It is turning out to be a complex trip, but I'm trying to find a flight from Santiago to Osaka in October.

I found the following relatively direct, pretty cheap flight, all bookable under United:

enter image description here

What I am utterly confused about are the connection times:

  • 1h 20m International (Santiago-Houston) -> Domestic (Houston-S.Fran.)
  • 1h 40m Domestic (Houston-S.Fran.) -> International (S.Fran.-Osaka)
  • 55m Domestic (S.Fran.-Houston) -> International (Houston-Santiago)

It seems these are completely unreasonable and yet the screenshot above is from the United website. I was under the impression that United would not be allowed to offer such a booking if the transfer were not feasible. Perhaps then it comes down to what "feasible" means in this context.

Hence my questions are:

  • Are the connections above feasible (with checked luggage, EU citizen)? Like 50% probability of making all of them? 10%? 80%?
  • How can United offer these connections if they are as risky as I think they are?

(The main reason I'm asking is because if it were feasible, it would be a very tempting option given my constraints and the distance and cost involved. But obviously those times look exceptionally short.)

  • Perhaps then I was being a bit pessimistic and should just go for it. My concern is that I will be riding my luck three times on the same ticket. On the other hand, it will be the airline's responsibility if I cannot make the connection. – badroit Jun 28 '16 at 23:40
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    What would concern me most is the backup plan. If the SFO-IAH flight is sufficiently late and you miss the IAH-SCL flight with its 55 minute layover, how long are you going to have to wait for another one? 24 hours until the next day's flight? Depending on how time sensitive your travel is (e.g. if you have an important meeting or event to get to), that may be a significant risk. – Zach Lipton Jun 28 '16 at 23:44
  • I would not be particularly worried about an 1:40 domestic-international connection on United at SFO. It's a simple walk over to the international terminal. – Zach Lipton Jun 28 '16 at 23:45
  • @ZachLipton For IAH-SCL, UA has two other daily itineraries leaving at 10:15am and 3:35pm, so if you miss the 9:20pm flight then (1) you're staying overnight, but at least not 24 hours, and (2) those aren't nonstop but lay over in Panama City. But at least it's not a whole day's delay. There are a couple of earlier SFO-IAH flights you might be able to get on instead of UA721. – Michael Hampton Jun 29 '16 at 0:03

Out of your entire proposed itinerary, I only have any real concerns about one of the segments on the return, though the United website seems to think your entire outbound itinerary is risky.

Let's look at your flights in detail:

UA SCL-KIX 2016-10-14 1

Departing Friday, October 14, you have the following flights:

UA 846 SCL-IAH 10:00 pm    -  5:50 am +1
UA 404 IAH-SFO  7:10 am +1 -  9:35 am +1
UA  35 SFO-KIX 11:15 am +1 -  3:00 pm +2

The website marks each of these as a "Risky connection."

Taking a quick look at recent stats for UA 846, we can see that this flight is almost always 30-60 minutes early into IAH. You should actually have two hours or more to clear immigration and get to your next flight, and IAH is relatively quick to get through (especially when you're on the first plane to arrive in the morning). And if you're using the Visa Waiver Program and you have visited the US before (since 2008) then you can use the Automated Passport Control kiosks to speed your way through immigration.

All of the real risk from this itinerary comes from the possibility of missing the IAH-SFO flight, or from it being significantly delayed. But its historical records look pretty good, too. It's almost always on time. Once in the last 10 days it departed and arrived 30 minutes late.

I wouldn't consider this particularly risky, but if you do miss a connection, you will most likely end up leaving SFO at 7:20 pm on UA 875, connecting in Tokyo to NH 93 and arriving at 8:20 am +3.

The return itinerary you selected was:

UA KIX-SCL 2016-10-22 1

UA  34 KIX-SFO  4:40 pm - 10:35 am
UA 721 SFO-IAH  2:30 pm -  8:25 pm
UA 847 IAH-SCL  9:20 pm -  8:50 am +1

I'm not sure why, out of the three options you had available, you selected this one. It's the one I would consider most risky, because of UA 721 SFO-IAH. Here, you have only 55 minutes to connect at IAH to an international flight. If this flight is delayed more than a few minutes, you are likely to miss your connection.

You have two other good options to choose from at the same price, each of which has an earlier SFO-IAH flight.

  • UA 1081 leaves SFO at 1:58 pm and gives you 1 hour 27 minutes to connect in IAH and 3 hours 23 minutes to clear immigration and change planes in SFO.
  • UA 285 leaves SFO at 12:45 pm and gives you a whopping 2 hours 40 minutes in IAH and 2 hours 10 minutes layover in SFO.

Either of these choices would be much better than the one you had selected. I'd probably go with the former, myself.

UA KIX-SCL 2016-10-22 2

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  • Awesome answer Michael, thanks! As for the options, it was what was returned by a flight search engine. I did not realise these other options were available. – badroit Jun 29 '16 at 16:06
  • I also should not fail to mention that if you are on a flight which is running late, let the flight crew know of your connection when you land, and they can help you to try to make it. – Michael Hampton Jun 29 '16 at 16:34
  • Just to mention, I booked the outbound flight as discussed. The inbound I went with UA 285. Thanks so much! – badroit Jun 30 '16 at 6:16
  • Seems I had some bad luck: the Santiago flight was delayed 1.5 hours, meaning I missed all my connections and will need to kill 24 hours between here and SF. In any case, the airline is comping food and hotel. (Aside from that bad luck, Houston seems really quiet at that time ... the connection would have been very doable ... thanks for the advice!.) – badroit Oct 15 '16 at 21:13
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    @badroit OK, you do have some bad luck. Don't buy any lottery tickets or go outside in a thunderstorm. – Michael Hampton Oct 15 '16 at 21:42

Of course it depends on the airport and the time of day, but 45 minutes is typically enough to deplane an international flight, go through immigration and customs, and board a national flight. So this offer is perfectly reasonable.

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    On which planet? – Berwyn Jun 29 '16 at 0:21
  • I do that about a dozen times a year, in six different airports. As a non-US citizen. There are some simple things you need to follow - don't go to the restroom before immigration, you will become last in line; in the contrary, hurry once you're out of the plane - everybody you pass on that way is 60 seconds saved. Of course I know my way in all those airports; that helps a lot too. – Aganju Jun 29 '16 at 0:25
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    Maybe doable if you have GE, but 45 minutes immigration + customs + security + door closure time is not going to be doable for 75% of the people on a flight at an international arrival, especially those that have luggage to transfer – Berwyn Jun 29 '16 at 0:32
  • @Berwyn Maybe not, but IAH is pretty fast overall, and the OP has an EU passport and can just use the APC kiosks. – Michael Hampton Jun 29 '16 at 0:33
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    @Berwyn My understanding is that there has been a pilot program allowing repeat visitors with B1/B2 visas to also use the kiosks at one or two airports. Perhaps this will soon be expanded nationwide, and then you can use them. – Michael Hampton Jun 29 '16 at 6:57

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