Would someone help me calculate the connection time at SFO?

I shall arrive from Europe at 2.30 pm into Terminal 3. Later on I want to fly to Las Vegas, on separate flight.

I am travelling with my family. Me and my wife have visas, and my kids travel on an ESTA basis. For me and the kids it's the first time using our visas/ESTAs, for my wife it's her second entry into the US.

How much time do I need to clear immigration, pick-up the luggage, and reach the Alaskan terminal for check in?

Can I buy the ticket for 6:30 pm? Is 4 hours enough to pass it all, or would the next flight at 7:55 pm be more realistic?

  • 2
    Are you arriving directly from Dublin/Shannon, by any chance?
    – Richard
    Nov 11, 2019 at 13:31
  • Can you clarify that you are buying the Alaska Airlines flight on a separate ticket, or are you buying them together?
    – Doc
    Nov 11, 2019 at 18:51
  • 1
    I already have the tickets from Europe to US. I don't have SFO-LAS ticket yet. I'm about to buy, and that's why I need to know what's the safe transfer time.
    – Maciek
    Nov 11, 2019 at 20:04

2 Answers 2


It's not clear if you are purchasing the Alaska Airlines ticket together with your international flight - and the situation is very different depending on whether you are.

To answer your main question, 4 hours is plenty of time to make your way from an International arrival to a domestic connection at SFO. Given check-in (and bag drop) cut-off deadlines that still gives you around 3+ hours, which is plenty of time. SFO is a relatively easy airport to get around, and although delays at immigration can occur, they would not cause you to miss a connecting flight 4 hours later.

Of course, that presumes your inbound flight is on-time. If it is delayed by more than an hour, especially if more than 2 hours, then things will get more complex.

If you have purchased your flights together, and the inbound is delayed, then it is the airlines responsibility to move you to a later flight if you don't make your connection. So if your flights are booked together, 4 hours is still plenty as you can rely on them rebooking you if needed.

If you are NOT booking the two flights together, then the best advice I can give is to NOT fly Alaska Airlines, but instead look at flying United Airlines. United have what is called a "flat tire" policy, which means that if you arrive at the airport late - such as if your inbound flight was delayed - then they will make every effort to move you to a later flight free of charge. Alaska do not have such a policy, and you will likely be forced to either buy a new ticket, or pay a change fee on your existing ticket.

  • In the one time it has been relevant to me, I have found that Alaska does de facto have a flat tire policy - I asked and was accommodated without question or a request to pay up. In general, being a smaller airline, Alaska is, compared to larger airlines, more reliant on trusting its employees to make appropriate decisions and less reliant on having policies saying what its employees should do. This can of course work both for and against you. Nov 11, 2019 at 22:19

From this article:

Just under one-third of SFO arrivals had to wait more than 30 minutes, and the maximum average waiting time was more than 55 minutes.

The Alaskan terminal is terminal 2. You can transfer via the AirTrain:

From Terminal 1, 2 or 3, take the elevator or escalator to Mezzanine - Level 3 and walk across the passenger skybridge

Both the Blue and Red lines link terminals 2 and free. I imagine it shouldn’t take you more than 1 and a half hours to clear immigration, check your bagged and change terminal.

You should get to your terminal by 4 pm. This is within the advice that you should arrive 2 hours or more before your flight.

However, if your first flight is delayed, it won’t be the airlines fault that you’ve missed your connection since you flew on different airlines.

According to another news article:

According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, in 2018 SFO was the third-most-delayed major airport in the U.S. in terms of arrivals, with about 26 percent of arriving flights delayed. And that's not unique to last year.

You should be fine but taking the 7:55 pm flight is the safer option.

  • The vast majority of delays at SFO are domestic flights. Long-haul are not affected by the FAAs delay programs, and thus are mostly immune to SFO issues.
    – Doc
    Nov 11, 2019 at 15:51
  • @Doc you never know, the later flight is still the better option
    – Xnero
    Nov 11, 2019 at 16:13

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