Flying overseas implies booking at least one connecting flight with a layover. These are usually shown in the search results when you browse through a flight comparison site. The layover time is visible in the flight details. Although it may seem obvious, a layover flight requires a bit of research and knowledge in order to avoid pitfalls.
Here is a checklist that will help you determine if the layover time is long enough to allow you a smooth transfer onto the connecting flight with no stress. The average layover time for international flights ranges between 1.5 to +14 hours. Two or three hours is the best time configuration that allows you to reach the transfer flight gate on time.
What is a layover flight?
If you are wondering what is a layover flight in the first place, here is the definition.
A layover is a time you spend at a connecting airport between your primary flight and your destination. Usually, on domestic flights, a layover is between 60 minutes to several hours, up to 23 hours, that you have on a transfer flight. Let’s say you fly from New York to Sydney you will not have a direct flight, but there will be connecting flight at a transfer airport in between, that could be Dubai, or Los Angeles, depending on your flight route. If the transfer time is longer than 23 hours, it is considered a stopover, and in that case, it’s convenient to spend the night in a hotel at the airport.
How do you know how long a layover should be?
It’s difficult to say how long a layover should be because airports have different regulations and transfer rules, so there is no one answer fits all, unfortunately, because the answer will be different according to the connecting airport and its flight procedure. When booking long-distance flights, there might be more than just one connecting flight to your final destinations, so the layover time you will need for an international flight is anything between one to four hours.
Here is a guide about how the connecting flight procedure at airports works.
Best Ways to Book a Layover Flight
Transfer Flights with the same airline or partner airlines
That being said, these tips here are universal and will help you book a flight with a layover, and find the right combination when flying with the same airline to your final destination:
- Let’s say you fly from New York to Sydney with the same airline and a connection flight in Dubai; your checked baggage will be automatically transferred onto the next flight leg to Sydney.
- Do I have to go through customs for a connecting flight?
In most international airports you will have to go through security even if you don’t leave the airport because they have a security check, and you will have to go the same again to be able to access the transit area and get to your transfer flight. In Dubai, you will go through a quick security check and pass control even though you are not leaving the airport.
This wouldn’t apply if you fly within a country, on a domestic flight, or if you fly within the Schengen Zone. In this case, you only go through border control and customs and the first outgoing airport where you board our first flight but not at the final destination.
- International airports are usually quite big and have several terminals, so make sure you know much time you will need to through the transfer. Shuttle buses connect terminals and are fast. However time varies too, some may take 1-5 minutes, but others may take over 15-20 minutes depending on the distance between airport terminals. Dubai airport is excellent because everywhere you are it shows how much time you need to walk to another terminal or with shuttle bus. So you can quickly figure it out how much time you need to be at the gate on time.
Transfer Flights with different airlines
- If you change the airline for your connecting flight, it’s a different procedure. You will have to go through security and immigration as if you had reached your destination. From the arrival hall of the landing terminal, you will have to pick up your luggage and go through the check-in procedure at departures again, as if you were starting a completely new flight boarding procedure. In this case, you will need a much more extended layover to make sure you have plenty of time to go through all the above transfer flight procedure.
Layover Time – How long is it enough?
It’s hard to tell how long your layover time is enough, because of the airport and many unexpected events that may occur at airports. Flight delays, air traffic jam, overcrowded terminals and many more are common at airports. It’s better to have a slightly longer layover than a tight time like 1.5 hours or so. The average layover time is between 2 and 3 hours. This is the most popular flight configuration that allows you to reach the transfer gate with no airport rush. It allows enough time for walking around, shopping, have a drink, get fresh and ready to board onto the connection flight.
Connecting Flight Procedure – What you need to check
To make sure my layover is not too short, I book connecting flights with two or three-hour layover. This is because it’s too risky if a flight delay occurs and it may lead to missing the connecting flight. However, if you fly with the same airline, connecting flights are guaranteed. The only drawback is that time will be tight, and it would finally result in getting off one plane and boarding the next within a short time to rest.
Being familiar with the connecting airport procedure is essential when you plan layover flights. If you know the airport well, it will allow you to quickly find your way at the airport and getting to the transfer gate. If you don’t know the airport and are flying there for the first time, then you will naturally need more time to move around. There may be airport rules that you don’t know, so it’s a good thing to learn about connecting airport too.
In this case, check with your airline and airport website for all relevant information about the transfer, shuttle buses, etc. This page here is useful to find out about all airports in the world.
When to book connecting flights with a short layover
For domestic flights, a short layover is usually 1-1.5 hour, as you will not have to go through security. International flights are tricky though because of the reasons mentioned above. 2 to 3 hours is a good time you should calculate. But often flights come with 4-7 hours or even 10hours and longer time, in this case, you can choose to book your trip with an overnight layover at the airport. This is usually offered by the airline as a flight ticket package.
When to book a flight with a long layover
These tips are useful for handling connecting flights with long layovers.
- Up to 2-3 hours is the ideal time but often tricky to get because of many variables. First of all flights with this configuration tend to get quickly booked out. Some airlines have flight configurations with long layovers for flights from the northern to the southern hemisphere.
- 4-7 hours layover is a long time to spend at the airport. In this case, it’s advisable to get organised and go to airport lounges. You can join various airlines rewards programs, with their frequent flyer cards you can access the airline lounges. Usually, each program has its own rules, ranging from silver to diamond plans you can access different lounges. Some airlines offer the possibility to upgrade your flight ticket to a higher lounge class with frequent flyer miles too. You can also purchase a priority pass to make it easier to upgrade on each flight even if you don’t own a reward program card. You can get 10% off for the purchase of this priority Pass.
- When the layover time is longer than 10 hours, then you shall consider booking a flight with an overnight layover. While many airlines offer free drop off and pick up you get a night sleep at the airport before boarding for your next destination. It may be beneficial to those who need a longer time to relax in between flights. Consider that pick up from the hotel is usually 3-4 hours before your flight schedule. For long night layover, it makes sense to book a hotel and stay overnight. If you have +10 hours layover during the daytime, then it makes sense of leaving the airport and go sightseeing in the city.
My Tip: I once experienced an overnight layover in Dubai. The planned layover was 10 hours, but due to a delay of the incoming flight and the early pick up at the hotel (nearly 4 hours before the flight departure) I ended up staying only 4 hours in the hotel. I believe 10 hours are suitable for the daytime layover. For the night, I would make sure you have at least 13-15 hours in between flights, to get a full night sleep.
What to do During a Layover?
Are you wondering whether you can leave the airport during a long layover?
The answer is yes. Provided you have a 24-hour visa for the country of the connecting flight. Most airports, like Dubai, include a 24-96 hours visa for that purpose. You can use it for a long layover or a few days stopovers. Most airlines provide you with a free transit visa. Usually, when you purchase the ticket, all this information are included in the flight terms.
If unsure, check with your airline, they will tell you whether the visa is included or not. If no permission is included, it makes no sense to apply for a permit for a couple of hours.
So these are the things that you need to check for a long layover time:
- Be sure that your flight ticket includes the visitor visa that allows you to leave the airport during the long layover. Get this info from your airline or at the airport before going through customs.
- If you cannot leave the airport, spend your time at the connecting airport and make the most of it by using airport lounges. If you don’t own a card, ask your airline for suggestions.
- Pack accordingly. Make sure you have all your essentials with you and wear a warm and comfy outfit for the long haul flight.
Stopover vs Layover – What you should consider
A stopover is different from a layover; it is a much longer time between two flight legs. Usually, a layover above 24 hours is regarded as a stopover. In that case, you will need to collect your luggage, go through security and return to the airport on the following day for the connecting flight to your destination.
This is something I recommend doing if you are travelling from the US to Australia or New Zealand. I always plan a 2-day stopover in the main transit airport. The best stopovers from the US to Australia are in South East Asia, according to my experience. I recommend stopping over in Singapore, or Kuala Lumpur, or Bangkok.
The most common flights to Australia with stopovers are between one and three days.
This is an excellent choice for long-haul flights to Australia, Japan or any destination that involve +20-hours trip. Most common stopover airports are Singapore, Dubai, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok in Asia and the Middle East if you fly to Asia and Oceania.
A stopover is a great solution that not only allows you to visit a city but also helps you fight jet lag. By stopping over at a connecting airport for a couple of days, you will find it easier to adjust to the crossing time zones, and it will finally help you recover from jet lag in a fast way.
My tip: I am a fan of stopovers because they help me much in recovering from jet lag. And also because I reach my final destination in a less stressed mode.
Booking Long layover flights to Australia
For flying into Australia, there are three basic flight models that you can consider as the basic connecting flight layover configuration, leaving from Europe and the US. Here are the main ones:
- Primary flight from Europe to South East Asia
It usually takes 11-13 hours with one short layover at the airport. From there you can fly to Australia.
- Three 7-hour flight with three layovers
this means having two different connection airports, for example flying with Emirates to Australia from London via Dubai and from Dubai to Singapore, and further onto Sydney. This flight combination is good for those who cannot seat long in a plane and need frequent stops.
- Going to Australia with a stopover flight
If you want a short cut to the long-haul flight to Australia, the best thing is to choose a beautiful city as a stopover flight. I could suggest Dubai as your airport hub. Singapore or Kuala Lumpur in Asia are excellent airports for a stopover flight. Or you can stopover in Perth in W.A. to reduce your trip of 3-4 hours. From there you can then plan your domestic flights within Australia.
Conclusions about a connecting flight with a layover
Choosing the right type of flight configuration and planning your flights carefully with the right layover time is crucial to a smooth start of your trip and stress-free travel experience.
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This post was last updated in Jan 2020.
Photo credit Young Woman at the Airport via Shuttershock