For many international trips, making a connection in a hub city is necessary to reach an international destination. As each airport has a different layout, baggage track, and customs/immigration protocol, the recommended connecting times can vary considerably. Moreover, the preferences for each individual traveler also varies. Some prefer shorter connecting times - even with the additional risk of missing a flight - for an overall shorter trip. Others prefer longer connections for added security and peace of mind. To establish a minimum standard, the airlines indicate a “legal connection time” for each airport.
A ‘legal connection’ is an industry term that means a permissible connection, or what the airline considers is the minimum connecting time required to change gates, terminals, or head through customs and immigration. An airline will generally not sell you a ticket that does not meet this minimum requirement.
If you are unable to make a legal connection due to circumstances beyond your control such as a mechanical issue, weather delay, or last minute flight change, the airline is obligated to get you on the next available flight without additional charge. This does not always mean you will fly out the same day as originally scheduled, if alternative later departures are fully booked, but it does mean the airline will try and “protect you” on the next available flight.
If you absolutely must ‘force’ a connection that is less than the legal connecting time, you do so at your own risk. This usually occurs when you must buy separate tickets, such as a domestic flight to a gateway city and a separate international flight from there. While this may save money in the short run, circumventing the minimum times means that neither airline is obligated to help you if you misconnect. You would need to purchase a new flight ticket at your own expense, as well as cover any hotels or other expenses you might incur. This can be very expensive and is generally not recommended.
Flight availability and pricing is primarily tied to the number of seats available on an aircraft at any given time. Frequently, options that have overly short connections are less desirable and thus have more seats available on the plane. This means there can be a considerable discount in booking a schedule with short connecting times. While a short connection option can seem like a good deal initially, missing flights (especially at the start of a tour) can mean additional hotel nights, rebooked international flights, and the high cost of lost days of your vacation!
Exito agents are trained to recommend longer connections, when available, and highlight short connection windows when lower pricing becomes a factor. That being said, we urge you to err on the side of caution with your purchase.
As your airfare advocate, we recommend booking the longest reasonable connections possible. At a bare minimum, we recommend booking AT LEAST one hour connections through domestic US airports and AT LEAST two hours for customs and immigration. Like the legal recommendations made by the airline, however, these shorter windows can still be risky in the event of a delay, so we recommend booking longer if available! Two hour connections through domestic airports and 3 hours for customs and immigration are highly recommended, even if it means a higher priced ticket.
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