How to avoid customs madness?
February 20, 2010 4:56 PM   Subscribe

Help me make a non-disastrous choice on airline tickets to Portugal in relation to customs/connecting flights.

My wife and I would like to fly to Lisbon on May 22nd and return on the 29th. The cheapest flights seem to be either through Aerlingus connecting in Dublin or SAT connecting in the Azores.

I was all set to buy tickets until my wife reminded me of customs. These flights have connections of about 1 hour to 1:30 in either location. On the way back from Ireland a few years ago, we spent quite a bit of time in Shannon Airport doing the US customs there instead of in Boston. This wasn't an issue at the time since it was a direct flight and we arrived plenty early.

I guess my question is, should I expect to budget time in on the way back for this process either way, or will I end up going through customs in Boston if I fly through the Azores? (or in Lisbon) I would really prefer not to do anything customs related at the connecting airport since the layovers are not very long.

I guess my basic question is: where is the time-consuming customs stuff done on these routes and where should I expect to budget time for it?

Sorry if this seems like a weird noob question; I don't travel internationally that much.
posted by selfnoise to Travel & Transportation (5 answers total)
You might phone the airlines to confirm, but generally in these cases you do not do customs in the layover country, because you will be confined to a section of the airport specifically for passengers in transit, with no access to your checked luggage.

In some airports, this is nothing more than a dull waiting area with no amenities. In others, this is an enjoyable area in which to pass your time, with restaurants and shops.
posted by BlahLaLa at 5:29 PM on February 20, 2010

You should only have to go through customs when you enter a port. What this means is you will only go though customs when you land the first time in the country of your final destination.

There is a new international open skies policy that simplifies air travel and gets rid of shenanigans like you encountered at the Shannon airport.

However, since agreements can change, the only way to actually be sure is to ask the booking airline what the baggage and customs policies will be on your specific itinerary.
posted by Osmanthus at 5:34 PM on February 20, 2010

Unless you are cobbling together multiple flights yourself, airlines won't sell you tickets without what they think is a reasonable layover time at that airport including any customs time. FWIW I flew to Germany via Canada last year and did have to do Canadian customs both there and back. My layover times were in the 1-2 hour range. I made all my flights (but sort of hate Canada now).

You could also hop over to the Flyertalk boards and ask about the particular airport/airline you are considering. Those people know how basically every flight ever works.
posted by grapesaresour at 5:51 PM on February 20, 2010

The Azores are part of Portugal, and therefore the Schengen zone. Ireland is not part of the Schengen zone. Land in the Azores and go through customs/immigration once. Ireland? Twice.

Think about it this way: if there was a 1000-mile long bridge connecting the Azores and Lisbon, you could just drive over it without stopping. A bridge from Ireland to Portugal? You'd have to stop. A flight from one Schengen zone area to another is like a domestic flight in the US. This is what your flight from the Azores to Lisbon would be like.

In Dublin, you'd have to go through customs and immigration to check in for your next flight to Lisbon. Aer Lingus lists nothing about "airside" transit on their website, and neither does Dublin Airport - there's nothing to click for transit passengers like yourself. A phone call to Aer Lingus would clear this up, but it doesn't look like it's possible for you to just go from your arrival gate in Dublin to your departure gate to Lisbon without going through some sort of customs/immigration checkpoint.

Basically: it sounds like for what you want, it's better to fly via the Azores. You'd probably have a better chance of being booked on a relatively convenient flight to Lisbon if you miss your connection, too.
posted by mdonley at 2:22 AM on February 21, 2010

Thanks everyone for trying to answer my somewhat incoherent question! I think mdonley is right. When I looked at the options again, flying through the Azores requires significantly less total air time and the plane also doesn't change, so it really seems like the better option. I also can't imagine that PDL is that big in case I do have to do any gate changing, and from looking at Wikipedia it appears that the Irish airports are the only ones in Europe that have the "US customs in another country" thing you have to go through.

Bought tickets, looking forward to it!
posted by selfnoise at 6:38 AM on February 21, 2010

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