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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

How long should a layover be?

I scheduled a short vacation in July at an all-inclusive resort in Mexico this July through Costco travel and didn't really pay attention to the flights until my husband pointed out that our layover in Atlanta (ATL) was rather short and he is concerned about missing our connection. I should have paid more attention to this before purchasing the package because after reviewing the itinerary I think he may be right which leads me to the basis of this post: how long should a layover be?

As you can see, our layover is only 44 minutes which may seem like a decent amount of time for a domestic-domestic flight but in my experience Atlanta (ATL) is usually a madhouse and there have been more than one occasion that I've missed a connection there with layovers longer than 44 minutes. So how did this happen and what are my options?

Well technically there is nothing "illegal" about this connection as it meets the minimum connection time (MCT) for the airport/airline/flight/etc. This is automatically built into the airline booking websites and online travel agencies and takes into account your itinerary (domestic-to-domestic, domestic-to-international, international-to-international, or international-to-domestic), the layout of the airport including security checkpoints, how many airlines are involved, and what is reasonable for an able-bodied individual to get from point A to point B. The only way to book an "illegal" connection is by booking multiple one-way tickets in which case the airline has no obligation to reimburse you or assist you if you miss your flight. But if one of the legs of your flight changes causing you to now have an "illegal" connection then the airline is obligated to assist you in either changing your flight or reimbursing you.

However, we all know that even with these minimum connection times (MCT) that certain airports are more difficult to traverse than others. And this doesn't take into account whether you are sitting at the back of the plane which can add 5-10 minutes to deboard or if you have physically handicapped individuals in your party that may require extra time for transport. So what can you do if you have a short connection?

Well you can try calling the airline and hope you get an understanding, compassionate agent that will change your flights and if this doesn't work say "thank you", hang up, and try again. You can also let the flight attendants know when you board and they may be able to move you closer to the front of the plane or at least give you guidance about the quickest way to get to your next gate although they are under no obligation to do either. Sometimes, if a flight is known to be late the agents at the connecting gate will hold the door for a few extra minutes but their ultimate goal is to make sure the plane gets to its final destination on time.

Bottom Line

Unfortunately, there is no standard list of MCTs and the only way to figure this out is either through an arduous Google search or you can resort to the pay services of or the KVS availability tool. As a general rule of thumb I typically like to give myself at least 60 minutes for a domestic-domestic connection and around 1.5-2 hours for international flights. I always prefer to have a longer layover as opposed to shorter one because I can usually find a lounge to grab a drink at to kill some time. As for my itinerary in July, I'm just hoping that we can run fast and not miss our connection.

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