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I am planning a trip for 2019, and the absolute best result on all points (price, duration, hours of departure/arrival) means taking an international plane landing at Chicago O'Hare only to get 1.5 hour later another one leaving out of the USA.

I am wondering if this amount of time is enough or if I should just choose an alternate route.

I often used the Miami airport in the past for similar cases, and I know that at this airpost it is safer to count at least 2 hours to pass immigration and customs, due to various factors. I am not an US citizen, but will have an ESTA (a new one, my current one will expire before this new journey).

I am really hoping that maybe things could be better at Chicago O'Hare airport, which I never visited yet.

The page at https://www.flychicago.com/ohare/myflight/international/pages/default.aspx does say: "There are many factors that impact how long it may take travelers to complete the immigration and CBP process, but on average it takes no more than two hours.", so 1.5 hour seems risky.

I may even need to change terminals, as http://www.flychicago.com/ohare/myflight/airlines/pages/default.aspx is not completely clear to me: I would arrive with United Airlines on an international flight (so that should be Terminal 5), but I leave with an ANA flight, and it seems Terminal 5 is only for arrivals, so ANA would take off from Terminal 1 I think, which is confirmed in fact if I check there: https://fr.flightaware.com/live/flight/UAL7911 (which also shows that at least recently this flight leaves with 1 hour of delay or even more, which would help me but I can not count on it).

The itinerary will be bought as one (the bags should be checked through but based on previous link, I may need to collect them nevertheless - which is not the case when through Miami), so I know that if the connection is missed I would be rebooked to another flight or the day after, but that would really diminish the usefulness of this choice, so if it is almost guaranteed that 1.5 hour is not enough for transit, I may book something else.

The next best choice involves instead a change at Houston Georges Bush Intercontinental (and I could choose either 1h40, 2h50, 3h50 or 5h10 for my layover time there) and then Los Angeles International before the final flight out of the US. But this makes the whole journey 7 hours longer than through Chicago.

  • ORD would be my last choice of airport for a tight connection. – Spehro Pefhany Jul 29 '18 at 15:46
  • You always have to collect your bag when transiting through the US, regardless of the airport. – npl Jul 29 '18 at 19:37
  • @npl I am sorry but this contradicts directly my experience. Coming from London to the Caribbean, through Miami, I do not have to collect my checked bag at Miami. In fact there is even a tag put on it at departure saying something like that, in orange/red: "Not to be collected in US, international flight" or something like that. I never had to collect my bag at Miami airport when transiting between two international flights. Maybe because it was with American Airlines, I do not know. – Patrick Mevzek Jul 29 '18 at 19:51
  • @npl and when I missed the connection and had to stay overnight at Miami I was not given the option to get my bag for the night, it stayed at Miami airport inside their luggage facility, to be automatically checked in for the flight next day. – Patrick Mevzek Jul 29 '18 at 19:53
  • Interesting. I've never heard of that in the US, maybe MIA is an exception? – npl Jul 30 '18 at 0:14
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I wouldn't chance it.

You can look up expected CBP wait times to see how long the immigration process might take. Around 8pm, it's not uncommon for it to be on the order of 15-30 minutes, but some days it seems to be stretching to 30-60 minutes. If you have checked bags, you may have to wait longer to claim them. You must collect your checked bags, take them through customs, and then hand them back to an airline agent.

On top of that, you'll have to get to terminal 1 (all international arrivals come into terminal 5) and go through security. Terminal 5 is a bit of a distance away, and making matters worse, the train connection between terminals is closed for maintenance everyday except for Saturdays and Sundays, so you'd have to go outside and get a bus if you're doing this on a weekday. And then you need to get to your gate before boarding closes.

If you're coming from one of the US Preclearance airports, you'll go through US immigration before you board your first flight, which would provide you with much more time in Chicago.

It's not completely impossible if everything is on time and the lines are short, but I wouldn't book this. The biggest reason is that you're connecting to an infrequent international flight. If you miss it, you're probably waiting until the next night to get on a new flight. And any kind of brief delay at any number of places could be enough to miss it: a few minutes extra for your flight to arrive, at immigration, baggage claim, customs, the shuttle bus, or security.

  • It would be a saturday journey in fact, arriving at 3:55 PM at ORD, leaving at 5:25 PM. – Patrick Mevzek Jul 29 '18 at 3:31
  • @PatrickMevzek So the train would be running, but immigration wait times are a bit worse then. For the last four weeks of Saturdays at that time, it's an average of 24 minutes, with a 104 minute maximum. – Zach Lipton Jul 29 '18 at 3:49
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As a US citizen I would be very reluctant to book such a ticket. I have had such a booking through a California airport (Los Angeles IIRC) that a travel agent made and I yelled about when I saw it--and got it changed.

We cleared both immigration and customs reasonably quickly. While in theory we could have made the flight it would not have actually been possible because we would have missed the baggage check time by 5 minutes.

You also don't say where you are coming from but from your description I'm guessing Europe. Very long flights like that are always a bit variable on time because of variations in the jet stream. (Going between the US and China I see variations of an hour in the actual time in the air.) This is completely unpredictable, you get a strong jet stream that day and you no longer have an hour and a half to make your connection.

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