Ask these 5 Questions to Maximize a Long Layover
While most of us would prefer nonstop flights, layovers are often unavoidable. Ideally your layover would only be a couple of hours, enough time to find your next gate and maybe get a snack before waiting to board the next flight. But sometimes you get stuck with a long layover. Sometimes one of the options gives you a temptingly long layover, long enough to go see something beyond the airport.
Here are 5 questions to ask yourself if you want to maximize a long layover and actually enjoy it.
1) How long do you really have for your layover?
Let’s say your itinerary shows you have a four hour layover. Is that actually enough time to leave the airport and see a tiny bit of the city you’re in? Probably not.
Most airports are located a good distance from the city itself, so you have to calculate how long it will take to get in and out. You also have to account for the time it takes to get off the plane and then get back to the airport an hour or two (depending on the flight) before the next flight takes off.
To be safe, you should be back at the airport two hours before your second flight takes off. Plus at least a half hour to get off the first flight and through the airport, depending on the size of the airport.
If it’s an international layover, it could take longer due to passport control and customs.
Then add in however long it takes to get into the city, and double it to account for the return trip. I like toandfromtheairport.com because it gives details on how to get to and from just about any airport in the world.
It’s always best to double check with your own search to be sure routes, operating times, and prices are still up to date.
Then decide if your layover is long enough to actually do or see something. If you’re only left with an hour, it probably isn’t worth the hassle or expense to go into the city.
But if you have several hours, a quick jaunt into the city could be fun. Just be sure to leave yourself a little buffer in case there’s traffic or you get lost or delayed in some way.
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.
2) Do you need a visa for your layover?
International layovers are appealing since they give you a glimpse at a foreign country. But before you get too excited, make sure you know the visa rules of the country your layover is in.
In most cases, simply having a layover does not mean you need a visa, but if you plan on leaving the airport, you will officially be entering the country.
If you are require to get a visa, decide if it’s worth the cost and potential paperwork. Many nationalities (including Americans) are require to apply ahead of time for visas for countries such as Vietnam, Russia, or India.
It’s a simple process for Vietnam but still requires a hefty fee. On the other hand, Russia and India require a lengthy application and an even bigger fee.
Countries that require visas usually aren’t worth the hassle and expense for a layover. If you have a layover in one of these, just do your best to enjoy the transit lounge at the airport.
>>Read: Amsterdam Layover Guide: How to Spend a Long Layover in Amsterdam
However, many countries are much easier to deal with when it comes to visas. Americans, as well as quite a few other nationalities, can enter most European countries visa free.
So if you have a layover in Amsterdam or Paris, as an example, you simply have to go through the immigration line.
Americans can enter several other countries visa free, such as Canada, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and more. Always check the embassy’s website ahead of time to be sure of the visa requirements for your nationality.
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.
3) How much can you see during your layover?
Truthfully, you probably can’t see a lot on your long layover, but that’s ok. Do some research on the city your layover is in, and pick one thing.
Maybe it’s a museum, maybe it’s ancient ruins. Maybe you just want to eat the local food. Whatever it is that interests you and fits into the time frame you have is perfectly fine.
The longer the layover, the more you can do, but don’t push it. Chances are you’ll be a bit tired or even jet lagged depending on where you flew in from.
Try to estimate how much time you need for any activity on your wish list, and realize you might not get to everything.
If there’s a tour you can book ahead of time, a way to reserve a time slot or skip the line, it’s worth it.
Also think about the timing of your layover. If your first flight lands late at night and the second one leaves early in the morning, there isn’t much you can do during your layover.
Wandering the streets of an unfamiliar place at 3am might not be the best idea, depending on the city. But you also might not have time for a night in a hotel.
It’s not fun, but this is a situation when you might have to just hang out in the airport.
4) Will you have to carry your luggage on a layover?
If your flights are booked together on one itinerary, chances are your checked luggage will automatically get transferred from one flight to the next, but find out ahead of time to be sure.
If you booked two separate flights, you’ll have to go to baggage claim to collect your luggage from the first flight and recheck it for the second flight.
Some airlines won’t let you check luggage too far ahead of your flight, so you’ll need to find luggage lockers or some other luggage hold service at or near the airport.
A good option to try is a company called Slasher, which has connections with hotels and other stores that will hold your luggage for you. These are usually cheaper than luggage lockers, but you have to book ahead online.
If you’re traveling carry-on only, you won’t have to worry about baggage claim issues. However, you will probably still want to put your bag in a luggage locker so you won’t have to carry it around the city.
Just make sure you keep your money, ID, and anything else you might need on your layover adventure.
Any luggage issues you have to deal with, whether it’s a luggage locker or rechecking a bag, will eat into your sightseeing time, so be sure to account for that as well.
>>Check out more layover perks you never knew about.
5) Do you need a different currency for your layover?
If you have a long layover in a country other than the one you’re ultimately traveling to, you will need currency for that country as well.
So for example, if you have a layover in London, but your final destination is Rome, you’ll need to get British pounds in order to actually do anything in London.
Your bank at home can probably exchange money for you, but it’s easy enough to find an ATM at the airport once you arrive in London. Just make sure you know how much things cost so you won’t end up taking out too much or not enough.
Of course you can use a credit card for many things, but be sure to notify your bank or credit card company of where you’re traveling to. But it’s always good to have a little cash no matter where you are.
Use your best judgement when trying to decide if you should venture into the city during your long layover. Every city is different, and some will be easier than others for maximizing a long layover. In some cases, a six hour layover might be enough for a quick look around, while in others that won’t be nearly enough time. Do your research, pad your time a little to account for getting lost or other delays, and have a good plan for what you want to do during your long layover.
You might also be interested in:
- Carry-on Luggage Size Chart with over 170 Airlines
- Is Your Layover Long Enough
- 8 Things to do If You Think Your Layover is Too Short
- How Do Layovers Work?
- Can I leave the airport during a layover?
June 20, 2022 @ 4:08 pm
We arrive in Heathrow @ 9:05 AM and leave for Scotland @ 4:35 PM. Do we need to go thru security when leaving and returning back to the Airport? Our luggage will follow the next flight; do we need a boarding pass getting back into the Airport. We have booked a private Tour – what time to get back to the Airport do you suggest?
July 4, 2022 @ 11:44 am
Hi Beverly! You’ll have to go through customs and immigration when you land in Heathrow, but you shouldn’t have to do security to leave the airport. But when you come back for your next flight, you will have to go through security. You don’t need a boarding pass to get in the airport, but you’ll need to have it by the time you reach the security checkpoint. If you don’t get the second boarding pass when you check in for the first flight, you’ll need to check in again with the airline before the flight to Scotland. As for what time to get back to the airport, normally I’d say at least 2 hours, but these days everything has gone a little crazy. I don’t know how long your tour is, but you should get back to the airport as early as you can. Many airports have massive delays with getting through security, and you’ll need all the time you can manage.
May 29, 2020 @ 11:56 am
Have a very long layover, coming and going during upcoming domestic trip at DFW Airport: 6-7 hours.
Are there any airport lounges still open due to virus threat?
Or any inexpensive, recommended ‘day use’ hotels with airport shuttles?
May 31, 2020 @ 11:38 am
Hi Joe! I don’t know if the lounges at DFW are open. Things change quickly, so I recommend starting with the airport’s website: https://www.dfwairport.com. I also found this list of hotels that are in or near the airport: https://www.sleepinginairports.net/guides/dallas-fort-worth-airport-guide.htm#hotels. I hope this helps!
May 13, 2019 @ 4:10 am
Hi Ali, my 17year old niece is traveling internationally for the first time ever and alone next month from Adelaide to London with an 8hr layover in Abu Dhabi. What advice do you give in keeping safe when traveling alone and should she stay within the airport and does she need a visa?
May 14, 2019 @ 10:42 am
Hi Kylie! Mostly she should keep an eye on her belongings and keep her carry on luggage with her at all times. I don’t have experience with kids, so I’m not sure if 17 is still considered an unaccompanied minor, but you could check with the airline about that. You could probably ask the airline if it’s possible to seat her next to another female, might make her feel a little more comfortable. I don’t think Australian citizens need a visa for United Arab Emirates, but I’m not a visa expert, so I recommend checking the embassy website about transit visa. An 8 hour layover is tough! She certainly can stay in the airport the whole time, but I know that can get tediously boring quickly. I found this site with layover tours for different layover lengths, so she could book a tour and have someone show her around the city a bit. I’d probably choose something 4 hours or shorter. The advantage of doing a tour is that she’ll have someone else with her who can deal with the logistics. But if you don’t (or she doesn’t) feel comfortable leaving the airport, you could look into lounges. It might be more comfortable for her to hang out in an airport lounge instead of just in the terminal somewhere, and there’s usually food and wifi in lounges. I hope this helps!
March 22, 2019 @ 9:04 am
Thanks for this article! Do I need a visa to enter UK? I am a Kenyan, and I have a long layover in London. I’ll be coming from the US to Nairobi, Kenya
March 25, 2019 @ 11:22 am
Unfortunately I’m not a visa expert. I recommend checking the UK embassy website to see what their visa requirements are for citizens of Kenya, and if they treat passengers differently if you’re transiting vs leaving the airport.
January 11, 2019 @ 10:04 pm
Thanks for this post and info. This is exactly what I was looking for!
I am planning a trip to Adelaide, Australia particularly for wine tasting. However, with such a long trip from the US, I would hate to miss the Opera House in Sydney or at least a picture. I found a flight with a 5 hour layover. I wondered if that would be enough time to get thru customs on the way in and back. I hadn’t considered a visa yet.
January 12, 2019 @ 12:00 pm
Hi Tanya! If you’re a US citizen, you’ll need a visa to visit Australia, but it’s an electronic thing and it’s really easy to apply. I have a post about what you need to know before traveling to Australia, and there’s some visa info in there along with a link for where to apply. So you’ll need that regardless of whether you do a long layover in Sydney. As for the layover timing, 5 hours might be cutting it a little close, but not impossible. When you land in Sydney, you’ll have to go through customs and immigration, which could take awhile depending on the lines. And you’ll have to go through security before going to your next flight (but no customs that direction because you’re already in Australia). I mapped out directions from the international terminal to the Opera House using public transport (I can’t tell if it’s a train or a tram or what, but it’s probably not hard to figure out when you’re there) and it looks like you’d need about 35 minutes one direction: https://goo.gl/maps/t58LcZGm1Bk. So that’s 1 hour 10 minutes round trip, not including the time you’ll take to get pictures, any waiting you have to do if you don’t get to the train/tram at the exact right time, and any time to get a little lost while walking to the Opera House, plus keeping in mind that you’ll be exhausted and jet lagged. So really I’d say you need at least 2 hours, maybe even a little more, to get from the airport to the Opera House and back. If it takes you an hour to get off the plane and through customs and immigration, that gives you 2 hours or less to get through security on the way back, plus some wiggle room. Probably doable, you just have to be really aware of your timing and leave some room for things to go wrong. Good thing is you can do all the research you need and plan it out ahead of time without having to commit to it, and you can see how much time you have left when you arrive after getting through customs and decide then. I hope this helps!
May 1, 2018 @ 12:57 pm
I have an 8 hours layover in Amsterdam, as an American citizen do I need any additional information since I want to visit some family members in the city of Amsterdam
May 3, 2018 @ 11:43 am
Hi Ralph! US citizens don’t need a visa in advance to visit countries within the Schengen Zone, which includes the Netherlands. You’ll have to go through immigration to get stamped in, and then you can go into the city. If your next flight is to another Schengen country, all you’ll have to do when you come back to the airport is go through security and find your next gate. But if your flight is to a non-Schengen country, you’ll also have to go through exiting passport control. Either way, make sure you leave yourself enough time on your way back. Enjoy!
April 3, 2018 @ 1:36 pm
This is such a great post, Ali!
Thank you for sharing it. It is always good to learn from what others have experienced during a long layover. The tips you have provided are very helpful in assessing when to and when not to leave an airport. I always have a hard time judging whether I should leave the airport or not, but your points will surely make me plan a better layover delay.
April 4, 2018 @ 5:29 pm
Thanks Yasmin, glad to help!
October 3, 2015 @ 9:16 pm
I am flying from Manchester UK to Toronto and have an overnight layover before flying onto Phoenix.Will my free one bag allowance apply for the whole journey or will I have to pay for the luggage on the onward trip from Toronto to Phoenix?
October 4, 2015 @ 10:17 am
Hi Steve, I would assume it applies for the entire journey, but that’s something you’ll have to confirm with the airline since airline policies can vary greatly.
April 21, 2015 @ 12:50 am
i want ask about long layout more than 12 hour in veinna by austrian air line is there free accommodation or not
April 21, 2015 @ 12:26 pm
Hi Mai! Unfortunately they are unlikely to give you any sort of accommodation in Vienna for your long layover. Your choices are to hang out in the airport and sleep there (check out http://sleepinginairports.net and look up the Vienna airport for info) or book a hotel. Depending on the time of day, it could be a good opportunity to see a little bit of the city, though probably not so great if you land at night and take off again in the morning.
September 2, 2014 @ 12:23 am
It’s been my observation that luggage lockers are very rare since security measures got so strict. What’s the best way to find out if there are any?
September 2, 2014 @ 10:50 am
I normally just search “luggage lockers” or “left luggage” plus the airport. Mostly what I see now are left luggage facilities where you can store your luggage and they’re run by a person, so they actually put your luggage through an x-ray security check. Sometimes they have normal lockers on the other side, so you would still go pick one and lock it up, but some airports have a system where the employee takes your bag and you get a ticket, almost like a coat check.
March 3, 2014 @ 6:40 am
Thanks for the info! Also, I didn’t know about to and from the airport website, have a feeling it’s going to be a great help in the future!
March 3, 2014 @ 9:34 am
Glad to help Stacey! That site isn’t the prettiest to look at, but it sure is helpful. Happy travels!