To layover, or not to layover, that is the question. For many travellers, a layover can be unavoidable, and the only thing to do is make the best of it. Others choose a layover intentionally to maximize their travel experience. Whatever your situation, the trick is to be prepared. Even if you’re only on the ground for a few hours, deciding in advance whether to stay at the airport, or leave and come back in time for your connecting flight, can help you take advantage of whatever time you have available.
For those unexpected layovers, making sure you have travel insurance with benefits for trip cancellation, interruption, and delay can also ensure your wallet doesn't take an unnecessary hit. Here are some layover tips to help make the most of your time.
Many flights have to be broken up into segments for several reasons. These include stops to refuel the airplane, pick up or drop off passengers and enable travellers to connect on non-direct routes. If you’re not interested in deplaning and exploring a new city—or airport—make sure you book only on direct routes or flights where passengers do not disembark from the aircraft.
A layover typically refers to a connection point between cities, sometimes as short as 30 minutes or as long as 23 hours. A stopover refers to passengers breaking up a trip by staying longer than 24 hours in any given city when travelling internationally. Savvy travellers often build itineraries around stopovers so they can add in a night in Paris or Rome if it suits, and often play the ‘air miles game’ where the stopover enhances their points or status.
Depending on the length of the layover you can, and should, leave the airport. While trying to zip in to the heart of Amsterdam to visit the flower market on a three-hour layover isn’t a good idea, a longer layover may deserve breathing in some non-airport air, even if it is just in the hotel attached to the airport. Tips for short layovers include getting to know the airport ahead of time to make the most of your time there: eat a nice meal, get a pedicure, go for a workout or long walk through the terminal(s), get some rest or nap—but make sure to set an alarm so you don’t miss your connection. Some airports really excel at on-the-ground entertainment: Singapore Changi airport features a huge slide, while San Francisco airport has exceptional spas and play areas.
Modern airports offer a wealth of services, often within the secure area. Always remember that leaving the secure area means going through security again upon re-entry to get your connecting flight, so leave enough time so you’re not left on the ground as your flight departs.
On a layover flight, odds are that the airline will take control of your baggage at departure and return it only upon arrival. Very clear instructions will be given related to baggage so listen closely, and ask your flight attendants or a service desk if you’re not clear. If you are on a long layover and will need a change of clothes, workout gear, a toothbrush or access to children’s items make sure to put those in carry-on so that you can minimize your luggage for a layover. If you are changing airlines then you will need to collect all of your luggage and re-check it, so leaving security and re-entering is a must. This makes it harder to leave the airport - no one wants to lug a big suitcase out for dinner in Manhattan - but many large airports will have lockers or luggage valets to allow for lighter travel when exploring the local sights.
An important tip for long layovers is to get a hotel room. Anything longer than 12 hours will require a mental and physical rest. As a rule, airport floors are not comfortable, and anyway, everyone needs a bit of privacy. A hotel bed, hot shower and your own pyjamas will make overnight layover trips much more enjoyable. If travelling with young children, a clean, quiet space to rest, regroup and recharge is a must. Families should also pre-identify what play areas are available in airports where they will layover and what options exist for child-friendly restaurants.
Long layovers offer the savvy traveller an opportunity to try the local cuisine in a new city, explore a new neighbourhood or museum - even if just for a short time - and take some deep breaths. The Hamad International Airport in Qatar is a nexus for European, Asian and Australian travel, and, while the airport is modern and stunning, Doha is a city worth stepping out for.
Trip interruption and delay benefits, included in the Cancellation Plan or bundled in the Medical + Cancellation Plan offered by Allianz Global Assistance, may come in handy in situations where your return home is extended well-beyond its scheduled time by the airline, due to covered reasons as outlined in the policy such as weather or labour disruptions, air traffic control issues, or mechanical issues.
In these and other eligible situations, your policy may provide for reimbursement of reasonable out-of-pocket expenses for meals and accommodations. Check the “Benefits, Coverages, Exclusions and Limitations” sections of the policy to be familiar with those eligible circumstances for reimbursement.
For extra comfort, download the TripWise mobile app from Allianz Global Assistance, which includes a useful flight tracker so you can stay up to date on unexpected flight changes.
If in doubt, call Allianz Global Assistance at 1-844-310-1578 with questions about your coverage or when you’re faced with a layover that wasn’t of your choosing.