Short layover in Phoenix? No Problem! Here’s why:

Short layover in Phoenix

Agonizing over the stress of having to deal with a short layover in Phoenix soon? Don’t be. The Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX) is one of the easiest airports in the United States to make short connections at. You’ll be fine.

Domestic connections can be made in little as 40 minutes at PHX as long as you stay within the same terminal. International connections can be made in about an hour and a half. Add 1 hour to both scenarios if a terminal change is necessary.

My personal record for a layover in Phoenix stands at 34 minutes. Yes, there was some OJ Simpson-style running involved, and I may have been looking disheveled as I arrived at the gate, but gosh darn it – I made it.

The reason short layovers ok in Phoenix

Once you pass a security checkpoint at the Phoenix airport, you’ll have access to all gates in that specific terminal. And since there are only two terminals at PHX (Terminal 3 and Terminal 4), the chances of you having to re-clear security is almost non-existent if you’re flying the same airline.

Walking from one end of Terminal 3 to the other can be done in less than 5 minutes. Walking from one end of terminal 4 to the other can be done in less than 10 minutes (at a brisk pace).

Phoenix airport terminal connection walkway
I know. It looks like an awfully long way to walk, but trust me on this. If these corridors between the individual concourses in Terminal 4 didn’t exist, you’d be hating life if you had to re-clear a security checkpoint instead.

The moving walkways in the corridors between concourses in Terminal 4 will be a huge help to get you through this airport quickly. Use them to your advantage!

What is the minimum layover for domestic flights in Phoenix?

As I already mentioned, 40 minute domestic connections at PHX are a piece of cake if you’re not changing terminals. However, plan for an hour and 40 minutes if you have to change terminals. If you’re flying the same airline, you won’t have to change terminals.

The trick to navigating a tight connection at PHX is to keep moving and avoid distractions. As tempting as it may be to stop and pick up a 2000-calorie Cinnabon before your flight to El Paso, you must keep moving.

SANspotter selfie Phoenix airport
Did someone say Cinnabon?

What is the minimum layover for international flights in Phoenix?

There is no dedicated international terminal at PHX. British Airways usually operates out of terminal 4, while Lufthansa and Air Canada operate out of terminal 3.

This isn’t a guarantee though, and there’s always a chance that you won’t know what terminal your international flight will be departing from until you arrive at the airport. That being said, here are the connection times you can expect:

Connecting TO an international flight

Connecting to an international flight in Phoenix is exactly how it is connecting to a domestic flight. The only difference is that you need to allow extra time to be onboard aircraft earlier than you would need to be for a domestic flight. Therefore, I would advise a minimum one hour layover if you’re connecting to an international flight at PHX if you don’t have to change terminals. Plan for two hours if you do.

Connecting FROM an international flight

The Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport doesn’t receive very many international flights on a daily basis, so getting through the customs and immigration process is relatively simple.

An hour and a half is the minimum connection time you’ll need to go from an international flight to a domestic flight in Phoenix (if you don’t have to change terminals). If a terminal change is necessary, plan for two and a half hours.

When it comes to international flights in and out of the Phoenix airport, the most important thing to remember is this: find out ahead of time which terminal your flights will be arriving and departing from. This will save you a lot of confusion once you arrive.

Making international connections in Phoenix is exactly like making a short layover in Detroit. There is no dedicated international terminal, so it can be confusing trying to figure out where you need to be.

Southwest Airlines Phoenix airport
On my way up to SFO after a relatively short layover here at PHX. If you’re just dying to know how I got here, be sure to read my Southwest Airlines Business Select review. If you don’t care, well…keep reading.

A brief overview of the terminal layout at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport

Phoenix Sky Harbor International airport is one of those “small town” US airports that got big by accident. Although it sometimes feels far too overcrowded inside, it’s actually very efficiently designed. Props to the original designers for thinking ahead.

PHX terminal map
There are two separate terminals at the Phoenix sky Harbor international airport (Terminal 3 and Terminal 4). Terminal 4 has four individual concourses, and they are connected via wide corridors featuring relatively fast moving walkways.

Note that there is no inter-terminal train here which will whisk you from one end to the other in air-conditioned comfort. It’s not needed, as this is an extremely walkable airport with a simple terminal design. You won’t get lost in this place.

Travel time between all terminals at PHX

I can’t count the number of times that I have walked the entire length of Terminal 4 at the Phoenix airport (from end to end) between flights. Although it’s not my home airport, I’ve been there enough to feel like I know it like the back of my hand.

Based on that experience, here is how long it usually takes me to walk from certain parts of the airport to the other:

From Terminal 3 to:

  • One end of Terminal 3 to the other: 5 minutes
  • Terminal 4 / Concourse A: 1 hour (you’ll need to re-clear security)
  • Terminal 4 / Concourse B: 1 hour (you’ll need to re-clear security)
  • Terminal 4 / Concourse C: 1 hour (you’ll need to re-clear security)
  • Terminal 4 / Concourse D: 1 hour (you’ll need to re-clear security)

From Terminal 4 / Concourse A to:

  • Terminal 4 / Concourse B: 3 minutes
  • Terminal 4 / Concourse C: 6 minutes
  • Terminal 4 / Concourse D: 9 minutes
  • Terminal 3: 1 hour (you’ll need to re-clear security)

From Terminal 4 / Concourse B to:

  • Terminal 4 / Concourse A: 3 minutes
  • Terminal 4 / Concourse C: 3 minutes
  • Terminal 4 / Concourse D: 6 minutes
  • Terminal 3: 1 hour (you’ll need to re-clear security)

From Terminal 4 / Concourse C to:

  • Terminal 4 / Concourse A: 6 minutes
  • Terminal 4 / Concourse B: 3 minutes
  • Terminal 4 / Concourse D: 3 minutes
  • Terminal 3: 1 hour (you’ll need to re-clear security)

From Terminal 4 / Concourse D to:

  • Terminal 4 / Concourse A: 9 minutes
  • Terminal 4 / Concourse B: 6 minutes
  • Terminal 4 / Concourse C: 3 minutes
  • Terminal 3: 1 hour (you’ll need to re-clear security)

Note that all of these times are assuming that you’re walking at a fairly decent pace. Add several minutes if you’ve got young children with you. Add a couple more if they’re ornery and hungry.

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

Personally, I try to avoid short layovers in Phoenix if I can. Not because it’s a stressful place, but because it’s a really nice airport that’s fun to hang out in. There’s lots of people and plane watching to do, and there are a wide variety of restaurants to keep my hunger at bay.

My ideal time for a layover in Phoenix is 2 hours.  That gives me plenty of time to walk around and stretch my legs, as well as to grab a bite to eat before my connection.

SANspotter selfie Phoenix airport moving walkway
“Stretching my legs” on the moving walkway between terminals.

Note that I’d want 3 hours coming off of an international flight connecting to a domestic flight (if I’m not changing terminals). If I am, 4 hours would be perfect.

Tips for making really short layovers at Phoenix

Of all the airport connection time advice that I’ve given over the years, it’s really easy for me to say good things about the Phoenix airport.

Short layovers are extremely easy no matter what airline you’re flying (international or domestic). That being said, here are some tips to help you get through the airport as quickly as possible:

  • Take advantage of the moving walkways between the individual concourses in Terminal 4. Although crowded at times, they’re extremely fast and they can definitely help you save time from one gate to another.
  • If possible, try to fly the same airline. By doing so, you’ll have a much higher chance of your connecting flight being near to your arrival gate (and you won’t have to change terminals). Note, however, that American Airlines has a very large presence at PHX. Be prepared to change terminals if you’re flying American Airlines.
  • Avoid trying to walk down the middle of the concourses during peak times. People tend to congregate in the middle of these concourses, and you’ll find that you’ll be able to walk in a much faster pace along the walls. Oh – and be sure to hold your breath as you skirt past the bathrooms.

Final thoughts: With enough determination, it wouldn’t be all that impossible to break my 35 minute connection time record at PHX. I’d consider you an absolute hero for doing so.

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