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Q&A: What is Minimum Connection Time?

Departure Flight

Dear Essential Travel

Next month I'll be flying from Newcastle to Abu Dhabi via London Heathrow. I don’t have much time between landing and boarding again - just 90 minutes. I’m worried about missing my connecting flight because I land at Terminal 1 and depart from Terminal 5 (I had a look at the Heathrow Airport maps online and these two terminals look pretty far apart), and I always thought you had to be at the airport at least two hours before an international flight. Is there a chance that I won’t make the flight? What happens if I don’t get to the boarding gate in time?

Craig Brett, Newcastle

Our Answer

Hi Craig,

Thanks for asking this question, I’m actually surprised that we haven’t covered it before. When it comes to connecting flights, the things to consider are Minimum Connection Time and whether you’ve booked a through-ticket or need to pick up luggage before the next leg of your journey. It’s not a complicated issue, but too often passengers are caught out at the airport because they weren’t aware of the minimum connection time and didn’t give enough consideration to the time between connecting flights.

What is Minimum Connection Time?

Simply put, minimum connection time (MCT) is the time allowed for a passenger to change from one aircraft to another on a connecting flight. It’s decided by the International Air Transport Association and most airports take no responsibility for the accuracy of this information. It’s only applicable for people who have booked a connecting flight and have checked their luggage all the way through to their final destination. And let me just point out the word “allowed” in the definition above. It’s not necessarily the time it’ll take you to disembark, collect your luggage, make a quick bathroom stop, pass through security and get to the boarding gate - it’s the shortest time needed to connect to your second flight... see where the problem can come in?

Connecting FlightConnecting Flights

How does MCT affect passengers?

Remember I said that many airports don’t take responsibility for the MCT info, well that also means that they’re not accountable for any disruption to your journey if you don’t make your connecting flight. The onus falls on you to ensure that you have sufficient time to board your next flight with ease.

With this is mind, if you book your ticket through a travel agent, they should specify the MCT of the connecting airport and confirm that you have more than the required time. In the event that your travel agent booked your connection in under the MCT and didn’t make you aware of this at the time of booking, they can be held liable for compensation. However, passengers can sometimes be lured into shorter layovers to save travel time. If your booking agent is clear about the MCT and you opt for a shorter connecting time, the onus is entirely on you. And if you’re booking your tickets online, be sure to check the the MCT of the connecting airport to ensure that your time is more than sufficient - the risk just isn’t worth it.

Connecting at London Heathrow

Craig, to answer your question specifically, the MCT for a domestic flight landing at Heathrow’s Terminal 1 and departing for an international flight at Terminal 5, is 90 minutes. If you have your bags checked all the way through to Abu Dhabi (a prerequisite), you should have no problem making it to your connecting flight in time. From Terminal 1, you can take the free Heathrow Express to Terminal 5, which takes on average about 20 min (including the waiting time). I’d suggest holding off on any stops until you’ve cleared security on the other side and can relax before boarding.

Boarding PassBoarding Pass in hand

If your flight is delayed, “tell a member of staff as soon as you land - they'll do whatever they can to help you get to your connecting flight in time, including telling you the quickest way to the gate”. If you don’t get to the boarding gate in time because of a flight delay, speak to a representative of your airline - their desk will usually be near Security, at your departure terminal - they will be able to tell you what to do. For more information about connection flights at London Heathrow, go to www.heathrowairport.com/heathrow-airport-guide/travel-between-terminals#table.

Safe travels!

Last Updated: April 2013

Caitlin Murphy

Caitlin Murphy

Having grown up in a small city at the bottom of Africa, Caitlin couldn't wait to experience more of the world's diversity. She spent the last few years living in the Emirates and Korea and sought out colour and charisma in countries such as India, Sri Lanka and the Philippines. She currently lives in Cape Town, taking every opportunity to travel locally and explore the exuberance of South Africa.