Booking a domestic flight on the heels of an international one...
May 29, 2010 2:30 AM   Subscribe

How long should I allow to collect baggage, clear customs, find the correct terminal, etc on (international to domestic) flights into and out of LAX?

Coming in from Shanghai, headed to BWI, am scheduled to arrive LAX at 14:15 on 6/6...the destinations are not really germane, but someone will ask.
I need to book an entirely different flight from LAX to many hours should I allow to do all the necessary stuff and board a domestic flight w/o having a nervous breakdown? Seems to me 3 hours should be sufficient but obviously their are many variables beyond my control.
posted by dawson to Travel & Transportation (6 answers total)
Recently I was in a similar situation at Newark. We had about 3 hours to play with and were glad that we did. Delays include: waiting for immigration (which will obviously take longer if you are not a US citizen - even if you have arranged all preliminary documentation required before flying), waiting to pick up your luggage, identify it and send it on its domestic way, getting from one part of the airport to another and then re-entering security. It is safe to assume the airport will be busy and it is wise to assume you will be tired.
posted by rongorongo at 2:50 AM on May 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Aside from a late flight or problems with baggage or customs, the most likely place for a slip-up is going to the wrong terminal. Due to code sharing, it's easy to make a mistake since LAX has nine terminals.
posted by acidic at 3:06 AM on May 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

You might want to find out your airline's record on flight delays, also. I know PIA had such a reputation for delays that travelers from Pakistan who had connections in NY routinely assumed that they would need to budget 8 hours for connection time. If you're booking on your own, missed connections can often be harder logistically.

Other factors: what you have in your luggage. And the mood of the customs officer. And honestly, whether you fit the "profile" that is liable to take longer through every step of airport procedure.

(No, I'm not bitter at all. :/ )

In my experience, 3 hours can be quite tight. (And I am a US citizen, and not a male of the suspicious age.)
posted by bardophile at 3:17 AM on May 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Definitely minimum 3 hours to clear through everything. The fastest I've ever done it was in 1:45 but it was late at night so the lines were more empty and I ran ran ran my hardest the entire way. They actually even rebooked me automatically, assuming I would miss it. Not sure why they let me buy it if they realized that, but somehow I made it.
posted by msbutah at 9:05 AM on May 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It depends on several factors. First, if you are flying an airline known for on-time arrival (Singapore Airlines?) that will help. Flying west to east across the Pacific usually means staying pretty close to schedule. I have been through Customs at LAX numerous times and the wait times vary based upon how many flights are arriving at the same time, and what the citizenship complement of the passengers is. JAL and United have flights from Japan that arrive at about that time, so there could be a lot of people clearing customs. If you are a U.S. citizen and there are mostly non-citizens on your flight, you could zip right through over there on the right. Not having a lot of luggage helps too. I usually travel with just a carry-on and have never been stopped for the full treatment.

Lastly, you need to allow at least an hour to go back through TSA at LAX because you (most likely) will have to go out to the street, get the shuttle and re-enter the terminal for your connecting flight.

All-in-all, I would allow 3 1/2 to 4 hours from the scheduled arrival time to the stated departure time.
posted by Old Geezer at 5:24 PM on May 29, 2010

Response by poster: thanks, good advice from all. I arrive on a Cathy Pacific flight. As it happens, the price difference between departing LAX at night rather than afternoon was substantial, so I booked a 9pm flight, allowing what should be plenty of time.
posted by dawson at 11:36 PM on May 29, 2010

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