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  1. #1

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    Help needed with Washington Dulles International Airport

    I booked a ticket on Orbitz for an international flight that arrives from Europe into Washinton Dulles Airport during the thanksgiving weekend. Unfortunately, before buying the ticket, I missed the fact that there are only 2 hours 20 min. before my connecting flight to Phoenix. I am very concerned that there may not be enough time for me to make it to wherever the United airlines flights leave from. If they have separate terminals for international and domestic flights, that will add to the time.

    So I am asking help from fellow fsuers who are familiar with that airport to tell me what are typical times going from international flights to domestic flights (on different airlines- in this case Austrian and United). I looked up the airport map on the internet but I don't see two different terminals. Yet they have a train to move around the airport. I see that it's a huge airport and distances could be an issue. If it takes too long to pick up the bags, get through customs and take a long time to go to my connecting flight, I could miss my connection and may have to buy a VERY expensive ticket to get back in Phoenix. This will be Fri. of Thanksgiving weekend, so not quite as busy as Sunday.

    It was my mistake to choose this route, - I should have picked a flight landing anywhere in California- I can always find an affordable connection in CA even if I miss the flight-, but I went for the less expensive option. It is a non-refundable, non-changeable ticket that was bought on Orbitz. So there is no hope of getting it changed. Now I just have to see if it is even possible to make it to the United flight, after the international.

    BTW I am waiting to get the ticket confirmed by the airline, but I believe Orbitz would not have sold me the ticket if the seats were not available.

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    Getting from point A to point B in Dulles Airport is not the problem. Your hold-up is going to be getting through customs. I'm guessing that 2.5 hours may not be enough time, particularly on Thanksgiving weekend. The line at customs will be looooooong.

    Your airline might be able to put you on standby for a later flight to Phoenix if you do miss your original flight, but this is not something you can count on working out (airlines usually overbook their flights, which is evil IMHO).

    Whenever flying internationally, plan at least a 3 hour layover at the airport where you will be going through customs. This also helps mitigate problems with late arrival times.

  3. #3
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    If, worst case, you miss your IAD-PHX connection, ask if United can search/rebook for any open USAir flights in addition to UA/CO flights... just going out on a limb here as USAir is their Star Alliance/codeshare partner. (Changing any flight can wreak havoc with your bags, though, although I guess getting your own person back home would be the more important thing; just wait for the bags later.)

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    http://www.metwashairports.com/dulles/884.htm

    If your flight arrives at a C Gate, there is a special customs area in the C concourse for international arrivals with domestic connections. This could save you time especially if your connection is leaving from a C or D gate. If you arrive somewhere else, you'd take a motor coach to the International arrival building, do customs there, then recheck your bag, but then you have to go back through security in the main terminal - I think this would be the slower option. Not sure if you can find out where your international flight will arrive in advance, but they might have some idea.
    I think I will have a snack and take a nap before I eat and go to sleep.

  5. #5

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    Is it possible for you to avoid checking bags? By skipping the baggage claim step you can get to the front of the immigration/customs lines and save a LOT of time.
    Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the universe.

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    There is a high likelihood on Thanksgiving weekend that your flight to Phoenix will be delayed anyway. When we used to fly for Thanksgiving every year, it was rare for a flight to not be delayed by at least an hour.

  7. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by susan6 View Post
    Getting from point A to point B in Dulles Airport is not the problem. Your hold-up is going to be getting through customs. I'm guessing that 2.5 hours may not be enough time, particularly on Thanksgiving weekend. The line at customs will be looooooong.

    Your airline might be able to put you on standby for a later flight to Phoenix if you do miss your original flight, but this is not something you can count on working out (airlines usually overbook their flights, which is evil IMHO).

    Whenever flying internationally, plan at least a 3 hour layover at the airport where you will be going through customs. This also helps mitigate problems with late arrival times.
    I have traveled internationally MANY times and I always ask for at least a 3 hour layover between flights, although sometimes the airlines do have very short connection times during the international portion. The international to domestic transition needs more time, but at San Francisco, LA, and DFW I have gotten out of customs very fast. I am totally unfamiliar with Dulles international. If it was JFK, I would have allowed 4 hours for the connection. As I mentioned in my OP, it was an oversight on my part that this particular connection did not have a lot of time in between. Typically on international flights my major delay is caused by the slowness of the baggage system, regardless of the airport (although I think JFK is probably the worst in that regard). That's where anyone's personal experience with this particular airport will help me- how long will it take to get the bags and to go from point A to point B (the latter can be very long in some airports).


    Since this is a Fri. of the thanksgiving weekend (not Wed. or Sun.) I am still hoping that if I miss my connection, the airline will put me on standby, so I can reach my destination. It will be hellish to get stuck in Dulles international indefinitely.

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    Quote Originally Posted by flyingsit View Post
    Is it possible for you to avoid checking bags? By skipping the baggage claim step you can get to the front of the immigration/customs lines and save a LOT of time.
    Have you ever taken a 2 weeks vacation without checking bags? I have to check bags for even a 2-day vacation. It is impossible to take a 2 weeks vacation abroad with just carry on.

  9. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rob View Post
    http://www.metwashairports.com/dulles/884.htm

    If your flight arrives at a C Gate, there is a special customs area in the C concourse for international arrivals with domestic connections. This could save you time especially if your connection is leaving from a C or D gate. If you arrive somewhere else, you'd take a motor coach to the International arrival building, do customs there, then recheck your bag, but then you have to go back through security in the main terminal - I think this would be the slower option. Not sure if you can find out where your international flight will arrive in advance, but they might have some idea.

    I may have to call the airlines to find out where their flights arrive. However, many times airlines don't know ahead of time, and sometimes they change the gate at the last minute. I have seen it all over the years, and I am afraid they may not give me a definite answer, but may be they will tell me what part of the airport their flights usually land. For the domestic flight it should be fairly easy to find out where their flights leave from.

    Unfortunately I have to change the airline (From Austrian to United). Hind sight is 20-20 but I would have been better off taking United all the way to SF, but I was blinded by the low fare this route offered me. The stress is just not worth it, to save a few hundred dollars, but it's too late to do anything about it. So I am trying to educate myself about that airport, so that I don't waste too much time there. I hope they have some kind of travelers information desk there.

  10. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by Vash01 View Post
    Have you ever taken a 2 weeks vacation without checking bags? I have to check bags for even a 2-day vacation. It is impossible to take a 2 weeks vacation abroad with just carry on.
    Not for me. I've done a 2-week trip to Paris/Northern Italy, 2 weeks in Benelux/London, and 2 weeks in Spain, each with just carry on. Of course all were in warmer weather, so we didn't need coats, etc. I don't mind doing laundry along the way.

    Sorry I can't tell you about the connections at Dulles, it's my home airport so it's always my endpoint.
    Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the universe.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Vash01 View Post
    Have you ever taken a 2 weeks vacation without checking bags? I have to check bags for even a 2-day vacation. It is impossible to take a 2 weeks vacation abroad with just carry on.
    I think you can do it if you think like a backpacker. If you go to a place with cheap clothings then you can buy them on the fly once you're there. BTW, I use Orbitz all the time for flights tickets

  12. #12
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    Don't know much about Dulles (I usually fly to Europe via Atlanta, Newark, or Houston), but I usually plan only about 1.5-2 hours to change planes and to get through customs. The Friday after Thanksgiving shouldn't be too bad. I think you'll be fine. United and Austrian both Star Alliance partners, right? Will your bags be ticketed all the way to your final destination? If not, that might be a problem. If they are, the bag drop should be just inside customs.
    Last edited by mikey; 10-27-2011 at 09:11 PM.

  13. #13

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    Quote Originally Posted by orbitz View Post
    I think you can do it if you think like a backpacker. If you go to a place with cheap clothings then you can buy them on the fly once you're there. BTW, I use Orbitz all the time for flights tickets
    Of course you do!

    Sorry, I can't think like a backpacker and I don't buy much clothing where I go. I never know if they will have what I like. I am nitpicky when it comes to clothes, so I carry whatever I think I may need, in addition to the necessities.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Vash01 View Post


    It will be hellish to get stuck in Dulles international indefinitely.
    I was stuck there for nine hours once. It was hellish. Then I got to fly to O'Hare where I was expecting to be stuck until the next afternoon, but the airline gods smiled on me and my connecting flight had been delayed by hours as well and I just made it. Still got home at 3 a.m. instead of in the late evening. Not my favorite trip.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Vash01 View Post
    Of course you do!

    Sorry, I can't think like a backpacker and I don't buy much clothing where I go. I never know if they will have what I like. I am nitpicky when it comes to clothes, so I carry whatever I think I may need, in addition to the necessities.
    I understand now. I'm somewhere in between; I make sure that everything I pack can mix and match and layer as necessary, I make do with two pairs of shoes, and I do laundry once in mid-trip.
    Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the universe.

  16. #16

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    Quote Originally Posted by Vash01 View Post
    Of course you do!

    Sorry, I can't think like a backpacker and I don't buy much clothing where I go. I never know if they will have what I like. I am nitpicky when it comes to clothes, so I carry whatever I think I may need, in addition to the necessities.
    I'm with you. I am not a light traveler.

    I've had to clear customs at Dulles, when everything was under construction, with a group of high school students and we actually made it through in less than 40 minutes. This was at the peak of the summer travel season as well.

    I think your 2 hours + will be enough time.

  17. #17
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    Dulles? Should not be THAT bad. Just don't bring anything you have to declare.

    (Re: overbooking: this is done because 99 times out of 100, not everyone shows up. The airline loses money if they send seats off empty, so usually overbooking works out fine and the passengers never even know it happened. Thanksgiving weekend all bets are off. But the system still does it, and they still normally get away with it.)

  18. #18
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    I have never had unusually long waits for regular suitcases in Dulles in the International area in the Main Terminal. I haven't been through customs in the new Gate C area. In the domestic areas, the wait is also normal, except once I had some skis that were put aside and not loaded in the large item rack -- so if you have any oversize items, I would start asking right away. But it is not one of those airports that routinely chews up your luggage or sends it all over the place. You might make it in 2 1/2, but plan as much as you can for plan B.

    One thing I would check on is that the last few times I flew out of Dulles, the airport had a rule that if you had to check bags, you had to check them in at least 30 minutes early for domestic flights and at least 45 minutes early for international flights. I once stood on line for an hour at the main check in only to be told that I was now only 28 minutes from flight time so I could not have a boarding pass because I could not check my bag -- this was the first flight, not a connection. I would find out from the airline whether that will apply to you -- for example, will you need to recheck your bag in the customs area 30 minutes before your Phoenix flight or does this not apply because you are already en route. When it happened to me, it was shortly after 9/11 so there were all kinds of new rules and long lines.
    I think I will have a snack and take a nap before I eat and go to sleep.

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by mikey View Post
    Will your bags be ticketed all the way to your final destination? If not, that might be a problem. If they are, the bag drop should be just inside customs.
    You have to reclaim your baggage within the customs area and bring it through customs in the US airport in which you clear customs. By not checking a bag, you go straight to customs after clearing immigration, instead of waiting for your luggage.

    "Ticketed-through" in most airports -- I've never done this through Dulles -- means that as soon as you clear customs, you give back your luggage at a special "check-through" area/conveyor that sends your luggage to the sorting area to be transferred to the domestic connecting flight. Sometimes there are two conveyors, one for domestic and one for further international flights. (Example, Europe to Canada, changing at a US airport.)

    For anyone who travels a lot, $100 will get you five years of GOES, a program where you either clear immigration, which is usually where the lines are, not customs, with the pilots and staff crew, or in some airports, like JFK, you scan your passport in a machine, and it pops out a form you hand in on your way through customs. (You still have to wait for checked baggage, but you're not stuck in the immigration lines.) If you're within limits and haven't brought in half a sow -- an immigration person at the Vancouver Airport once told me that someone was carrying half a pig back from Hong Kong, but had checked "No" to the box about bringing in meat -- and you're coming from Europe, you should be able to cross without any questions at all.

    I am a member of NEXUS ($50 for five years) for crossing the US/Canadian border, and they added on GOES membership for no additional fee.

    Both programs have saved me a lot of time at the US and Canadian borders.
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  20. #20
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    The itinerary you booked is a valid connection, Austrian Airlines and United codeshare that route. You will actually be boarding an Austrian Airlines flight, but it will also have a United flight number associated with it. Conversely, when you depart IAD for PHX, your flight will be operated by United but will also have an Austrian Airlines flight number listed.

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