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 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.
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?
For more about layovers, check out these posts:
- How to Maximize a Long Layover
- How Do Layovers Work?
- 8 Things to do If You Think Your Layover is too Short
- Can I leave the airport during a layover?