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I see 432 questions tagged . This made me wonder: which airport has the longest connection time?


Notes:

  • Longest connection time = time it takes for a passenger to go from one flight to their connecting flight.

  • I am interested in

    1. airside-only transits,
    2. transits requiring to go through customs/immigrations,
    3. transits requiring to pick up one's checked luggage.

    I understand this means that the question may therefore have 3 correct answers. It's that's too broad, I can post 3 questions.

  • Assume the passenger is healthy (i.e., can walk fast with their carry-on bag) and has a French or US passport.

  • I understand that the connection time partly depends on the arrival and departure terminals. I'm interested in the worst case scenario, since I am looking for an upper bound.

  • Assume that the planes are on time.

  • Assume that the arrival and departure planes are at same airport.

Motivation: getting upper bounds, i.e. if the answer is e.g. that the longest connection time for airside-only transits is 60 minutes, then I won't have to worry when I have airside-only transits scheduled for 60 minutes or more, regardless of the airport. For example, this question asked if 2 hours was enough for an airside-only transit, and the OP wouldn't have had to worry about it if they knew that the longest connection time for airside-only transits is 60 minutes (+ knew that airside-only transits are possible at that airport).

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  • 4
    I would nominate BKK because of how huge it is, since just walking from one gate to another can easily take half an hour.
    – alamar
    Commented Feb 14 at 10:09
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    Note: I got one ticket (which I rejected with a connection from one airport in NYC to an other one. And some airports terminals are handled as two different airports (low cost one one side of the runway, and they often do not consider transfers). I think both are outside your question. So maybe we should restrict on "official connection time" inside a connected buildings (or with shuttles provided by airport?) Commented Feb 14 at 10:10
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    What about connections which involve two different airports (but still on the same ticket), e.g. CDG/ORY (AF), LGW/LHR (BA used to have some, not sure if it's still the case)? Also are you interested in the maximum MCT (i.e. what the airlines and airports say is the minimum time for connections of a specific type, but is sometimes a bit optimistic), or the actual maximum time it can take (e.g. on a very busy day at passport control and security, with flights arriving and departing from opposite edges of the airport so a lot of walking)?
    – jcaron
    Commented Feb 14 at 11:44
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    Note that the published MCT can vary based on: the airport, the connection type (DD, DI, ID, II), the airline(s) involved, the countries of origin or destination, specific flights or flight ranges, and even specific dates or date ranges. I don't know if there are any tools which list all possible MCTs for a given airport (or even better, worldwide). For CDG alone there are several hundred lines in the MCT report and Expertflyer can't even return the whole list. The maximum MCT for CDG seems to be 4 hours. But in any case, an airline will NOT sell a connection with a connection time below MCT.
    – jcaron
    Commented Feb 14 at 12:39
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    @jcaron OAG have a fairly complete worldwide dataset oag.com/minimum-connection-times (It was around a gigabyte when I worked with it), but I don't believe theres any way to get access to it without a very expensive commercial subscription. Commented Feb 15 at 2:11

1 Answer 1

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+500

When you book an itinerary with a connection (as a single ticket, not a self-transfer, of course), the booking system will check that it matches the published minimum connection time (MCT) for that combination.

While airports usually have general rules for each of the following standard cases:

  • domestic-to-domestic (DD)
  • domestic-to-international (DI)
  • international-to-domestic (ID) and
  • international-to-international (II)

they can also have all sorts of exceptions. All the details are explained in this document from IATA.

Exceptions can be based on:

  • The airline(s)
  • The specific flight(s) (individually or as ranges)
  • The countries of origin or destination
  • The terminal(s) involved
  • The date
  • ...

The full list for a single airport can be several hundred lines long. You can explore that using Experflyer.com (subscription required, but there's a 7-day free trial which does not even need a credit card).

You'll notice that in some cases the list is so long that the underlying GDS cannot even return all of it unless you filter things further.

Here's an example snippet (the first few lines for JFK, out of hundreds):

STANDARD.D/D...D/I...I/D...I/I.
ONLINE   1.00  1.15  1.45  2.00
OFFLINE  1.00  1.15  1.45  2.00
** OR * ARE ALL
AA-AA ID  1.15
AC-AC ID GLSUP US CDS  ** -  ** COUNTRY CA - COUNTRY CA
AC-AC ID GLSUP US CDS N/A -  ** COUNTRY CA - COUNTRY CA
AC-AC ID GLSUP US CDS  ** - N/A COUNTRY CA - COUNTRY CA
AD-AD ID  1.45 CDS N/A -  B6
AF-AF ID  1.00 CDS  ** -  ** TRM 4 - ** COUNTRY IE - ALL
AF-AF ID  1.25 CDS  ** -  ** TRM 4 - ** 27APR19 - INF
AF-AF ID  1.45 CDS N/A -  ** TRM 1 - ** 27APR19 - INF
AM-AM ID  1.45 CDS  ** -  ** TRM 1 - 2
AM-AM ID  1.45 ALL - FLT 3000 - 5699 CDS  ** -  **
AM-AM ID  1.45 CDS N/A -  ** TRM 1 - 2
AM-AM ID  1.45 ALL - FLT 3000 - 5699 CDS N/A -  **
AM-AM ID  1.45 CDS  ** - N/A TRM 1 - 2
AM-AM ID  1.45 TRM 1 - 2
AS-AS ID  1.45
AT-AT ID  2.00 CDS  ** -  **
AT-AT ID  2.00 CDS N/A -  **
AT-AT ID  2.00 CDS  ** - N/A
AT-AT ID  2.00
(and it goes on for hundreds of lines...)

This means that the standard MCTs in JFK are:

  • 1h for Domestic-Domestic,
  • 1h15 for Domestic-International,
  • 1h45 for International-Domestic, and
  • 2h for International-International.

But then start the exceptions (which can go both ways: some combinations may have shorter MCTs, others will have longer ones).

A flight combination not matching the published MCT will not even be shown in search results on booking engines, much less be bookable.

So if you book an Air China to Delta international-to-domestic connection via JFK, for instance, while the generic ID MCT there is 1 hours 45 minutes, this line:

CA-DL ID  6.00

tells us that they won't sell you a connection below 6 hours.

The rules and many exceptions are built by the airports and airlines based on their experience of the "general" cases and the many exceptions. In this case I suppose they think people arriving on Air China are very likely to spend a lot of time at passport control, so they won't sell them short connections. There may be similar exceptions based on extra security checks.

In other cases the exceptions will be based on combinations of terminals, for instance.

Note that some combinations are marked SUP or GLSUP. Those connections are just not allowed (as a single ticket).

So if you find a single-ticket itinerary with a connection, it means that the airline and airport think it's doable. Are they always right? No. Obviously they can't predict a meltdown at passport control which turns your 1h30 ID MCT into 2 or 3 hours waiting in line. But it's their responsibility to take care of you and rebook you.

It's a balancing act for them: shorter connections are easier to sell, but if they go too short, they have to bear a larger risk (this is especially true for flights covered by EC261 and their equivalents, and was a primary motivation for it: prevent airlines from advertising and selling completely unrealistic connections).

Now if you want to know if a connection is tight (i.e. exactly at MCT or just above, which usually means you need to hurry quite a bit, will not have time for shopping or using the lounge, and the risk of a missed connection is higher) or not, you can indeed look up the MCT for that specific combination on ExpertFlyer and compare the actual connection time. But remember that flight schedules can change, so even if the connection has a lot of margin when you book it, it may be reduced to nothing if either flight changes.

Now to answer your specific question, based on standard MCTs (ignoring exceptions other than a few generic ones like terminal-based -- note that sometimes the terminal-specific rules are inside airline-specific rules which I have ignored):

  • LHR: ID and II 1h30 (but 1h45 for T5<->T4)
  • CDG: ID and II 1h30 (but up to 2h30 for T1<->T2G)
  • JFK: II 2h
  • LAX: ID and II 2h
  • MEX: ID and II 2h (but 2h45 for T1<->T2)

I've looked up quite a few but haven't found anything beyond that yet. Most of the usual suspects are between 1h and 1h30. So for now the record seems to be 2h45 for a MEX T1<->T2 connection.

At the other end of the spectrum:

  • MUC: all standard 45 minutes, but 35 minutes within T1 and 30 within T2
  • ZRH: all standard 40 minutes
  • VIE: all standard 30 minutes
  • ...

Including exceptions, the highest I found until now is the 6h China Airlines -> Delta ID in JFK, but it's a lot more difficult to list those exhaustively, so there could be more longer ones.

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  • Out of curiosity, does flying with El Al skew the results? Because I've heard a lot of stories of Israeli security checks taking long time (and there was recently a question about someone doing a self transfer in Athens, going to Israel, and the advice was that the transfer would take a long time due to Israeli security.)
    – Peter M
    Commented Feb 14 at 14:30
  • @PeterM in that case it was a self-transfer and I'm not sure the airline involved allows connections at all. But in the case of a connection to El Al in Zurich for instance the MCT is 1h15 (going down to 55 minutes from March 1st) against 40 minutes for other connections.
    – jcaron
    Commented Feb 14 at 16:21
  • @PeterM A normal connection at TLV would not require going through immigration control and such, as far as I know, unless the connection was to or from somewhere inside of Israel (I think Eilat is the only other Israeli airport with commercial flights?) But, yes, security can take a long time there and, if you're self-connecting, that's going to be much worse, but MCT will not apply in that case because, by definition, it's not on one ticket. When I was flying solo on a one-way ticket out of TLV, though, it took 2 hours or so to get through.
    – reirab
    Commented Feb 15 at 23:09
  • @reirab connecting in TLV rarely happens. El Al sells connecting tickets but it's not popular. When it rarely happens, a normally unstaffed passage allows staying airside and skipping normal security.
    – ugoren
    Commented Feb 29 at 13:21

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