JFK by Leocha

Many frequent fliers are familiar with the concept of unrealistic minimum connecting times.

As I tell clients, missed connections can be expensive or at least time-consuming for airlines, so they really try to publish schedules they can meet.

U.S. airlines routinely allow 30- to 40-minute connections for domestic flights. While, yes, most passengers end up making it, it’s also pretty common for passengers to miss their connections. And, it’s no fun when that happens.

Like many travel agents, I’ll try to steer customers away from tight connections, or at least give them alternatives and back-up options if they miss them.

Recently, my nominees for the “most unrealistic connection” have been Lufthansa’s 45-minute minimum-connect-time in Frankfurt and anything under 45 minutes in Denver and Chicago during the winter.

However, United Airlines, with its code-share partner Swiss, may have come up with the best connecting time, or rather, worst, I’ve seen — a 30-minute connection to an international flight, with two different carriers, in two different terminals, at JFK Airport.

The following is from a reservations display, which I caught just before suggesting it to a client.

UA 760Y 25FEB SFOJFK SS1 1041A 715P * MO E
UA7673Y 25FEB JFKGVA SS1 745P 930AŠ* MO/TU E
OPERATED BY SWISS

To translate this from airline-speak, this is a suggested connection on United Airlines from San Francisco to Geneva, arriving at JFK at 715p, and leaving at 745p, with the second flight operated by Swiss.

Oh, and the connection happens to be between Terminal 7 and Terminal 4.

For those lucky enough not to be regular fliers through JFK, the airport is huge. Unlike some other large airports, it’s not exactly walkable, even for passengers traveling light.

There’s an AirTrain now that’s usually faster than the shuttle buses that used to be the only alternative, but the train requires going outside of the security sealed area; thus, a second round of TSA.

To be fair, I suppose it is possible that United has some expedited way to transfer connecting passengers, but neither of the agents I spoke to indicated there was any such option.

Worse yet, miss the plane to Geneva and it’s 24 hours until the next one. My experience with code-share connections is that while airlines sometimes hold flights for their own late arrivals, partner airlines almost never do so.

To potentially add insult to injury, any passenger who raced to Terminal 4 and missed the flight anyway would then have to ignominiously return to the United’s Terminal 7 to be rebooked and ask for a hotel voucher and/or other compensation, since the missed connection wouldn’t be a Swiss Airlines problem.

If any Consumer Traveler readers have attempted this 30-minute inter-terminal connection, I’d love to hear about it.

Or, if you have another nominee for the biggest connection fantasy, please suggest it in comments. Inquiring minds want to know.