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I've booked an international flight from Germany to LA via San Diego and am starting to be a bit worried about being able to catch the connecting flight. It's my first time going to the US, so let's call it inexperience.... When booking I didn't really think much about it (well, the airline offered the flight for one thing, but honestly, it's my fault for taking schengen and transit convenience for granted).

Anyways, the connection time is 1hr 35m. If I understand correctly, I basically have to

  • pick up luggage
  • get through customs and passport check
  • hand in luggage after customs (not check-in though, since it's checked through to LA)
  • get through security check again
  • get to gate

Welp. Can this ever work, really?

What's the worst that can happen? If I miss the connecting flight, will the airline rebook me or go "sry, you should have thought about that"? Should I try to change to a flight with more time (for a fee)?

I know I should have thought it through more thoroughly when booking, but well... ;)

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    If the airline sold you the ticket, they are responsible for rebooking you, if you don't make it. – Andrew Lazarus Feb 26 at 23:32
  • There's a ton of flights between LA and San Diego so it won't be a big deal. In fact you would be happy to get delayed as in this case you'll be eligible for EU travel compensation. – JonathanReez Feb 27 at 5:26
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1 hour 35 mins could be tight, depending on a number of factors including whether your inbound flight is on time, how busy immigration is at the time you arrive, and even whether you're nearer to the front of the back of the plane.

If your inbound flight is delayed to the point that you miss your connection then it is the responsibility of the inbound carrier (ie, the one that made you late!) to arrange alternative flights. The problem is that I'm guessing that's Lufthansa and they don't have a large presence at San Diego Airport!

If you simply miss your connection because it takes longer to get through immigration than expected, then technically the airline isn't responsible - but presuming you're on a single ticket then they generally will still look after you and arrange an alternative - but again it may be difficult to actually find Lufthansa staff to do that.

However one of the areas that US airlines excel over many other airlines in the world is the existence of an unpublished rule that is normally termed the "flat tire rule". If you arrive at the airport late and miss your flight (due to, say, a "flat tire" on the way to the airport) then they will either confirm you onto a later flight or at least put you standby if no seats are available.

The exact rule varies from airline to airline, and generally requires you to be at the airport no later than 2 hours after your flight was due to depart, although for something like a delayed inbound flight they will generally be even more flexible than that.

All up, 1 hour 35 should be enough presuming your inbound flight isn't delayed, and you don't loiter on the way (especially getting to immigration!), but if you do happen to miss your connecting flight you will be looked after, one way or another.

It's also worth noting that there's a direct flight FRA-LAX departing around the same time as your flight FRA-SAN. Although Lufthansa doesn't generally allow changing flights, it may be worth asking at check-in to see if they could move you to the direct flight and remove this risk entirely!

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Yes, you have a decent chance.

You are basically right about what you need to do, but there is a slight change of ordering: first you pass immigration, then you pick up your luggage, then you go through customs (which can be fast if you have nothing to declare). This means that if immigration takes some time, you won't have to wait longer for your luggage; it will already be on the carousel. There is likely to be a luggage check desk right after you exit from customs, so this step should not take much time. And the San Diego airport is fairly compact, so it will not be a long trip to reach your gate.

If you don't make it, and you had both flights booked on a single ticket, the airline is likely to offer you rebooking on a later flight to LAX (though they may or may not be obliged to do so). There are very many flights per day on this route, so you would probably not have to wait long.

If all else fails, and the airline will not do anything for you, it is pretty easy to take the train from San Diego to Los Angeles. It takes about 3 hours and trains leave almost hourly during the day. It costs about $35. The train is not fast like in Germany, but it does the job, and you get some nice views of the ocean along the way. The #992 bus can take you from the airport to the train station (Santa Fe Depot). Or, you could also rent a car and drive to LA. It takes about two hours, or more if there is heavy traffic (which is common).

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    Taking a train/car would likely result in the remainder of the ticket (including the return, if there was one) being cancelled... – Doc Feb 27 at 7:05
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    The airline is of course obliged to rebook you, no 'may be' involved. – Aganju Feb 27 at 7:06
  • @Doc: Which is why I said if all else fails. It would of course be wise to consult with the airline before doing anything other than flying. – Nate Eldredge Feb 27 at 7:06
  • @Aganju: Doc's answer below casts doubt on this. I cannot speak authoritatively one way or the other. Feel free to add your own answer, if you can. – Nate Eldredge Feb 27 at 7:07
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The airline has a table with minimum connection times for each airport, which considers all your needed steps, and they don't sell tickets that don't allow that window.
If they sold you this ticket, you chances are high that you make the connection. If you miss it, even because of an arrival delay, they will reok you for free on the next flight.

Overall, you have nothing to worry about. Make sure you understand the sequence of activties, and don't go shopping in the airport, and you are good.

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