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What is a Layover?

A layover is a break between flights, where passengers temporarily disembark before continuing to their final destination. It's an opportunity to stretch your legs, explore new airports, or even discover a city if time allows. Layovers can last from less than an hour to overnight. Wondering how to make the most of your next layover? Let's explore the possibilities together.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

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.

Air travel often requires layover stays at airports, especially when travelers go to less popular destinations that require connecting flights.
Air travel often requires layover stays at airports, especially when travelers go to less popular destinations that require connecting flights.

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.

During a layover, most travelers remain at the airport in order to check their flight's status.
During a layover, most travelers remain at the airport in order to check their flight's status.

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.

Layovers can be especially grueling for an airline passenger whose itinerary requires multiple flights.
Layovers can be especially grueling for an airline passenger whose itinerary requires multiple flights.

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.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseTour researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseTour researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...

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Discussion Comments

anon301603

I accidentally bought a ticket with a 21-hour layover. Shouldn't the web site have warned me that it was excessive? And should it even have been advertised when I searched for flights from the US to the UK?

anon273850

Does someone know the average wait time (layover) for airline travelers to catch their connecting flight? e.g. 90 minutes? Two hours? Three hours?

David09

@MrMoody - I don’t know much about international flights, but I use Air Tran for most of my domestic travel and they’ve been great. They have main hubs in Atlanta and Wisconsin and run over a 1,000 daily flights.

I’ve never had to wait for more than 90 minutes in a layover and sometimes it’s been as brief as 45 minutes; with short layovers you have to hustle but I’ve never missed a flight.

MrMoody

@Mammmood - One great way to pass the time is to watch a film. I always carry what I call a layover movie in my smart phone while I wait. These things can be downloaded onto an electronic device and since movies last two hours on average, you can watch one or more films, depending on the length of the layover, to pass the time.

nony

@Mammmood - Yes, that's frustrating, and you're locked in the airport whole time. People sometimes ask the question, Can I leave the airport during a layover? The general answer to the question is no.

The airports are secured and they don’t want you stepping out and bringing potentially dangerous material back in. So if you have a layover in some exotic destination and are thinking about visiting the city during a long interval between the next flight, you can forget it.

However, if you need to take a smoking break or something, in some airports there are guarded exits where they’ll let you step out briefly under supervision to take your break, but when you step back in you have to go through the security again just as if you had arrived for the first time.

Mammmood

There is nothing more frustrating than a very long lay over. I’ve heard of passengers complaining about 2 or 3 hours, but try 5 or 6 hours and see how it feels. That’s how long my lay over in Los Angeles lasted when I traveled to Jakarta. I arrived at LAX at around 7 PM and the next flight was departing at around 1 AM and headed for Taiwan.

How do you bide the time for 5 hours? If you have a laptop with plenty of battery time left you can work on that, or play with your smart phone, or make endless calls or read a book.

Most passengers (myself included) just lay our heads on small pillows and took naps, with our watch alarms set of course. Others just walked and milled about or sat patiently. It’s grueling either way, but unavoidable on international flights.

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    • Air travel often requires layover stays at airports, especially when travelers go to less popular destinations that require connecting flights.
      By: Shutterbas
      Air travel often requires layover stays at airports, especially when travelers go to less popular destinations that require connecting flights.
    • During a layover, most travelers remain at the airport in order to check their flight's status.
      By: HappyAlex
      During a layover, most travelers remain at the airport in order to check their flight's status.
    • Layovers can be especially grueling for an airline passenger whose itinerary requires multiple flights.
      By: Pavel Losevsky
      Layovers can be especially grueling for an airline passenger whose itinerary requires multiple flights.