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?
What is Minimum Connecting Time (MCT)
Every airport has set an amount of time, which is deemed necessary to transfer between flights. 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 average individual to make their connecting flight in a standard amount of time. This is called the Minimum Connection Time (MCT).
If you’re buying one single ticket, then the airline cannot sell you anything with a connecting time below the airport’s MCT. Same goes for an online travel retailer – their systems shouldn’t allow it. Going back to our example, if Munich Airport has a minimum connection 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).
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.
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, cancelled or overbooked. 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) 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 of making your connection. You can find more information on your right to compensation here, here and here.
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!
Most major airports have their MCT listed on their websites. Try contacting them directly if you cannot find it.