If you have flight connections inside the USA, it’s always a good idea to use some diligence on your connection time. You should do it even if not you, but your travel agent figured out your connection – they usually have no clue how crowded the airport is or how time consuming it is to get from your arrival concourse or terminal to the departure gate. Even the transfer times that are built into the airline’s connection recommendations might be too tight for someone who has never been at that airport.
This is particularly true if you arrive internationally. I found the minimum connection time of 90 minutes suggested by many arlines too short for a no-stress connection. Granted, the time needed to get from arrival to departure could be much shorter, but here are the challenges:
- You have to walk from the gate to the immigration area, which could be quite long in some airports
- Immigration itself can take anywhere between 5 minutes and over 1 hour, depending on where you were sitting in your airplane, how many flights arrived before yours, and how many immigration officers work the area; I have sometimes waited even longer than 1 hour
- If you checked baggage (most people have on international flights) and got reasonably fast through immigration, then you’re in for a wait at the baggage claim
- Once you have your bags, you get them through customs – usually pretty fast(unless you had something to declare) -, and then re-check them, usually after customs clearance
- Then you have to get to your departure concourse or terminal, which is almost always different from the international arrival
- If you don’t have the boarding pass of your connecting flight, you have to get it from the airline’s check-in counter, before going to security
- Finally, you have to clear the security screening before you can enter your departure concourse
See what I mean? If you don’t have much experience, it could be quite challenging per se, even with ample connection time. Personally, there are few things that I hate more than standing in some line, nervously checking my watch every minute.
Domestic connections are so much more relaxed. Most airports, you don’t leave the security area and only have to walk to your departure gate. That still could be quite some distance, especially on big airports like Chicago O’Hare or New York’s JFK, which is why I recommend to people unfamiliar with the airport to check arrival and departure gate locations before they book the flight. Usually gates don’t change for a given flight.