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Transiting through America from Australia to Central America

Wollongong...
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Transiting through America from Australia to Central America

I have recently come back from a holiday to Central America via transiting through America and I would like to share my experience with you.

1. You need a Visa Waiver Program (VWP) and Electronic System for Travel Authorisation ( ESTA) to transit through America, even if you are not leaving the airport. You need to apply for this online 72 hours prior to travel. Costs USD $14.00. The site is www.cbp.gov/esta. Mistake number 1: I booked my tickets online with Delta Airlines, as I was transiting, I didn't realise that I needed a VWP and ESTA until the night before when I was checking in online. (There was no information on the website). I applied for the VWP and ESTA and printed off the receipt. There were problems at checkin at Sydney Airport, but I had my receipt and I was able to get onto the plane.

2. Booking through Delta Airlines I had a transiting period of approx. 2 hours at LAX airport for my connecting flight to Central America. Other countries I have visited around the world, that is plenty of time to make the next flight, so I wasn't concerned when I booked my flight. Mistake number 2: If you are transiting through America allow up to 3 hours to get through immigration/customs. It is a nightmare. It took me 1 1/2 hours to get through immigration. It is so slow, you have to be fingerprinted, machines don't work etc. Next you have to pick your bags up from the carrousel and take them to another check in counter. ( Very frustrating). Then you have to wait in line again to go through customs, again very slow, as everybody has to take off shoes, jackets, belts etc.( People should wear slip on shoes to get through faster). Once through customs it was the dash to the plane, thank goodness it was close by and I reached the plane with 5 minutes to go. Unfortunately, other passengers weren't so lucky, about 7 passengers did not make the flight. The airline knew they were coming through customs, but could not wait and flew off with out them.

3. It was the same coming back into America, this time through Atlanta. It was even worse, as this is the major hub for Delta Airlines. Again it was a nightmare. But this time I had 1 1/2 hours to get through. Thank god for some kind people who let me push my way through customs and I managed to the reach the plane as they were closing the doors and they let me on. Again, over a dozen people did not make the flight, but this time they did wait 15 minutes for them, but they just didn't make it.

I am a relatively fit person and running through an airport, like a mad women is not a good look. It did add a lot of stress to my trip that was otherwise fantastic. Please check your transiting times and if they are under 3 hours, change your flights, it is not worth the hassle.

I had no problems flying with Delta Airlines, the flights were good and the planes comfortable, they just need to change their transiting times, as I know my experience is not an isolated case.

Portland, Oregon
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1. Re: Transiting through America from Australia to Central America

Thanks for posting. Though many of us know this and always recommend three hours, it's good to be able to reference a first hand example.

Canada
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2. Re: Transiting through America from Australia to Central America

All very valid points.

I transited through DFW from Costa Rica earlier this month. As a Canadian PP holder I have no need of a ESTA or anything similar, and our baggage went straight through. But immigration, customs and security (even though we were staying in the same terminal) was lengthy and annoying. You definitely need a decent connection time!

San Francisco...
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3. Re: Transiting through America from Australia to Central America

Good of you to post your experiences. The general consensus on the CA forums is that 3 hours is the minimum for an international to domestic or international transfer In fact that would be the minimum for any US airport and some feel Miami needs even more time.

Just a small correction and a bit of advise -- after you dropped off your bags after customs, you went to your next terminal and went through Security and not customs when you had to remove your shoes . If passengers have very short connections then showing you boarding pass to the TSA security rep may help move you to the shorter lines. Now if the shorter lines are long, well then no luck

Also you were lucky that you used delta so your bags were checked through -- there are people who go to an online travel site and book tickets with different connecting airlines who don't have an interline baggage transfer arrangement and then these bags have to be carried by the passenger to be checked in and that adds time

So to summarize what was said

1. If possible fly directly to your destination within the US or avoid an international layover in the US

2. If an international layover is needed check to make sure you have legal authorization (ESTA or visa) to enter the US

3. Try to use the same airline or a one world or star alliance connection and purchase ONE ticket and allow a minimum of 3 hours for a layover

4. Traveling in Winter ? Know that you could have delays so using the same airline is best .

5. If you are going from a to b via c all within the US then a 2 hour connection is advised if you have one ticket

Wollongong...
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4. Re: Transiting through America from Australia to Central America

Hi

Thanks for your reply and input. Unfortunately, when traveling to Central America from Australia, you have to go through America or Argentina. You cannot fly directly to Central America. This was my first time flying through America and if I come back this way, I will know what to expect. I was not warned by anyone about what was going to happen. ( I should have looked at the flying forum). The airlines should not be giving passengers short transition times for the next flight if these problems occur frequently, as I stated I am well traveled (30+ years of traveling) and I have never experienced anything like that. I wrote what happened to me, so other travelers will be aware and hopefully not experience what I had to go through. I flew with Delta all the way and still I had to pick up my bags and check them in again. I could imagine what it would be like flying different carriers. It would be awful. Anyway, it was an experience I won't soon forget.

Cheers

Portland, Oregon
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5. Re: Transiting through America from Australia to Central America

"The airlines should not be giving passengers short transition times for the next flight if these problems occur frequently ...."

I see your point, but equally there are many people who can make these short connections. US and Canadian Citizens have a much faster processing time (no photo or fingerprints), some have Global Entry/Nexus to skip the immigration lines, and TSA Pre for a much faster security check, and many have carry ons only. Those people don't want the inconvenience of longer connection times.

Yes, airlines could do a better job of explaining the connection times, especially if passengers call and inquire. But at the end of the day it's a judgement call, and that's where we generally recommend three hours for non-US/Canadian citizens.

PS - I did a 70 minute INTL-DOM connection at LAX last month. I chose it because it was the last non-stop flight back to PDX, and if I didn't make it my airline or company would give me a hotel for the night. As it turns out I did make it, just! But I would certainly not recommend it to anyone if avoidable.

Vancouver, Canada
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6. Re: Transiting through America from Australia to Central America

Aaah, coogiwoppa ~

You are now officially one of "us", whoever us might be. You have earned a badge of honour by travelling/connecting through the USA. An unforgettable badge of honour. :-)

7. Re: Transiting through America from Australia to Central America

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