3hr layover at EWR--enough to time to transfer baggage & re-check in?
January 3, 2014 12:53 PM   Subscribe

Is a 3 hour layover at the Newark (EWR) airport enough time for me to land (domestic Southwest flight), grab my checked baggage, and recheck in for the second part of my trip on United (international flight)?

Due to last minute booking, the first leg of my business trip will be a domestic Southwest flight arriving in Newark at 3pm. I then will have to manually pick up my checked baggage (Southwest does not do "interline" transfers), and check in at United for an international flight leaving at 5:55pm.

A 3 hour layover seems reasonable enough to get this done, but I've never traveled through EWR and don't know how slow their baggage claim or security lines are, and it seems like weather up north is a bit rough right now and might cause flight delays. Any guidance would be very much appreciated, thanks!
posted by lychee to Travel & Transportation around Newark, NJ (18 answers total)
The only hitch I can see in this is that most international flights require check in three hours before take off. If your first flight is delayed, this may cause problems - double check with United about their international flight policies.
posted by sonika at 12:56 PM on January 3, 2014

I'd personally opt for another hour or two if possible. Flights are *easily* delayed for an hour or two at this time of year, and an hour on the ground will be cutting it close. And you usually have to check in for international flights 2 hours ahead of time, so a one hour delay could be dangerous. You might be OK but I personally wouldn't risk it if possible.

Can you get an earlier Southwest flight?
posted by barnone at 12:58 PM on January 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It is usually recommended to check in for an international flight 2 h–3 h in advance. Usually less is required. United only requires 45 min at EWR (United's "Check-in and airport processing times").

United only has a few flights out of Terminal A (the one shared with Southwest) so it is likely you will need to transit to Terminal C as well.

I would do whatever I could to avoid checking a bag. I wouldn't want to do this without interline protection. I think you could probably do it if your flight were delayed by up to an hour, but it'd be stressful. Longer delays might mean missing your flight or leaving your checked bag in Newark. I bet lots of flights will be delayed by that much too.

Since the airlines are expecting substantial delays for the next few days, United will let you let you change your plans without charge (United's "Important notices," Exception policies). I would try to get a longer buffer.
posted by grouse at 1:13 PM on January 3, 2014

United's page gives the following "processing times" for Newark:
6:30 a.m. – 9:30 a.m.: 1 1/2 hours
11 a.m. – 2 p.m.: 1 1/2 hours
3:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.: 1 1/2 hours
Note: Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and holidays require 2 to 2 1/2 hours and all international departures require 2 1/2 to 3 hours. An additional half hour is required on Monday mornings.
posted by soelo at 1:14 PM on January 3, 2014

grouse's reference to 45 minutes only applies to domestic flights
posted by soelo at 1:16 PM on January 3, 2014

most international flights require check in three hours before take off

Three hours is more 'request' than 'require'. The minimum that United permits for international check-in from Newark is an hour (I think -- the wording isn't totally clear) though the estimated processing time makes that somewhat moot.

Weather's iffy, and there are going to be lots of people rebooking or being told that their connections aren't happening, which is likely to make things busy at the desks ground-side. EWR isn't the worst airport to change terminals thanks to the AirTrain, but I personally wouldn't want to try that tight a connection with checked bags, because you're at the mercy of the carousel.
posted by holgate at 1:19 PM on January 3, 2014

Do you need a visa for where you're going, or is your passport sufficient?

If you don't have any visa paperwork for United to deal with, then a 3 hour check-in lead time would be plenty; 1--1.5 hours would be sufficient.

If you're going to first claim baggage, then change terminals, then line up at a counter, then check in for an international flight, and re-check your bags, that's hairy. In fact, if you do, be prepared for your checked bag to take an extra day to arrive.

If there's the slightest weather issue, then you're getting into very hairy territory. I would not be happy doing this - and I certainly wouldn't check a bag.
posted by RedOrGreen at 1:21 PM on January 3, 2014

It should be doable, if weather doesn't delay you more than an hour or so on the first leg. Almost exactly a year ago I did the same thing in half the time at a much busier and larger airport (domestic flight landed at 4:20, had a 5:45 international flight at a different terminal - this was at JFK) and I made it somehow, although I wouldn't say it was fun. I've only been through EWR a couple of times but it's always been uncrowded and quick.
posted by theodolite at 1:26 PM on January 3, 2014

Response by poster: Ok it looks like some repacking is in order; I think I'll be able to manage a carry-on plus a large bag as my personal item. With that--no checked baggage--will this be more doable? (Flight changes aren't an option at the moment, everything is sold out.)
posted by lychee at 1:28 PM on January 3, 2014

My mistake, it is in fact an hour required for an international flight.

You will save a lot of time by not checking your bag—both the wait for the bag itself and an extra trip through security. It sounds like you are doing everything you can to go at this time. I would probably go for it myself. Try to check-in online for your United flight if possible. Your only other options are to reschedule or cancel your trip.
posted by grouse at 1:47 PM on January 3, 2014

Also, try to check-in and then board your Southwest flight early so that you can sit near the front and not have to worry about your bag being checked.
posted by grouse at 1:48 PM on January 3, 2014

Do the carry-on only and pay extra (I think it's $40?) for Southwest's early boarding option. Sit right at the very front so you can exit as quickly as possible.
posted by BlahLaLa at 1:54 PM on January 3, 2014

United will let you do online check-in for an international flight 24 hours before departure. I'd at least do that so you have the boarding pass in-hand.

Although I'm not sure what would happen if she missed the boarding. Anyone know?
posted by JoeZydeco at 2:12 PM on January 3, 2014

Best answer: No checked bags and a boarding pass in hand makes it somewhat more doable: however, the AirTrain stations are groundside, and the United airside transfer shuttle departs from a different segment of Terminal A from the one that Southwest uses. Each segment has its own security checkpoint, so you won't be able to use it.

This probably means that you'll need to leave Terminal A through the security checkpoint, take the AirTrain to Terminal C, and go back through gate security there. Not as clean as staying airside all the way, but better than having to re-claim and re-check a bag.
posted by holgate at 4:08 PM on January 3, 2014

It should be do-able, especially since you don't have a checked bag to contend with now. Be aware that a United int'l flight is probably going to depart from the very farthest end of Terminal C, so wear comfy shoes in case you have to hotfoot it down there!

If you do miss your connection, don't sweat it too much - I miss my connection about half the time when flying overseas*, and United has ALWAYS gotten me on a reasonable alternative flight within just a couple hours.

* for some reason, the flight from Richmond to Newark is almost always delayed, hence the missed conns :)
posted by PlantGoddess at 5:17 AM on January 4, 2014

Response by poster: Made it--with 30mins to spare! (Well, I made it to the int'l gate and am currently waiting for the flight to board.

Things that helped: A-list on SW, not checking a bag, and hot-footing it across EWR to United check-in & then across Terminal C.

Things that slowed me down: the domestic flight was delayed by 30mins b/c the pilot overslept; the United check-in desks in EWR were an utter mess; and the premier line through security was slower than the economy.

Thanks all, hopefully it'll be smooth sailing from here on.
posted by lychee at 1:53 PM on January 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

Glad it worked. Were you not able to check in for United online?
posted by grouse at 2:00 PM on January 4, 2014

Response by poster: Grouse, I tried to check in online but got a message stating I would have to check in with United in person--not sure why, but there were no issues at the counter, beyond the surly agents and the agonizingly slow lines.
posted by lychee at 1:26 AM on January 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

« Older Kiss Out Of Nowhere, Now I'm Confused   |   Why Are Electronic Magazines More Expensive Than... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.