MINIMUM CONNECTION TIMES

Discover everything you need to know about Minimum Connections Times including the latest information on minimum connection times for international flights.

What is a Minimum Connection Time?

Minimum Connecting Times (MCTs) are precisely that - the minimum possible connecting time for both a passenger and their luggage to connect between an arriving flight and their departing flight. Simple, but not so simple. The example below shows a selection of what are the described as the default MCTs for London Heathrow. In total there are some 134 “default” MCTs established at the airport covering connections between both various terminals and other London Airports such as Gatwick and Luton.

MCT Time (min) Airports Terminal to Terminal MCT Status
210 LHR/LCY   DOMESTIC TO DOMESTIC
150 LHR/LGW   DOMESTIC TO DOMESTIC
205 LHR/LTN   DOMESTIC TO DOMESTIC
60 LHR 2 to 2  DOMESTIC TO DOMESTIC
75 LHR 2 to 3 DOMESTIC TO DOMESTIC
90 LHR 2 to 4 DOMESTIC TO DOMESTIC
90 LHR 2 to 5 DOMESTIC TO DOMESTIC
75 LHR 3 to 2 DOMESTIC TO DOMESTIC
60 LHR 4 to 4 DOMESTIC TO DOMESTIC
105 LHR 4 to 4 DOMESTIC TO DOMESTIC


Airlines have in their Contract of Carriage (COC) a defined list of minimum connection times. These times can be referred to as minimum connection time, minimum layover time or legal connection time. They each mean the same thing and they state what the minimum connection time is for a particular airline. Airlines have calculated the minimum amount of time it will take for you to physically make it to the next gate and to get your checked bags to your connecting aircraft.

There are different types of minimum connection times for domestic to domestic travel, domestic to international travel, and international to international travel. The differences reflect the physical distances involved as well as the potential need to go through security or customs control, and the logistical requirements of getting an arriving aircraft ready for the next departure. These minimum connection times could be as low as 40 minutes for domestic, whilst minimum connection times for international flights can be up to an hour to transfer to an international carrier. These minimums are airline-specific so consult your airline’s definition of minimum connection times.

HOW ARE INDUSTRY-STANDARD MINIMUM CONNECTION TIMES DETERMINED?

All new industry-standard MCTs must be approved by IATA. Once the new MCT is established, this becomes the default value for that airport and is used by the entire industry.

Step 1    The Airport Operators Committee (AOC), consisting of all airlines operating in and out of that airport, must agree to a new Minimum Connection Time value

Step 2   Once agreed, the new MCT value is submitted to IATA for approval

Step 3   IATA will then inform the industry for the new MCT value at that airport

WHAT ARE AIRPORT MINIMUM CONNECTION TIME EXCEPTIONS?

Airports may choose to set its own Industry Standard MCT, which will override the Status Exception default time for the following reasons: - Influencing positions on GDS displays, OTAs and metasearch engines; Customs or immigration clearance; movement between terminals; Baggage collection from baggage claim; Check-in for next flight; Distance between gates.

WHAT IS AN AIRLINE SPECIFIC MINIMUM CONNECTION TIME?

For many airlines, connecting traffic is their main source of business. Airlines such as KLM, Emirates, Singapore Airlines and COPA have built their whole businesses around connecting traffic and providing the most efficient, fastest MCT possible. Many airlines have filed what are described as “exceptions” to the airports MCTs as they seek to secure a competitive advantage.

Proactive influence against competitors. The shorter the connection time the shorter the total journey time – the higher up the search the flight can appear.

Airline specific connections are flights that are shown in search results from airline or OTA websites. These results will never show a connection time that doesn’t meet airline standards. If you fail to make a connecting flight from the originating flight, the airline is on the hook to make it right. This goes for your checked bags, if they don’t make the connecting flight, you can expect the airline to arrange for courier delivery of your bags.

Carrier specific MCTs typically have a higher level of detail than those published by the airport operator as the current British Airways Minimum Connection Times at London Heathrow show below. In many cases airline MCTs are different between their commercial partners, frequently are specific to only a defined series of flights numbers and can have both ‘effective from and to’ dates published as part of the exception.

Arrival Airport Code MCT Time (min) MCT Status Departure Airport Code Arrival Airline Code Incoming Flight Number (s) Departure Airline Code Outgoing Flight Number (s) Arrival Acrft. Type Effective From
LHR 999 DOMESTIC TO DOMESTIC LGW AA 6100-9099 AA 6100-9099   14-Apr-16
LHR 999 DOMESTIC TO DOMESTIC LGW BA 1500-1630 BA 8040-8199    
LHR 999 DOMESTIC TO DOMESTIC LGW BA   BA 8040-8199    
LHR 999 DOMESTIC TO DOMESTIC LGW CX   BA 8040-8199    
LHR 150 DOMESTIC TO DOMESTIC LCY 9B 0001-0999     BUS  
LHR 150 DOMESTIC TO DOMESTIC LGW 9B 0001-0999     BUS  
LHR 999 DOMESTIC TO DOMESTIC   AA 6100-9099 AA 6100-9099   14-Apr-16
LHR 999 DOMESTIC TO DOMESTIC   AA 6100-9099 AA 6100-9099   14-Apr-16
LHR 999 DOMESTIC TO DOMESTIC   AA 6100-9099 AA 6100-9099   14-Apr-16
LHR 999 DOMESTIC TO DOMESTIC   AA 6100-9099 AA 6100-9099   14-Apr-16


At London Heathrow there are currently some 2,748 individual carrier exceptions on top of the airports own published standards, and at Paris Charles de Gaulle some 7,167 exceptions as those airports with a broad range of customers tend to have thousands of unique carrier exceptions created as part of commercial agreements; some of which may have expired in recent years.

Multiply the “defaults” and “exceptions” at every airport around the world and it doesn’t take long to realise that there are literally thousands of “defaults” and hundreds of thousands of “exceptions” in the airline industry; many of which are now lapsed or have minimal impact. So, why so many…..

Find out more about our Minimum Connections Times data here >>

WHAT IS AN EXCEPTION TO AN EXCEPTION?

To display a specific exception by a carrier, sometimes it is necessary to add an MCT exception at the status standard time.  In this case the time will be displayed as 9999.

The following is an example of this situation:

The Domestic to International (DI) status standard at MIA is 1 hour>> AA has an exception: AA to ALL carriers at MIA 55 minutes >> AA advises that BA is an exception to this, and that the status standard at MIA should apply. This will be displayed:

The following identifies the 55 minute exception for all carriers. AA – to All Dom to Int’l exception at MIA 55 minutes.

The following identifies the BA exception to this exception. AA – to BA Dom to Int’l status standard at MIA 9999.

WHY DO MINIMUM CONNECTION TIMES MATTER?

Any missed connection for an airline is an unexpected cost, and when operating margins are quite small avoiding unnecessary costs must be top of the agenda for any airline. In most cases a traveller missing a connection can be accommodated on the same day, perhaps on the next flight or via an alternate point. Occasionally though that cannot happen leading to hotel costs and in some cases further revenue displacement as the traveller occupies a seat that could have been sold to another traveller at short notice and perhaps a higher selling fare.

A potential missed connection can also have longer commercial consequences than just the inconvenience of one traveller. Scenario’s where large groups of travellers miss their onward connection multiply the damage as does the frustration to a high frequency regular traveller who suddenly decides to place their business with a different airline.

Part of the challenge of Minimum Connection Times and codeshares has been around synchronising the schedules of the operating airline and the marketing carrier. When any airline makes a schedule change, that schedule change then must be picked up by the codeshare airline, sometimes via a direct notification from their partner airline or via OAG. That process allows a “window of opportunity” for a connection to be sold based on the old published data rather than the new schedule and that can result in a missed connection or the need for the airline to contact the traveller and advise them of a change in schedule.

HOW DO MINIMUM CONNECTION TIMES AFFECT SEARCH AND ONLINE BOOKING?

Most travellers never look beyond the first screen of a display or scroll down; being top of the pile increases the airlines attraction considerably and every travel channel works on that basis. With connecting traffic so important to many airlines, gaining any advantage over a competitor is crucial especially when it concerns the total journey time.

With most airline reservations made through GDS, OTAs, metasearch and direct to airlines via mobile apps and websites, the accurate presentation of total journey times is crucialWhilst many of today’s online booking systems allow passengers to sort flight options by price; for many the default parameter has always been the total elapsed journey time. With a principal default of journey time then every minute shaved off an MCT potentially increases the priority on the screen display to the traveller.

With nearly every GDS and OTA having their own unique algorithm for calculating the most effective connection and therefore the highest placed routing, subtle changes by airlines to their MCTs, adjustments by flight number to protect lucrative traffic flows and other such commercial tactics controlling the accuracy and validity of such data would be challenging for anyone and that’s before the introduction of the codeshare airline!

WHAT IS VIRTUAL INTERLINING AND HOW DOES IT WORK?

Virtual Interlining, also known as VI or Self-Transfer fares, is the act of combining flights between carriers without Interline or Code-share agreements. traditional interline agreements limit the total number of combinations that could be made between 2 destinations.

Virtual interlining implies there is no contract between the involved airlines. The airlines themselves regard the “virtual interlining” passengers as point-to-point ticket holders and are not responsible for baggage transfers and missed connections. The responsibility for the latter lies with the provider of the “virtual interlining” fare. The provider can be a global distribution system, online travel agency or in some cases an airline (e.g. WOW air) or an airport (e.g. GatwickConnects).

WHAT IS REFERENCE DATA / MASTER DATA?

FACILITATING THE AIR TRAVEL INDUSTRY

Critical IATA-standard industry facilitates air travel and are used to avoid inconsistencies due to the high volume schedule changes.

MCTs (Minimum Connecting Times) are standardised and agreed data sets which provide the minimum possible connecting time for both a passenger and their luggage to connect between an arriving flight and their departing flight. They are applied globally to develop and ensure viable connections.

IATA industry codes provide universal abbreviations to facilitate travel and enable a common language to be interpreted and understood across systems all over the world. They are typically 1, 2, 3, or 4-character combinations that uniquely identify locations, equipment, carriers, and times to standardize international flight operations. This reference underpins the system and whilst it doesn’t change as often as schedules, any change however small can impact the integrity of schedules information. This impact affects search and booking volumes, connection viability and the smooth running of the ever-increasing code share partnerships across the industry.

WHAT TYPES OF IATA CODES EXIST?

AIRLINE CODES

IATA administers the two-letter airline codes and once it is assigned, OAG advises IATA of ports and equipment codes used by the carrier in its schedule. OAG adds an ICAO code where applicable as well as maintaining ICAO codes for airlines that do not have an IATA code to enable their schedules to be distributed.

IATA will also advise when codes are recalled for reasons such as an airline ceasing operations.

LOCATIONS AND TIME ZONES DATA

IATA administers the three-letter codes and advises any changes. Typically, this is when an airline starts operating to a new location. These coordinates need to be validated (or added when not supplied), names verified, and ICAO codes assigned. The locations are sent to a country with associated time zone and DST info. The location may also be attached to a city as part of a metropolitan area e.g. NRT and HND assigned to TYO (Tokyo).

There are currently over 11,000 IATA codes – 7,249 have also been assigned ICAO codes. There are 4,200 locations that are considered active.

EQUIPMENT

OAG maintains equipment data for all scheduled services. Data is sourced from aircraft manufacturers and includes: ICAO code, Body Type, Aircraft category e.g. jet engine, Maximum speed and range and maximum take-off weight

Aircraft data is maintained at three levels - configuration at equipment and service type, for an airline’s fleet, as supplied by carriers in their schedule data i.e. at flight and route level.

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