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What is a Connecting Flight?

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    Jonathan Chum

Connecting Flight

A connecting flight is when a flight itinerary requires a passenger to change planes between the departure city to the final destination.

Do I need to go through security for a connecting flight?

It depends. A connecting flight can occur in the same terminal or another terminal at the airport.

Typically, for domestic airports, connecting flights do not require passengers to undergo another screening.

There are cases where the path is closed due to construction that may require you to exit and re-enter the terminal to the connecting flight.

If you are connecting from a domestic to an international flight, it's rare for you to go through security again. Most airports make it easy to avoid passenger delays and aircraft departures due to the re-screening of passengers.

For connecting flights through another country, some airports and carriers may require you to be re-screened.

These security protocols may differ when entering another terminal where the airline is parked at a gate that it usually does not depart from.

Some airports will have security checkpoints at the gate itself or random screening by airport police on the ramp onto the plane.

Will a connecting flight wait for passengers?

A connecting flight will stay on track to depart at a set time. For every minute of delay, the carrier must pay a fine to the airport.

In some circumstances, an arriving flight that is late to come into the gate and carries a large number of passengers, the airline may decide to hold the connecting aircraft from departing.

In those cases, airline agents are on the ground at the gate. They are there to lead a large group to the entrance and through security.

If you are late for personal reasons, don't expect the airline to hold the aircraft for you. Listen to announcements over the P.A. in case they are paging your name or last boarding call for your flight.

What happens if I miss my connecting flight?

If you booked your itinerary on one ticket, the airline may make accommodations to put you on the next available flight should they learned that your first flight was arriving late.

If you are on the last available departure flight, you will likely need to find your accommodations outside the airport or find an awkward spot to close your eyes for a few hours.

If you happen to book your flight on two itineraries on two different airlines, they may try to accommodate you if they can connect the other airline as part of the alliance and see you were late on no fault of your own.

If the two airlines do not belong to the same airline alliance, the second airline you are connecting with may not be able to know if the aircraft was late and marked you down as a "no show" for the last boarding call.

In that scenario, your only option then is to buy another ticket.

What's the minimum time for connecting flights? Is one hour long enough?

This depends on your ticket. If you purchase one ticket, the checked in bags will typically arrive at your final destination even if you're connecting through with another airline carrier.

It also depends on the airport and distance between the two terminals, arriving and departing.

Some gates are so far apart that a brisk walk between them will take 1/2 hours. So you have one opportunity to make that walk and find the right gate, assuming it hasn't changed.

For domestic travel and most international connections, one hour should be enough assuming you made no mistake in finding the gate.

Stopping by the first duty-free to do some shopping adds to the risk of missing your flight if you are unfamiliar with the airport's map.

If you booked on two different tickets, then one hour may not be enough because you may need to exit the terminal, wait for your bags to be pulled off the plane, scanned at baggage collection, collected, and then another random screening.

Depending on the airport, you may need to pass through immigration and have your passport stamped with a "transit" visa, which means the visa allows you to spend 24 hours to leave the airport and come back for your next flight.

Do I have to go through U.S. customs for a connecting flight?

For international flights coming in, you will need to go through the U.S. customs period. The typical steps are upon the port of entry; you must go through the visa checkpoint first with your carry on.

After you get your visa approved, you may exit the area into the baggage claim.

Here, you wait for your bags to arrive on to the conveyor belt.

Once you collected your bags, you go through a queue where you may be asked to press a button that randomizes whether your bags are screened.

Otherwise, you hand in your customs form and declare any goods you are bringing in.

Once you exited U.S. Customs, you can proceed back to the airline and re-check in your bags.

Then go back through security to make your connecting flight.

This process can take 1-1.5 hours depending on the port of entry, time of day, and how long the queues at visa, baggage claims, customs, check-in counter, security, and distance to walk between the terminals.

What is the difference between a layover and a connecting flight?

The two words are used interchangeably. A connecting flight is usually the name of the carrier, destination, and time of departure. A layover is generally about the time spent during the connection.

Do I have to re-check my luggage with connecting flights?

For entries into the United States, you will need to collect your bags at the port of entry regardless if your trip is in transit through the United States.

If you are traveling internationally, the carrier will usually check your bag to the final destination even if you are switching airlines within the same ticket.

Be sure to listen carefully to the ticketing agent if your bags are not checked all the way through. Sometimes, when the layover is too long or is the last arrival, your bags are not checked all the way through, and you need to claim your bag and re-check them in.

If you booked your itinerary on two different tickets, then you must pick up your bags and re-check them in on the connecting flight.

Do I need a boarding pass for a connecting flight?

You will always need a boarding pass to board a flight, regardless if they are connecting.

You may not always get the boarding pass for the connection, a seat assigned, or a gate printed on the boarding pass.

In those cases, upon arrival, find the closest monitor to find the gate of your connecting flight.

Then queue up in line to ask for a boarding pass.

If you don't have a seat assigned, they may call your name at the gate and print a new boarding pass, or you can queue up to get a seat assigned.

Can I skip my connecting flight?

Yes, but it comes with a caution. The risk if you have a round trip ticket, the agent may cancel your return ticket. Typically they do not because one could argue that you missed your flight and had to book another.

If you are booking on a one-way ticket, you may skip the connecting flight, but your bags may check-in through the final destination.

If you missed your flight, your bags would still make it to their final destination.

Some passengers prefer to earn points on their travels, so skipping connecting flights, you may not earn any points since you weren't physically on the connecting flight, and if you do this several times, they can terminate your loyalty program account.

Why would someone risk this? Airlines carry additional cargo on planes, and to optimize the profitability, they may use the aircraft with a layover to deliver commercial goods. In this case, the ticket price from point a to point b as a connection is cheaper than a direct.

This type of travel is known as hidden city ticketing and works well if you derisk by traveling without a carry on and without your loyalty account tied to your itinerary.

What happens if you miss the connecting flight due to customs and immigration clearance checks?

This depends. If customs agents pull you for additional screening and interviews after arriving late, the customs official will work with their supervisor to discuss with the airline to get you on the next flight.

If you had 2 hours and the extra screening cost you 30 mins, the airline may decide you had enough time to make the connecting flight and ask you to pay the difference in fare and waive the change fee.

What does an airline do if you don't board a connecting flight?

If you don't board the connecting flight, the airline may still check through your bags to the final destination. It's sporadic; they can intercept if you miss your connecting flight.

If there was no delay, you might be asked to pay the difference for the next to last minute flight change.

If there was a delay, they might try to make it right and accommodate you.