Short layover in San Diego? What’s the shortest you can get away with?

Short layover in San Diego? What’s the shortest you can get away with?

San Diego is one of the top destinations in the US, but there are still thousands of people who have layovers at the San Diego Airport every day (without even stepping outside to enjoy the nice weather). For those of you considering such a horrific thing, how short is too short for a layover in San Diego?

  • Connecting from one domestic flight to another in San Diego can be done in as little as 30 minutes. If you have to change terminals, give yourself 1 hour.
  • Domestic to international connections will require 40 minutes (1 hour and 20 minutes if you have to change terminals).
  • International to domestic connections all require 1.5 hours (minimum) – no matter what terminal your connecting flight will be departing from.

But don’t torture yourself. If you’re flying to San Diego, you might as well figure out a way to stay a while. It’s nice here.

Reasons why a 1 hour layover is enough time in San Diego (most of the time)

The really nice thing about the San Diego Airport is it’s compact size. It consists of two terminals (1 and 2), with several concourses each.

  • Everything is within walking distance. There is no need for shuttle buses, trams, or trains.
  • A vast majority of the passengers making connections in San Diego will not need to change terminals.

Southwest Airlines and Alaska Airlines (the two airlines with the most connecting flights here) are fairly well consolidated. You’ll hardly ever find yourself running at top speed across the airport in a desperate attempt to make your connection. 

SANspotter waiting in terminal 2 San Diego Airport
A detailed visual depiction of what a typical connection is like at the San Diego airport. My advice: bring reading material.

Reasons why a 1 hour layover might not be enough time

One situation where a 1 hour layover wouldn’t be enough time is if you’re flying into Terminal 1, and then out of Terminal 2 on an international flight. Going through the security checkpoint at Terminal 2 could take some time depending on what time of day it is.

Keep in mind that, per FAA regulations, you’ll need to be on board the aircraft a bit sooner than you would for a domestic flight.

The other scenario where a 1 hour layover wouldn’t be enough time is if you’re coming in on an international flight at Terminal 2, and then departing on a domestic flight out of Terminal 1. Chances are slim that you’re going to make it through passport control and customs (and then security in Terminal 1) with enough time to spare.

San Diego Airport Southwest Airlines check in area T1
Attempting a 1 hour international to domestic connection (with a terminal change) at SAN is stupid. It’ll be impressive as hell if you can pull it off, but it’s still really stupid.

What is the minimum layover time for domestic flights in San Diego?

As long as you don’t have to change terminals, domestic to domestic connections in San Diego can be made in as little as 30 minutes. Especially in Terminal 1. That’s the smaller of the two terminals at the San Diego Airport, and it won’t take long to walk from one end of it to the other.

If you have to change terminals, past experience has taught me that 1 hour is the absolute minimum time you’ll need for a layover in San Diego. It’ll only take five minutes to walk between the two main terminals, but the lines at the security checkpoints are always a wildcard. It’s hard to know how long it’s going to take.

Starbucks terminal 2 west San Diego Airport
Warning: stopping for coffee at this Starbucks in T2 West is not advisable if you’re facing a short layover. You’ll either end up with a really great cup of coffee, or you’ll miss your flight. You can’t have both.

What is the minimum layover time for international flights in San Diego?

The amount of layover time you’ll need for international flights in and out of San Diego aren’t all that much different from my domestic flight estimates (above). Note that all international flights arrive and depart from Terminal 2 at the San Diego International Airport.

Connecting TO an international flight

If you’re flying into Terminal 2, the minimum connection time going from a domestic flight to an international flight in San Diego is 40 minutes. If you’re flying into Terminal 1, you’ll need at least an hour and 20 minutes (since you’ll need to get your rear end over to Terminal 2).

Connecting FROM an international flight

All international flights arrive at Terminal 2 at the San Diego International Airport. You’ll go through customs and immigration there, and then exit out into the baggage claim area.

  • If your connecting flight is departing out of Terminal 2, a 1.5 hour layover is ideal. This is because you’ll need the time to get through customs, re-check your bags, and then go through the security checkpoint.
  • If your connecting flight is departing out of Terminal 1, 1.5 hours is the bare minimum as well. Walking over to terminal 1 will take just minutes from the point where you’ll exit customs and immigration in Terminal 2.
Terminal 2 west San Diego Airport architecture
If you do end up missing your flight, at least you’ll have lots of pretty architecture to look at as you plot your next move.

A brief overview of the terminal layout

The San Diego consists of two main terminals (Terminal 1 and Terminal 2). Terminal 1 is going under a complete tear down and rebuild at the moment, so it’s basically a mess.

Terminal 2 is the much larger terminal at the San Diego Airport, it’s broken up into two individual concourses (East and West).

San Diego airport terminal map
I don’t mean to stress you out or anything, but T1 looks nothing like this at the current moment (due to construction). Godspeed to you (and your travel-weary soul) if you need to make a tight connection through that terminal anytime before 2025.

Walking time between all terminals

As I’ve already mentioned, the San Diego Airport is extremely easy to walk from one end to the other. You’ll have to go outside for a brief moment to walk between the individual terminals, but it’s no biggie. This is San Diego after all, and it’s always sunny and 75° here.

As a San Diego local (and frequent flyer out of SAN), here is how long it usually takes me to walk around this airport:

Terminal 1 to:

  • Terminal 2 East: 5 minutes
  • Terminal 2 West: 9 minutes

Terminal 2 East to:

  • Terminal 1: 5 minutes
  • Terminal 2 West: 4 minutes

Terminal 2 West to:

  • Terminal 1: 9 minutes
  • Terminal 2 East: 4minutes

NOTE: the times needed to get from Terminal 2 to Terminal 1 (as well as within Terminal 1 itself) will vary. Terminal 1 is currently being rebuilt form the ground up, and is scheduled to be finished sometime in mid 2025. Until, then, it’s basically going to be an unpredictable s***show.

SANspotter walking outside of terminal 1 San Diego Airport
Throwback to the before times (before construction started on Terminal 1).

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

For a no stress connection in San Diego, my recommended layover time is 36 hours. Minimum. I’m proud of my city, OK? However, if you don’t have time to stay (shame on you), the following are my recommendations for making a connection at this airport that won’t stress you out:

Domestic to domestic flights

2 hours is all you’ll really need for an easy-breezy domestic to domestic connection in San Diego (even if you have to change terminals). That said, if you’re arriving at T2 and then departing out of T1, 1 hour is all you’ll need. T1 is a small terminal with few seating options. you’ll be bored to tears in mere minutes.

Also, San Diego Airport food is pretty good – so it’s worth padding your schedule a bit to allow for trying some of it out. 

Domestic to international flights

Remember: all international flights at SAN depart out of Terminal 2. With that in mind, I would want 2 hours if my inbound flight was arriving in T2. I would want at least 2 1/2 hours if my inbound flight was arriving in T1.

International to domestic flights

Only because you never really know how long it’s going to take to get through passport control and customs, I would want 3 hours going from an international flight to a domestic flight in San Diego. It’s probably overkill, but you won’t have to stress.

However, you will be in San Diego after all, so you’ll have the option of going outside to soak up some of that beautiful SoCal sun if you don’t want to spend your entire layover inside.

San Diego Airport exterior
You’ve come all this way, so you might as well go outside and sit under a palm tree (or two). Long layovers at SAN FTW.

Useful tips for making short layovers at SAN

When it comes to making tight connections in San Diego, there’s really not all that much to worry about. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll have to change terminals, but even if you do, it’s not that big of a deal. Here are some tips to make it a little easier:

  • Make sure all your flights are on the same airline (or at least the same airline alliance). Flying on the same airline will guarantee that you won’t have to change terminals. The same goes for flying on airlines that are grouped together in alliances such as Oneworld, Star Alliance, SkyTeam, etc.
  • Sit as far forward as you can on the plane for your arriving flight. This means that you’ll be one of the first passengers to deplane, and you’ll get to your connecting gate sooner.
  • If you’re connecting from Terminal 1 to Terminal 2, check the current wait times for the security checkpoints ahead of time. There are multiple security checkpoints in Terminal 2, and you can reach all gates from any of them.
  • If you have to switch terminals, it’s faster to walk. Don’t take the complementary shuttle bus.

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