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I'm currently scheduled to fly from New Orleans (MSY) to Mexico City (MEX), with a 54-minute transit in Houston (IAH). Both flights are on United, and I think they're on United mainline, not Express. On the upside, I'm ticketed through, so it's a legal connection on paper, and have no checked bags. On the downside, I've never been to IAH before.

In most countries you'd have to go through passport control for this, but the US is not like most countries, so I presume it's just a matter of walking from Gate X to Gate Y without even TSA lines to worry about. However, poking around on the IAH website, it looks like my flight in will arrive in Terminal C or E, while my flight out will definitely leave from Terminal E (update: was in C), so I may also have a Skyway trip to contend with.

Assuming the incoming flight is on time, am I likely to make the connection, or should I try to reschedule?

Update: My incoming flight was delayed around 15 min and landed at the E gates, so I was a bit worried about making it to the C gates in time... but in the end it was less than a 5 min walk and my connecting flight was a bit delayed too. Thanks all for the advice!

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    I personally would say "No", but Zach below reports having done it. A huge problem you face is that, as the US air travel system falls apart, it is becoming very difficult to make any connection. I think of my last ten (internal, fully domestic) US connections, at least 5 were completely blown by the airlines. it's becoming the norm that flights arrive late. – Fattie Aug 1 '18 at 12:45
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    To your advantage you're starting from a relatively large airport, not a small regional one. FWIW I always check the various flight history www sites, to see if my first flight is usually late recently - fwiw. – Fattie Aug 1 '18 at 12:46
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    Tangentially related anecdote: I was at MSP waiting for a delayed Northwest flight to PDX. I talked to the gate agents so many times about making my connection from PDX that they let the staff at PDX know about my late arrival and xfr destination. When we pulled up to the PDX gate, the rear air stairs on the plane dropped and I heard the stew say "I think it's the guy in the white sweatshirt". I had a PDX staffer walk me down the rear of the plane across the tarmac and directly up to the gate for my connection. TLDR: make sure you tell the gate folks at MSY - they might be able to help you! – FreeMan Aug 1 '18 at 18:58
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You are right that you won't have to go through passport control or any other formalities other than walking to your gate. The catch is that they officially recommend you be at the gate 30 minutes before departure for international flights.

IAH is a large airport, though you won't have to travel the whole length of it. The Skyway train is behind security and won't take that long. They say it departs every two minutes and the actual travel time will be just a couple minutes. Depending on which gates your flights use, walking directly between terminals may be faster than going up to the train and back.

It appears that the minimum connection time for such a trip is 40 minutes or less, though I don't have an ExpertFlyer or KVS subscription at the moment to confirm that.

I'd say it's very much doable if your inbound flight is on time and you don't dawdle too much, but it doesn't leave much buffer for delays. United runs 6-7 flights from Houston to Mexico City a day, so if your flight is early enough, you do have options if you miss it. I'd consider the flight's on-time performance and your tolerance for delays (will you miss something important? would you be taking the last flight out? do you have United/Star Alliance status for priority rebooking? can you sit near the front to get off sooner?) to decide how practical it is.

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    "very much doable if your inbound flight is on time" Exactly. Personally I probably wouldn't risk it, but as long as everything goes according to plan, it should be an easy connection. You can make the distance and still arrive the 30 minutes before departure. No TSA, no checked luggage, there's relatively little which could go wrong here. – Mast Aug 1 '18 at 9:45
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    Thanks for the answer! I'm *A Gold, there are later flights in the day and I have no meetings that day, so I'm OK with taking the risk. – jpatokal Aug 1 '18 at 10:06
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    I have also occasionally had the flight crew let people with tight connections off first, worth asking. – Azor Ahai Aug 1 '18 at 18:19
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Yes, I did this successfully at IAH on United with a 30 minute domestic-to-international connection in 2011 and a 32 minute connection in 2012. Tips:

  • IAH is big. Study the airport map ahead of time, then check your phone as soon as you land to find out which gate you'll have to get from and to.

  • Walk fast. If you're just going one terminal over, like C to E, you can probably walk faster than the airport train.

  • Make sure your plans are flexible in case you miss the connection. If United sold you the connection as one ticket and you miss it because the first flight is delayed, United should put you onto the next flight instead.

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    That first sentences is surprisingly accurate. – Guido Aug 1 '18 at 23:59
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There are a few important things to consider here:

(1) Historical flight times and timeliness. Using FlightAware, you can see the historic arrival and departure times of both flights. Check out these stats for the past 1-2 weeks. Is the flight arriving to IAH typically on time or typically late? If late, what's the average delay?

(2) Your personal comfort with rushing. I've lived abroad for several years and made dozens of international flights. There's nothing like the anxiety of landing at one airport, knowing you have to fight your way off of a big plane and run across the airport to make the next flight. Are you comfortable trying to run around/ahead of people when deplaning or changing terminals? Are you generally a fast speed walker? Do you have any kind of flight/travel anxiety?

(3) Closing the doors vs. takeoff time. Is the 54-minute transfer window between the landing time of your first flight and the takeoff time of your second flight? International flights often begin boarding 45-60 minutes in advance and often close cabin doors 10-15 minutes before takeoff. This means that if your first flight is even 15 minutes late, you'd have 39 minutes left. It will take:

  • 5-10 minutes to deplane depending on where you sit
  • 10-20 minutes to transfer terminals
  • 5 minutes to get to the Mexican flight departure gate

which leaves as much as 19 minutes (39-5-10-5) or as little as 4 minutes (39-10-20-5) before the flight leaves. If the doors close 10 minutes prior to departure, you will need to be at the very front of the plane and/or know that the transfer takes 15 minutes or less in order to make it by a very close margin.

Personally I always book international flight transfers with 2-4 hours layover. I find it's too expensive/stressful/tiring to rush through the airport for the second flight.

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As I usually look for "shortest flight" when booking international travel, I know a lot of the flights will give you transfer times of an hour down to even 40 minutes or less even at the big airports (ATL, JFK, LAX). The airline has much more experience of judging whether passengers make a connection like that and will impose rules on the tickets as they do not want to have to re-book you, so if that was their allowed time then it should be fine with an on-time arrival, providing you are prepared to go straight from aircraft A to aircraft B and as @BethDevine says are okay with setting a reasonable pace.

The second part of the same airline providing both flights of the ticket is that they know you are making that transfer. The gate agents at your international flight are aware there are people on your first flight (and chances are it won't be just you) and will be apprised if it is a few minutes late. I have had a couple of cases of diving across a large airport, kicking old people and children out of my way as I barge my way across, only to find the flight is being held for other people coming from my original delayed flight.

Of course there is no guarantee, if your original flight is delayed an hour or two there is no way they can hold the flight for you but in that case again the airline already knows that. In at least one case Delta had already re-booked me onto the next flight before we even landed at the transfer airport. As soon as I could turn my cellphone on there was a text message with the new flight details.

  • Fair enough, but I've been booked onto a few implausible connections in my time, and the airline doesn't really care if they leave me sitting at the airport for an hour or ten. Example: travel.stackexchange.com/questions/79446/… – jpatokal Aug 2 '18 at 2:06
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I tried to find the official Minimum Connection Time for your target airport.

A user on FlyerTalk asserts

I had heard somewhere that the official minimum connecting time in IAH is 25 minutes.

Official MCT is a good indicator in order to make an estimate. Unfortunately the above is not official news but suggests that with 54 minutes you have plenties of time to walk the gate.

Consider that MCT (being a minimum) is normally computed as the maximum time a normal passenger can take to between the edges of the airport.

You have more than double the time, as soon as your flight is on schedule. You are ticketed through, I don't know if that is the same as happens in Europe but the airline should at minimum guarantee you board your connection in case of a delay, by either delaying the connection or offer you compensation.

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