Connecting times at Istanbul Ataturk and Sabiha Gokcen airports

Note to the readers: As of April 2019, the newly built Istanbul airport is in operation. Ataturk International Airport has since been shut down for commercial operations. While the Sabiha Gokcen Airport operates as usual, the topic of connecting times at Ataturk International Airport and passenger transit between Ataturk and Sabiha Gokcen airports becomes irrelevant. More information you can find here.

There are two major airports in Istanbul - Ataturk International (IATA code: IST) and Sabiha Gokcen (IATA code: SAW) situated at both sides of the Bosphorus, approximately 60 km from each other. The bigger airport is Ataturk, located at the European side of Istanbul and is also the major hub for Turkish Airlines. Ataturk Airport serves 63 million passengers annually, out of which 20 million travel on domestic routes. Sabiha Gokcen airport serves 30 million passengers, out of which 20 million are domestic passengers. 

In order to understand more of the required minimum connection time at both Istanbul airports, we shall look into the global distribution systems, which offer quite detailed information.

Let’s look at the data for Ataturk Airport. Ataturk Airport has 2 main terminals - Domestic and International. It turns out it is not quite easy to determine the minimum connection time, as there are a lot dependencies. If you arrive on a domestic flight and continue your journey onward on a domestic flight, the minimum time to switch between the flights is 30 min. The minimum time to connect between two international flights is 1 h. If you arrive on an International flight and continue on domestic flight (or vice versa), the minimum time varies between 1h 15 min. and 1h 30 min. The longer time needed for domestic/international transiting is due to passing through immigration, where queues are often long. There are some connections with domestic flights, where baggage needs to be rechecked. 

Ataturk airport from above. Source: Wikipedia

While it sounds pretty straightforward, we need to warn you of the numerous exceptions. Many domestic/domestic transfers at ttaturk require at least 40 min, some even 55 min.

The rules for International flights are even more complicated. While generally 1h is enough, there are numerous exceptions, where the minimum time required is 1h 30 min. For transiting to many countries, the minimum connection time is set to 1h 15 min, but between certain flight numbers, it is only 55 min. For example, longer time is needed if you are boarding a long distance flights to Brazil, USA, etc. The transfer between International flights operated by Pegasus Airlines is set to 1h 40 min in many cases.

Let’s look at Sabiha Gokcen airport. As a general rule, only 20 min are needed for domestic / domestic transfers and 1h for international / international transfers. Also 1h is needed for domestic / international transfers (or vice versa).

Sabiha Gokcen airport from the apron. Source: Wikipedia

At Sabiha Gokcen, like at Ataturk, numerous rules and exceptions exist. You need to know that these rules are being changed often, subject to different factors, such as security concerns, change or optimisation of airline schedules, etc.

In case you buy a connecting flight on a single ticket, you need to know that the schedule always takes into account the minimum connection time. In ideal circumstances, it allows you (and your baggage) to safely transit and board the connecting flight. Of course, you should know that the airports of Istanbul are very busy and delays do occur, so any extra time you could plan on is always a plus.

In case you are transferring between Ataturk and Sabiha Gokcen airports, at least 5 h between the flights is required. It may look a lot, but it is not surprising, as the distance between the airports is over 60km and the Bosphorus needs to be crossed. There isn’t also a direct rail link.

In case of long layovers, the airport hotels located near Ataturk and Sabiha Gokcen airports are a good option. You can read more about the Istanbul airport hotels and how to book them here.  

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