Flying this Summer? How much connection time is enough?

Updated July 13. I learned that FlightAware has a bug that causes final approach or touchdown times to be recorded as gate arrival times. So, I revised my information using FlightStats.com, which uses gate arrival times. Changes are highlighted in coloured font.

As the school year ends here in Manitoba, many people are preparing to fly away on summer vacations across the country and around the world. While Winnipeg is linked by non-stop flights to all major Canadian cities between Vancouver and Montreal, and by regional jets to Minneapolis-St. Paul, Denver and Chicago, Winnipeggers have to catch a connecting flight to get almost anywhere else.

While most people choose their flights based on price and travel time, it’s important to remember that it won’t be the low fare or the speed with which you got to your destination that you’ll remember in the long run — it will be the fun (or miserable) time you had on your vacation.

A missed connection can push the needle strongly in the “miserable” direction — especially during the busy summer season, when flights might be booked solid for several days to come.

How much connection time is enough?

The airlines themselves are pulled in two opposite directions on this. It’s in their interest to get passengers, bags and planes to their destinations as timely as possible, but it’s also in their interest to have their flight come up at the top when a passenger sorts options by travel time on a third-party site like Expedia or TripAdvisor.

The result is a time that is rushed, but reasonable, provided that the inbound flight arrives on time.

Flights don’t always run on time, though. I went on FlightStats.com and picked out 179 random flights operated system-wide between July 5 and July 13 by Air Canada, WestJet, United and Delta and their regional partners.

WestJet had the most realistic schedule of all, with the 46 WestJet-branded flights arriving, on average, just three minutes later than scheduled.

Delta’s 40 flights were also fairly timely, with the average flight arriving four minutes behind schedule.

The Star Alliance was a little more tardy, with the 56 Air Canada-branded flights arriving, on average, 14 minutes behind schedule; and the 37 United-branded flights arriving, on average, 21 minutes late.*

All together, all but the worst 15 percent of the 179 flights examined arrived at their destinations within 31 minutes of their scheduled time, and all but the worst five percent arrived within 63 minutes of scheduled arrival time.

Therefore, consider the following prudent connection times if you’re traveling by air this summer:

Connection Type

Typical Airline Minimum Connection Times

Recommended Connection Time if a missed connection would be a . . .

 

Pain in the Arse

Total Catastrophe

Domestic

(e.g., Winnipeg-Halifax via Toronto and vice versa)

30-45 mins.

75-90 mins.

90 mins. to two hours

Winnipeg to the U.S. via Canada

(e.g., Winnipeg-Los Angeles via Calgary)

50-70 mins.

More than 90 mins.

Two hours or more

U.S. to Winnipeg via Canada

(e.g., Seattle-Vancouver-Winnipeg)

60-70 mins.

1.75 hours or more

More than two hours

Winnipeg to the U.S. via the U.S.

U.S. to Winnipeg via the U.S. 

(e.g., Winnipeg-New York and back, via Minneapolis) 

30-45 mins.

75-90 mins.

90 mins. to two hours

Winnipeg to International via Canada or the U.S.

(e.g., Winnipeg-Paris via either Montreal or Chicago)

40-75 mins.

2 hours or more

2.5 hours or more

International to Winnipeg via Canada or the U.S.

(e.g., London-Winnipeg via Toronto)

60-90 mins.

2 hours or more
(2.5 hours via Chicago)

2.5 hours or more
(3 hours via Chicago)

Note that these minimums only apply if you arrive at the connection airport with a boarding pass for your next flight, which shouldn’t be a problem if you booked all your flights at the same time.

Some people book two separate legs, however, such as Winnipeg to a European gateway city on a standard airline, and then from the gateway city to the final destination on a low-cost airline. Since neither airline will help you if there’s a missed connection, add at least a couple of hours to the recommended times above.

 

* – The median, or typical, delays were a little more flattering, though it should be cautioned that the sample of flights per airline was rather small. Delta was the most conservative scheduler, with the typical flight arriving nine minutes early. The typical United flight arrived one minute early, while the typical WestJet flight arrived two minutes late and the typical Air Canada flight arrived six minutes late. 

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About theviewfromseven
A lone wolf and a bit of a contrarian who sometimes has something to share.

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