Can I leave the airport during a layover?
You have a lot to consider when booking a flight with a layover. Direct flights are always best, but sometimes money or distance means you’ll end up with a layover. And sometimes that layover is a long one. It might be long enough that you ask yourself, can I leave the airport during a layover?
The quick answer is it depends.
Whether you can leave the airport during your layover or not depends on a lot of factors, and there’s no one size fits all answer. Consider the following points in order to make the best decision about leaving the airport.
How long is your layover?
This is probably the most important factor in your decision because if your layover is too short, the rest doesn’t matter.
You might look at the time your first flight lands and the time your next flight takes off and think you have plenty of time. But look a little closer.
Subtract out the time it will take for the plane to taxi to the gate and for you to get off the plane and through the airport. (Maybe 30 minutes or so.)
Subtract out the time you need ahead of your second flight. (1-2 hours depending on the airport and if it’s a domestic or international flight.)
Then subtract the time you need to get to and from the city or wherever it is you want to go during your layover. (Varies greatly but could be as little as 30 minutes or as much as 2 hours depending on where you are, mode of transportation, and traffic conditions.)
How much time do you have left? Is it enough time for a meal and a walking tour? Is it just enough to grab an ice cream and turn around again? Or are you in negative numbers now?
2022 update: This summer as people start traveling again, airports are chaotic, and airports and airlines are understaffed.
Unfortunately this means everything is taking longer than normal, flights are being delayed and canceled, and you’ll need lots of time and patience. Leaving the airport on a long layover might not be the best idea unless you have a really, really long layover.
Is your layover in another country?
If you’re flying from one end of the US to the other and you have a layover in the middle, there’s no immigration procedures to worry about.
This means for domestic connections, if you leave the airport on your layover, you’ll have to go through security again to get to your second flight. But that should be the only long line you have to deal with.
But if your layover is in another country, you will have to go through customs and immigration if you want to leave the airport.
You’ll definitely have to go through customs and immigration if your layover is in the same country (or visa zone like the Schengen Zone) as your final destination, although this is true whether you’re leaving the airport on your layover or not.
This adds extra time to the first item on this list. Immigration procedures can take as little as 10 minutes or several hours depending on the lines and where you are.
Take this time into account when deciding if you can leave the airport on your layover.
>>Read: Amsterdam Layover Guide: How to Spend a Long Layover in Amsterdam
Due to the current situation, rules and regulations for entering different countries are constantly changing. You’ll need to verify what the rules for entry are, including testing and vaccine requirements. This might mean you can’t leave the airport during your layover.
It’s also important to research the situation in the city where your layover is. Even if it’s possible, it might not be smart to leave the airport, or the city might have restrictions on tourism.
Any of this could make your long layover frustrating, not so much fun, or even downright irresponsible.
>>Read more about traveling during COVID-19.
Please note that some posts contain links that earn me a small commission at no extra cost to you.
Do you need a visa for your layover?
Many (but not all) countries that require visas do not require them if you’re simply transiting through the airport. You bypass customs and immigration, so you never get stamped into the country, but you can’t leave the airport during your layover.
If you want to leave the airport in one of these places, you’ll have to get a visa. Some countries require you to get one ahead of time, while others do visa on arrival.
Always check visa requirements for your nationality for each country you travel through, even for layovers. Every country has its own rules for entry and transit passengers.
Aside from the time it takes to go through customs and immigration, you also have to consider the cost of the visa and the application process, if it’s one you have to apply for ahead of time.
A $20 visa on arrival might not be a big deal, but $150 or a visa that requires lengthy forms (which probably means it’s also an expensive one) is probably not worth it when you will only have a few hours on your layover to explore the city.
What time of day is your layover?
If your layover is from early morning until late afternoon or sometime that night, you have lots of daylight hours to explore.
But not all layovers are this nice. Often your first flight will land in the middle of the night and the next flight will take off early in the morning.
In most cases, this is not the ideal time to leave the airport during a layover and check out the city. Potential safety issues aside, there probably won’t be much open depending on the city.
On the other hand, if it’s a city with good night life and a good club scene (and you’re into that) it could be a fun way to pass a few hours.
Just be sure to research the area so you know where it’s safe, and make sure you have transport options at that time of night. And maybe don’t drink so much that you’re late getting back to the airport.
What should you do if you leave the airport on a layover?
What you decide to do during your layover depends on where you are, how much time you have, and what your interests are.
I once spent a long layover in London walking around a lot, going to the British Museum, briefly seeing a few sights like Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey, and having lunch.
My husband once spent a long layover in Hong Kong taking boat rides on the junks and meeting friends for dim sum. I know a couple who had a long layover in New York City and decided to take a tour.
I recently had a long layover in Amsterdam and took a food tour. Check out my Amsterdam layover guide for more info about how to get through the airport and into the city.
Some cities even have free tours for people on layovers. Your layover needs to be a certain length and at the right time of day, but a free tour sounds like a great option if your timing works out. Here are a few examples:
>>Check out more layover perks you never knew about.
Since tours are a great way to see a lot of the city in a short period of time, that can be a good option. Plus being with a guide means you won’t waste time getting lost.
Try a walking tour that brings you to some of the city’s highlights, or try a food tour to eat your way through the culture for a few hours.
I recommend searching Viator for a tour for your long layover adventure.
What to do with your luggage on a long layover
If you’re leaving the airport during a long layover, you probably don’t want to lug your bags around with you the whole time. So what’s the solution?
First, verify with the airline whether they are going to transfer your checked bags from one flight to the next. In most cases, they will still transfer your luggage.
But occasionally when the layover is really long, the airline won’t be able to tag it to your final destination. Usually this happens when the second flight leaves more than 24 hours after the first flight, but no matter what, you should confirm how the airline is handling your checked bags.
For your carry-on luggage or any checked bags the airline can’t transfer to your next flight, you’ll need someplace to store them. Some airports have luggage lockers, but some have eliminated them for security reasons. Train stations are another place to try, depending on the city.
Another great option is to book a luggage storage solution through Stasher. They have connections with hotels and other stores where you can drop off your luggage and pick it up again later. Locations are worldwide, so chances are there’s a location where you’re going.
Stasher’s prices are usually lower than most luggage lockers or left luggage services. Note that you must book and pay online.
If you’re trying to decide if you can leave the airport during a layover, ask yourself the questions above. Spending a long layover in the airport can be tedious. Leaving the airport to explore the city, or even just getting some sleep at a hotel, can be a much better alternative if you have enough time and visa requirements aren’t much hassle.
You might also enjoy:
- Carry-on Luggage Size Chart with over 170 Airlines
- How Do Layovers Work?
- Is Your Layover Long Enough?
- 8 Things to do If You Think Your Layover is Too Short
- Ask These 5 Questions to Maximize a Long Layover
November 30, 2022 @ 10:02 pm
Hi, i have a flight from Rome to Lima with a layover of 5 hours in Atlanta. My friend. Is planning to come to the airport so we can have a coffee while I wait for my flight. Do you know if i could go out and if need to retrieve my luggage? Or can I just pass immigration and go out and then enter again?
December 2, 2022 @ 11:35 am
Hi Cynthia! When you land in Atlanta, you will have to go through customs and immigration plus claim and recheck your luggage. This is true whether you were going to go meet your friend outside the secured area or if you were to just go to your next gate, so it doesn’t matter. You’ll also have to go through security regardless of meeting your friend. I haven’t flown through Atlanta in a few years, but the last time I did, it was really simple to recheck your luggage after passing through customs, so as long as your luggage is tagged to go to Lima, it shouldn’t take more than a couple minutes to recheck it. And then after you have coffee with your friend, make sure you allow enough time to get back through the security line to get to your next flight, those lines can be rather long sometimes.
December 2, 2022 @ 11:50 am
Thanks so much for your time on replying!
September 28, 2022 @ 3:50 am
Hi, I found this a very good article! But since this will be my very first long flights and layover, I want to make sure if I got the correct information. I’m a female (26yo) and I’m planning to go on solo travel. My flight will be from Jakarta (CGK) to Milan (MXP) and I will have a 10 hours of layover in Dubai on a daytime, I’m wondering if it is enough layover time for me to leave the airport? and what the maximum hours that I need to go back to the airport before the next flight so I don’t late or rush? also does my luggage will be automatically transferred to the next flight or I need to recheck for my luggage? I’m flying with Emirates
September 28, 2022 @ 9:18 pm
Hi Latifa! Emirates should tag your checked bag to transfer automatically from one flight to the next, but always verify when you check in and drop off your luggage. As for the layover, 10 hours sounds like enough time to do a little sightseeing, especially since your layover is during the day. Things to consider:
1- Do you need a visa? I can’t answer questions about visas because there are too many variables, but I recommend looking at the UAE embassy website and checking if there are any visa requirements for you based on your citizenship.
2- Back to the airport: You should already have your boarding pass for DXB to MXP, so that saves you a little time. But you’ll still have to go through security, which could take awhile depending on the lines. You probably should still get back to the airport 2 to 3 hours ahead of your flight to be sure. You might end up with a lot of time on your hands, but better that than missing your flight.
So then you just have to decide what you want to do during your layover. Don’t try to jam too much into your layover, you will only have a few hours. Something like going to the observation deck of the Burj Khalifa or taking a walking tour. Just make sure you understand the timing so you can get back to the airport with plenty of time.
I hope this helps, and I hope you have a great trip!
August 3, 2022 @ 4:38 pm
Travelling to Tucson from Heathrow via Atlanta. Unfortunately the airline has changed the time of departure from Heathrow, which means I now have a 7 hour layover in Atlanta. Have already paid for ESTA and have proof of vaccination for Covid-19. Can I leave the airport? Have booked Premium ticket which I think allows me into lounges. Do they have beds or would it be worth going into a hotel next to the airport just for some much-needed sleep?
August 10, 2022 @ 4:02 pm
Hi Elaine! Yes, you can leave the airport during your layover. When you land in Atlanta, you’ll have to go through customs and immigration, plus claim and recheck your luggage, so at that point you’re officially entering the US, so if you want to go into the city for a couple of hours, you can. I lived in Atlanta for years, so I never needed to use lounges at ATL, so I can’t help you there, but there should be info on the airport website. I did a quick search and found something called “minute suites” that might work for you. If you do decide to go into the city to do some things, I have an Atlanta post here, and you can use MARTA for public transport. It’s not the best system, especially if you’re used to London, but it will get you to the middle of the city. Just make sure to leave yourself plenty of time to get through security again and make your next flight. I’m sure you’ve heard how crazy travel is right now!
May 10, 2022 @ 2:50 pm
I have a ten hour layover in London en route to Cape Town that night. A tour sounds wonderful. Any ideas. ??
May 23, 2022 @ 3:52 pm
Hi Lynn, sorry for the late reply, your comment slipped through the cracks! I hope I’m not too late… Here’s a food tour I took in London that was fantastic. That company has several different ones, in case the exact tour I linked to doesn’t work for you. Otherwise you could try a walking tour like this one or this one. I hope you enjoy your long layover in London, sounds like a great amount of time to explore and take a tour!
October 13, 2021 @ 9:28 am
First of all, I found all your comments and information very helpful even before asking questions of mine. Thank you!
I am a Canadian citizen living in Canada and planning to travel to the US and stay there for a month. I will have a 9 hours layover in Seattle on my way back to Canada. I guess there would be no problem leaving the airport during my 9 hours layover since I’ve already got visa when I entered the US a month ago plus I will have the proof of negative Covid-19 and fully vaccinated? I wanted to make sure before I purchase my flight tickets.
Also would it be okay to leave my luggage at airport storage and come back couple hours before my flight to Canada and check in the luggage? I dont remember how it worked since I havent travelled so long…
Thanks again for your help!
October 14, 2021 @ 10:55 am
Thanks, I’m so glad this was helpful to you! Yes, since you already need a visa to fly through the US, you can leave the airport during your layover in Seattle. Just make sure you leave yourself plenty of time to get back before your next flight, keeping in mind you will have to go through security again, and international flights sometimes board early. As for your luggage, first thing you should do is ask the airline how early they accept checked bags, because if they’ll take it, that’s your best option. Otherwise, I did a google search for luggage storage Seattle airport and found this: https://www.smartecarte.com/baggage-storage/seattle-seatac/. Looks reasonable, but read through their rules to make sure it’ll work for you, and make sure you understand if they’re located before security or after security so you can get back there at the right point before your next flight.
October 16, 2021 @ 8:50 am
THANK YOU SO MUCH AGAIN! 🙂 I really appreciate your help and kindness.
October 16, 2021 @ 3:43 pm
Glad to help!!