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SmallTownGirl

Question for international travelers

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I am planning a trip overseas and the flight home has a layover in San Francisco for 2 hours.  I'm just wondering if that's enough time to get off the plane, get my luggage from the carousel and go through customs, and then walk to the domestic terminal from the international terminal.  And then I have to check my luggage again.  Where do I do that?  At the gate or somewhere else?  Has anybody been through this before?

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If you have your luggage checked all rhe way through, there should be a place immediately after you have gone to customs where you can drop it off again without a wait. I have not flown through SF, but 2 hours is usually enough for connecting from an intl flight.

Edited by regentrude
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My experience with SF airport (twice this year) has been that 2 hours was not enough to guarantee making it on the plane for a domestic change where I needed to get my luggage at baggage claim and then recheck it - the wait was over 90 minutes just for TSA that day.   I think that if I were coming from the international terminal, I would schedule a four-hour layover.

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If your flight is booked all the way through (and your luggage is tagged to your final destination) you will not need to recheck the bag, you will simply drop it off after going through customs.  You will, however, have to go back through a security screening station (since you have had access to your checked luggage, you could have taken something out that you can have in your checked luggage but not in your carry-on).  I haven't flown into San Francisco, but the last few times I flew internationally, two hours would have been enough time.  

I have learned that you can't really predict whether you can make your connecting flight or not--there are just too many variables:  weather, mechanical issues with a plane, heightened security concerns making security move more slowly, a gates not available for the plane, Air Force One lands a the airport, incorrect catering carts are delivered, ... I have experienced so many different things that I make what appears to be reasonable plans and then hope for the best.  One thing I consider regarding connections when I am flying internationally is whether I will be by myself or flying with children, or others who might slow me down.  If I have had a long international flight, I might want more time to stretch my legs, get a bite to eat, and relax before boarding another flight (depending upon how long each leg will be).  Other times, I am just ready to take my chances and get back as soon as possible.  

 

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In SFO, depending on the day and time, things can get pretty hectic. The way from international to domestic used to be quite a ways. Don't know if it has been changed since I now fly most frequently from another airport. We had to run once to catch our plane with a toddler in tow.

I would be a little more comfortable with a minimum of 3 hours. If everything goes smooth and you end up having extra time, you can always hang out - less stressful than running hoping to make it.

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I agree with regentrude. It is a crowded, long line hassle, but 2 hours should be good. Jdahlquist is clearly a seasoned traveller, although Ak-Mom4 sounds like she has recent experience. For me, I'm feeling much more lax in the way home than I would be on the way out, so if a 2 hour layover works best, I would tend to just go for it.

I wanted to add that international travel seems to be at odds with your username!

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Edit: realized this is coming into the US and that's why you have to pick up your luggage. Two hours could be tight if there is a delay but should be okay. They might just make you move your bag from one line to another. I think you're okay.

 

PS I hate that rule. Of all the restrictions since 9/11 that one drives me nuts. So much additional cost and time lost!

Edited by Tsuga
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At SFO, one goes thru customs before one claims bags. Customs is not open 24/7, so if you are a dawn arrival, you may be waiting for TSA people to arrive and open.  That's okay, because your luggage will then be waiting for you on the carousel when you get there.  If you've checked it through, you don' t have to take it with you to the next terminal, you check it in a baggage desk just outside the international terminal. 

For a 2 hour window, it would have to be an uncrowded time of day and you'd need to know if there is construction and if the airtrain is running to your terminal or if you are better off walking.   I'd do a bigger window, I just don't think the luggage would make it even if you did. However, I agree w/jdahlquist, I'd take the gamble and let the airline put me on a later flight if I missed the connection. 

Edited by HeighHo
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That's great - I didn't know you could just drop off your luggage again after customs.  I would prefer a longer layover, but the only other option was 16 hours in Seattle. (I am visiting a friend in Asia and she is pretty specific about when she can drop me off at the airport so I don't have many choices.)

Another question:  What happens if I do miss the connecting flight?  Do I have to purchase another ticket?

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I think this depends a lot. I had never had immigration and customs take more than about an hour before and then last year it took me more than three. (Never fly through Ft. Lauderdale. Never.) So I think it can depend on where you fly through. Honestly, if you have the option, I'd change the flight and give yourself more cushion to be sure. But that depends too - if it costs money, I probably wouldn't, I'd just be alert to the fact that there was a small chance I'd be stranded.

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Just now, SmallTownGirl said:

That's great - I didn't know you could just drop off your luggage again after customs.  I would prefer a longer layover, but the only other option was 16 hours in Seattle. (I am visiting a friend in Asia and she is pretty specific about when she can drop me off at the airport so I don't have many choices.)

Another question:  What happens if I do miss the connecting flight?  Do I have to purchase another ticket?

If your flight is one airline or arranged by a travel agent and guaranteed, then they'll put you on another flight... it just might take a day. If you booked separately, yeah, you might have to pay for another ticket.

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17 minutes ago, SusanC said:

I wanted to add that international travel seems to be at odds with your username!

Haha, yes!  It is tongue-in-cheek. I love the city/my husband loves the country.  So we compromised and moved to a small town in the country and I travel whenever I can. :smile:

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Is your ticket a complete round-trip ticket with a connection in SFO?  If so, the airline considers that the 2-hour layover will be long enough (that does not mean that it will be or that it will not be stressful).  If you miss the connecting flight, the airline will reroute/rebook you on another flight without your having to purchase an additional ticket.  (If you book a ticket to SFO and another ticket for your domestic flight, then you will need to recheck your bags and you will need to work with the second airline if you can't make your connection).  If my options were to try to make a 2-hour connection or have a 16 hour layover, I would try to make the 2-hour connection.

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9 minutes ago, SmallTownGirl said:

That's great - I didn't know you could just drop off your luggage again after customs.  I would prefer a longer layover, but the only other option was 16 hours in Seattle. (I am visiting a friend in Asia and she is pretty specific about when she can drop me off at the airport so I don't have many choices.)

 

 

Take a look at the sfo website, its detailed and will give you a good picture of what you have to do when you get there.

Edited by HeighHo

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8 minutes ago, Farrar said:

If your flight is one airline or arranged by a travel agent and guaranteed, then they'll put you on another flight... it just might take a day. If you booked separately, yeah, you might have to pay for another ticket.

The first flight is EVA and the second one is United.  I'm purchasing them together through evaair.com though.  Would that be considered booking separately?

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6 minutes ago, jdahlquist said:

Is your ticket a complete round-trip ticket with a connection in SFO?  If so, the airline considers that the 2-hour layover will be long enough (that does not mean that it will be or that it will not be stressful).  If you miss the connecting flight, the airline will reroute/rebook you on another flight without your having to purchase an additional ticket. 

Yes, this is exactly my situation.  Thank you so much.

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I beleive both airlines are Star Alliance partners. I don't know what happens in SFO, but at some airports they have a team that will assist you in making a tight connection or help you if your first flight was delayed. 

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23 minutes ago, HeighHo said:

For a 2 hour window, it would have to be an uncrowded time of day and you'd need to know if there is construction and if the airtrain is running to your terminal or if you are better off walking.  

It'd be around 3 p.m. on a Tuesday.

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Personally I would prefer a longer window.  However, it is possible that 2 hours could be enough.

In my experience, I don't know ahead of time whether the foreign airline is going to check me in all the way to my final destination.  Since your final flight is on a different airline, I would not count on that.  Even if you are checked in, that does not guarantee quick processing.

One time I was randomly selected for special screening, and since they checked me all the way through, the boarding passes all had that "special screening" code on them.  It got resolved after the 2nd long security delay, but I could have missed a flight had my layover been only 2 hours.

I always prefer a longer layover.  If all goes perfectly, we can enjoy a bit of relaxation, grab some food and chill.  If not, we are less likely to be running for our lives and putting our heart health to the test.

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3 hours ago, SmallTownGirl said:

The first flight is EVA and the second one is United.  I'm purchasing them together through evaair.com though.  Would that be considered booking separately?

 

That would be considered one booking if they are in one transaction. It would show first leg is Eva Air and second leg is United Airlines. 

SFO is well known for flight delays. My husband flew to SE Asia for a conference last month. The flight out was delayed an hour and reached the destination two hours late. His non-stop flight back to SFO also arrived two hours late. United Airlines had the cheapest non-stop fare so he had to pick that or opt for a flight with transits. My husband doesn’t have luck with United Airlines unfortunately. 

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If your two choices are a really short layover or a 16-hour layover, then I’d definitely choose the shorter one.  It’s much more likely that you’ll make the flight than miss it, but if you miss it, the airline will help you rebook since you’re flying on the same ticket.  It would be a worst-case scenario if your layover ended up longer than 16 hours.

One other option is to use alternative transport to the airport so you can get a different flight time.  Can you take a taxi or public transit instead?  I know it’s much easier to have your friend drive you, but unless you’re staying in a rural area or a long way from the airport, getting to the airport on your own could be a good option.

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I'm not sure I can be helpful, since SFO is our home airport and we don't have to make connections there. But between my husband and me, we are there sometimes several times a month. Immigration at SFO can be slow, but we have Global Entry. The international and United terminals are next to each other, but not "close," especially if you're in a hurry. (We've strolled on foot between them when we have plenty of time, but you won't!) You should arrive at wing/terminal G in the International terminal, and leave from Terminal 3 (the United terminal). You can see they are next to each other on this map. The green line on the map is the AirTrain, which may be more trouble than it's worth getting to (I'm guessing  you might as well just walk to Terminal 3, rather than trying to get to the AirTrain). (And I'm fuzzy on where you'd re-check your bags in ...) (The map shows immigration in the international terminal, then baggage claim halfway between international and United terminals, so I'm guessing you might as well just walk to Terminal 3 from baggage claim/customs?)

(Here's a map showing where the AirTrain goes & which directions.)

We just came back from México, and went through this transfer hassle in Phoenix. Kind of a nightmare! (don't mean to scare you ...). Since we have Global Entry, we breezed through immigration, but the bags took FOREVER to come to the carousel (especially weird, considering our plane had fewer than 80 people on it). When we finally got our bags and went through customs, we RAN to check them in again, go through security again ?, and get to our gate. We had literally about 10 minutes to spare. Since we had booked both tickets together, we probably would have gotten put on a later plane if we'd missed it, but we of course didn't want to chance that.

And I can confirm that SFO often has delays. Kind of surprising b/c we don't have "weather," but there is often fog or some other factor holding stuff up. My husband flew back from NM last week and his flight from ABQ to SFO was canceled b/c of smoke (from the wildfires) at SFO. He had to spend an extra day in NM.

All that said, I'd probably go with the 2-hour window (since you booked the tickets together) and hope all goes well, and perhaps that the outgoing United flight is delayed ? – even 15 minutes will help. We love EVA air. If you are lucky, your plane will be Hello Kitty themed. ?

Edited by Laura in CA
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does your airline say you have to do it yourself?   (which I've never heard of) Mine has been automatically transferred (with forms I had to fill out), so I only had to worry about myself.

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1 hour ago, gardenmom5 said:

does your airline say you have to do it yourself?   (which I've never heard of) Mine has been automatically transferred (with forms I had to fill out), so I only had to worry about myself.

Not if you fly in internationally. Then you have to meet your luggage at first port of arrival in the US and check in to your final US destination. Only when you arrive to the US, only if you are staying (receiving bags) in the US. If you are leaving the US or if you are making a transfer in another country (e.g. Paris to Lyons) then you are fine.

I always forget this until I arrive in JFK or Atlanta or LAX or whatnot and then I think "oh Lord not this again why can't we just scan the bags argh!"

Edited by Tsuga
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You might want to look at a flight tracker website to see how the flight you are taking usually does as far as sticking to schedule.  The weather matters too, but you will get an idea of the window.  I use flightaware.com, mostly because they overlay the radar on the map as well as the day/night line so fun for dc.

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9 hours ago, Amira said:

If your two choices are a really short layover or a 16-hour layover, then I’d definitely choose the shorter one.  It’s much more likely that you’ll make the flight than miss it, but if you miss it, the airline will help you rebook since you’re flying on the same ticket.  It would be a worst-case scenario if your layover ended up longer than 16 hours.

One other option is to use alternative transport to the airport so you can get a different flight time.  Can you take a taxi or public transit instead?  I know it’s much easier to have your friend drive you, but unless you’re staying in a rural area or a long way from the airport, getting to the airport on your own could be a good option.

I'd do exactly as Amira says for exactly those reasons... but with a certain weary resignation that I'm taking a bit of a gamble.

2 hours should be fine if there are no hiccups, but, hiccups happen.  If hiccups happen the airline will help, and may actually find better alternatives than waiting around 16 hours (I don't know your return destination, but SFO has an awful lot of flights and Star Alliance an awful lot of partners).  And hiccups on the return side, while irritating, are not as disruptive as hiccups on the way TO your destination.

My willingness to take the gamble is dependent on its truly being a single booking (i.e. not through expedia or similar consolidators who are stitching together split tickets even though there's a single printed itinerary with the parts.) I would NOT take a 2 hour interval for immigration, customs-clearing, and ground transport between terminal buildings on a split ticket (even with Global Entry/Pre-Check, which we have).  That's when you can get into arguments about having to purchase new tickets for the missed connection.  No.

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8 hours ago, Tsuga said:

Not if you fly in internationally. Then you have to meet your luggage at first port of arrival in the US and check in to your final US destination. Only when you arrive to the US, only if you are staying (receiving bags) in the US. If you are leaving the US or if you are making a transfer in another country (e.g. Paris to Lyons) then you are fine.

I always forget this until I arrive in JFK or Atlanta or LAX or whatnot and then I think "oh Lord not this again why can't we just scan the bags argh!"

I have flown internationally.  I checked my bags - and they went all the way through.  I never handled them again until I reached my destination.

 

maybe it's because I'm at a major hub - so I fly out directly to another country.  not to a 2nd domestic US airport before flying international.

Edited by gardenmom5
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36 minutes ago, gardenmom5 said:

I have flown internationally.  I checked my bags - and they went all the way through.  I never handled them again until I reached my destination.

 

maybe it's because I'm at a major hub - so I fly out directly to another country.  not to a 2nd domestic US airport before flying international.

I didn't mean to imply you haven't flown, just to remind you that the rule is specific to international flights. You may indeed usually be getting your luggage at your first and last US port of call if you live near one. Lucky. No other country I have been to does this so you wouldn't notice if you live at a major hub.

I usually have to pass through one other airport to get to SeaTac and this thread has given me flashbacks of those "almost there... Oh yeah now this" moments.

Edited by Tsuga
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38 minutes ago, Tsuga said:

I didn't mean to imply you haven't flown, just to remind you that the rule is specific to international flights. You may indeed usually be getting your luggage at your first and last US port of call if you live near one. Lucky. No other country I have been to does this so you wouldn't notice if you live at a major hub.

I usually have to pass through one other airport to get to SeaTac and this thread has given me flashbacks of those "almost there... Oh yeah now this" moments.

I'm a 30 minute drive to seatac. or less (or more) depending upon time of day.  It has its perks. (including direct flights to other major airports)  I can leave when someone's plane is due to land, and get to the cell-phone waiting lot roughly the same time as they're collecting their luggage.

my experience with satellite airports is limited to when my dds were in school in upstate ny.   no matter what, it was a minimum two-leg flight to get there or back.

 

(if you go through toronto - they do US customs there, so once you reach the US - you're done, you're already been through customs and don't have to do it again.)

Edited by gardenmom5

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6 hours ago, gardenmom5 said:

I have flown internationally.  I checked my bags - and they went all the way through.  I never handled them again until I reached my destination.

 

maybe it's because I'm at a major hub - so I fly out directly to another country.  not to a 2nd domestic US airport before flying international.

When you enter the US from an international destination, you must claim your bags.  This is for customs purposes.  Then, if you are going to fly to another US airport, you must take your checked luggage to the counter to go back into the checked luggage compartment.  If you purchased any liquid duty free items (liquor, perfume, etc..) that cannot be brought on in a carryon that must be put in your checked bag for your domestic US flight.

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6 hours ago, gardenmom5 said:

I have flown internationally.  I checked my bags - and they went all the way through.  I never handled them again until I reached my destination.

maybe it's because I'm at a major hub - so I fly out directly to another country.  not to a 2nd domestic US airport before flying international.

The bolded. You must claim your baggage at the port of entry to the US to carry it through customs. If that happens to be also your final destination, then obviously you only handle the bags there.

Edited by regentrude

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Can I piggyback on this question? 

Dd will be flying internationally to Denver. If she has a stop in, say, DC, you are all saying she has to get her bags from baggage claim and then recheck them to Denver? I just want to be clear. They won't go all the way to Denver by themselves? 

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3 minutes ago, Chris in VA said:

Dd will be flying internationally to Denver. If she has a stop in, say, DC, you are all saying she has to get her bags from baggage claim and then recheck them to Denver? I just want to be clear. They won't go all the way to Denver by themselves? 

Yes. There will be a baggage claim immediately behind immigrations and before customs. She must get her bags there, carry then through customs, and then drop them off so they can be put on the plane to Denver. But if they are checked through, she literally just has to drop them without standing in line or doing anything.

Edited by regentrude
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11 minutes ago, jdahlquist said:

When you enter the US from an international destination, you must claim your bags.  This is for customs purposes.  Then, if you are going to fly to another US airport, you must take your checked luggage to the counter to go back into the checked luggage compartment.  If you purchased any liquid duty free items (liquor, perfume, etc..) that cannot be brought on in a carryon that must be put in your checked bag for your domestic US flight.

I flew in from tornoto this summer - I did US customs IN toronto.  We landed on one concourse then walked to the next one.  there is an entire terminal/concourse from which all departures are US destinations.  I went through US customs to get onto that concourse.  once you're in, you don't leave without having to go back through US customs.

the bags where checked at boarding my first flight in vienna, and I picked them up when I arrived at seatac.  I didn't go through customs at seatac - becasue I went through customs in toronto - without my bags. (they went through on their own - I claimed them as mine on a computer scanner. - not physically. took less than 30 seconds.)

anything I purchased in the terminal/duty free stores (and there were a lot of them)  - was hand carried, not placed in checked-bags, for my flight to seattle.

 

since seatac (a big hub) was my final destination -and as was discussed in a previous post with another poster, I didn't have an entirely domestic US flight after returning to the US.

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17 minutes ago, regentrude said:

The bolded. You must claim your baggage at the port of entry to the US to carry it through customs. If that happens to be also your final destination, then obviously you only handle the bags there.

see my previous response.  I when through the "port of entry"/US Customs IN Toronto.  I did NOT go through customs at seatac.  I got off my plane - and into a regular terminal and to normal baggage claim  - NOT the international terminal where they can easily herd people, and their baggage, into US customs.  

the only thing I had to do to "claim" my bag in Toronto (where I went through US Customs), was answer some questions from an agent using a computer scanner as my bags were being transferred by airport baggage handlers from one international flight to another. (coming into the US.)

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4 minutes ago, gardenmom5 said:

see my previous response.  I when through the "port of entry"/US Customs IN Toronto.  I did NOT go through customs at seatac.  I got off my plane - and into a regular terminal and to normal baggage claim  - NOT the international terminal where they can easily herd people, and their baggage, into US customs.  

the only thing I had to do to "claim" my bag in Toronto (where I went through US Customs), was answer some questions from an agent using a computer scanner as my bags were being transferred by airport baggage handlers from one international flight to another. (coming into the US.)

That is very unusual, because the procedures for connecting to the US in Toronto specify

"Toronto Pearson is your first point of entry into Canada. Therefore, even if your baggage is tagged through to your final destination, you are required to pick them up for Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) processing. Once you have been processed by CBSA, drop off your bags at the Connecting Baggage Belt / re-check your bags in the Connections Centre at Terminal 3 " (depending on which terminal you depart from)

https://www.torontopearson.com/Mobile/ConnectingGuide/Detail.aspx?arr=3

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9 minutes ago, regentrude said:

That is very unusual, because the procedures for connecting to the US in Toronto specify

"Toronto Pearson is your first point of entry into Canada. Therefore, even if your baggage is tagged through to your final destination, you are required to pick them up for Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) processing. Once you have been processed by CBSA, drop off your bags at the Connecting Baggage Belt / re-check your bags in the Connections Centre at Terminal 3 " (depending on which terminal you depart from)

https://www.torontopearson.com/Mobile/ConnectingGuide/Detail.aspx?arr=3

that is not how I recall it working - but I was riding a cart with another group.

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3 hours ago, gardenmom5 said:

I flew in from tornoto this summer - I did US customs IN toronto.  We landed on one concourse then walked to the next one.  there is an entire terminal/concourse from which all departures are US destinations.  I went through US customs to get onto that concourse.  once you're in, you don't leave without having to go back through US customs.

the bags where checked at boarding my first flight in vienna, and I picked them up when I arrived at seatac.  I didn't go through customs at seatac - becasue I went through customs in toronto - without my bags. (they went through on their own - I claimed them as mine on a computer scanner. - not physically. took less than 30 seconds.)

anything I purchased in the terminal/duty free stores (and there were a lot of them)  - was hand carried, not placed in checked-bags, for my flight to seattle.

 

since seatac (a big hub) was my final destination -and as was discussed in a previous post with another poster, I didn't have an entirely domestic US flight after returning to the US.

There are 15 airports outside the US that have Preclearance customs, Toronto being one of those.  That is the exception, not the rule.  Only about 15% of those arriving in the US come through those airports; often those passengers are flying between that destination and the US and are not connecting at the airport. 

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On ‎9‎/‎3‎/‎2018 at 8:34 AM, Pam in CT said:

2 hours should be fine if there are no hiccups, but, hiccups happen.  If hiccups happen the airline will help, and may actually find better alternatives than waiting around 16 hours (I don't know your return destination, but SFO has an awful lot of flights and Star Alliance an awful lot of partners).  And hiccups on the return side, while irritating, are not as disruptives hiccups on the way TO your destination.

Thanks, everyone.  I've only been to Europe in the past and the flights returned to my home airport so I've never had to think about this before.  I booked the tickets with the two hour layover. 

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It sounds like you have it figured out.  I'll just add that we have missed our connecting flight on our last THREE international trips.  Luckily they were all booked through the same carrier as single tickets so we were rebooked on new flights in two cases.  In the third case, we had to rent a car and drive home (through a blizzard) as the first flight we could be rebooked on was four days later.  The hotel and food costs well outpaced the cost of the car rental.  I get the dreaded "X" in customs (every time) which puts our whole family into the slow line and there is no chance of making a connecting flight unless our layover is more than 3 hours.  Due to our home airport flight schedule, there are no same-day flights with more than a three hour layover so we now just take into account an overnight when we will inevitably miss our connection.  At least we always get our luggage back at customs so we don't have to carry overnight items in our carry-on.  To be honest, this now prevents us from considering shorter trips to Mexico or Caribbean destinations as the guaranteed missed connection is not worth the hassle.  

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2 hours ago, SmallTownGirl said:

Thanks, everyone.  I've only been to Europe in the past and the flights returned to my home airport so I've never had to think about this before.  I booked the tickets with the two hour layover. 

Hope you have a wonderful trip!  Let us know how it works out.

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I just came back from an international trip and it took us 2 hours to get off the plane and through customs. I'm glad we had a little over 3 hours of layover time.

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SmallTownGirl, if you have enough time before you leave to get Global Entry clearance, I think it would be worth the extra $100 to significantly cut down the wait time at customs. Plus Global Entry also counts for TSA PreCheck, and it's valid for 5 years, so it's useful to have for the future anyway. With Global Entry you just scan your passport and fingerprints at a kiosk and skip the line entirely. Depending on what city you're in and where your nearest TSA office is, some offices take walk-ins (although they don't usually advertise that) and some don't, and some cities have much longer wait times for the in-person appointment. But if you can manage to do it before you leave, I would consider it money well spent compared to the hassle of possibly spending the night in SFO if you miss the connection. In my experience, 2 hours is cutting it really close, especially when dealing with United.

Edited by Corraleno

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