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You will likely encounter the need to connect from one flight to another, unless you are strictly flying between two large airports (e.g. LaGuardia-Heathrow, Kennedy-De Gaulle). The `hub and spoke` model that most big airlines practice is based on the idea that the airline will serve all but the busiest routes with connecting flights. For example, flying with Delta means you will most likely fly through its hub, Atlanta.

Connecting flights allow one-stop service from almost anywhere to almost anywhere else, but that process also puts you at risk of missing your connection. You may not be able to eliminate such a risk but you can take steps to minimize it.

Minimum Connection Time

Know the minimum connection time (MCT) required at your airport; every commercial airport has one. The minimum connection time is the absolute least amount of time that a person of good physical stature can connect to a second flight in the same airport.

What's a legal connection?

`Legal` may not be the precise term; perhaps `feasible` or `acceptable` would be better. The MCT for each airport varies based on the following factors:

•Whether the connecting flight is domestic-domestic, domestic-international, international-domestic or international-international. On international flights, immigration may be an issue and the airports allot time for that.
•Whether a change in terminals is necessary to catch the connecting flight.
•A trek to make your connecting flight can be arduous but the MCT is valid specifically for flights that arrive and depart on time.

An airline typically will not sell you a ticket that doesn`t meet the MCT, and TripMasters won`t do it either. The systems the airlines use takes into account airlines, travel within the airport, and the possibility of having to change terminals.

So how do you find the minimum connection time for an airport or airline? You can Google it; in fact, many airport websites offer this information freely, although it isn`t universal. If your schedule changes and your itinerary no longer meets the minimum connection time for any leg of your trip, the airline you are flying on must either change your flight to give you more connection time, or they must issue you a refund.

Tips to Ensure a Smooth Connection

Here are some helpful hints that you may want to keep in mind if you have a connecting flight in your itinerary.

Fly on a single ticket when you need to connect two flights.

For the most part, a connecting itinerary that you arrange, or a third party arranges, on a single ticket must take the minimum connection time into account. This also includes two flights on different airlines, so long as they have inter-airline agreements. Booking on one ticket ensures that you will have a much lower chance of missing your connecting flight than if you booked both portions of your trip separately. Single tickets also ensure your checked bags make it from Point A to Point B without any extra effort on your part.

Stick to one airline or airline alliance when connecting flights.

Try to book connecting flights on the same airline or airlines that are in the same alliance. Typically, at hub airports like Atlanta, Charlotte, Heathrow, De Gaulle, etc., airlines try to position their gates close to one another. If such an arrangement isn`t possible, the airlines provide inside-security people-movers or shuttles to any gates they use.

You will find that even if you hold a valid interline ticket, at some big hub airports it is necessary for you to leave one terminal to catch a connecting flight, and go through security regulations all over again at the new terminal. At a few airports, two different terminals may be in use by a single airline. Airlines are expected to accommodate passengers who must switch terminals to make their connecting flights.

Try not to buy two separate tickets when connecting your flights.

If you can do so, we strongly recommend not booking two separate tickets on two different airlines. The concept of a `minimum connecting time` only exists with through-tickets on the same airline. Booking two separate tickets on two different airlines can very well trigger a scenario which sees the first flight delayed and the second flight taking off. As the second airline has no way to know to expect you, you are marked as a `no show`. Once at your second airport, you may be forced to buy another ticket to get to your destination. There are a few times in which persuasion can get you on your connecting flight with no problems or penalties, but keep in mind that it is very rare and be thankful if this happens!

Also keep in mind that you will need a lot of time to claim and process luggage, as you will have to pick up your luggage at arrivals at the second airport, re-process it on the second airline at departures (which may be in another terminal), and then go through the security process at the new terminal.

Give yourself ample time for everything.

If you miss your connection while flying on a single ticket, the airlines have an obligation to put you on the next available flight. The airlines find, however, that just putting a passenger on a flight isn`t always the best solution.

A 30-minute connection may look great on paper, but the process of actually getting off the plane, followed by hustling it over to the next gate, getting checked in and then seated on the next plane can easily gobble up all your time. Many travelers decide to give themselves ample time for everything by choosing a longer connection at a hub on purpose. By allotting yourselves two, three, and even four hours, you can comfortably make your connection even taking into account excessive travel lengths in the airport, or delays on the first flight. Many times, an extended layover is easy to book, but there are also times when a close connection is unavoidable.

On a two-ticket journey, allot at least three or four hours` time, which should be ample enough for decent comfort while in transit.

Don`t pick the last connection of the day.

This travel tip is well-known, and it`s as true today as it was when it was first popularized over five decades ago. The airline will get you on the next flight out, but that means waiting until the first flight of the morning, and not arriving at your destination until the next day. A lesser-known tip advises travelers to book flights early in the morning, so, in the event anything goes wrong, there are more chances of arriving at your destination on the day you had intended.

Make sure your destination is well-served by an efficient `hub` airport.

When purchasing your ticket, you sometimes have the choice of a number of hub airports to use as your connection to your final destination. Some of them are more prone to delays than others, so you know to be wary of some airports over others. Recent data shows that the hubs most prone to delays are O`Hare, Dallas-Fort Worth, JFK, Newark and San Francisco. Hubs in the Sun Belt (Atlanta, Charlotte, etc.) are generally better.

The hub airports in Europe that many have been advised to avoid at all costs are De Gaulle, Heathrow and Frankfurt. Munich (Star Alliance hub airport) and Amsterdam (Sky Team hub airport) have earned higher customer satisfaction ratings. Brussels, Copenhagen, Helsinki, Madrid, Rome and Zurich also rate highly with travelers.

When connecting flights, make a plan for your luggage.

Unfortunately, there is no one standard way to deal with luggage when flying on connecting flights. If you check your bag, it can get lost in the system due to a tight connection or other issues such as inclement weather. On the other hand, if you choose to travel with a carry-on as your primary bag, it can weigh you down having to lug it across a big terminal. Before you leave, decide which plan is best for your trip.

When you`re in a time crunch, your seat location is important.

Think about getting a seat closer to the front of the aircraft if you know your minimum connecting time is going to be tight. Even if there is a fee incurred for reserving a seat in the front of the aircraft, it may be worth it if you can get a five to ten-minute head start on making it to your next departure gate.

Check out a few useful apps.

You can stop by your app store and look at a few apps that will help you along on your journey, whether you want to know about travel delays or departure information. AirportMaps will allow you to plan your walk through the terminal, and you can see which shops or restaurants are along your way if you have time to stop. Weatherbug can tell you if there are any airport delays across the country and worldwide. GateGuru will be able to tell you the most up-to-date gate information, so even if your gate number changes, you`ll be covered.