Is an hour enough for US Customs at the port of entry before a connecting flight?
September 11, 2007 4:26 AM   Subscribe

If US Customs makes you miss a connecting flight, does the airline take responsibility and get you on another flight, or are you out of luck for not scheduling a longer connection time?

An hour is usually plenty for a connecting flight, I find, but what if someone has a visa to enter the US? My friend has to book a connecting flight before heading off to Hawaii, and although I have seen some people commenting that you should leave at least three hours, my friend is very organized with solid English skills and so on, and should be no trouble. On the other hand, I hear US Customs can be rather nasty these days. The cheap flights are giving us just one hour to make the connection. If the airline bounces him to a later flight, that won't be a big problem for us, but if we had to book and pay another flight from the mainland to Hawaii, of course that would be a grim start to the vacation.
posted by Listener to Travel & Transportation (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
nope, it's your problem. i had that happen when traveling between mexico and the u.s. and had to make the new arrangements myself.

the problem i've found isn't so much organization or nastiness, just volume. there simply aren't enough customs officers, so the lines are long.
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:30 AM on September 11, 2007

It might make a difference if the first incoming flight is from outside the US, as you may have to clear immigration first. If this is the case, I would say an hour is nowhere near enough - the most recent time I did this, the queue alone was well over an hour (at JFK if that helps).

Also - don't forget that you will probably have to go through security again before the 2nd flight.
posted by jontyjago at 4:48 AM on September 11, 2007

I've had a flight wait for a large number of passengers from another flight that they knew were tied up in customs, but I wager that is a rare event.

I spent three hours in customs in LAX one time. No special problems, that's just how long it took.
posted by daveleck at 5:00 AM on September 11, 2007

I had a 90 minute gap between landing at Atlanta and catching a connecting flight. I made it with minutes to spare, after being held in interrogation at customs :)

A lot of it is down to the airport and the baggage. If it's a smaller airport where transfers are very quick and you only have carry-on, then fine. If you have to collect bags then re-check them (as I would have if I'd checked any in) then you're going to lose tons of time and an extra hour would be useful.
posted by wackybrit at 5:01 AM on September 11, 2007

The last time I did this the airline scheduled a 3 hour layover (in LAX) and we made it with about thirty minutes to spare after getting our bags, customs, etc.
posted by wangarific at 5:29 AM on September 11, 2007

An hour for an international flight is usually enough but you never know. Sometimes it's worth a few extra dollars for the peace of mind to get flight insurance.
posted by JJ86 at 5:40 AM on September 11, 2007

It's their fault if you miss the flight because they scheduled you for an hour-long connection.

Continental scheduled me for a 70-minute connection, then shaved it down to 60 minutes a couple of weeks before I left. I missed the flight by about five minutes. They put me on the next one. This was about three years ago.
posted by oaf at 5:44 AM on September 11, 2007

Maybe policies have changed, but when this happened to me a few years ago, they just put me on the next flight. It was just a day where everything in customs was going slowly -- baggage took forever to arrive, the lines were long, etc -- so my comfortable 2.5 hour layover turned out to be about an hour too short. My flights were all on one ticket, and on the same airline, which might make a difference. I'd guess that a 1 hour layover is too short for comfort, especially if you are not a US citizen, but that may really depend on the situation at the airport that day.
posted by Forktine at 6:35 AM on September 11, 2007

Thanks for the amazingly fast responses. Looks like it's worth $100 extra to schedule a different flight and save my friend from the almost inevitable bounce at LAX. He'd have to go from Terminal B over to Terminal 5, not far I guess but with everything else the 4 hour break seems much more reasonable for planning. Thanks, everyone.
posted by Listener at 6:49 AM on September 11, 2007

You're really not ever SOL if you miss a flight. You just don't really get to pick your replacement flight/seats if you don't want to pay. If the next flight has seats left, you'll be on it. You usually get priority for standby seats if there's not a lot of empty seats. This can get real complicated if there's more than, say, two of you traveling together, especially if you can't split up and take seats as they come, but you'll get out eventually. Business travelers will tell you: we miss flights all the time, we show up six hours early wanting the next flight, we change itineraries at the last minute, and most of the time we still get where we're going more or less when we intended to.

Airlines may make you sit on the tarmac for half a day, send you in a forced march from gate to gate trying to get to a plane that works and a crew with enough hours to fly, lose your luggage, starve you, dehydrate you, or make you watch bad movies, but they almost never make you live out the rest of your life in the airport.

I had a tight connection and a late arrival at LAX one time, and there was staff right on the other side of Immigration rebooking us as we came out. Most of the time they know what's up, and you're very likely not the only person with a connecting flight coming off that plane and through Immigration.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:55 AM on September 11, 2007

If the ticket for both segments is on the same airline, they will rebook you on their next flight. If the next flight is not until the next day, I'm not certain that they are obligated to buy you a hotel.
posted by Lame_username at 7:37 AM on September 11, 2007

You're really not ever SOL if you miss a flight.
Just a warning: this isn't true in Europe. You miss a budget flight on some carriers, and you're going to be paying at least £50 to shift. Business tickets are generally more flexible; economy ones aren't.
posted by bonaldi at 7:46 AM on September 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

Just a note that if you buy your tickets on some place like Orbitz and they use multiple carriers for connecting flights, the airline will typically not be responsible if you miss the flight for any reason. They could typically care less if your flight on a different airline was delayed. Of course it is a different case if you buy tickets through an airline and have connecting flights with that airline.
posted by JJ86 at 8:08 AM on September 11, 2007

One thing also to keep in mind is that, if your airline has a representative in the post-immigration/pre-security DMZ and you are in danger of missing your flight, most airports have a priority/special passenger/expedite sticker which they can put on your boarding pass.
This lets you skip to the front of the security line (usually in the handicapped or crew line).
posted by madajb at 8:44 AM on September 11, 2007

If the ticket for both segments is on the same airline, they will rebook you on their next flight.

This holds true in my experience.
posted by kmennie at 9:18 AM on September 11, 2007

Do you mean Customs? Or Immigration (the passport and fingerprints guys for us non Americans visiting)
posted by A189Nut at 12:45 PM on September 11, 2007

If your friend is prepared to sacrifice pride and good manners for the budget airfare schedule, he can significantly reduce the time spend going through immigrations by running the distance between plane and immigrations queue, thus overtaking and putting more fellow passengers behind him in the queue instead of in front.

Even so, it may not be enough.

Also remember that LAX is BIG, and if the terminals are far apart (such as a codeshare flight), it can take a big chunk of an hour just getting from arrivals to the connecting departure lounge.
posted by -harlequin- at 9:57 PM on September 11, 2007

We still haven't booked, and the original reservation has port of entry in Denver. We called them, and they said 30-45 minutes for Customs and security and baggage, and that 1.5 hours would be plenty for everything for time to the connecting flight.

Yes, A189Nut, I mean Customs, Immigration, the whole bit, whatever time they need to check my friend out. When I talked to Denver, I was pretty clear about his nationality, flight origin and the need to make sure there was enough time for everything. Seems Denver doesn't need 3 hours like LAX.

The ticket is on two airlines, UA and Lufthansa, but both booked through LOT, in Poland, so for example the first flight is a Lufthansa flight, but operated by LOT, et cetera.
posted by Listener at 1:17 AM on September 12, 2007

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