How Much Time Do You Need for a Connection?

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No matter how experienced the traveler, this thought crosses one’s mind a couple of times a year. Unless you frequent that airport, it’s often hard to tell if the airline is brilliant or idiotic for giving you 35 min to make your next flight.

So here are some questions to determine how risk adverse you are and things to research when deciding what you’re comfortable with:

  • How important is it to maximize your time at your end destination? If arriving a few hours later is not going to change your plans for the day, save yourself some stress and take a longer connection.
  • How important is it to arrive by a certain time? If you don’t make your connection, there’s no guarantees there will be room on the next flight. If you need to make it to a reception by 5, don’t gamble on a short connection time.
  • How big is the airport you’re connecting in? In order to maximize my US Airways Preferred Status Trial, I recently booked a flight DCA-CHS-CLT-GNV. My connection is Charleston, SC was only 37 minutes. Did a little research and saw that the airport only had a couple of gates, so no matter where we deplaned, I’d only be a few minutes away.
  • How comfortable are you running through the airport to catch a flight? If the airport isn’t small, how willing are you to literally run, brush by people, and haul your luggage up escalators and stairs 3 steps at a time. Also to maximize my US Airways trial, my flight back GNV-CLT-DCA only had a 47 minute connection in Charlotte. And unfortunately the connecting flight was leaving 3 terminals away, which meant even an on-time arrival at Terminal E had me bolting all the way to Terminal C, arriving breathless and sweaty after boarding had already begun.
  • When is the next flight out? I felt comfortable booking that flight into Charleston because I noticed flights left for CLT every 1-2 hours throughout the day, so there would be no problem catching another one shortly. I panicked abit about the short connection in CLT on the way back, because the next flight to DC wasn’t for another 2 1/2 hours and I needed to make a meeting before then.
  • How often is the flight on-time? When booking the flights, I noticed the flights were usually on-time. Of course when I flew, our flight was 15 minutes late, which still worked out for me because my next flight was at the gate next door and the flight attendant had called ahead on my behalf.
  • How far back will you be sitting on the plane? If you’re making a tight connection, there’s a big time difference from sitting in the front to even sitting halfway back. And don’t count on people waiting for you to run down the aisle before they get up to collect their stuff. No matter how many announcements the flight attendants make, people are going to rush out of their seats and you’re looking at another 10 minute delay. So if you can’t get seats in front, pick a longer connection time to be safe. For Charleston, I’d been upgraded to First on both legs, so I was the 3rd person off the plane and it didn’t matter that I was one of the last to board to CLT.
  • Will you need to gate check your bags? Doesn’t matter how quickly you’re off the plane, if you had to gate check your bag you need to factor 5-10 min into your wait time.

I recently ran through all these scenarios in my head when booking an upcoming flight. There was one flight out of Houston where I stood a good chance to getting upgraded and the next flight had no first class and was tiny. But I looked at the arrival stats, the layout of the terminal, and my desire to get in by a certain time and opted for the longer connection and less comfortable plane to make sure I didn’t start my holiday as a ball of stress.


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Heels First is the travels and tribulations of two twenty-something frequent fliers jumping into the world of travel. Join Keri and Jeanne as they tackle mileage runs, elite status, and of course–the perfect travel accessories.

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  1. Pingback: Travel Cheat Sheet — Our Tips For Comfortable Chic Travel

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