Minimum Connection Time (MCT) and Your Passenger Rights (including Flight Compensation)

Every airport has a Minimum Connection Time (MCT). When you miss your connecting flight, it affects your right to compensation. Learn about it now!

Navigating the bustling pathways of an international airport like New York's JFK or London Heathrow requires understanding one crucial term: Minimum Connection Time (MCT). This article provides air travelers with an insight into MCT, why it matters, and how it relates to compensation rights.

Did you know that the airline is liable to pay you up to 600€ when your flight is delayed or canceled?

What is the Minimum Connection Time (MCT)?

As air travel has evolved, so have the systems ensuring passengers make their connecting flights. The term "minimum connection time" refers to the smallest amount of time an airline believes a passenger needs to safely and comfortably transfer between an arriving flight and a departing one.

How are the minimum connection times decided?

Minimum connection times, commonly abbreviated as MCT, are intricately crafted by airport authorities and airlines in collaboration. This determination factors in numerous variables, from the airport's specific layout to the practices of individual airlines, such as American Airlines or Delta.

For example, at sprawling international hubs like LAX in Los Angeles or DFW in Dallas, the sheer size and complexity of concourses and terminals necessitate a longer MCT.

In addition to physical layout, the process and duration of security checks, TSA procedures, and any potential passport control for international connections play crucial roles. If you're traveling from a domestic flight in Phoenix to an international connection bound for Asia, or from an inbound flight from Boston transitioning to a European departure at JFK, these considerations are critical. Notably, even factors like frequent schedule changes, historical flight delays, and the habits of flight attendants (like the time taken to prepare an arriving flight for its next journey) can influence the final MCT determination.

It's a meticulous balance to ensure that passengers, even those with just a short connection, have enough time to reach their next flight without undue stress. However, it's always a good practice for travelers to be aware of the MCTs, especially when booking flights on different airlines, as they might have separate standards and MCTs.

Are there exceptions to the airport minimum connection time?

Absolutely, there are instances where the standard minimum connection time (MCT) might not apply. In larger airports, such as London Heathrow or Tokyo's bustling international hub, the connection times can be affected by the airport's specific infrastructure. For instance, transferring between different concourses or even terminals can sometimes require additional time, especially if a passenger needs to go through security checks again or handle passport control for international flights.

Travelers flying in business class or holding certain credit card benefits might also have access to expedited processes, allowing them to navigate faster through certain checkpoints. Furthermore, individual circumstances, like passengers with reduced mobility or those traveling with children, can impact the practical layover time needed. It's why, despite the MCT guidelines, it's often recommended to leave plenty of time, particularly in unfamiliar airports or when expecting tight connections.

Finally, when travel disruptions like flight cancellations or unexpected schedule changes occur, airlines, such as United or Air Canada, might offer exceptions to their MCT rules, aiming to rebook passengers on the next available flight to ensure they reach their final destination. This underscores the importance of always verifying MCTs and potential exceptions, especially when dealing with separate tickets or a mix of domestic and international connections.

Why Do Minimum Connection Times Matter to Air Passengers?

The Pitfalls of Not Understanding MCT

For those venturing on international flights or even a domestic flight within larger countries like the USA or Canada, understanding MCT is vital.

Risks of Booking Flights Too Close to MCT

Booking a tight connection can be risky. Picture a 30-minute layover in a sprawling airport like Paris. Without enough time, you might miss your next flight, leading to potential rebooking issues or a longer layover time.

When booking too close to the MCT, even a small delay can put your flight connection at risk by leaving you less than the minimum amount of time needed to reach the departure gate.

How MCT misunderstandings could cost you

Not only could you miss a connecting flight, but you might also face challenges in securing a refund or compensation. While some credit cards offer flight interruption benefits, it's not a rule of thumb.

And as you’ll see below, you’re not always entitled to compensation when you miss your connection.

What to do if I bought a single ticket with a transfer time below the MCT?

Airlines are usually responsible for ensuring their passengers have sufficient layover time. The same goes for an online travel agency (OTAs)–their systems shouldn’t allow it.

If they schedule a layover that doesn't meet the MCT, they might rebook you on the next available flight, often without extra cost.

What are airline specific connection times?

While Phoenix might have an MCT for international to domestic connections of X minutes, airlines like Delta might adjust this based on their own operations and experiences.

How does the Minimum Connecting Time work when I buy two separate tickets?

If you're flying with different airlines, say United for your inbound flight and Delta for your outbound, the MCT responsibility might blur. In fact, the concept of MCT doesn’t apply anymore, and you’ll be responsible for making the connection. Always ensure you have plenty of time before the second (or third:) flight’s departure time.

Did you miss your connection because your first flight was delayed?

MCT and the right to compensation

Right to Compensation with a Connecting Flights on a Unique Booking Number
Missed a connection due to flight delays from your first flight in Europe? You might be eligible for missed connection compensation, especially if both flights are under one booking number.
Here’s an example: if your flight from New York to Munich is delayed in such way that it reduces your connection time below the MCT (i.e. less than 45 min) and you miss your connection, which in turn makes you arrive in Rome three or more hours late – you’re entitled to missed connection compensation (in this case about $660, or €600).

Pro tip: you can submit a claim even if the flight from New York was delayed by less than three hours and your original connecting flight left as scheduled.

However, if despite the delay of your original flight your connecting time respected the MCT, then you’re responsible for getting your connection on time. If you miss it, you will unfortunately not be eligible for compensation.

Right to Compensation with a Connecting Flights on Two Different Booking Numbers

This can get tricky, especially with different airlines. Regardless of how much time you’ve left between the two flights, if you end up missing your connection because of a previous delay, you shall be considered as a “no show” and cannot receive compensation.

I know it might be cheaper to book two separate flights, but in these cases it may be a good idea to look into a suitable travel insurance policy and above all – don’t check any baggage!
If you’ve booked separate tickets but with the same airline, you may have a chance to get some form of compensation. But it will be at the airline’s discretion so… I wouldn’t keep my hopes up.

What happens if my flight is delayed and I miss my connection?

Depending on where you're traveling, a delay from your inbound flight can lead to a missed connection. If this occurs, airlines might provide accommodation, rebook your flight, or even offer compensation. If you're going to be waiting at the airport for a while, know that the airline must also provide a drink and a meal, along with a phone call or access to the internet, should you need to make arrangements.
But, once again, if your flights don’t have the same reservation number, meaning that you booked separate tickets, you won’t be covered by the EU Regulation 261/2004.
Now, when you're booking your ticket, keep in mind that just because the airline suggests a flight that respects the MCT, it doesn't mean that you should buy it. After all, it is called the "minimum" connecting time for a reason: it's the amount of time that one needs to catch their connection, provided that everything goes well - which rarely occurs: your plane might be a few minutes late (check out the DoT's list of chronically delayed flights if you're traveling in the US), you may not be able to get off the plane fast enough, the terminal could be very busy, there might be a queue at passport control, etc.


Navigating the world of air travel, with its myriad of rules and timeframes, can seem daunting. Minimum Connection Time (MCT) is one such crucial factor that determines whether you make your next flight or spend hours waiting at the airport. However, understanding MCT and your rights as a passenger is paramount. Not only does it allow you to plan better, but it also ensures that you're not left at a disadvantage should things go awry.

Always remember: if you've missed a connecting flight due to reasons within the airline's control, you may be eligible for compensation. So, before you accept a simple apology or a meal voucher, know your rights. You might be entitled to more than just a pat on the back. Safe travels and always stay informed! 🛫

Did you miss your connecting flight because of your original flight's delay?

FAQ on Minimum Connection Time (MCT)

How to claim compensation when you miss your connecting flight?

Contact your airline immediately. If traveling within Europe, for instance, EC261 regulations could entitle you to compensation. A travel agent or credit card might also offer additional protections.

But if you don't want to go through the trouble, know that ClaimCompass' got your back!

How long will a flight wait for connecting passengers? Do connecting flights wait for delayed passengers?

Most airlines will try to accommodate passengers from a delayed inbound flight, but it's not guaranteed. Flight attendants might notify the ground crew of connecting passengers, but airlines typically won't delay a departure for a small group.

Why doesn't the airline wait for delayed passengers?

Airlines have tight schedules. Delays can ripple, causing further inconveniences. While business class passengers or those with tight international connections might get some leniency, it's not always the case.

How much time do you need between connecting flights when flying domestic?

For domestic connections within countries like the USA or Canada, a general rule of thumb is to have at least a 60-minute layover. However, at large airports like Atlanta or Toronto, you might want to consider longer connection times to account for the airport layout and possible security checks.

How much time do you need between connecting flights internationally?

International connections, especially those requiring passport control, typically demand more time. A layover of at least 90 minutes to 2 hours is advisable, but at major international hubs like Frankfurt or Tokyo, giving yourself even more time is wise.

That being said, some international airports have a minimum connecting time as low as 30 minutes!

What are some minimum connecting times at the busiest airports?

For instance, at JFK in New York, a safe domestic connection might be 40 minutes, while international to domestic might require a minimum of 60 minutes. Similarly, at London Heathrow, the MCT can vary between terminals, but a 75-minute connection is a common suggestion.

What if I'm traveling with children, elderly passengers, or passengers with reduced mobility?

It's always best to allow for longer connection times. While airports do offer services to assist, navigating terminals with extra considerations can be time-consuming. So, a two-hour layover, rather than a tight 45-minute connection, is more appropriate.

What role does weather play in MCTs?

Weather, especially in regions prone to snow like Boston or rain like Paris (clichés? Maybe, maybe not...), can significantly impact flight schedules and connection times. Always check the forecast and anticipate potential delays.

If I miss my connection due to long queues at immigration or security, what are my rights?

It largely depends on the region. In Europe, regulations might entitle passengers to compensation, even for reasons like long queues. However, always ensure you reach out to your airline first and provide details.

Do I need to check-in again if I have a connecting flight?

Typically, if your connecting flight is with the same airline or within an airline alliance and booked under a single flight number, you won't need to check-in again. Your boarding pass, issued during your initial check-in, will usually cover both segments. However, if you've booked flights separately, or they're with different airlines, you may need to check-in again for your connecting flight.

What's the difference between a legal connection and a stopover?

A legal connection adheres to the minimum connection time (MCT) set by the airport or the airline, ensuring passengers have enough time to transfer between flights. It's typically a short duration, just enough to navigate between gates or terminals. 

A stopover, on the other hand, is a longer break between flights, usually 24 hours or more (depending on the airline's definition). It's often used by travelers who want to explore a city for a day or two before continuing to their final destination.

Do I need to collect my carry-on during a connection?

Generally, if you're connecting on the same airline or an affiliated partner, and it's a legal connection, you'll take your carry-on with you when deplaning and bring it to your next gate. However, in some cases, especially with international connections where additional security checks are involved, you may be asked to present your carry-on for inspection.

If I miss my connection, will the airline provide a new boarding pass for the rescheduled flight?

Yes, if the missed connection was due to reasons within the airline's control (like a delayed flight), the airline should rebook you on the next available flight and provide a new boarding pass. This is particularly true for legal connections where the minimum connection time was adhered to. If you've missed a connection due to personal reasons, you might need to make alternate arrangements.