How I utilized the airport transfer desk to make a super tight international connection

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I just went through a process that I thought could be of some help to many people who are arriving into the States on one airline, and then continuing onto another one to their final destination. My situation involved flying from Paris to Washington D.C. on Air France and continuing on with a separate ticket on United, booked with 8k Avianca Miles. Two completely different itineraries booked with separate programs.  Instead of clearing immigration and going to the United terminal to check-in and check my bag, I utilized the Transfer Desk which is typically just after customs and immigration at US ports of entry. Even though it was in a completely different terminal, and my tickets were booked completely independent of one another, I was able to use the desk, and ultimately make my connection with my bag delivered.
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Where you’ve probably done this before

All passengers arriving into the United States must clear immigration and customs on their first port of entry. If that first port of entry isn’t your final stop, you’ve probably utilized the transfer desk. For instance, if you’ve flown from London to New York on American Airlines, and then continued on to Chicago, you had to clear immigration, collect your bags, clear customs, and then go to a transfer desk where you leave your bags for your next flight to Chicago.

If you’re on the same airline, or a partner that interlines, this was more than likely explained to you at check-in.

I’m not talking about these instances which are routine and fairly straight forward. I’m talking about instances whereby the airlines you’re flying don’t know about each other and you need to connect.

A couple of examples of where you may need to utilize this tip

Here’s a couple examples of where that may actually occur and how you can use transfers to your advantage where you may not think to utilize the desk.
  •  you’ve booked two separate award tickets and need to recheck a bag, etc
  • you booked via a consolidator that sold you a ticket with two airlines that have no partnership
    • Another tip is to look at each airlines baggage policies…consolidators will often package airlines that allow checked bags, but because they don’t have an interline agreement, will market these flights as fly without baggage. This isn’t true, you just need to collect you bags prior to customs and recheck-in with your next airline.

My Situation and how I couldn’t have made my connection withoutq the transfer desk.

I needed to fly from Paris to Indianapolis. On a single program the points prices were outrageous, so I wanted to pair award programs.

Soooo, I booked two separate award tickets with a really tight connection. In fact, it was a complete and utter gamble that fortunately worked out. I was arriving from Paris on Air France on their 777-300Er in business class. My flight to IAD was scheduled to arrive at 16:20, but had been arriving about 45 mins early, as long as it departed CDG on time. I kept watching and an hour before departure, while in the lounge, I booked a flight that left DC at 5:05pm and would arrive in Indy at 7pm ( I had a backup flight that left at 10pm but that would make for a very long travel day)
  • I spent 55k Air France flying Blue to fly business from CDG to IAD
  • Another 8k Aviance Lifemiles to fly United from IAD to IND.

What was I thinking?! A 45 minute connection involving immigration and terminal changes. Parental discretion advised 😉

As luck would have it, we left on time and as soon as we were airborne the estimated flight time scheduled us for…3:45pm
I’d have a chance.
We landed, I was 3rd off the plane, got jammed up on the shuttle that takes you from your arrival gate to immigration, literally ran through immigration thanks to global entry, whipped thru customs, and bam… here’s the trick

Utilize the transfer Desk.

Instead of going on to the terminal your flight departs out of and rechecking, if you’re arriving, even if you’re on separate record locators, didn’t buy the flights together – YOU CAN UTILIZE THE TRANSFER DESK. Make sure you’ve checked in online and show the agent your boarding pass – they’ll tag, etc all right there.
By the time I got to the desk I was 46mins from departue. Barely within the timeframe to get my second bag checked ( I didn’t mention that Air France allowed me to bring two carry on rollers and my backpack  ) Thank AF!
The desk agent really pushed to get it tagged. If you’re in a similar situation I’d highly advise buffering at least two hours if you have to check a bag like me. In fact, by the time she imputed all of my information the flight was already restricted. She bypassed and told me to run. Had I had to hop back on a shuttle to Terminal D where my flight was departing I’d of never made it.
What made it even better is IAD has a separate security area for transfers just past customs. Albeit, very slow,  I could take the internal bus. I had 22 mins before departure when I got on it. 16 when I arrived at my gate in terminal D. Talk about skinning it.

I made it with a minute to board

A 45 min turn, with immigration, customs, checking a bag, taking two busses, clearing security, changing terminals twice, and a brisk walk/trot/jog/sprint mixed in between.
The long and short of this is the transfer desk is your friend. Many consolidators will combine airlines that don’t interline ( tag your bags all the way thru even if you change airlines). This can be quite confusing.  Or maybe you’ve purchased two tickets and are trying to connect. Or you’re like me and found two great award tickets, at a great price, and just needed luck on your side to combine them.
When you arrive into the US, you must collect your bags regardless of where you’re continuing on to… you might as well make the process your friend.
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  • Patrick January 10, 2019

    Let me know if this qualifies for the transfer desk? Coming in from Stockholm via SAS. Switching to AA for my final leg. 2 separate tickets.
    Where does one find the transfer desk?

    • Miles January 10, 2019

      Patrick – you should be able to, you’ll find it after collecting your bags and clearing customs. Keep an eye out for “transfers” and then go to the according airline desk. Check in online

    • GC January 10, 2019

      Sometimes the transfer desks are right after you clear the customs desks but BEFORE you go through the customs exit doors, sometimes they are right after the doors to exit, so do a quick check to make sure you look before you exit. They’re usually pretty easy to spot, however, and a huge time saver as they’re underutilized most of the time.

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