What is the minimum time to avoid missing a connection? (or MCT for Minimum Connection Time)

This is a great source of stress for many passengers, especially the less experienced ones: will I have enough time for my connection and not miss my flight?

When you know your connecting airport well, you can have a vague or even a precise idea. But when you have a connection in an unknown airport abroad you can sometimes legitimately worry.

Fortunately, there is a system that will prevent you from finding yourself in front of an unattainable connection: the Minimum Connection Time or MCT.

What is MCT (Minimimum Connection Time?)

The MCT is the minimum time it takes you, at a given airport, to make your connection. It is defined according to the specificities of each airport and the type of connection.

So there is no hard and fast rule that will tell you if your connecting time is “risky” or “comfortable”.

For a given airport, the MCT will of course take into account the terminals involved and whether the connection is from domestic to domestic, domestic to international, international to domestic, international to international.

What does the MCT take into account and does not take into account?

The MCT is a “normal” minimum connection time for “normal” people. It :

  • Assumes your inbound flight is on time (and your outbound flight as well, but that’s less of a problem
  • Takes into account the distance between the terminals/gates involved.
  • Takes into account the security checks between the two gates

However, there are elements that the MCT does not take into account

  • Any exceptional security measures that may slow down your connection
  • The possibility that the airport may be more congested than expected at a given time
  • The fact that you have some difficulties to move (disabled people)
  • Whether you are in the front or back of the plane (on a long-haul flight this can make a difference of an hour at departure)
  • Whether or not you have access to priority lanes (again, the difference can be more than an hour in the worst case).

How to know the MCT of an airport?

Well actually this is probably the only information you want to have and well it’s a pity because we can’t give it to you.

There are too many possible cases to publish an exhaustive and reliable list. Indeed, you have to take into account all the possible connections in a given airport, between all the terminals, the specific cases of certain airlines / origins / destinations (for example, a flight to Tel Aviv will make your MCT much longer). As an example, the MCT of Heathrow includes a little less than…2000 cases to take into account all the possibilities.

One can therefore only know the MCT on a case by case basis even if one can get an idea.

Please note that the MCT is taken into account by all reservation systems and that it is a blocking condition of the system. In other words, no airline can sell you a ticket that involves a connection below the MCT! So when you buy a ticket, tell yourself that except in case of force majeure “it must work” Sometimes by hurrying a little, but it must work.

Well, there is a way: you just have to use a tool that has access to reservation systems. So it’s not free but a “Premium” subscription to Expertflyer does the job very well.

Par exemple vous apprendrez qu’à Roissy, arriver d’un vol intérieur Air France pour repartir en international sur Delta demande au minimum 1h…(D/I : domestic to international).

In contrast, it takes at least 50 minutes in Amsterdam. We notice that in the other direction (International to domestic) Amsterdam is more efficient than Roissy (1h30 vs 50 minutes).

What happens if I miss my connection?

You can imagine that if you are guaranteed a minimum connection time and it is impossible to sell shorter connections, it must mean something.

If your first flight arrives late and, as a result, your connection time falls below the MCT and you miss your connection, it is up to the airline to find you another flight and, if necessary, to compensate you.

If, despite the delay, you stay above the MCT, you are solely responsible if you miss your connection.

Of course the airlines are not (all) totally blind. In the event of delays and short connections, they often set up a system to meet the passengers concerned at the exit of their flight to speed up their journey to their next flight. And if in doubt, you have nothing to lose by reporting to the in-flight cabin crew before landing or to the ground staff afterwards.

A connection with two different tickets? Beware of danger!

All of this works very well if you are traveling on a single ticket. In other words, all your flights (e.g. Bordeaux-Paris, Paris-Singapore, Singapore-Bali) are on the same ticket and have been purchased together.

But what if you have multiple tickets and practice what is called “self connect“?

This would be the case if you were flying to Singapore on Air France and then decided to take Singapore Airlines to Bali.

1°) The MCT is no longer valid

Because there is no continuity between the two tickets, which represent independent journeys, you will have to retrieve your luggage and check it in again, so you will have to go through immigration in one direction and then the other, as well as through security.
In short, if you travel with two different tickets you expose yourself to more formalities and constraints than if you had only one ticket, so the MCT is not relevant in your case.

Where a MCT of maybe 50 min would have been enough if you had taken Air France to Singapore and then KLM’s Singapore-Bali (checked-in luggage from end to end, no need to go out of the terminal etc), the fact of doing for example Air France and then Singapore Airlines makes the time necessary maybe 1h30 or more. And still Singapore is a very efficient airport. I advise you to avoid trying the self connect at Roissy without a very comfortable margin.

2°) Too bad for you if you miss your flight

In case of self connect, if your incoming flight arrives late and you miss the next one you are “no show”. You lose your ticket. Period. And if it’s a round trip you lose the return. In other words, trying to fly from Marseille to Paris on Easyjet and then taking a Paris-New York Air France flight is a very bad idea! This also applies if the flights are operated by the same airline: buying a Marseille-Paris flight on Air France and taking a Paris-New York flight on the same airline on a separate ticket is not smart either.

This applies in all cases. Delay or not. And the fact that the delay puts you under the MCT does not change anything at all: the MCT only protects you in the context of a single ticket!

What to remember about MCT (Minimum Connection Time)?

  • This is the minimum connection time below which an airline cannot sell you a connection.
  • If a delay puts your connection under the MCT you are protected and the airline must rebook you on another flight.
  • There is no point in knowing your MCT as theoretically “it will work” except to give you an idea of whether your connection time is wide or tight.
  • If you have a connection with two different tickets the MCT does not apply: the MCT given for the case of a single ticket is no longer valid and moreover you do not benefit from any protection if you miss your connection, whatever the cause.

Image : connecting passenger by Sergey Furtaev via Shutterstock

Bertrand Duperrin
Bertrand Duperrinhttp://www.duperrin.com
Compulsive traveler, present in the French #avgeek community since the late 2000s and passionate about (long) travel since his youth, Bertrand Duperrin co-founded Travel Guys with Olivier Delestre in March 2015.
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