• Is Your Layover Long Enough?

    by  • Planning • 26 Comments

    Planning a trip involves several parts, and unless you’re staying close to home, chances are you will need a flight. I always try to book non-stop flights because they’re easier to deal with. But what if you’re flying somewhere that’s too far away for a non-stop flight? What if the non-stop flights are significantly more expensive? There are many reasons why you might end up with a two or even three leg flight, and while there are no guarantees, it’s important to determine whether your layover is long enough.

    Is your layover long enough for your luggage?

    As always, I would encourage you to travel carry-on only, but if you have to check luggage, this will factor into your layover. The baggage handlers need to unload the entire plane once it lands. Some of that luggage will stay at the airport for those passengers who aren’t traveling on, but for everyone else, their luggage will be redistributed to any number of airplanes. This takes time, more so at a bigger airport.

    If you have a short layover, any little delay in the process could mean your luggage won’t have time to make it from the first plane to the second. It could be hours, or even days, before your luggage catches up to you.

    is your layover long enough

    Is your layover long enough to get through the airport?

    During your layover, you have to be able to get from the gate where your first flight came in to the gate where your second flight leaves. Sometimes this is as simple as walking a little ways down the hall. But other times it could mean a long walk, or even a ride on an airport tram, and switching terminals. In bigger airports, getting from one end to the other could easily take 20 minutes or more, especially if you’re not familiar with the airport. Worse yet, some airports have different security check points for different sections of the airport, which means you might have to go through the security line again.

    Don’t forget to leave yourself time for boarding the second flight. Boarding usually starts anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes before the actual flight time, and the doors close before flight time.

    Is your layover long enough for an international flight?

    In some places, you have to claim your luggage upon arrival even if you’re on a layover in the middle of an international flight. For example, if you are returning from a trip to Australia, and you live in Atlanta, chances are you will fly from Sydney to Los Angeles and then continue on to Atlanta. In the US, you are required to claim your luggage once you get through passport check. Before you can go to your second flight, you have to bring your luggage to another line to be rechecked, and then you go through security again. This can be time consuming.

    Even if your connection is in a country that doesn’t require this, you will still have to go through their passport check or transit line. This will take a lot more time that getting from one gate to another on a domestic layover.

    Is your layover long enough to change airports?

    I highly recommend you avoid this at all costs. Having to change airports during a layover is a lot more stressful and complicated than just switching gates. But in rare cases you might not have a choice. Some cities have two airports, one that’s predominantly for domestic flights and the other for international flights. I’ve also seen flight schedules where your first flight lands in one of New York City’s airports and the second flight takes off from the other.

    If you really can’t book a flight with connection in the same airport, research how long it will take to get from one to the other. Sometimes there are airport shuttles for cases like this, but often you will need to rely on a taxi or public transportation. Give yourself a buffer above what your research tells you. Take into account the time of day you will be switching since rush hour will most likely add to your time. Plus don’t forget you will need an hour or two at the airport ahead of your flight. And if the first flight was international, see the previous section.

    is your layover long enough

    No one wants to get stuck sitting in an airport for hours on a long layover, but the alternative resulting from a layover that’s too short could be much worse. Your checked luggage might not make it to the next plane, or you might not have enough time to get through the airport. International flights have extra steps you need to get through on a layover. The amount of time you need will vary depending on a variety of factors, including your own comfort level. In general, I try to avoid layovers with less than an hour for domestic flights and layovers with less than two hours for international flights. Every time you book a flight with a connection, look at all the details and ask yourself, is the layover long enough?

    Do you have an extra long layover coming up? Wondering if you have time to leave the airport? Learn how to maximize a long layover here!

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    26 Responses to Is Your Layover Long Enough?

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    3. November 1, 2013 at 3:29 pm

      Great post! I work in travel and I’ll tell ya, the airlines are really cutting it close with layovers these days. Just two years ago almost any layover was a least an hour (domestic flights).. Now, I’ll pull up flights and find layovers as short as 25 minutes. This always makes me nervous! One tiny delay and you’ve missed your flight. And because there are fewer flights available, chances of finding another flight out on the same day may prove difficult. You are so right that you need to pay attention to your layover time AND what airport you are flying into. If it’s a busy, large airport you will need time, as you mention above, to get to your next gate.

      • Ali Garland
        November 3, 2013 at 11:37 am

        25 minutes? That’s crazy! Sometimes it takes that long just for the plane to taxi to the gate and for everyone to get off the plane. No thanks. And you’re right, it’s not always easy to get onto another flight if you miss your connection. Thanks Tracy!

    4. November 1, 2013 at 8:32 pm

      This was very helpful! Thanks, Ali! I always have a huge fear of my luggage getting lost and usually try to avoid checking it in. I realize now that there’s a higher chance of it getting lost when you have difficult connections to make.

      Happy travels :)

      • Ali Garland
        November 3, 2013 at 11:41 am

        Thanks Lauren! I try not to check luggage for many reasons, I just find it easier to bring less and keep it with me. But there are certainly times when it doesn’t work out, and a short layover can be disastrous.

    5. Matthew Cheyne
      November 2, 2013 at 4:19 pm

      This is a really useful article. Because I have never traveled overseas and all of my air travel has been domestic within Australia between two destinations – that is, only one leg of travel in each direction and usually between Melbourne and Sydney, layovers haven’t been something that I’ve had to factor in yet. Knowing my health isn’t all that flash, I would prefer overnight layovers in a particular city as a means of resting and recuperating. For example if I was to fly from Australia to the United States, I would do a layover in Hawaii, probably for a couple of days the first time round to get used to doing a layover and being in Hawaii as a tourist, and then once I’ve been a tourist in Hawaii the first time round, I would only do a one night layover if I did the same trip in the future. I think that that would be the best way to go as it would reduce jet lag (at least I think it would), and would limit the risk of any DVT issues that I might face.

      What do you think Ali?

      • Ali Garland
        November 3, 2013 at 11:48 am

        Thanks Matthew! You’d really have to look into your flight options if you wanted to stay overnight or a few nights for your layover. Occasionally you can find a flight with a really long layover, but at most it would be one night. If you wanted to fly to Hawaii for a few days before continuing to somewhere else in the US, you might have to book separate tickets which could get quite expensive. BUT there are passes you can use that might help. So for example, if you book roundtrip airfare with Qantas from Melbourne to the US with a return flight several weeks later, then you can add one of these North America passes to fly to other parts of the US, Canada, and lots of other countries in North America. That way you could schedule your layovers a little better in order to give yourself plenty of down time. Check this out for more info: http://www.oneworld.com/flights/single-continent-fares/visit-north-america/

        • Matthew Cheyne
          November 3, 2013 at 11:55 am

          Thank you so much Ali :) I’ll check out that site now. Hopefully I can make a trip to the States while the Australian dollar is still close to parity and pick up some serious bargains while I’m there.

          I’ve always wanted to go to Canada and came very close to applying for a working holiday visa twice but never went ahead and did it. I still want to go someday though when I’m a little better health wise.

    6. November 20, 2013 at 5:19 pm

      Oh, layovers! I usually don’t book anything with under 2 hours, even for domestic, otherwise I start to get tetchy! Dubai is one airport where you do NOT want a short layover – it took 40 minutes just go from where the plane was parked to get to the terminal, and the plane was Emirates, which is Dubai airport’s primary carrier! Depending on what city I go through, I might plan a really long layover just so that I can have a day or so to explore – I could have had a 4 hour layover in Kuala Lumpur on my way to Taipei, but decided on a 16 hour layover instead, so that’ll give me time to meet up with some friends there!

      I’m always worried about my luggage not making it too, so travel with carry-on only for that reason whenever I can.

      • Ali Garland
        November 21, 2013 at 11:05 am

        Thanks Tom! Good to know about Dubai, I’ve never connected there before. I like long layovers too sometimes depending on the city. A 4 hour layover in Kuala Lumpur definitely wouldn’t be long enough to leave the airport, especially since the airport is an hour or so from the city. I once intentionally booked myself a 10 hour layover in London and ran around the city for a few hours. Andy did the same in Hong Kong a couple years ago on a 14 hour layover.

    7. November 21, 2013 at 7:48 am

      Hi Ali,

      It was just great to read your blog and was very helpful.

      Thanks a ton!

      • Ali Garland
        November 21, 2013 at 11:06 am

        Thanks! Glad to help!

    8. Steffi Julian
      May 1, 2014 at 5:37 am

      Does anyone have experience with minimum layover times in MIA / American Airlines between domestic and international flight?

      • Ali Garland
        May 1, 2014 at 10:25 am

        Hi Steffi, the last time I did that was about 5 years ago. What I remember is that switching in MIA from my domestic flight to my international flight wasn’t so bad. As long as your flights are all on the same itinerary, American Airlines will check you in for both legs and give you both boarding passes, so even if you have to change terminals at MIA, it won’t really be any different than a domestic switch. I’d still allow for at least an hour. On the way back from whatever country you’re going to, you might want to leave yourself more time, even two hours. You’ll have to go through US immigration, which can be a pain at that particular airport, then you have to collect any checked luggage you might have, talk to the customs people (which can take a minute or 20 just depending on the line and their mood) and recheck your luggage before you can go through TSA and back into the airport to find your next flight. I’m sure it can be done in an hour, but I don’t think I’d feel comfortable with less than two hours. I hope this helps, feel free to email me with any other questions, and enjoy your trip!

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    10. Brian M
      May 22, 2014 at 6:50 pm

      I hit post before I was done….oops….

      We are headed to the Caribbean in a few weeks and have to check bags and connect in Charlotte on our way there. (We are fying direct on the way home). Our layover is 90 minutes and my wife has some concerns over our luggage not having enough time to be transferred to the connecting plane. What is your opinion ? Thanks

      • Ali Garland
        May 23, 2014 at 11:50 am

        Hi Brian! 90 minutes should be fine. Obviously I can’t guarantee anything, but I think 90 minutes will be enough time for them to transfer your luggage from one flight to the other. Charlotte does deal with a decent amount of connections but it’s also not a really huge airport. And since you’re starting in the US and connecting in the US, you won’t actually have to re-check your luggage. (When you fly from outside the US to the US and have a connection, you have to collect your luggage at the first US airport and re-check it. It doesn’t take long, but it’s annoying. Your direct flight home will be nicer.)

        Have a great trip, and let me know if you have any other questions!

    11. Louise
      May 26, 2014 at 8:42 am

      Hi there,
      I’m flying from Boston to Shannon, Ireland, and then from Shannon on to England. I have a 45 minute layover in Shannon, and I’m worried that it won’t be enough time. From what I’ve heard, shannon is a fairly small airport, but I’m just thinking that with all the luggage on an international flight that even if I make it, my bag might not. I’m flying Aer Lingus. Any thoughts?

      • Ali Garland
        May 26, 2014 at 2:27 pm

        Hi Louise! Shannon does look like a small airport, here’s a map of the layout: http://www.shannonairport.ie/gns/Passengers/Relax/arport-maps/terminal-map.aspx. 45 minutes does sound short, but if the airline booked you that way (you’re on one itinerary, not two separate ones) then it’s their responsibility to make sure you make the next flight or get you on a later one if your first flight is delayed. Same for your luggage. To be on the safe side, you should pack anything you wouldn’t want to lose plus a change of clothes, toothbrush, stuff like that, in your carry-on bag. That way if your luggage is delayed, you’ll have some things to get you started. Check out my post on what to pack in your carry-on: http://travel-made-simple.com/what-to-pack-in-your-carry-on-bag/ Another thing you can try is when you’re checking in for the first flight in Boston, ask the person at the counter if they have any way of specially tagging your luggage to get pulled out early to make the connection. They might not be able to do anything, but it’s worth asking.

    12. Mariah
      July 8, 2014 at 4:42 pm

      I have a 45 minute layover at Chicago O’Hair… I’ve never been there, or had a layover before. Is that enough time?

      • Ali Garland
        July 8, 2014 at 5:17 pm

        Hi Mariah! O’Hare is a pretty big airport, so 45 minutes might be cutting it close. If you’re staying with the same airline and both flights are domestic, your chances are higher that you will make it. Unfortunately it depends on a lot of factors, like time of day and how busy they are. If you’re checking luggage, ask the person at the check-in counter if there’s anything they can do to tag your luggage to get pulled off the first plane early so it has a better chance of making it to the second flight. As for you, if possible, try to get a seat as close to the front of the plane as possible and preferably an aisle seat. Have all your carry-on stuff put back in your bags and ready to go as soon as the plane lands, and go for it as soon as you can get out of your seat. You might get to your second flight with no problems at all, especially if the gate is nearby, but unfortunately it could go the other way. If you miss your connection because your first flight is delayed, they should reschedule you on a later second flight.

        Good luck and happy travels!

    13. Daniel
      July 9, 2014 at 11:10 am

      Hi Ali ,
      Well unfortunately I bought my plane ticket before coming across this and now I am very nervous . Of course I thought woohoo short layover great . I got plane tickets to visit my aunt in Morelia , Mexico . This flight goes from Las Vegas to Dfw to Morelia . With the lay over of 50 minuets . Both flights are on American Airlines . I’ve never flown a flight with a layover so really don’t know what I’ve got myself into :( . Will I have to go through immigration here and in Dallas ? Will I need to recheck my luggage in Dallas ? Do I have to arrive at Las Vegas international the 2 hours before like on other international flights ?

      • Ali Garland
        July 9, 2014 at 7:29 pm

        Hi Daniel! A 50 minute layover is short, but hopefully it won’t be too short. Assuming you booked both flights as one itinerary, American Airlines seems to think you can make the switch, so I will keep my fingers crossed for you! Here’s a link to maps of the terminals at DFW: http://www.dfwairport.com/terminals/ and a link with info about transferring between gates with their skylink inside of security: http://www.dfwairport.com/connect/index.php Unfortunately there’s no way to know ahead of time where your first flight lands and where the second flight leaves from, but it might help you feel a little more oriented to see the maps ahead of time.

        When you’re leaving the US to go to Mexico, there really isn’t any sort of immigration to deal with. The person at the check-in counter will check your passport, but other than that it’s just like flying domestic. That will happen in Vegas, and they’ll print your boarding passes for both flights. (If you’re not checking luggage and you check in online and print your tickets at home, you should still be able to skip the check-in counter, but once you get to the gate, the gate agent will want to see your passport, most likely before the boarding process even begins.)

        Once you’re in DFW, all you have to do is find your next gate. Your luggage will be tagged to go from Vegas to DFW to Morelia, so you don’t have to pick it up.

        However, coming home is a little different. When you check in at the airport in Morelia, they should still print both of your boarding passes. I’ve never flown through Mexico, but I imagine it’s like every single other country except the US in that you have to go through a separate passport check line before you get to security and eventually your gate.

        When you land in DFW, you WILL have to go through US immigration and passport check lines. You’ll also have to pick up your luggage and re-check it. Re-checking varies a bit from airport to airport, and I’m sorry I don’t know exactly what it’s like at DFW because I’ve only flown through there on domestic flights. But usually the re-checking is as simple as putting it onto a conveyor belt while you’re still in the immigration area, so it really doesn’t take long. After that, you’ll have to go through security again. Again, in most airports there is a special checkpoint right there in the immigration area. (I looked around on the DFW website to see if they had any info on their set-up but I couldn’t find anything.)

        Technically your first flight is domestic. But a lot of airports/airlines are now recommending that people show up 2 hours ahead even for domestic flights in case there are long lines at TSA or check-in. I’ve had times flying out of Vegas where the line at TSA took me 45 minutes to get through, so better to be early and breeze through than to arrive later and get stuck in a long line and miss your flight.

        Try not to worry. If you miss your connection, especially if it’s because the first flight was delayed, American Airlines will hopefully be able to help you get on another flight. And enjoy your trip! If you have any other questions, feel free to email me!

    14. Nilanjana Laha
      July 26, 2014 at 12:09 pm

      Hi Ali,

      I am glad I came across your article. I will go to Seattle from India with my parents. The plane I was thinking of booking ( Cathay Pacific) has 1hr 40 mins layover time in LAX. Is it sufficient ? We will have 4/5 check-in bags in total. The other planes are costlier.

      Previously I planned to go to San Francisco first ( This plane has only one stop, in Hong Kong ) and stay in a friend’s house for 2 nights. Then I would board South West Airlines’ flight to Seattle.

      On the other hand, if I go for a direct flight to Seattle, all planes have 2 stops. Also, except for the ones with 1 hr 40 mins layover time in LAX, all planes have total journey time of 30 hours or more. Can you please suggest me which way should I opt for? Its our first international tour and my parents have some health problems too.

      • Ali Garland
        July 26, 2014 at 9:24 pm

        Hi Nilanjana! That’s a tough call. 1 hour 40 minutes isn’t horrible, but it might be cutting it a little close. Once you land in LAX, you’ll have to go through passport check, pick up your checked luggage, and then talk to the customs people before re-checking your bags and going to find your next gate. LAX is a popular entry point for flights from Asia and Australia, so sometimes the lines can be long. But ultimately I think it comes down to the fact that your parents have some health problems. I don’t know what the problems are, but I can imagine fewer layovers might be best. You can probably get the airport to transfer your parents to the next gate, which would actually save a lot of time. You could even try calling the airline ahead of time and talking to them about what you need to do to get assistance with the transfer for your parents. Your plan to stop in San Francisco for a couple nights sounds good too. It would be just the one layover in Hong Kong, and the stop in San Francisco would give you all a chance to rest a little before continuing on to Seattle.

        I wish it was easier for me to tell you “choose this one!” but your situation sounds a little complicated. I think you have to go with whatever option is going to be easiest on your parents, given their health problems, even if that means spending a little extra money. Long international flights are exhausting, and in my experience, it’s best to have as few layovers as possible.

        Side note: make sure you know the address of where you’re staying in the US to put on the immigration form they give you on the plane. Even if you do the San Francisco option and you’re only staying at your friend’s place for a couple days, have that address handy to put on the form. The last time I flew into the US (through LAX), I didn’t know my friend’s address, so I just wrote the city and state, and the passport check person got really mad at me. She made me get out of line and dig through my bags to find the address. And I’m a US citizen, so it’s not like I even needed permission to be there.

        Anyway, I’m sorry I couldn’t give you a definite answer, but I hope this helps a little. If you have any other questions, feel free to email me! And have a great trip to Seattle, wonderful city!

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