The Minimum Connecting Time (MCT) is a determining factor for your right to compensation when you miss your conection. It might make a difference between 600€ and nothing.
Say you want to book a flight from New York to Rome via Munich. But you’ve never been to the airport in Munich, you have no idea what it looks like.
How much time do you need in between flights to make your connection? 30 minutes? 1 hour? 2 hours?
What if you’re buying two separate tickets because it’s cheaper that way - one from New York to Rome, and one from Rome to Munich?
Here's everything you need to know about the Minimum Connecting Time and your right to compensation when you miss your connection.
What is the Airport Minimum Connecting Time (MCT)?
Every airport has set an amount of time, which is deemed necessary to transfer between flights. Note that it isn't the airline that decides on this minimum connecting time, but the airport.
These times can vary depending on whether or not you’re flying domestic or international, immigration requirements, as well as change of terminals.
Under normal circumstances, and provided that your first flight hasn’t been delayed, the above time should be sufficient for an able-bodied individual to make their connecting flight in a standard amount of time. This is called the Minimum Connecting Time (MCT), also occasionally called "Minimum Connection Time".
Did you miss your connection because your first flight was delayed or cancelled? Submit a claim to the airline and get up to 600€ in compensation!
What if I bought a ticket with a transfer time below the MCT?
If you’re buying one single ticket, then the airline cannot sell you anything with a connecting time below the airport’s MCT. The same goes for an online travel agency – their systems shouldn’t allow it.
It can be hard to find what the MCT is in a specific airport, but rest assured that every system that people use to book their flight ticket automatically adjusts to take into account the airport minimum connecting time.
Going back to our example, if Munich Airport has a Minimum Connecting Time of 45min and you’ve bought one single ticket, then you’re guaranteed to have at least 45min between the two flights – otherwise your ticket should be changed or refunded.
Most of the time, when you’re buying one single ticket, your baggage is checked all the way to your final destination (that may vary, depending on your destination and where you’re connecting). Should your luggage get lost, here's what to do.
What about the Minimum Connecting Time when I buy two separate tickets?
If however you’re buying two separate tickets – one from New York to Munich and one from Munich to Rome, the MCT concept practically doesn’t apply.
This means that once you land in Munich, you’ll have to go through immigration, pick up your luggage, clear customs and leave the international transit zone. Then you’ll have to find your check-in counter, drop of your bags, go through security, passport control and get to your gate.
Naturally, this will require much more than the above-mentioned MCT and it is your responsibility to make sure that you have enough time to do all that. The rule of thumb is to allow a minimum of 3 hours between flights if they are not part of the same ticket.
Keep also in mind that should you miss your connection, you will not be protected by the EU Regulation 261/2004. As such, you won't be entitled to compensation for your missed connecting flight. More on that below.
MCT and the right to compensation
Whether you’re buying one single ticket or two separate ones has a decisive impact on your right to claim compensation when your flight gets delayed, canceled or overbooked.
Right to Compensation with a Connecting Flights on a Unique Booking Number
When both of your flights are part of the same ticket, you’re pretty much covered. 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 45min) and you miss your connection, which in turn makes you arrive in Rome three or more hours late – you’re entitled to compensation (in this case €600). 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.
If however despite the delay of your first 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
Things are very different when you book two separate tickets. 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. 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!
How much time do you need between connecting flights internationally?
There is no one-size-fits-all answer here, it can vary greatly from one airport to another. Some international airports have a minimum connecting time as low as 30 minutes. But usually, when traveling internationally, the MCT is at least an hour. It can go up to 2 hours in large airports requiring a change of terminal.
For domestic flights, the MCT is generally lower than for international journeys: about an hour or less.
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 travelling 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.
So do yourself a favor: whenever possible, deliberatly book a flight with a layover slighlty longer than the bare airport minimum time for connecting flights. Especially when travelling internationally.
Do connecting flights wait for delayed passengers?
No, if your first flight is delayed and you won't make it in time to catch your connecting flight, the plane won't wait for you. However, if you're travelling on a through-ticket, the airline must rebook you on their next available flight to your destination, provided that there are seats available. Should you arrive at destination more than 3 hours later than planned, you're entitled to compensation for missed connection.
If this happened to you, submit your claim now!
Why doesn't the airline wait for delayed passengers?
Because airlines are usually on a tight schedule. The plane that you just missed might be used for another 2 or 3 flights during the day, so the airline cannot afford to delay this one: it would result in a knock-on effect for the whole day.
Also, it's not up to the airline to decide when to take off: each plane is provided a specific time slot to fly by Air Traffic Control (ATC). If they miss this window, the plane by be grounded for a while, until another slot is available.
What happens if my flight is delayed and I miss my connection?
If you were travelling on a single ticket, as the airline to rebook you on their next available flight, if they don't do it automatically themselves. 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 internet, should you need to make arrangements. Once at your destination, check if you're eligible to compensation for your delay.
If you were travelling on two different reservations, things get more complicated. You have two options to get to your destination:
Ask the airline to rebook you on their next flight. But at the difference of passengers travelling on a single ticket, it won't be free of charge: you will have to pay for this new flight.
Alternatively, look for another flight yourself. Since this is a last-minute flight, it's not guaranteed that you will find anything cheap, but with a bit of luck... Use a website like Skyscanner to have access to flights from different airlines rather only the one of the air carrier you were supposed to fly with.
For more details on missed connections, take a look at this page with all the info on the topic.
Final Words on MCT and Your Right to Compensation
Most major airports have their MCT listed on their websites. Try contacting them directly if you cannot find it.
And if you want to make sure that you'll be eligible for compensation, don't book separate tickets. True, it might be cheaper, but you'd miss on up to 600€ if things go wrong. Your choice!
Don't forget to check if you're eligible to compensation if you missed your connection!
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