Short layover in Detroit? 1 hour is more than enough time!

Short layover in Detroit

If you’re facing a short layover in Detroit, don’t worry. Although it may be a large airport (and one of the most significant hubs for Delta Air Lines), it’s also efficiently designed and extremely easy to navigate.

A 1-hour layover in Detroit is easy if you’re not changing terminals. As a matter fact, I go far as to say that DTW minimum connection times can be as low as 40 minutes if you’re flying the same airline.

But how long of a layover do you need in Detroit if you’re changing airlines? Or flying international? Well, it depends. Let’s break it down for each specific scenario:

What is the minimum connection time for domestic flights at DTW?

The minimum time for connecting flights at DTW depends entirely on the airline that you’re flying.  Here is what I’ve experienced over the years:

Delta to Delta domestic connections:

Connecting from one Delta flight to another is a very simple process. Minimum connection times as low as 40 minutes, though it could be lower if you get lucky and find that the gate for your departing flight is near the gate of your arriving flight.

Delta to United, American, Spirit, etc domestic connections (and vise versa):

Changing from one airline to another in Detroit is going to involve a terminal change. This means having to re-clear security after arriving at the new terminal, so plan for at least an hour and a half to make your connection. Note that you will not have to change terminals if you aren’t changing airlines.

Delta is located in the McNamara Terminal (Concourses A, B, and C), while every other domestic airline is located over in the North Terminal .

Concourse A DTW
A view of Concourse A immediately after arriving on a glorious 12 hour flight from Seoul. I’m not knocking DTW or anything, but the Premium Select seats on the plane were much better than these monstrosities.

What is the minimum connection time for international flights at DTW?

International flights at DTW depart from Concourse A in the McNamara Terminal and the North Terminal. Delta and Delta partner airlines (KLM, Air France, etc)  use the McNamara Terminal. All other international airlines (Lufthansa, British Airways, Air Canada, etc.) use the North Terminal.

Connecting from an international flight

Connecting from an international flight to a domestic flight in Detroit is the same as it is at any other airport in the US. There are customs and immigration (FIS) facilities in both the McNamara and North Terminal.

  • If you are connecting from a Delta (or Delta partner airline) international flight to a domestic Delta flight, the minimum connection time is 2 hours.
  • If you are connecting from a Delta (or Delta partner airline) international flight to a domestic flight other than Delta, the minimum connection time is 3 hours. A terminal change will be necessary.
  • If you arrive on a non-partner Delta flight in the North Terminal (Lufthansa, British Airways, Air Canada, etc.) and connect to any airline other than Delta (Spirit, United, American, Southwest, etc), the minimum connection time is 2 hours.
  • If you arrive on a non-partner Delta flight in the North Terminal and connect to a Delta flight in the McNamara Terminal, the minimum connection time is 3 hours.
DTW North Terminal
I have pity on anyone who arrives at DTW on an international flight, and ends up here (in the North Terminal) to connect to a packed Spirit Airlines flight their final destination. Those people deserve to complain.

Connecting to an international flight

The same domestic connection process applies to international flights at DTW. It’s important to note, however, that international flights need to be fully boarded and ready to go 30 minutes before departure. Therefore, add at least an hour to your layover to ensure that you’ll make the connection.

Remember: international flights leave from both Concourse A in the McNamara Terminal (where Delta is located) and the North Terminal (where all the other airlines are). 

It’s a bit confusing since international flights operate out of both terminals (it’s the reason why having a short layover in Minneapolis can be difficult). The best way I can summarize it is by saying this:

  • If you don’t have to change terminals, a 2 hour layover is sufficient.
  • If you have to change terminals, plan for 3 hours – at least.

A brief overview of the terminal layout at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW)

The Detroit Metropolitan Airport is massive. There are two main terminals: the McNamara Terminal, and the North Terminal.

The McNamara Terminal and the North Terminal are completely separate buildings. The only way to get to or from the North Terminal to the others is to take a shuttle bus. Those shuttle buses run once every 10 minutes or so.

The McNamara terminal is broken up into three separate concourses: A, B, and C.

dtw terminal map
An overview of the terminal layout at DTW. Note: the North Terminal is actually located north of the McNamara Terminal (unlike east of it as I’m depicting here). But it doesn’t really matter, since they aren’t connected by walkways anyway. Don’t worry! The shuttle bus driver knows where to go. At least I’d like to hope so…

Concourse A, the main Concourse at DTW, is 1 mile in length from one end to the other. However, it’s a very easy walk. If you’re not up for it, there’s a train that runs back-and-forth across the entire length of the concourse that’ll get you to the other end in mere minutes.

Concourses B and C are connected to Concourse A via an underground walkway, and it’s possible to walk between the two in about five minutes (at a normal pace).

The reason why short layovers are ok at DTW

People ask me all the time if a 1-hour connection is OK in Detroit. You know what? I love telling them that they can do it in 40 minutes or less. The look on their face is priceless (even more priceless than the reactions I get when telling people what DFW minimum connection times are).

DTW may be big and intimidating, but there are a lot of good things about it which makes short connection times possible:

  • All terminals are wide with open walkways that never seem to clog up.
  • There are moving walkways nearly the entire length of all concourses.
  • The train that goes back-and-forth between one end of Concourse A and the other is extremely fast and efficient. Using this train, I’ve been able to get from one end to the other in less than five minutes. Walking, I can usually do it in 15 minutes.
  • There are moving walkways in the underground corridor between Concourses A, B, and C. Using these, I can usually get between these three concourses in 5 minutes.
  • Delta seems to do a pretty good job of clustering flights together within the terminal when things aren’t so busy. That means it’s highly unlikely that you’re going to have to be doing a lot of walking to make your connection.
DTW train concourse A
Inside the train that runs back and forth between the far ends of Concourse A. By the way, is anyone else impressed as I am that the three pics I’ve posted of DTW so far make it seem like the place is a ghost town? Where is everybody??

Travel time between all terminals at DTW

Travel time between all terminals at DTW isn’t all that bad considering how large of an airport it is. The following is my personal experience getting between all the terminals at Detroit Metropolitan Airport over the years:

From Concourse A (McNamara Terminal) to:

  • One end of Concourse A to the other: 15 minutes to walk, 5 minutes via the train
  • Concourse B: 5 minutes
  • Concourse C: 5 minutes
  • North Terminal: 45 minutes (requires shuttle bus and re-clearing security)

From Concourse B (McNamara Terminal) to:

  • Concourse A: 5 minutes
  • Concourse C: 2 minutes
  • North Terminal: 50 minutes (requires shuttle bus and re-clearing security)

From Concourse C (McNamara Terminal) to:

  • Concourse A: 5 minutes
  • Concourse B: 2 minutes
  • North Terminal: 50 minutes (requires shuttle bus and re-clearing security)

From the North Terminal to:

  • Concourse A (McNamara Terminal): 45 minutes (requires shuttle bus and re-clearing security)
  • Concourse B (McNamara Terminal): 50 minutes (requires shuttle bus and re-clearing security)
  • Concourse C (McNamara Terminal): 50 minutes (requires shuttle bus and re-clearing security)

What is the ideal connection time at DTW?

A short layover is definitely OK in Detroit as long as you’re not switching airlines. Personally, in order to feel comfortable and as stress-free as possible, I’d want an hour if I was going from one domestic Delta flight to another.

  • I’d want 3 hours if I was going from a Delta flight to another domestic flight on another airline (since this will require a terminal change). The same applies if I was going from any airline other than Delta to Delta.
  • If I was connecting from a domestic Delta flight to an international flight on a Delta partner airline I’d want 2 hours.
  • If I was connecting from a domestic flight on any airline other than Delta and connecting to an international flight on any airline that is not a Delta partner, 2 hours would be good.
SANspotter selfie DTW
Now, go back and read the bullet points (above) again. They’re more fun when you can visualize me standing here like a total dork in the underground tunnel (between concourses A and B) telling you what I think about short layovers at DTW.

Tips for making really short layovers in Detroit

The nice thing about DTW is that you don’t have to try really hard to make a short connection (IMHO, only Denver is easier for making 1-hour connections). But for all you worrywarts out there, here are a few tips to make it easier:

  • Just like what I said when giving advice about short layovers in Phoenix, try to fly the same airline if you can. By doing so, you won’t have to change terminals.
  • All Delta partner airlines (KLM, Air France, etc.) depart in the Delta Airlines terminal (terminal A). All non-partner airlines (Lufthansa, British Airways, Air Canada, etc.) use the North Terminal. Therefore, make sure you know ahead of time what terminal your flight will be arriving / departing from. 
  • Take advantage of the inter-terminal train (Concourse A) to get you from one end to the other as quickly as possible. It saves a lot of time!

Comments (4)

  1. Alexander Renaud

    July 30, 2021
    • Scott (SANspotter)

      July 30, 2021
  2. Aaron Slater

    July 31, 2021
    • Scott (SANspotter)

      July 31, 2021

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