Flying overseas implies booking connecting flights with layovers. The search results usually show these when browsing a flight comparison site. The layover time is visible in the flight details. Although it may seem obvious, a layover flight requires research and knowledge to avoid pitfalls and be well prepared for long-haul flights. The average layover time for international flights ranges between 1.5 to +14 hours. Our checklist will help determine the right layover time to allow you smooth transfers onto the connecting flight without stress.
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 spent at a connecting airport between your primary flight and 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, which 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 no one answer fits all. Unfortunately, the answer will differ 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 average layover time for international flights you should consider is 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 Sydney’s next flight leg.
- Do I have to go through customs for a connecting flight?
In most international airports, you must go through security even if you don’t leave the airport because they have a security check. You will have to go the same again to access the transit area and get to your transfer flight. You will go through a quick security check and pass control in Dubai even though you are not leaving the airport. This won’t apply if you fly within a country, on a domestic flight, or within the Schengen Zone. In this case, you only go through border control and customs and the first outgoing airport where you board your first flight but not at the final destination.
- International airports are usually quite big and have several terminals, so make sure you know how much time you will need to go 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. The airport is excellent because everywhere you are, it shows how much time you need to walk to another terminal or with a shuttle bus. So you can quickly figure 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. You must pick up your luggage from the landing terminal’s arrival hall 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 ensure you have plenty of time to go through all the above transfer flight procedures.
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 jams, overcrowded terminals and many more are expected at airports. It’s better to have a slightly longer layover than a tight time, like 1.5 hours. The average layover time is between 2 and 3 hours.
This most popular flight configuration allows you to reach the transfer gate with no airport rush. It allows enough time for walking around, shopping, having a drink, gets fresh and ready to board the connecting flight.
Connecting Flight Procedure – What you need to check
To ensure the layover is not too short, I book connecting flights with two or three-hour layovers. This is because it’s too risky if a flight delay occurs and may lead to missing the connecting flight. However, connecting flights are guaranteed if you fly with the same airline.
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.
Knowing the connecting airport procedure is essential when you plan layover flights. If you know the airport well, it will allow you to find your way to the airport quickly and get to the transfer gate. If you don’t know the airport and are flying there for the first time, you will need more time to move around.
There may be airport rules you don’t know, so learning about connecting procedures at the airport is good. In this case, check with your airline and airport website for all relevant information about the transfer, shuttle buses, etc.
When to book connecting flights with a short layover
For domestic flights, a short layover is usually 1-1.5 hours, as you will not have to go through security. For the reasons mentioned above, for international flights 2 to 3 hours layover is a good time to calculate.
But often, flights come with 4-7 hours or even 10 hours and longer in this case. You can 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 help handle connecting flights with long layovers.
- Up to 2-3 hours is ideal but often tricky because of many variables. First, flights with this configuration tend to get quickly booked out. Some airlines have flights with long layovers from the northern to the southern hemisphere.
- A 4-7 hours layover is a long time at the airport. In this case, getting organised and going to airport lounges is advisable. You can join various airline 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 to access different lounges. Some airlines offer the possibility to upgrade your flight ticket to a higher lounge class with frequent flyer miles. 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.
- When the layover time is longer than 10 hours, you shall consider booking a flight with an overnight layover. While many airlines offer free drop off and pick up, you get a night’s sleep at the airport before boarding for your next destination. It may benefit those who need a longer time to relax between flights. Consider that pick-up from the hotel is usually 3-4 hours before your flight schedule. For a long night layover, booking a hotel and staying overnight makes sense. If you have +10 hours layover during the daytime, it makes sense to leave 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 stayed only 4 hours in the hotel.
I believe 10 hours are suitable for the daytime layover. I would make sure you have at least 13-15 hours in between flights to get a full night sleep for the night.
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. You can use it for a long layover or a few day stopovers.
Most airlines provide you with a free transit visa. Usually, when you purchase the ticket, all this information is 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, applying for a permit for a couple of hours makes no sense.
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 airport before going through customs.
- If you cannot leave the airport, spend your time at the connecting airport and make the most of it using airport lounges. If you don’t own a card, ask your airline for suggestions.
- Pack accordingly. Ensure you have all your essentials, and wear a warm and comfy outfit for the long-haul flight.
Stopover vs Layover – What you should consider
A stopover differs 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 the following day for the connecting flight to your destination.
I recommend doing this if you travel 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, 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 a +20-hours trip. The most common stopover airports are Singapore, Dubai, Kuala Lumpur, and Bangkok in Asia and the Middle East if you fly to Asia and Oceania.
A stopover is a great solution that allows you to visit a city and 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 cure fast jet lag.
My tip: I am a fan of stopovers because they help me recover from jet lag. And also because I reached my final destination in a less stressed mode.
Booking Long layover flights to Australia
There are three primary flight models for flying into Australia 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 flights with three layovers
this means having two different connection airports, for example, Emirates Flights To Australia from London via Dubai, from Dubai to Singapore, and further onto Sydney. This flight combination suits those who cannot sit long in a plane and need frequent stops.
- Going to Australia with a stopover flight
Choosing a beautiful city as a stopover flight is best if you want a shortcut to Australia’s long-haul 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 to 3-4 hours. From there, you can then plan your domestic flights within Australia.
Conclusions about a connecting flight with a layover
Choosing the correct type of flight configuration and planning your flights carefully with the right layover time is crucial to a smooth trip, a stress-free travel experience, and the fastest way to recover from jet lag.
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First published in 2018, last updated in Jan 2023
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