Is a 1 hour layover enough time in Houston? When is it not?

Is a 1 hour layover enough time in Houston? When is it not?

If you’ve got a short layover coming up in Houston soon, don’t worry. 1 hour is plenty of time. In my personal experience:

  • A 45 minute layover is all that’s really needed when making domestic to domestic connections at IAH.
  • I would want 55 minutes to make a domestic to international connection.
  • 2 hours is the minimum amount of time needed to make an international to domestic connection without stressing yourself out.

Don’t believe a word of what your brother‘s best friend‘s sister said about how horrible this airport is for making connections. She’s a liar. In my opinion, it’s one of the better ones.

The reason why a 1 hour layover is enough time in Houston (usually)

Despite being one of the largest (and busiest) airports in the entire United States, the Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport is a lot more efficient as it may seem.

Sub 1 hour layovers are possible thanks to the Skyway connection train that connects all terminals. It is by far the fastest way to move from terminal to terminal at IAH. This same sort of above ground train is what makes DFW minimum connection times so short, so…maybe the Texans are on to something?

Using the Skyway, you won’t have to pass through additional security checkpoints to move from one terminal to the next. Just hop on, enjoy the view, and you’ll be at the other end of the airport before you know it.

IAH Skyway train inside
Although highly convenient, I’m not sure how they expect us to stay six feet above or below others while riding the Skyway train. I tried my best!

Reasons why a 1 hour layover might not be enough time

Despite how quickly the Skyway makes moving from one terminal to the next, you’ll need more time if any of the following occur:

  • Your arrival and departure gates are located at the far end of each terminal (which will require a lot more walking). I wouldn’t worry too much about this though. It’ll only be an issue if you’re a slow walker.
  • You’re traveling with a group. Anyone who has done this knows that there will inevitably be one or two people in the group who desperately need to use the bathroom (#2) and eat along the way. 
  • The Skyway is out of service. This is extremely rare, but it can happen (and it’s a mother****** when it does).

As you’ll see below, there are five terminals at IAH, consisting of three separate buildings. If you don’t use the Skyway, the only way to move from one to the next is to take a shuttle bus (or walk). You’ll then have to stand in line for the security checkpoint to enter the other terminal. If things are busy, I could take a while.

What is the minimum layover for domestic flights in Houston?

I am of the opinion that 45 minutes is the minimum layover time you’ll need in Houston for going from one domestic flight to another. This even includes scenarios where you’re switching airlines (assuming that you checked in online and already have a boarding pass).

SANspotter selfie IAH airport
“This is almost too easy.”

What is the minimum layover for international flights in Houston?

The Houston Airport (IAH) was designed from the ground up to handle a large number of international flights on a daily basis. Therefore, it’s fairly quick and easy way to get to or from a domestic flight.

Connecting TO an international flight

Since all terminals are accessible behind any security checkpoint via the Skyway, it won’t take long to reach the departure gate for your international flight.

The FAA requires boarding international flights earlier than domestic flights, so the minimum layover time for a domestic to international connection at IAH is 55 minutes. You could probably do it less time than that, but based on my own personal experience, I feel that’s safe.

Connecting FROM an international flight

Connecting from an international flight to a domestic flight in Houston is going to be a lot easier if your layover is 2 hours or longer. Remember – you’re going to have to go through passport control and customs once you arrive.

If you have bags to check, you’ll have to retrieve them from the baggage carousel before going through customs, and then recheck them for your onward connection. All of this takes time, and since IAH is always busy, the more time the better.

Houston airport terminal E inside
I know it’s hard to avoid sometimes, but I’d highly advise against a short layover here at the George Bush Intercontinental Airport. It’s one of the better airports for shopping, eating, and people watching (in any order you prefer).

A brief overview of the terminal layout at the Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport

Looking at the terminal map of the Houston Airport (below), it would seem to be very complex layout. There are five separate terminals (A, B, C, D, and E) , broken up into three separate buildings.

IAH terminal map
Regardless of what you think of IAH, you have to admit that the terminal map looks cool (like something straight out of Star Wars). I mean, look at Terminal B and tell me that’s not the outline of a droid serving drinks!

Thankfully, the above ground Skyway train makes moving from terminal to terminal at IAH a breeze. Without it, minimum layover times would be at least double what they are now.

Walking time between all terminals at IAH

The only sane way to walk between all terminals at IAH is to use the inter-terminal train. You can certainly walk outside from one terminal to the next, but it’s a horrifically massive waste of time. It’s also a guaranteed way to show up sweating like a pig for your next flight.

Therefore, all of the time estimates below for moving from one terminal to the next at the Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport involves using the train:

Terminal A to:

  • Terminal B: 5 minutes
  • Terminal C: 10 minutes
  • Terminal D: 13 minutes
  • Terminal E: 13 minutes

Terminal B to:

  • Terminal A: 5 minutes 
  • Terminal C: 5 minutes 
  • Terminal D: 8 minutes
  • Terminal E: 8 minutes

Terminal C to:

  • Terminal A: 10 minutes
  • Terminal B: 5 minutes
  • Terminal D: 3 minutes (you can walk, bit it takes longer)
  • Terminal E: 3 minutes (you can walk, bit it takes longer)

Terminal D to:

  • Terminal A: 13 minutes
  • Terminal B: 8 minutes
  • Terminal C: 3 minutes (you can walk, bit it takes longer)
  • Terminal E: 3 minutes (you can walk, bit it takes longer)

Terminal E to:

  • Terminal A: 13 minutes
  • Terminal B: 8 minutes
  • Terminal C: 3 minutes (you can walk, bit it takes longer)
  • Terminal D: 3 minutes (you can walk, bit it takes longer)

As always, it’s safe to add a little extra time to these time estimates if you’re a slow mover or you’re traveling with someone who needs a little extra motivation.

How long of a layover do you need in Houston for a no-stress connection?

Since IAH can seem overwhelming if you’re not used to (or comfortable with) large airports, I would advise you to plan for a longer layover if possible. Here’s what I recommend for each scenario:

Domestic to domestic flights

If 45 minutes is the minimum layover for domestic to domestic flights in Houston, I would recommend an hour and a half if you don’t want to have any stress about making your connection. This will give you enough time to grab a bite to eat and do a little people or plane spotting before boarding your next flight.

SANspotter IAH airport
This is how I spent my last 45 minute layover at IAH (right after arriving from LAX in United 737 MAX 9 Economy Plus). It would have been nice to have more time in order to inhale between bites!

Domestic to international flights

55 minutes was the minimum amount of time that I recommended for making a domestic to international connection in Houston, so I would recommend two hours to make it seem less stressful.

This will give you all the time that you need to walk around and stretch out, as well as eating a more substantial meal. Because we all know that unless you’re flying business class, the food they serve on airplanes these days is downright lousy.

International to domestic flights

If you want no stress at all when it comes to making an international to domestic connection in Houston, try for a minimum layover of three hours. You’re more than likely not going to need that much time, but this will give you extra padding if you experience delays going through passport control and customs. Delays happen sometimes, so it doesn’t hurt to be prepared.

Useful tips for making a 1 hour layover at Houston

For the most part, sub 1 hour layovers in Houston will be extremely easy. Especially if you’re flying the same airline. You will most likely not experience any issues, but if that doesn’t stop you from reaching for the antacid, here are a few tips to help get you through it:

  • First and foremost, don’t worry! Thousands of people have layovers of one hour or less at the Houston Airport every day. It’s completely normal, and very common. The airlines wouldn’t allow it if it never worked out.
  • Look for signs to the Skyway as soon as you get off your flight. The stations are located on the third floor of every terminal, and if you’re paying attention, chances are good that you won’t have to walk very far to find one.
  • The Houston Airport can be a very busy place in certain times of the day. I’ve always found that the quickest way to walk through it is to stay along the walls.
  • If you’re feeling hungry, wait until you get near your connecting gate before getting something to eat. There are a wide variety of good restaurants in every terminal, so you won’t be missing out on anything by rushing to your gate.

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