Reader Question: Switching airlines in NYC

JT’s Flight Deals follower Georgian asks:

JT, have you flown in to JFK on an international flight before? We are returning from MAD to JFK and now I need to buy a flight from JFK to AUS. Do you think a flight that departs 2 hours after our scheduled arrival at JFK would give us enough time to get through customs and get checked in for the flight to AUS? I’d appreciate your input.

Great question! Yes we have done exactly what you are looking to do! We arrived in JFK from Abu Dhabi and connected to a flight to Austin. Read about our connection and layover here.

But, as far as how long you will need to connect, it depends…

1) US Customs Preclearance

It depends if Madrid airport has US Customs Preclearance operating when you are coming back. If so, you clear customs before boarding the plane in Madrid. Then, you will be treated as a domestic arrival when you get to JFK. This obviously would save a lot of time!

Katie and I went through Preclerance in Abu Dhabi airport coming back from Johannesburg as part of our Etihad error fare flights (JFK to Johannesburg for $277 roundtrip!). It was really weird to step off of an international flight and right into the US terminal – but that is exactly what we did!

On May 29th, Madrid was listed as one of the 10 airports that is supposed to get Preclerance. However, no dates have been announced about when it will be opened there.

2) Global Entry
You have finally arrived back in the US, deplaned, and want to get home,.. Sick of then waiting for 10-45 minutes just to officially enter the country? Us too! So, we got Global Entry. For $100 per person, you can simply walk up to a kiosk, scan your passport, answer a few questions, have your photo taken and – typically, in less than 5 minutes – you are in!

The application takes a bit of time and you do have to complete a live interview. (There is an interview location in Newark for your case!) Once you are accepted, Global Entry is good for 5 years. You are assigned a Trusted Traveler Number, which can be used on domestic flights to get TSA Pre security clearance (which is $85 by itself!)

If Madrid doesn’t have Preclearance, having Global Entry can substantially reduce the amount of time you have to allow for connecting.

3) Airlines / terminal switch
JFK has six separate operating terminals. Different airlines use different terminals and connecting can take some time! I found that this is especially true with JetBlue’s Terminal 5 – as the check-in counter seems to be a full mile from the AirTrain.

So, definitely use this list to check which terminal you are arriving and considering departing from!

My experience:
When we were coming back from Abu Dhabi into JFK and then connecting to Austin. we were switching from Etihad in Terminal 4 to JetBlue in Terminal 5. We had cleared customs in Abu Dhabi (using Global Entry). So, all we needed to do was walk to baggage claim, pick up our luggage, transfer terminals, re-check our bags, and clear Pre security.

Even with some delays with my bag coming out, we were able to complete this in under 90 minutes. Our flight was supposed to arrive at 4:35 pm, but did not land until 4:58 and arrive at the gate until 5:07 pm. We were at the JetBlue check-in counter by 6:10 pm and we were comfortably at our gate by 6:30 pm for our 9:05 pm flight. So, two hours may have been enough… but, it would have been stressful!

Bottom line:
To be safe, I would recommend at least three hours between scheduled arrival and scheduled departure – when connecting in JFK from an international flight to a domestic flight. You can reduce this by ~30 minutes if you have cleared customs via Preclearance (or ~20 minutes if you have Global Entry) and ~30 minutes if you are not connecting terminals.

Leave a Reply