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What is a Direct Flight?

By D. Poupon
Updated: May 23, 2024

A direct flight is a voyage in an aircraft that leaves the original airport and arrives at the destination airport without stopping at any intermediary airports. Direct flights tend to be more expensive that non-direct flights. They are also more convenient and typically reduce travel times. Direct flights are not available between all cities. Some airlines consider a direct flight any flight where passengers do not change aircraft, even if the plane does touch down before arriving at the destination.

Also called non-stop flights, direct flights are not necessarily for the budget-minded traveler. In today’s difficult economic climate, yesterday’s aviation conveniences have become quite the luxury. In flight meals, check-in, and even carry on bags add extras to the bill. Most companies allow no flight changes without tacking on a hefty fee, even if changes are made weeks before takeoff. Since most travelers would prefer a direct flight, they too come with an additional price tag.

Frequent flyers, families with small children and people who fear flying, really appreciate direct flights. In general travelers get to their destination faster than with connecting flights, since there are no layovers, missed planes, or added delays. Once a traveler is in the plane, they only need to find their seats and load their baggage into the overhead compartment once. Eardrums only pop once going up and once going down, which is easier on the head and the heart. International travelers do not need to worry about collecting their bags and going through customs multiple times.

There are no guarantees that a direct flight will be available between two airports. Typically larger cities and airline hub cities have the most direct flights. Smaller, less frequented airports have fewer direct flights, especially as companies have reduced their flight patterns in order to cut costs. Longer flights may not be available as direct connections, as airplanes may need to be refueled or the flight crew might need to be relieved.

When purchasing airline tickets, travelers should be aware that not all companies define a direct flight in the same manner. Certain companies consider a flight direct if there is no change in flight number, even if the plane does touch down at an intermediary airport. Most companies will provide this detailed information in fine print somewhere on their website. Possibilities for reimbursement if the plane must land before the destination should also be available online or by contacting the company directly.

WiseTour is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By geekish — On Oct 06, 2011

I have always wanted to take a direct flight, but have not had the opportunity yet. I love to travel, and it just seems like it would be so much easier of a trip if I could fly without stopping anywhere. I do not travel by plane much, so I hadn't really thought about the different types of air travel until now. Since I only travel by plane once every few years, I probably will just save my money and take either a direct flight or one with a couple connecting flights.

If I had to fly all the time, for work, or even for pleasure, I would probably try to fly on nonstop flights or at least direct flights. It seems like if you had to travel on an airplane once a week, or even several times a years, it would get frustrating to have to keep stopping and switching planes. Also, when you have connecting flights, you always have to just hope that your luggage doesn't get lost and/or that you didn't leave something on one of the previous flights.

By BabaB — On Oct 05, 2011

When flying from coast to coast, I dislike having to make one or two connecting flights. Once when my two daughters and myself were traveling from Boston to the west coast, we were delayed coming from Boston and landed in Cleveland within minutes of our intended take-off time.

We ran through the airport to the gate, and found that the flight had left. There were no other flights that day. We complained and pleaded and finally the airlines said they would provide a motel room and meals.

But I guess that those amenities aren't usually provided these days. People just spend the night hanging around the airport.

By Esther11 — On Oct 05, 2011

Back in the day - the 60s and 70s, most flights between large cities in the U.S. were non-stop. If you were flying to a smaller city, just one more leg was added on. It saved a lot of time, and you didn't have to spend so much time in the airport.

In the late 60s, I flew to Europe. I was flying from the West Coast to England. At that time, an airplane couldn't carry enough fuel to go all the way, so we had to stop in Iceland to refuel. That was an interesting lay-over.

By sunshined — On Oct 05, 2011

If I am flying overseas, I have to get to Chicago if I want a direct flight across the ocean. When I am looking for cheap international flights, I always price these from the Chicago airport.

The worst thing about this is that it takes me 5 hours to get to Chicago by car. Not only does that add a lot of extra time on to the trip, but the last thing I want to do when I get back home is get in the car and drive another 5 hours.

Even though it adds quite a bit of expense to the cost of the trip, I will pay the extra money to fly to Chicago instead of drive.

I just make sure the flight takes me directly overseas and doesn't make another stop in New York or New Jersey. When I fly international, I just plan on at least 2 whole days of nothing but traveling back and forth.

By Mykol — On Oct 04, 2011

I love flying on direct flights, but don't get the option to do so very often. The biggest airport in my state only has direct flights to larger, connecting airports.

If I want to have a direct flight anywhere, I have to drive 2-3 hours to get to a larger airport. If you live close to a city that has a major airline hub, you have a much better chance of getting a direct flight.

I also like to find cheap air flights, and you usually have to pay more if you want a direct flight. What I like best about direct flights is that it cuts down on so much travel time.

When you take connecting flights, you have to spend an hour or two at another airport and this takes you much longer to get to your final destination.

By EdRick — On Oct 04, 2011

@SailorJerry - Ouch! I fly a lot for work and I think I would have to quit my job if I had your trouble. Have you tried taking an NSAID, like Aleve, before your flight? I have a friend who swears by it.

I look for direct flights, not necessarily nonstop, because I often find it necessary to check a bag when I travel. With a direct flight, they do not have to take your bag off the plane and move it to another plane. In my experience, that's when bags get lost! I like to keep mine as close as possible.

I get reimbursed, of course, so cheap flight tickets are not a huge concern for me, but I do try to be a good steward of company money. If it's much, much cheaper to take a flight with a transfer, I will usually do that and pay for a separate bag-shipping service. (I can't do my job without my luggage, so me arriving without it is a waste of company money.)

By SailorJerry — On Oct 04, 2011

I always look for a nonstop flight because my ears hurt quite badly on descent, so I want to make as few flights as possible.

"Nonstop" and "direct" mean slightly different things. A direct flight might make a stop, but it will not change flight numbers (or usually crew). You can usually stay on the plane if you so choose. A nonstop flight is what I look for. That means that it really doesn't touch down at all. (If my goal is to make fewer descents, a direct flight doesn't do me any good! I might just as well have changed planes.)

You can't always get a cheap nonstop airline flight, but if you check every conceivable airport and airline, you can usually find something plausible. It might mean renting a car and driving an hour or two ar your destination, for instance. I personally am willing to pay noticeably more for nonstop, too; bargain hunters have to be more flexible.

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