Sometimes a flight with a layover – when you have to change planes at a hub airport – can feel like an inconvenience. However, you can turn it to your advantage by taking time to explore an extra city before you head onwards to your final destination. Non-direct flights can often be less expensive too, so it’s a win-win!
When you book your flight, think about how long you’ll spend in the city where your layover will be.
If your layover is around three hours, you won’t usually have time to leave the airport. However, you could enjoy airport facilities (some, such as Changi, have excellent ones) and treat yourself to a massage, a good meal, or do some shopping.
If you’ve got six or seven hours to spare, you’ve probably got time to see one or two of the local sights... and even locate fellow travelers to go with you - using FlipTheTrip, for example. Make sure you’re back in plenty of time for your onward flight though!
If your layover is more than 10 hours, why not make the most of it. Book your onward flight for the next day and spend more time exploring the city. Book an overnight stay to really experience your layover city.
Overall it’s well worth planning ahead how you are going to use your layover time. Before your trip, read up on the main sights of the city and decide where you want to go and how you’re going to get there. Airport websites will usually tell you about the various ways to get into the city, how long they take and what they cost. You can sometimes also make savings on transport costs by booking ahead.
In Sydney I’ve gone out to have lunch looking over the harbour and opera house before jumping back on the train to the airport. It’s so refreshing – getting out in the fresh air, stretching your legs and just having a look around always minimizes jet lag too.
Digital journalist Lynley Oram says: I love it when I have a flight with a layover. I enjoyed my last one at Hong Kong Airport of around six or eight hours when I’ve hopped off the plane in Hong Kong to have breakfast in Central (the business district) and then back again. It was so easy - the train is literally just across from arrivals.
I had breakfast at the Mandarin Oriental, then popped up to the top of the shopping centre for amazing views across the city and harbour. And in Sydney I’ve gone out to have lunch looking over the harbour and opera house before jumping back on the train to the airport. It’s so refreshing – getting out in the fresh air, stretching your legs and just having a look around always minimizes jet lag too.
Don’t forget that if you are planning to leave the airport during your layover, you will need a valid visa for the country you are visiting. Some visa applications can be very lengthy, others very simple, so whether or not this is worth the trouble for a short visit depends on where your layover is. For example, at Dubai, people of many nationalities including American, British and Australian do not need to get a visa in advance - you can simply go to immigration once you’ve disembarked and your passport will be stamped with a 30-day visa free of charge.
Enjoy Airport Features Before Discovering the City
Here is what you can expect at the airport:
- some airports (such as Sydney) have showers you can use free of charge (however you will need to bring soap and a towel),
- some airport hotels (not all) will even let you use their gym showers for a small fee,
- most airports have left-luggage facilities of some sort (though it’s worth checking in advance where these are and how much they cost so as not to waste time), enabling you to leave most of your luggage safely behind and enjoy the city unencumbered.
Note that if both your flights are with the same airline, you will usually be able to have your luggage transferred directly from one plane to the other, but make sure you have whatever you need for your layover in your hand luggage.
Some airports are almost destinations in their own right where you can have quite a pleasant day with barely any planning at all. For example, Changi Airport in Singapore has:
- a rooftop swimming pool,
- two 24-hour cinemas,
- an art collection,
- the world’s tallest airport slide (12 metres),
- several different gardens including one with 500 sunflowers, an orchid garden, a cactus garden, the world’s first airport butterfly garden and a Koi fish pond,
- 350 stores on-site,
- a spa and fitness lounge…
- …and they even offer a free two and half hour tour of Singapore which includes sights such as the Merlion and Gardens by the Bay.
Dubai airport has excellent shopping facilities, restaurants which are open 24 hours a day, free showers in T1 (between gates C18 and C22) and T3 (between gates B13 and B19, and A1 and A24), a Zen Gardens indoor oasis near T3 (close to gates B7 and B27), a swimming pool, a gym, a jacuzzi and a steam room all accessible from T1 (gate 115) and T3 (Concourse 2)… and 3 different spas!
While Heathrow Airport has an art gallery a Be Relax spa and hosts Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant in T5 and features famous British shops such as Harrods and Hamleys in T1.
Where to Stay?
If you’re only staying one night or your onward flight is very early, you may find it easiest to book a hotel at or near the airport. Otherwise, finding accommodation in the city you’re visiting through sites like Couchsurfing.com or Airbnb can help you to meet locals and get a flavour of the real city. Or you could use an app such as Showaround to help you find locals to hang out with who are willing to introduce you to their city.
Don’t Get Caught Out
However long or short your layover, you will need to leave plenty of time to return to the airport and check in for your connecting flight. It’s usually best to be at the airport at least two hours before an international flight – sometimes longer – check what your airline recommends. Don’t forget you will have to pass through security again so you’ll need to make sure any liquids are the right size and in a plastic bag again as at the beginning of your journey and that you haven’t bought any souvenirs which are forbidden in hand luggage.
Don’t think of a connecting flight with a layover as an inconvenience - it’s an opportunity to relax and enjoy yourself between two flights - or even to explore somewhere new!