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We have an International flight leaving JFK at terminal 4 (South African Airways) at 11.40am... and our connecting flight arriving on Delta arriving at 8.55am at Terminal 3 (there are 2 of us travelling).

Will this be enough time to make the International Flight or should we reschedule?

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Is it a through booking, or are they separate flights? (That affects how you get treated on delays, which is likely to be your main issue here) –  Gagravarr Sep 21 '11 at 22:24
    
What day of the week will you be flying? Is it on / near a holiday? Will either of you be checking baggage on your first flight that needs to be transferred to your international flight, or are you only bringing carry-on luggage? What nationality are both of you (i.e., the country whose passport you're using)? You will probably be okay, but all of the things listed above (including @Gagravarr's comment about type of booking) can affect how quickly you can get from one flight to the next. –  Laura Sep 22 '11 at 0:16
    
flying on Sunday, and it's not a through flight (Separate flights), and will be transferring baggage. We are both South African –  Michael Wiles Sep 22 '11 at 7:29
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2 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

My experience with traveling in the morning (any day of the week) has fairly decent; airports in New York seem to be less busy in the morning than in afternoon / evening.

It's only 2 minutes on the AirTrain for every Terminal stop, and it runs every 10 minutes. (Warning: you do have to do a lot of walking within each terminal, though!) You probably won't have to wait more than a couple of minutes - there are three routes, and all three of them stop at every terminal. You'll probably want to take either the Howard Beach route or Jamaica Station route, since those run in a counterclockwise loop, meaning it's one stop from Terminal 3 to Terminal 4 (rather than having to go all the way around the loop on the All Terminals route.) Also, the AirTrain is free between airport terminals.

I don't know anyone who has traveled on a South African passport, but I've never experienced terribly long lines at immigration / passport control. Security lines can be the most difficult, but usually the move pretty quickly (20 minutes or less).

WikiTravel recommends leaving 3-4 hours for transfers from a domestic US flight to an international flight at JFK, which is wise if you think there might be weather or other delays on your first flight.

So here's a breakdown of your time if nothing is excessively delayed:

  • Get off your plane at 9am, pick up luggage from first flight (25 minutes)
  • Take AirTrain from Terminal 3 to Terminal 4 (includes time to walk from baggage claim to AirTrain, wait a few minutes for the train, time on the train, and walking to the main part of Terminal 4) (25 minutes)
  • Check in to international flight, check bags (15 minutes, assuming there isn't a long line)
  • Go through security, walk to gate (25 minutes)

For a total of 90 minutes, leaving you 70 minutes to spare. (I rounded your 8:55 arrival time to 9am.) That's plenty of time if your first flight doesn't get delayed.

It ultimately comes down to your comfort level and a cost-benefit analysis. Do you get stressed out if you don't have a ton of cushion time? Is it really expensive to rebook tickets at this point so that your flight into JFK gets you there earlier or your flight out of JFK departs later? Or does the cost of rebooking outweigh your peace of mind with the amount of time?

If it were me, I'd probably keep the itinerary as it stands (unless you're traveling in January when there is a strong likelihood of snow), but it's really up to you and how adventurous you're feeling. :)

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thanks for enlightening an unseasoned traveller! –  Michael Wiles Sep 23 '11 at 7:02
    
You're welcome! Airports are always tricky...I still sometimes feel like I have to give myself hours of cushion time in case something goes wrong. But as long as you know what to expect (i.e., how long it takes to get between terminals, the fact that you have to take your shoes off and pull liquids out at security, etc.), it's not strictly necessary. I hope JFK treats you well. :) –  Laura Sep 23 '11 at 13:29
    
So to report back on the experience, when we arrived at Durham/Raleight Airport (this is where the connecting flight was leaving from) we mentioned that we were flying on to South Africa from JFK at which point the attendant, after inquiring about the time of the flight out of JFK said we must then book your luggage through to SA - which she did and we didn't have to worry about the luggage at JFK. We had loads of time to spare... –  Michael Wiles Nov 26 '11 at 9:39
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Thought'd I'd post what happened as an answer...

When we arrived at Durham/Raleight Airport (this is where the connecting flight was leaving from) we mentioned that we were flying on to South Africa from JFK at which point the attendant, after inquiring about the time of the flight out of JFK said we must have our luggaged booked through to SA - which she did - she even had to go downstairs to retag our luggage as it had already been sent by this time - and we didn't have to worry about the luggage at JFK. We had loads of time to spare...

So if you ever need to connect via a separate flight then tell them where're you're going and ask them if they can book your luggage straight through.

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