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A layover is a break in a journey, often imposed by the schedule of the traveler. The term is most commonly used in the context of airplane travel, but people using buses, trains, and ferries can also experience layovers. As a general rule, most travelers try to avoid layovers, although in some cases an extended one will be deliberately scheduled. A trip itinerary usually details the included layovers, along with their lengths.
In the most common scenario, a layover happens because a traveler is traveling between two points which are not directly connected. For example, someone might need to travel between Burlington, Vermont, and Los Angeles, California. There are no direct flights between these locations because there is not enough consumer demand, so the passenger must first travel to a larger city, such as New York or Chicago, and then take another flight to Los Angeles.
This is an illustration of the hub and spoke model which has been adopted by many airlines. These airlines have one or more central hubs with large numbers of flights every day, and they route passengers through these hubs rather than providing direct flights. If a passenger needs to travel directly between two hubs, like London and Los Angeles, no layover would be required. While it can be frustrating for passengers, this system makes transport much more efficient, and can lower the overall operating costs of an airline or freight company.
A layover can be rather grueling and frustrating, especially if a passenger is taking a trip with multiple legs. Even domestic travel can sometimes require as many as four changes of plane, train, or bus, and unlucky passengers may find themselves enduring layovers which are rather long. Typically, passengers stay in the airport or station during a layover, since the time period is usually not long enough to explore the neighboring community. Passengers can also be severely penalized for missing the next leg, so they want to stay close to the station.
If a passenger knows that he or she will need to experience a layover, a deliberately long layover might be scheduled. Typically this type of layover is overnight, allowing the passenger to book a room and explore the city or visit friends, albeit briefly. It can be tricky to plan a trip with this type of layover, especially in the case of airplane travel, since the passenger will need to clear security twice. Some airlines discourage this behavior for this reason.
Frequently Asked Questions
What exactly is a layover in air travel?
A layover refers to the interval between connecting flights when a passenger must wait at an intermediate airport before continuing their journey. Layovers can range from less than an hour to several hours long, depending on flight schedules and routes. This time is used to transfer passengers and their luggage from one plane to another, and it can also provide an opportunity for travelers to explore the airport or even the nearby city if time permits.
How long does a layover typically last?
The duration of a layover can vary widely. Short layovers may be as brief as 30 minutes, just enough time for passengers to disembark one plane and board another. Longer layovers can last several hours or even overnight. Airlines usually design their schedules to minimize layover times, but longer layovers are sometimes necessary for international flights or when flying to less frequently serviced destinations. According to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the average layover time is about 2 hours for domestic flights.
Can I leave the airport during a layover?
Whether you can leave the airport during a layover depends on several factors, including the length of your layover, visa requirements, and your personal comfort with the risk of missing your connecting flight. For layovers of 6 hours or more, it's often feasible to leave the airport to explore the city. However, you must ensure you have the right to enter the country, as some nations require visas even for short visits. Always account for the time needed to pass through security upon your return to the airport.
What amenities are available to passengers on a layover?
Airports offer a variety of amenities to accommodate passengers during layovers. These can include lounges, dining options, shopping, free Wi-Fi, charging stations, and sometimes even showers and sleeping pods. Larger airports may also feature cultural exhibits, relaxation zones, and children's play areas. The availability of these amenities can greatly enhance the layover experience, turning what might be a tedious wait into a pleasant break. Airports are increasingly focusing on passenger experience, with some, like Singapore's Changi Airport, setting high standards with amenities like a butterfly garden and movie theater.
What should I do if my layover is too short and I miss my connecting flight?
If you miss a connecting flight due to a short layover or delays, contact the airline immediately. Airlines are typically responsible for rebooking passengers on the next available flight at no additional cost if the missed connection was due to a delay on their part. If you booked your flights separately, you might not have the same protections, and it's crucial to understand the policies of each airline you're flying with. Always keep essential items and travel documents in your carry-on luggage in case of unexpected layovers or missed connections.