do not take US credit cards. I encountered that once, felt something was amiss so rather than try to figure it out, just got the cash out to insert into the machine. This was to go to the airport (MUC).

I want to add that when I had to connect in LHR after the flight from SFO (2003) I was at that time totally unfamiliar with Heathrow. Now I would like to think it is a different story since LHR seems pretty easy to navigate, whether flying in from Calif and departing to SFO or OAK. The last night prior to returning I also stay in London, always in Kings Cross, numerous B&Bs there.

If departing from Gatwick, a direct train St Pancras Station to Gatwick is what I take, ca. one hour. If flying out of Heathrow, then the Tube to Paddington, followed by the Express train, a bit more pricey but more comfortable too. Or, I catch the Bus #205 to Paddington, then take the Express train.

Bottom line....no need to allow yourself to be intimidated by London's public transport network. Staff are always approachable and helpful in Kings Cross/St Pancras and Paddington. I use the buses and the Tube, paying with the Oyster card.

I would suggest too that you avoid connecting through Paris CDG. I've never had to do that but unless one is used to CDG the airport can be confusing and taxing. I've no problems flying in and out since I am used to the place but connecting is a different story.

Posted by
12891 posts

@ Carrie....Munich Hbf is not all that big. It is all one floor, the WC (Rail & Fresh) is located downstairs next to a stairway; the change machine which accepts bills is just inside the WC from the entrance.

Posted by
1305 posts

Fred, thanks so much for the helpful response. I appreciate the info. on the Munich train station and the London airport.

With my trip to Switzerland last year, having the Swiss Travel Pass made traveling so easy. I have it in my head that all other places will be more difficult. My hope is that once I get a little more travel experience, my fear of all things transportation will fade away, or at least lessen.

Posted by
12891 posts

@ Carrie....You're welcome ! Just in case you have concerns/worries. etc on using the phone in Germany or Europe, I do it this way, ie, the long way.

From there to here: 00 + 1 (international code for the US and Canada) + the 3 digit US area code (eg, 415 for SF & Marin County) + the seven digit number. (xxx-xxxx)

From here to there: 011 + the desired country code (49 for Germany ) , then person's phone number but drop the zero, usually indicated as follows: (0) ...don't punch this zero, which only is done when you are in that country, ie, not calling from a foreign country, say, you're in Munich calling a number in Cologne, then you hit the (0) and all the other digits.

Posted by
1305 posts

Fred, great info. on making phone calls. Thanks so much!! I am coping this and adding it to my trip notes. I am off to Switzerland by myself this June. I do know the country code is 41. The rest I wasn’t sure about.