Few people like airports and most people like connecting flights even less. If we have the choice, most of us would choose a direct flight over even 1 stop, never mind 2 or even 3 connecting flights. The fact that you need to stop in another airport, disembark, then get through airport security and even occasionally pick-up and transfer your luggage to another flight is fraught with the potential for trouble. If that first flight is even a little bit delayed or, heaven forbid, canceled, you’re likely going to end up missing your connection. In other cases, we end up with hours and hours to kill before we can get on the connecting flight—sometimes because of airline scheduling and sometimes because of delays and cancellations. Traveling is tiresome and hanging around an airport waiting for your connection to show up or scrambling to find your baggage can be even more draining. Connections don’t need to be all doom and gloom, however. In fact, there’s a lot of ways that you can use a layover—be it long or short—to your advantage.
If You Have a Short Layover Short layovers are often a traveler’s first pick, because the schedule is tighter. You can get in and out, which reduces your overall travel time. This is important for people on business trips or strict timelines, since you’re expecting to get from Point A to Point B as soon as possible. For others, short layovers are ideal because it means less time being stuck in the airport and more time actually doing something they want to do. Short layovers can cause a lot of issues, however; cancellations and delays are magnified for those with short lead-time between their connecting flights. A delay of 5 minutes might mean you don’t get on that second flight and have to wait for the next one. However, that can work to your advantage. If your flight is delayed and arrives too late for you to catch your connection, or if your connecting flight is canceled, the airline is obligated to not only schedule you on the next available flight, but to also accommodate you, which can mean offering you vouchers for meals and even overnight accommodations in a nearby hotel, as well as transportation to and from the airport. This is so commonly known that some travelers even purposely schedule their flights so close together that there is no way they can possibly make the connecting flight, which scores them a few free hours or even an overnight stay in a city of their choice. This can be a great opportunity, if you have the time, to visit a place you might never see otherwise. Naturally, this means that you want to pick a connection in a place that you actually wouldn’t mind seeing; if you’re in rural Idaho, you’re probably not going to be as enthused about getting a free hotel stay as if you got “stuck” in Tokyo. If you do plan to take advantage of this, beware: as this tip circulates online, it’s likely that airlines will start to get wise to travelers picking “impossible” connections and flight schedules and stop offering freebies to those travelers who do schedule flights they’ll never make. Of course, there are ways around that, if you’re willing to find them—but maybe not if you’re on company time.
If You Have a Long Layover At first glance, long layovers are the bane of every traveler’s existence: you get to land, go through security, transfer your baggage if necessary and then sit around waiting for your next flight. Heaven help you if your connection gets delayed or canceled, or if your smartphone happens to die while you’re waiting. Airports aren’t terribly interesting places; there’s only so much airport shopping a person can do. While a long layover means you can move through security and customs without feeling too harried, most people think it means you’ll end up twiddling your thumbs for a good long while. The solution here might seem, at first, counter-intuitive: jump for the longer layover. If you have a choice between a 2-hour layover and a 4-hour layover, you’d be better to book the 4-hour layover. Why? The answer is simple: because you can actually use the “extra” time you have to do something. If you’re stopping off in a city where you have friends or family, you could arrange to grab a coffee or a meal with them somewhere near the airport. If you’re on a business trip and you have business associates, or if your firm has a branch office in the area, you could schedule a meeting or, if you have the time, head on down to visit the office. Those who are passing through brand-new territory on vacation could opt to visit a nearby attraction or sample some of the local food at a nearby restaurant outside the airport. You can’t do this on the 2-hour layover; you wouldn’t have time once you’ve factored in getting through security and customs, and then check-in on the other end. Worse, you’ll likely end up hanging out in the airport for a good while, waiting for your flight. If you have the 4-hour layover, you have double the time; security and check-in will take the same amount of time, which means that you have more time to, well, do something you want to do.