Layovers. You either hate them or you hate them. Or, you’re the one in one million person like me who actually enjoys a good airport (but probably not). Layovers are often uncertain and can be a complete headache for people. I receive a lot of assumptive questions about layovers regarding length, and even more questions concerning things to do to pass the time. So, I wanted to take the time to carefully create the ultimate layover guide for international travel. Literally, this is the ultimate layover guide, so sit back and enjoy!
How to Properly Book a Layover
To be honest, you’re probably doing it wrong. So many people I talk to think that a short layover is best. Riddle me this, Batman: How do you expect to make it to your next flight? Chances are, if there is any sort of hiccup in your first flight, then you are on your lovely way to missing your next one. Ahhhh layovers…
The length of your layover is essentially important to starting your vacation off right. It’s one of the main things I look at when I book a flight, and it’s often overlooked by most people because they think the shorter the better. There is a definite sweet spot for layover times when traveling internationally. You should never book a layover time under two hours. Even an hour and a half can be really playing with fire. You must take in to consideration possible delays during take off, as well as customs checks before boarding your next flight. So next time you fly, try and shoot for a two hour layover.
The city you fly in to has less of an effect on your layover. During my traveling years (still going strong), I have looked for countless patterns in airport punctuality and flow, and I am happy to report there are none. Here you can find a comprehensive list of the world’s most punctual airports for reference. In my experience, there’s no full proof prediction process when it comes to choosing a city for your layover (beside the fact that most people just don’t care anyway). I used to think larger airports required more time to make it through customs and gate changes. But then I found that smaller airports always had tighter security and were less efficient. So, it’s a lose lose.
Short Layover Tips
So the flight that you really want has a short layover, but you could potentially miss your next flight. What do you do? If you catch this during the booking process, then make sure when you go to choose a seat, that you seat yourself towards the front of the plane. If you can get in the very first seats, then you’re golden. It can take nearly 15 minutes to get off the plane if you’re situated near the back.
If you realize after the booking process you booked a really short layover, don’t panic. Should you run in to any delays, the crew will most likely be aware of the next flight you are trying to catch. Don’t be afraid to ask people to let you off the plane first if you’re about to miss your flight. As rude as it may seem to be in such a rush, it’s definitely worth it!
Have your passport, ID, and tickets ready to go as soon as you land. If everything is organized, it’s much easier to go about getting through customs and on to your next flight. Essentially, you don’t want to be that person struggling with three bags and dropping their papers everywhere.
Every airport is slightly different, and requires different things upon entry. You can also look up the airport you are flying in to before you leave and double check. Sometimes they will ask you the name of your third cousin’s dog, and other times there isn’t even a gate change. Also make sure you don’t need to pick up your luggage anywhere. I’ve had that curve ball thrown at me more than once, though it’s rare.
Really Long Layover Tips
I try to avoid really long layovers, but sometimes it happens. Especially if I am airline hopping in order to get a great deal! It’s quite difficult to make the flights match up exactly, so the layovers are either extremely short, or extremely long. When you’re dealing with multiple airlines you do not want to take your chances. Should you miss your next flight, your previous airline is not inclined to help you.
Explore the City
For extra long layovers, you can take it as a chance to explore the city. Step outside the airport and grab some breakfast or lunch, and use it as a time to recharge and relax. Keep an eye on your flight from your phone, and you should be good to go!
Book a Day Hotel
Yes, day hotel bookings finally exist. You can now book a hotel for some truly odd hours, like 9am – 5pm. If you have a flight with 6+ hours as a layover, it might be worth it to check in to a day hotel near the airport. There you can order some room service and get in a few hours of sleep. Here are some booking companies that offer this service:
How to Pass The Time
Passing the time during a layover isn’t always easy. While I usually have work to do, it’s not like I actually want to do it, so it becomes a struggle of boredom. At this point I usually wander around and grab a drink, or watch some Instagram stories. However there are a few other ways to keep you going.
Airline Club Access
Try getting a few club passes before you leave. Most major airlines now have ‘clubs’ at airports that grant you access to some pretty awesome amenities while you wait. These include buffet style food, coffee, comfortable chairs, wifi, a trillion outlets (finally), and sometimes even a few beds and a shower room. The last two are decently rare, but a few airlines do have rooms where you can ‘freshen up’. Definitely check out if the airline you are flying offers a club, and if there is one located in your layover city. This is probably about the only reason to go with a larger city for a layover, as these tend to be where the clubs are located.
I’ve actually had quite a few amazing conversations with strangers that have really passed the time. If you’re at an airport, expediently a lot of the people there are travelers. It can be really fun to exchange stories about where you’ve been and where you’re going. Try starting a conversation with the person next to you.
Grab a Bite
Airports are so equipped these days! Can I just take a moment for my German airports? Their design is phenomenal. Okay, back to the food… Lots of airports now have fully functioning restaurants to dine at. If you have a decently long layover, then pass on the airline food and grab a bite at one of the restaurants instead.
Bring a Card Game
Card games can be a lifesaver if you’re traveling with someone. One of my friends always keeps a trivia card game in her car just for long rides. It’s super fun! This also works for long layovers too. Bringing a card trivia game can be a great way to pass the time, and don’t be surprised if other people around you get involved. I mean, who can pass up a trivia game?
I think the biggest misconception about layovers are the quicker the better. While an hour to an hour and a half is what most people think is acceptable, I highly recommend never going under 2 hours for a layover internationally. If you made it to the end of this ultimate layover guide, then you should be an official expert in layovers! Happy travels, and cheers to those horrible layovers.
What has been your worst flying experience to date? Any horror stories out there that are laughable now?