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Leaving SFO over a layover...how much time should I afford?

I land at 9.30 AM and take off again at 12.45 PM (on United; Terminal 3, I believe). I've never let an airport for Chow, but I'm really hankering for In-N-Out. I understand there's one just off the Millbrae station. Plenty of time to get there before they open at 10.30, but as I've said, I've never let during a lay over. Can I get a separate boarding pass and jump straight to security? Do I have to wait in the ticketing line again? You can tell that I'm a simpleton who doesn't travel much.

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  1. I've never *not* had a separate boarding pass for each plane I board. You can leave the airport and go straight back through security. For that matter, you should be able to check in online (usually as much as 24 hours before your flight), print out all your boarding passes, check any baggage at the curb, and skip the whole ticketing area completely.

    So go for the chow!

    1. If you're on the same airline, you will already have a boarding pass for the second flight, so yes, you'll be able to go straight to security when you come back. You should be back to the airport by 11:45 at a minimum, and I'd give yourself at least 30 minutes travel time each way there and back on BART (for getting out of the airport to the station, waiting for a train, etc.), so you should try to be at the Millbrae BART station coming back by 11:15 at the latest and probably 11 to be safe. So, you have time, as long as your first flight it delayed, just barely.

      4 Replies
      1. re: JasmineG

        Do you have to take BART to the San Bruno Station, transfer to a southbound train and of course reverse the trip back to SFO?

        1. re: wolfe

          Makes more sense to take a cab and do the drive through--not worth missing a connection for. There is a Burger Joint inside the International Terminal food court.

          1. re: wolfe

            I forgot about that transfer at San Bruno -- the BART website still says that it only takes 15 minutes from station to station, though.

            1. re: JasmineG

              That's true, they do a timed transfer at San Bruno.

        2. I fly out of SFO almost every week and say that you'd be cutting it close. Maybe about 30-60 min cushion of safety. It all depends on how comfortable you are with running for flights and sweating. This is coming from a guy who tries to minimize his time at the airport.

          The variables
          - Your flight might get delayed incoming
          - Deplaning - if you're sitting in the back, add on 30 min before your're out of the plane
          - Cabbing and getting to Milbrae
          - Security on the way in. You just never know.

          Like others have pointed out, you'll have a different ticket. Also, like Windy pointed out, there are other food options at the airport. Terminal 3 has a decent selection (relative), though pricey.

          So if you feel like you can deal with the variables, go for it.

          1. I think you just barely have time, but only if you truly land at 9:30 AM.

            From the time you leave security to the time you are back in line at security, I think it will take 1.5 hours (assuming you get your food 'to go' and eat it once you're back at the airport). This includes the little train to BART, buying ticket on BART, getting to Millbrae, walking to IN N OUT, and then the reverse.

            If you eat at IN N OUT, allow a bit more time obviously.

            So if you land at 9:30 on time, if you get off the plane fast, you could be on BART by 10, at IN N OUT by 10:30. Then you'd be back by 11:15 or so, which is enough to time to get back through security.

            But like many people say here, I think 9:30 is about the latest I would do this....if you don't land till 10, I wouldn't risk it.

            4 Replies
            1. re: Dave MP

              I just ate at the In-n-Out Burger at Millbrae. Granted, it wasn't 10:30 am, but it was 11:45 and the line was out the door. I waited a good 10-15 minutes after ordering for my burger. If you want to do this, I'd take a taxi (it isn't far). When you get there, you can decide whether it appears quicker to do drive-thru or inside. Either way, it's going to be tight.

              1. re: lisette

                Good point. Were you there on a weekday or weekend? I would guess weekend is more popular (though I could be wrong).

                What time does IN n OUT open?

                1. re: Dave MP

                  The OP says that it opens at 10:30, and I'd bet the lines at that hour are pretty short, which is the only reason I'd risk it at all -- the lines are long at lunchtime, and it takes a while to get your food after waiting in line, so I'd only risk this during an off hour.

              2. Okay, maybe I'm too cavalier about flights, but it seems to me that a lot of the advice here is overly cautious.

                But let's not push things. Let's work through this backward, looking at actual times. Your plane is scheduled at 12:45. United says to arrive at the airport an hour before your flight if you are checking bags. So to be safe, let's say that you need to be back at the airport by 11:45.

                That means that if you're taking BART on a weekday, you need to be on the 11:33 train from the Millbrae station, which arrives at the airport at 11:44. (For schedules, go to http://www.bart.gov.) Figuring preliminarily that you'll need a little more than half an hour for your lunch, there's a 10:39 train from the airport will put you at Millbrae station at 10:52.

                It's about 200 yards from the station to the restaurant. That'll take 2-3 minutes to walk each way. Call it 5 minutes total. That leaves you 36 minutes to wait in line (at 11:00, it won't be long), order your double-double animal style, wait for it to be cooked, and scarf it down. Not exactly a leisurely dining experience, but you won't be rushed for time either.

                So you should have plenty of time. Even if you don't get in until 10:30 you can get on the AirTrain and ride to the BART station to see if you can catch the 10:39. Or just grab a taxi and take it through the drive-thru; it's about a 3-mile round trip, so you're probably good until close to 11:30.

                4 Replies
                1. re: alanbarnes

                  The thing that I think that you're forgetting, though -- it can take a while to get from BART to the security line in the airport, I'd give yourself at least ten extra minutes for that, so arriving at the airport on the train that gets there at 11:44 means that you may not get to the security line until five to 12 or later.

                  1. re: JasmineG

                    The airline recommendation is to get "to the airport" an hour before departure, not to get to the airport in time to clear ticketing and be in the security line an hour before departure. And ticketing can take quite a bit longer than it takes to get to Terminal 3 on the AirTrain.

                    The 60-minute rule is intended to cause people to err on the side of caution, so building in extra cushions is unnecessary. Just MHO, but I've taken a lot of flights and never missed one yet from showing up too late. But anything that gives the OP indigestion makes the meal not worthwhile.

                  2. re: alanbarnes

                    Alan -- you may be correct in your time calculations, but the thing you're missing here is that there is absolutely no room for error. What if the BART breaks down? Or is delayed? What if the In-n-Out is incredibly backed up? It *may* work, but the OP will need to decide whether In-N-Out is worth the risk of missing his flight.

                    1. re: lisette

                      There certainly is room for error. Plenty of it. Nearly an hour. It's the time between OP's arrival back at the airport and the time the cabin door closes. And if the OP is delayed by something like a BART breakdown, my experience is that s/he and all the other people who are at risk of missing their flights as a result will be bumped to the front of the security line.

                      Of course leaving the airport isn't a risk-free proposition. BART could break down, trapping a train full of people for hours. The OP could get run over by a bus on Millbrae Avenue. The whole airport could get locked down because of a terrorist threat. And don't rule out alien abduction. But the question is whether there's an unreasonable risk that the OP will miss the plane. S/he is the only one who can make the call as to that reasonableness, but given that BART is generally fairly reliable transportation, an hour seems like more than enough cushion.

                  3. This doesn't address the timing so it may get bumped but I have to ask anyway. Why on earth would you go through that to eat at In-n-Out? It is so ordinary that I'd rather go anywhere else. The selection is paltry, the wait too long. All other fast food joints are better than that, in my opinion. That said, I would definitely err on the conservative side regarding time. Security is the big issue. We've been unpleasantly surprised by that at times and in different airports, SFO included. A missed flight isn't worth any food. Be careful please.

                    7 Replies
                    1. re: c oliver

                      You took the words right out of my; er, fingers. In-n-Out isn't worth the aggravation. I'd leave the secure area, yes, but stretch my legs by walking around the airport, checking out some of the art exhibits, history exhibits, joy-riding on the AirTrain, etc. There are decent eats right in the airport (certainly better than In-n-Out), mostly in the pre-security areas.

                      1. re: Xiao Yang

                        Take the word of this very sage poster and don't go.

                        I'm one of those folks who never orders a burger when I'm out - I'm too happy with my own, although occasionally I'll order a bistro-style burger at a high end restaurant when I hear there's something unique about it (although I'm usually disappointed. I did this with the Radius burger).

                        I didn't make it to Bartley's while I was in Cambridge. Is it really a must-do in the area, or is it more or less just another burger when you get down to the food? Does it have a nice crispy outside and a nice rarish inside?
                        twitchology Aug 05, 2008 07:20PM

                        P.S. The burgers are too thin to be either.

                        1. re: wolfe

                          You cannot compare Bartley's to In-n-Out. Bartley's is a little cannonball of beefy l.u.v. love and one of the finest meals in Cambridge (plus: sweet potato fries). In-n-out is bun-n-goop.

                          Still, I'm with the taxi recommenders here. But don't forget to tip big and buy the driver a burger too -- you'll be kind of keeping him from earning one of those nice $50 transbay fares.

                          1. re: Chuckles the Clone

                            Hi CtC. Did you notice the identity of the OP and the quoted poster? I couldn't compare Bartley's since the only Boston area restaurant I know is Elsies. I was just talking about going out of your way for what, an In and Out burger.

                            1. re: Chuckles the Clone

                              Transbay? It's about $50 from SFO to San Francisco these days.

                              Taxi and a big tip for a glorified McDonald's burger? Chacun à son goût.

                              1. re: Chuckles the Clone

                                Re: Taxi -- Most cab drivers are going to be very unhappy with this trip. They want a trip into SF where they can start making $ again. A short trip to a town around the airport they can handle because it's a "short trip" and they can skip the big lots when they return to airport. Going thru drivethru will make it go overtime. I personally don't go to In-N-Out, a burger at Zuni or Eccolo -- that's what I like.

                          2. re: c oliver

                            Don't listen to 'em. After a week or two back East and three to six hours on a plane with mediocre or nonexistent food, the Millbrae In-n-Out is often my first stop upon leaving SFO. Chez Panisse it ain't, but it says "welcome back to CA" in its own unmistakeable artery-clogging way.

                            Oh, and as to the comparison to other fast food joints, all I can say is WHUH? Who else in the fast food world cuts their own potatoes in the store? Uses fresh--not frozen--meat and bread? Puts real milk and ice cream in the shakes? Nobody, that's who.

                            There are apparently those who prefer fries that were extruded in a factory in New Jersey, frozen patties with artificial grill marks and flavor enhancers, and/or carageenan "shakes" that don't have milk in the name or in the cup. Not me. In-n-Out isn't the best meal you can get. It isn't even the best burger you can get. But IMHO it's hard to do much better at a drive-thru window.

                            To the OP--go for it!!!

                          3. Just another post advising you against doing this. With a Burger Joint, and Ebisu outlet in the airport, you can at least find vaguely edible foods....and while it isn't going to feed the in-n-out craving, it'll keep you from getting grey hairs.
                            There are just so many elements up to chance that could go wrong here, and the security there is a crapshoot. There's also a strong possibility they could move your gate while you're out making your mad dash, which could send you through yet more security, or who knows.

                            1. Keep in mind that mornings at SFO are often foggy, which means delays. And so you might be late landing, which could make your plans difficult. I think three hours is cutting it close, but then I don't see In and Out as being all that special. Its pretty good for a fast food burger, but....there is an In and Out within three blocks of one of my two work locations and in the seven months I've worked there I've yet to go there for lunch...so that gives you an idea of how I feel about the place. So maybe my bias is showing......

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: janetofreno

                                Two additions from a seasoned SFO flyer:
                                1.) Do not take the airTrain from United to BART; the walk is just as fast and offers views and diversions
                                2.) Yankee Pier (just outside United security) offers a more sublime range of chow. Although it is modeled after a New England clam shack, you will often fine West coast oysters here.

                                I usually reserve In-and-Out for my 12:15 am returns to SFO :-)

                              2. Thanks, everyone, for your input. I'm convinced to stay put. Yankee Pier looks delicious but expensive. I have the bad fortune of ending up with over priced beer and a caesar salad (Laurelwood at PDX, Anchor at SFO, Sam Adams/Expedia at SJC) everytime I'm stuck in an airport. Any good recs for SFO? I've done some searches, yes, but the best I can find is "Outlet X wont' kill ya."

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: twitchology

                                  I had some good and moderately priced sushi and dim sum at the food court in the International terminal.

                                  Yankee Pier's prices don't look expensive to me. $12 for a lobster roll is cheap around here.


                                  Some of the recommendations in these topics are quite positive: