What is a Minimum Connection Time? And What’s a Legal Connection?

This question is prompted by Anthony M..

There’s noting illegal about a ‘legal’ connection.

A legal connection is a term of art that really means a permissible connection.

Each airport has a set amount of connecting time that’s considered necessary to transfer from one flight to another. That time varies based on:

  • Whether you are connecting domestic-to-domestic, domestic-to-international, international-to-international, or international-to-domestic. That’s because you may or may not have to go through immigration formalities.
  • Whether there’s a change of terminals involved. That may be baked into ‘domestic-to-international’ (where domestic and international flights are in separate terminals) or by exception (because certain airlines mean you’re flying in and out of different terminals.
  • The airline and flight you’re connecting to and from. Again, some connections are more arduous than others.

Assuming your flights are on time these connections have been measured out so that under normal circumstances and for most people it should be possible to make it from one flight to another in a standard amount of time.

That’s considered the minimum connection time.

A legal connection is one that gives you at least this minimum connection time between flights.

An airline generally will not sell you a ticket that does not have at least this much time between flights. An online travel agency won’t either. Their systems are updated (usually correctly) to account for the airport, terminal transfer, and airlines that may be involved in your connection.

If you absolutely much ‘force’ a connection that is less than this minimum connecting time, you usually have to do it by buying separate tickets. You can buy whatever you wish separately in most cases, but if you circumvent minimum connecting time and do not make your connection you’re generally on your own without the airline being obligated to help (beyond whatever its standard standby or same-day confirmed policies are for putting you on another flight after you miss yours).

Even if you’re flying the same airline for both segments, and the airline is at fault for you missing the connection, two tickets that do not satisfy minimum connection time guidelines mean the problem is yours and not the airline’s.

There’s no easy way to look up minimum connection times for free.

  • You can Google it for a given airport, or given airline. Many airports show minimum connection times on their websites, though this isn’t uniform. Many airlines put standard or average connecting times on theirs, and may also put the actual times for their hubs, on their website.
  • Pay service Expertflyer.com shos them.
  • So does pay software KVS Tool

If you face a schedule change and your itinerary no longer meets minimum connection times, an airline is going to be obliged to change your flights or refund your tickets.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Delta is famous for their 30 minute connection coming in from TVC connecting in DTW. The flight usually lands at the far gate in Terminal C which means a dash through the tunnel to Terminal A (no carts). A couple of weeks ago, I did the dash, arrived at the gate and was informed my ticket was given away because I wasn’t at the gate 15 minutes before departure time. Fortunately, I know this happens frequently and don’t book close connections unless I know there are other options.

  2. How can they give away your seat when they see that you are on a tight connection that they publish themselves? It seems they’d be waiting for you and call you by name as you approach as often happens with my tight connections on AA in DFW.

    Since you mention it, what is the standard major carriers’ policy on if you miss your originating flight due to traffic or other? I’ve never had this happen but had heard they will try to accommodate you even though it may be several standbys.

  3. Some of the connection times are a little ridiculous if you have Global Entry. LAX Intl to domestic is 2 hours. I couldn’t get anyone to book a 90 min connection from a Air France to a domestic AA flight (the last flight of the night) so I booked it as separate tickets and made it with about 30 min to spare. Better than spending a night at LAX

  4. Gary, don’t the Oneworld alliance airlines though have a policy in place that even on separate tickets they will treat it as a singular ticket?

  5. “If you face a schedule change and your itinerary no longer meets minimum connection times, an airline is going to be obliged to change your flights or refund your tickets.”

    Have you ever seen a workaround to this issue? I’m currently in a pickle as the updated schedule at the end of my honeymoon has created a MCT issue at LAX on a Intl to Domestic layover. I missed the cutoff by 5 minutes and now am forced to be in a situation of back to back red eyes with a 11hr layover!

    The itinerary is NAN-LAX-DCA and there should be no issue getting there in under 2hrs as we have global entry, the intl flight appears to be always slightly a head of time, and the intl terminal is right next to american airlines terminal at LAX. Such a pain in the you know what! I’ve requested for AA to book me on a separate ticket on the second flight so it gets past the MCT in the system but they have not honored this request. Let me know if you have any suggestions.

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