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Traveling to the US first time; Connection flights


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I`m going to fly to the US for the first time. And that is why there are many questions that concern me.

 

1. First of all, there is no direct flight from my city A to the city B where my university is located, but there is a direct flight from my city to New-York (JFK), so I can fly this way: A --> JFK --> B.

So, there are 2 options for me to fly to the US:

a) A --> JFK --> B       Note: flight from A to JFK would take approximately 13 hours.

b ) A --> some european cities (like Frankfurt, Istanbul, London and etc.) --> B

So which way would you recommend me, guys? Direct flight to the US or via tranfers in 2-3 european cities?

I never traveled so long, is it okay to travel 12-13 hour in one single flight or it is better to fligh 3-4 hours per flight?

 

2. Let`s say, I go multicity way, like let`s say this way: A --> Frankfurt --> London --> Miami --> B

And I have only US visa, will I need Shengen visa when I enter Frankfurt?

Or British visa when I enter London?

 

3. What about baggage? Do they transfer it automatically to another airplane or will I have to take it myself and go through checkpoint?

 

4. What about gap time between flights? How to know if it is enough?

 

5. Generally, guys, what should I know about connection flight? 

Edited by virtua
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I think you should not worry to travel. Here is how I'm going to travel.

1. From my home town to capital city about 6-7 hours.

2. To a neighboring country about 3 hours.

3. Then to via another country to NYJFK with 13 hours layover. About 24 hours!

4. NY JFK to Chicago 17 hours by bus :)

5. Chicago to my university about 2 hours by bus :)

It will be my third visit to the US :) I will have plenty of time to travel before September :)

Just make sure you have enough time between connections to at least find your gates to depart!

Good luck!

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I`m going to fly to the US for the first time. And that is why there are many questions that concern me.

 

1. First of all, there is no direct flight from my city A to the city B where my university is located, but there is a direct flight from my city to New-York (JFK), so I can fly this way: A --> JFK --> B.

So, there are 2 options for me to fly to the US:

a) A --> JFK --> B       Note: flight from A to JFK would take approximately 13 hours.

b ) A --> some european cities (like Frankfurt, Istanbul, London and etc.) --> B

So which way would you recommend me, guys? Direct flight to the US or via tranfers in 2-3 european cities?

I never traveled so long, is it okay to travel 12-13 hour in one single flight or it is better to fligh 3-4 hours per flight?

 

2. Let`s say, I go multicity way, like let`s say this way: A --> Frankfurt --> London --> Miami --> B

And I have only US visa, will I need Shengen visa when I enter Frankfurt?

Or British visa when I enter London?

 

3. What about baggage? Do they transfer it automatically to another airplane or will I have to take it myself and go through checkpoint?

 

4. What about gap time between flights? How to know if it is enough?

 

5. Generally, guys, what should I know about connection flight? 

 

Okay, I am not an expert, so please verify everything I say here.  If other users are more knowledgeable, please correct me if needed.

 

1.  Personally, I prefer to make as few stops as possible.  It minimizes the chance of missed flights, delays, and lost luggage.  I would do A --> JFK --> B, but it's ultimately up to you.  If you think you need a break in flying, maybe more stops will be better for you.  The longest flight I've been on was about 13 hours (USA to Japan).  It does suck, but it's doable.  Bring things to amuse yourself, as always.

2. If you do end up passing through a European city, don't worry about it.  Your visa should be fine as it is.  You are not actually "entering" that country if you stay in the airport terminal, so don't worry about that.  Similarly, you'll be asked to fill out a form on your flight to the US listing where you're coming from and if you're bringing any goods with you to sell.  If you stopped in London and were just in the airport to connect flights, you will NOT need to list "England" as a place you visited/came from - just your home country.

 

3. Baggage transfers will vary by airline.  Are you flying with one airline the whole way or is there a change?  If there is a change, call one of the airlines and ask if they have a "baggage agreement" with the other airline and confirm that they will transfer.  You could also travel light and just take a carry-on if you want to avoid this.

 

4. This is trickier.  I'm honestly not sure how much time you'd need for connections in Europe if you decide to make one.  I think the minimum amount of time an airline will sell you is 45 minutes, but I'd personally want at least 60-90 minutes (especially with checked bags).  You will need MORE time between your flight from JFK --> B if you connect within the US.  Even if it is not your final destination, when you first land in the United States, you must clear customs and re-do security screening.  This can take up a lot of time.  If you checked bags, you will have to collect them and re-check after customs (it's usually easy and you can re-check your baggage at a desk like 100 ft away from where you picked it up).  This is in case you are randomly selected for screening.  Check with the airline about how much time you need.  I'd say at least 120 minutes, but you need to check with them.  If you buy tickets online, don't assume the computer will automatically give you enough time to make the connection.  You need to be sure.

I hope this helps.  Basically, a call to your airline(s) should help clear up any questions you have.  You'll want to double-check everything I've said anyway. lol

Edited by Munashi
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At some point, you're going to have a  long flight over the Atlantic. The flight from London to Miami is pretty long too, though not 13 hours. I would go for the most direct route you can afford, which is the option where you stop in JFK.

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If you only layover ONCE, pick Europe because the airports are generally nicer. If you layover more than once in Europe, go for the most direct route. As for timing the layovers, let's say you go A --> JFK --> B, you need to leave yourself at least an hour because you will go through Customs when you land in the US, even if it is not your final stop. Airports like Frankfurt (Germany) also make you show your passport (but not go through Customs, you don't need a visa) and you have to go through the metal detector process all over again so that eats a lot of time.

 

My suggestion: A --> JFK --> B. It's the simplest.

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I don't think there's a British Visa unless your country does not have an agreement with the European Union. If you are allowed to visit Europe, then you should be able to visit UK.

 

Anyway, I would recommend you to do Somewhere->JFK->City.  The only problem is that American airports require you to pass through immigration before taking the connecting flight (I've done it several times), and JFK is a crowded airport with thousands of foreigners landing, so the immigration process takes forever. Last time I went to New York it took at least an hour and a half to pass through immigration. However, there might be some exceptions with those taking connecting flights.

 

 

I`m going to fly to the US for the first time. And that is why there are many questions that concern me.

 

1. First of all, there is no direct flight from my city A to the city B where my university is located, but there is a direct flight from my city to New-York (JFK), so I can fly this way: A --> JFK --> B.

So, there are 2 options for me to fly to the US:

a) A --> JFK --> B       Note: flight from A to JFK would take approximately 13 hours.

b ) A --> some european cities (like Frankfurt, Istanbul, London and etc.) --> B

So which way would you recommend me, guys? Direct flight to the US or via tranfers in 2-3 european cities?

I never traveled so long, is it okay to travel 12-13 hour in one single flight or it is better to fligh 3-4 hours per flight?

 

2. Let`s say, I go multicity way, like let`s say this way: A --> Frankfurt --> London --> Miami --> B

And I have only US visa, will I need Shengen visa when I enter Frankfurt?

Or British visa when I enter London?

 

3. What about baggage? Do they transfer it automatically to another airplane or will I have to take it myself and go through checkpoint?

 

4. What about gap time between flights? How to know if it is enough?

 

5. Generally, guys, what should I know about connection flight? 

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I would recommend the flights with the fewest connections, as the others have stated. If I could choose between one layover in Europe vs. one layover in JFK, I'd choose Europe.

 

Keep in mind that you have to go through US immigration the first time you arrive at a US airport, so you would have to go through it at JFK if you choose A --> JFK --> B. You also have to pick your luggage up, go through customs, then re-check it for your next flight. JFK is a large and busy airport, which can be hard to navigate, and the first time you enter on your new status might take longer than usual at immigration. The process is pretty straightforward (including the customs part -- Munashi gave a good description of the process above) but it can be stressful the first time you do it. So, if you do choose this option, make sure you give yourself more than enough time to clear immigration and customs and get to your next flight, so you're not stressing out about missing your connection. It is highly probable that you will have to go to another terminal than the one you land in (which means figuring out the airport's internal transportation system) and go through security again. Again, this is straightforward, but can be stressful if you've never done it before and you're worried about making your next flight.

 

Generally, for me, I prefer to stop off in Europe and go through immigration at my destination city, to avoid the stress of possibly missing a connection. In that case your luggage can be checked through to your destination. It becomes trickier if we're talking one stop in JFK vs. two stops in Europe; it's really up to you. 

 

(I have no knowledge about visas for European countries or the UK.)

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This page: http://www.schengenvisainfo.com/transit-schengen-visa/gives some information about the necessary visa statuses required to transit through a Schengen country airport to a non-Schengen country airport (i.e. a US airport). I think you have said you are from India, which means you need the airport transit visa (category "B") if you are not leaving the international area of the airport and a short-stay visa (category "C") if you are going to need to leave the airport's international area.

 

I'm not 100% sure if that page is correct and you should definitely check more deeply, but from this information, I think it would be more trouble for you if you connect through a Schengen country because this is an extra visa. Since you will already have a US visa anyways, it makes a lot more sense to connect through the US.

 

Therefore, I think A -> JFK -> B is the best and most simplest route for you. In your shoes, this is what I would choose.

 

To answer your other questions, which also support why I think A -> JFK -> B is the best.

 

A 12-13 hour flight is long and I don't enjoy these long flights. However, I would think it's is far better to suffer a 12-13 hour flight and only have 1 connection than it is to take several 4-5 hour flights with multiple connections. Every connection is another chance for something to go wrong and cause you to miss even more flights! 

 

Your baggage question has already been answered. But I also think A -> JFK -> B is best for baggage because you will be on the same plane as your baggage for sure when you enter JFK and have to go through customs. If you connect in another country, there is a chance your baggage will be misplaced, which means your baggage might not enter the US at the same time you do (at JFK) which makes customs harder.

 

You should contact your airline to determine how much connection time is necessary. For international flights requiring customs, and to account for the craziness that is JFK, I would personally recommend at least 2 hours. I would feel safer with 3 or 4 hours even. Again, waiting in an airport for no reason sucks but I would rather suffer a 2 hour wait in an airport than the stress of running in order to catch a flight. Bring something for you to read or do while waiting :)

 

Another reason I think it's better to connect through JFK is that if something does go wrong with the connection, since you are already in the US, you should have a lot more options. JFK is a big US airport so if you miss your connecting flight, JFK will likely have more options for you to take an alternative flight to B than if you were in London or another country. (In this case, you might have to take 2 or 3 additional connections, which cost more money!!)

 

And, this way, you have the most control over one stressful part of your trip: going through customs. Personally, I like having control (or the illusion of control) when in stressful situations, and by flying through JFK, you know for sure that you will be entering customs through JFK. If you connect via another country, if something goes wrong with the connection, then you might end up entering the US in a different area than expected. This would cause extra stress for me :(

 

Anyways, the only disadvantage (I think) of A -> JFK -> B is that immigration at JFK can take longer than expected and cause you to miss a connection to B. But, you can mitigate this by having an extra long layover at JFK. And, I think all of the other advantages I give for going through JFK outweighs this disadvantage. Of course, each person would have their own preference, this is just mine!

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The advantage of no connections in the U S is that you will not have to worry about the lengthy border control in the US to activate your visa (assuming it needs activation). If you are entering the US as student for the first time prepare for very long customs once you land for the first time in the US. JFK is also a gigantic airport hence even longer waits. It s not even sure 4h of connection will be enough. Imagine this: they get suspicious and send you to immigration control. This can take hours. You don t want to stress over missing your flight when they ask you for the tenth time where are you from (immigration officers are deliberately acting stupid to piss you off).

Tip for long travels: drink a lot and don t eat too much. Also, bring warm clothes and socks. It s not as bad as it seems. Imo better a long flight than many connections.

PS: took me 2 h to write this post because of work and all and now I see it s already been covered. Sorry XD

Edited by random_grad
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  • 2 weeks later...

It's reading threads like this that makes me an unwilling participant in that xkcd comic about somebody being wrong on the internet.

 

 

2. If you do end up passing through a European city, don't worry about it.  Your visa should be fine as it is.  You are not actually "entering" that country if you stay in the airport terminal, so don't worry about that.  Similarly, you'll be asked to fill out a form on your flight to the US listing where you're coming from and if you're bringing any goods with you to sell.  If you stopped in London and were just in the airport to connect flights, you will NOT need to list "England" as a place you visited/came from - just your home country.

 

 

 

Airports have regional and international terminals, and you will always need to exit one to enter the other. Depending on the airport and country, this may mean that you need a transit visa, or it may not. For instance, if OP is flying A (outside EU) -> Frankfurt -> Paris -> B, then they will need to exit the international terminal in Frankfurt, enter the Schengen zone (for which they will need a visa), board a regional flight in a different terminal to Paris, and then get out of the Schengen zone again in Paris. If OP, however, were flying A -> Frankfurt -> somewhere in the US, then they will likely not need a Schengen transit visa because they will remain in the same international terminal throughout.

 

Additional warning regarding London HRW- unless you are flying British Airways, international flights will arrive into Heathrow Terminal 4, and unless your connection leaves from Terminal 4 also (which it will not, in many cases), you will need to exit the terminal on a transit visa and take the underground to one of the other terminals.

 

 

I don't think there's a British Visa unless your country does not have an agreement with the European Union. If you are allowed to visit Europe, then you should be able to visit UK.

 

 

Sigh. There's a lot of well-meaning people here. The UK is not part of the Schengen zone. Any kind of Schengen visa (the visa you get to visit France, Italy, etc) is invalid for gaining entry into the UK. There is a British visa for anybody who is not a British or EU citizen. There is also a Switzerland visa, a Norway visa, and an Ireland visa, because those countries (among others) are also not part of the Schengen zone.

 

I'm a person with a third-country passport and I travel frequently through Europe to the US. In general, I would recommend as few layovers as possible, because the journey will be extremely taxing as is. Which side of the Atlantic you should layover depends on where your destination is. I prefer to layover in Europe because I don't need to take another plane if I land in BOS or NYC, but if you need to get to, like, Indiana or somewhere else that no European airline flies to, laying over in the US may make more sense. I would avoid the UK because the visa process and border control are a lot shittier than the EU. The best airports to go through in the EU are Schipol, Frankfurt, and (this is a personal opinion - many people think it's too big, but I like it because it's new and clear-cut, like ATL) Madrid. I would avoid Charles de Gaulle (Paris) and anything in Italy. But frankly, this is all facetious because any airport is ultimately fine. I wouldn't transfer in anything less than 1.5 hrs - 1 hour is cutting it extremely short, and anything less than 1 hour means that if your connecting flight is late or if there is a line at border control or if you suck at spatial reasoning and get lost frequently that you're gonna miss your connection.

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What about a layover at Toronto, Canada? I'm looking at flights to Detroit (primarily) or Indianapolis and Air Canada seems to have a lot of fights.

 

Toronto Pearson International Airport has US Preclearance, which means you will be crossing the US border in Toronto, not at your final airport destination. So, in theory, this carries the same risk of border delays causing you to miss a connection as if you connected in JFK. 

 

Major airports in Canada have 3 different areas: International, United States, and Domestic. If you connect through Toronto, you will likely land in the International terminal and to enter the US terminal, you will go through US Border Preclearance where you will talk to a Customs/Immigration officer just like you would at JFK. US Customs / Border Patrol says that Preclearance is more effective and I think they are right. I always go through customs much faster at a Preclearance site than at a US airport. This is because out of all the people entering Toronto from the international travel, only a fraction of them are going to the US. However, everyone international entering JFK will need to go through US Customs. And also, these preclearance stations are fairly recent and they were built with efficiency in mind!

 

In addition, you will have way more options if you connect through Toronto instead of a EU country. The reason that US has preclearance in Canada is to help streamline travel between our two countries. Not every airport in the US has the full customs set-up necessary to process international travelers so if you are coming from a EU country, you must connect through a major hub airport (e.g. JFK). Once you go through a Canadian airport with pre-clearance, then you can in theory land at any US airport (as long as a flight exists) because you have already "crossed the border".  (Note: this is the some of the same advantages as choosing JFK over a EU connection as I wrote above).

 

In summary, the differences between connecting through Toronto Pearson (YYZ) and JFK are:

- potentially shorter US customs lines since fewer people enter the US through YYZ than through JFK

- YYZ may be easier to get around than JFK (I don't have experience in JFK but I think YYZ is well organized and easy to get around)

- It is less busy than JFK (JFK is the 21st most busy airport in the world. YYZ is in the mid-30s)

 

Otherwise, everything else is the same. My advice would be to consider connections through YYZ or other Canadian airports with US Preclearance the same as JFK. Personally I would like YYZ better because it's less crowded but for you, it might be easier to not deal with a connection in yet a third country. But if you are choosing between Toronto vs an EU connection, definitely go for Toronto.

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^ I second that. I have experience with both JFK (and other US airports) and YYZ (and other Canadian airports) and without a doubt the US Customs experience has been more pleasant and faster every time I have been able to do it at a Canadian airport. They are also easier to navigate than some of the monsters where international flights land in the US. I also like Air Canada, but regardless I think flying through Canada might be a good way to fly if you're choosing between a layover in Canada or one in the EU, especially since for Detroit you may need a connection within the US anyway. 

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The last few times I've passed through JFK airport I've been impressed with the speed at which I got through Border Control - it was under 30 minutes on my most recent trip.

 

I learned the hard way that you should leave at least 60 minutes between connecting flights. Plane 1 was delayed by ~30 mins landing at Heathrow, and it would have taken ~10 mins to get through the terminal to my second flight...so I missed it. If you need to get through any kind of Border Control/Security then you will obviously need more time.

 

My personal preference is for the most direct route. Airports are dreary, expensive places to hang about it. If there's any wifi it almost certainly ain't free (or you only get 15 min free internet). At least on a plane you can watch inflight movies to amuse yourself, or fall asleep without the risk of missing a connection. 

 

Another thing to think about is what time you'll arrive in the USA and how far you have to travel to get to your accommodation. If you arrive at midnight there may not be any public transport to get you to where you need to be. You'll be really tired and jet lagged after the long trip, which can make even a short subway ride seem like an eternity. 

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always always change in Europe if it is possible. Domestic American flights are like public transportation. Very effective but very inconvenient. No free food no free drinks , limited entertainment, small spaces.  staff is a toss up - stewards/stewardesses can be nice or rude. pilots are usually good. cleanliness can be bad.  So choose the European/ international airline between Europe and your target city, it will be much more pleasant (drinks, food, cleanliness).

 

JFK is one of the worst airports to transfer too in the US because it is very busy and you have to get out of the airport to get from international to domestic. If you are on a domestic flight you are basically left to fend for yourself, they will not wait for you (guaranteed international connections will wait for you or if for some reason you are really really late they will arrange the next flight It only happened to me after a 9 hour delay. But within a 2 hour delay the next plane waits for the passengers! I have waited too for late planes from Africa mostly, several times). So all you have to do is to get a ticket from your starting point to the endpoint through one airline, all your international transfers will be guaranteed and your luggage will travel automatically to the endpoint.

 

On the other hand once I almost missed my flight with a 3 hours layover in JFK (and my bag was transferred almost automatically). I just stood in lines for over two hours.- border control,customs, pick up luggage, drop off luggage at transfer, check in domestic (not transfer you have to go out), security domestic. JFK is not an easy airport to navigate.  I would not recommend JFK even if you have to change in the US, even though their border control is probably the most experienced.....

 

This is said take off and landing is a huge waste of time, it is exhausting etc. Spending a couple of more hours in air is much better (just imagine sleeping instead of being buckled in /transferring /being buckled in . Usually long haul flights are better serviced/equipped too.

But I would still take the long flight on an intercontinental flight (and small European ones) over a long haul domestic US flight. Also inside Europe flights are still international so you will get food and drinks even a short distance.

Edited by kaykaykay
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It's reading threads like this that makes me an unwilling participant in that xkcd comic about somebody being wrong on the internet.

 

Sigh. There's a lot of well-meaning people here. 

 

I always appreciate being corrected and learning what's what.  Thanks for the info, and cheers! :)

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  • 5 weeks later...

What exactly does the customs process entail? ( I have a two and a half hour connection in Newark and then I continue to Chicago) - is it me showing my passports, J1 documents and all other documents I had to take with me for the visa interview and being asked questions?

 

What do I do if I miss my next flight? (this is googleable, but has this happened to anyone?)

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I think there is extra stuff they have to do the first time you enter the US, but someone who's done this more recently should tell you about that. 

 

If you miss your flight because of immigration, I believe the airline should book you on the next available flight, but at the end of the day it's up to them and it's possible that they'll want to charge you some fee. 

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Well, as long as it's not something like them telling me 'bummer' - I think it will be OK. After the amount of money I spent on a summer flight purchased too late, including a cat etc. - my main goal at the moment is to just arrive at my destination :)

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The process is simple (probably vary on your port of entry and your country of origin though). You go up to the customs desk and you give them your passport (with your visa, if applicable), your DS-2019, and I believe your boarding pass. They will check it over and ask if this is the first entry to the US on this status/visa. They will probably ask you a few random questions about your plan in the United States--what school you're going to (even though it's on the DS-2019), what you are studying, etc. They may or may not ask for additional documents to support your DS-2019, such as an admission letter etc. so you should have them easy to get to (but don't give it to them until they ask).

 

They will also ask you general customs questions that they would ask for any visitor on any status, such as items to declare. They will know about any bags you have checked because they will scan your boarding pass and images of your checked bags will appear. They might ask about the contents of the bag.

 

Overall, it's just a series of simple questions (and sometimes just confirmation of stuff in your documents) to ensure that you aren't lying. Answer honestly and calmly and everything should hopefully go smoothly. There is a small chance you might get "secondary screening" which means you will be taken away from the main area and there will be more questions in another room. I haven't experienced this, but an incident a few years ago made the number of secondary screenings for international students rise dramatically for that short time and my school's international office sent all of the international students an email letting us know that it might happen and to not worry etc.

 

Unfortunately, if you miss a flight due to immigration, it is considered your fault and the airlines aren't obligated to help you out. But if you ask nicely and politely, they can do a lot. My friend once accidentally booked a return flight on an entirely different day (departing 8pm on Monday instead of 8pm on Sunday). He arrived Sunday afternoon at the airport, explained his mistake, and they put him on the 8pm Sunday flight at no charge even. Obviously, you cannot count on this, but if this happens, you would hopefully only have to pay the change fee instead of buying a whole new ticket (or also paying the difference).

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I wasn't counting on the problem being solved by the airlines, I just hoped that if I miss my flight ( I hope not....) - this issue can be resolved. I don't really mind waiting or getting delayed myself, but I will be travelling with my poor cat who will be stuck in a bag for approx. 20 hours and i'm afraid this will be horrible for the cat.

 

For some reason I thought  (now that I think about it, it really makes no sense) that the whole customs thing will be after the connection flight - at my destination and tried to get a flight with the shortest connection, due to worrying for said cat.

 

Well, I hope everything will be OK. Thanks for the information.

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1. Guys, I bought a ticket to JFK, what would you recommend me in order to get well-prepared for the immigration things? I mean, is it easy to know which route I should go in the airport or it would be better to study the map of JFK to be well-oriented?

2. Any review on JetBlue?

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1. Guys, I bought a ticket to JFK, what would you recommend me in order to get well-prepared for the immigration things? I mean, is it easy to know which route I should go in the airport or it would be better to study the map of JFK to be well-oriented?

2. Any review on JetBlue?

 

1. In theory, you can study the airport maps. In reality, you will be jet lagged and super tired. I've never been to JFK but in every instance where I cross borders on a flight, the airport security is very good at making sure you do not escape without going through customs/immigration. Once you get off the plane, you should just follow the crowd of people and the signs for immigration/border/customs because there will be only one route. They close off all the side doors. 

 

Right after immigration, there is almost always a giant wall of screens showing the connecting flight information and some kind of airport map. Find out the connecting info (if you don't already know it ahead of time, it will depend on how early your flight to JFK left) and use the map to get to the right place. For many airlines, when you are on the plane, they have a magazine/booklet in the seat pocket and in the back of this magazine, they often have airport layouts for major airports, such as JFK. So, if you are bored on the plane, you can take a look at that too.

 

2. They are a reputable and decent airline. You can find tons of negative reviews about them online but people hate airlines in general and like to complain about airlines so this will be true for pretty much every airline.

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1- as a student you are NOT immigrating. Be sure to not reply to any questions in a way to make them suspect otherwise. Have proof of ties to you home country and be confident when you say you want to go back.

airports have signs for connections so no need to stress over it (although do not try to be "smart" and stay cool. I could have gotten tased because I tried to bypass customs on a european flight.)

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