The best layover is a short one, preferably just enough time to grab a coffee and then reboard. While a good number of the deals we share at JFC offer either direct flights or coffee-length layovers, some routes or fares are worth a slightly longer than usual stop. Or, maybe you missed your connecting flight and now have a few hours extra waiting at the airport, where it has officially turned into the long, dark teatime Douglas Adams warned us about. Either way, as avid travellers, we’re pros at these sorts of things, so we’ve taken it to the Jack’s Flight Club team to come up with their best long-layover survival tips - straight from our own experiences :)
How long is long enough for a layover?
Just like an ideal coffee order, deciding what you can fit in your layover should be determined case-by-case. Some items to consider before booking your flight and making layover plans are:
Do you have a self-transfer on this trip?
Some flights will warn you that you’ll need to travel from one airport (typically the international one) to the airport which handles domestic flights, like this:
You’ll need to allow yourself more time on these for the trouble of taking local transport between airports as well as rechecking luggage and going through security. If these are listed in your travels, it’s usually best to look up how other members have made the trip between the airports in advance so you can check that you have enough time, which brings us to our next point...
What have other travellers mentioned about this trip?
The good thing about the internet is that someone has probably asked the same question as you at some point in time. You can almost always find advice on what to do on a layover by searching with a phrase like this:
“[AIRPORT NAME] + layover + [NUMBER] hours”.
This takes the element of surprise out of your layover, avoiding mad dashes, and can be loaded with useful tips like which local transport method they recommend. Pro tip: limit your search to only results in the last 6-12 months so you don’t accidentally follow advice from a decade ago, plenty of things can change by then.
What are some common-sense guidelines for layovers:
Each layover presents its own unique hurdles to a smooth flight connection, so these guidelines are just rough estimates and should be double-checked against the latest (and location-specific) advice. After all, four hours might be an eternity in Detroit International, but nowhere near long enough to reach your next terminal in Beijing. Here are some rough estimates for how long you’ll need:
- Domestic layover: 60 minutes
- International arrival to domestic departure: 2 hours
- International arrival to International departure: 2 hours
On top of the above, you can add more time for any of the following:
- Self-transfer on the layover: Add 2 hours
- Relaxed traveller and dislike being rushed: Add 30 minutes
If you’re looking to see whether you have time for any extras, these are rough guidelines for how much time you’ll need:
- 6+ hour layover: Good to rent a hotel by the hour
- 8+ hour layover: Grab lunch in the city if they have good transportation and no visa is required
- 12+ hours: You can get out and explore the city if you allow enough time to get back to your gate
Heads up: Some airlines and airports now have special layover programs to help you make the most of your experience while transiting. For example, Qatar Airways has their Discover Qatar program, offering city tours of Doha on your layover if it’s 6 hours or more. Be sure to check if your airline offers a similar program just in case!
How to get lounge access:
Airport lounges are private cabana in a sea of uncomfortable waiting areas. Frequent travellers will usually have an annual pass to a lounge company, gaining access to multiple locations at once. For most travellers, though, this won’t be a good value unless travelling is a habit for you and intend to use the lounge access each time.
For the budget-chasing traveller, though, you can buy a one-time pass that grants you access for 3 hours or so. The bold among us might have luck waiting near the entrance to your preferred lounge and asking those going in if they mind signing you in as their guest. Most pass-holders have a guest option each time they use the lounge and if you’re the type of person who starts conversations easily, it can get you in for free (at worst you’ve asked, right?).
To research what lounges will be open in your terminal, what amenities they offer, and to book access on the day you’re travelling, check out services like LoungeBuddy.
Please note: Lounges typically require some things from their visitors: travellers must be in dress casual, children under a certain age and pets are often not allowed, and you are limited to purchasing 3-hour stretches as a one-time visitor.
Some of the big perks are that airport lounges are centrally located in the terminal, offer less frantic options for food and drink, and the cherry on top for many, have showers and toilet facilities for a quick clean up on your long layover. The chance to take a break from the usual airport crowds, grab some dedicated wifi, and spread out after a chance to clean up is usually all you’ll need on your trip.
What to do when lounges aren’t enough:
Lounges are great when you meet the entry-requirements and the 3-hour stay is enough, but for some an actual hotel will be the ticket. Fortunately, hotels around airport terminals have adapted to demand and sometimes offer rooms by the hour to accommodate travellers on strange layover timetables. This means you can grab a double bed, private shower, and private tv to nap, refresh, and generally recharge right off your terminal. Remember that you may not have your checked luggage on these layovers and you will have to go back through security to catch your next flight, so it makes sense to check how efficient security is and pack some quick amenities into your carry-on.
Luckily, there are several websites around to help you find and book hotels near your terminal specifically for your times and dates: ByHours, Day Break Hotels, DayUse, or Hotels by Day all offer great search options, but it’s best to price check between them in case one is offering a lower rate. On a recent 8-hour trip, I used the ‘Day Break Hotel’ service to book a short-term stay while passing through LHR and was extremely glad I had used it. I was able to unpack a bit, shower, and lay flat on a bed in a standard room, completely making the rest of the trip liveable. While not always so cheap, I managed to find a hotel right off the terminal for around £50 for the full 8 hours.
Another alternative is to check out the capsule hotel offerings that are popping up in airports all over the world. Exactly what the name suggests, these are essentially small compartments you receive an access code for that gives you a private space to sleep, relax, or leave your items while you explore the airport (or surrounding area). Often these are climate controlled and have a dedicated entertainment space, so it’s a great way to stay entertained (if you’re not claustrophobic)! Eva, part of our support team, stayed in one recently:
“I used a capsule once, it was around 35€ for 3h. For me, it was worth it because I was severely sleep-deprived, but I wouldn't usually get it staying at the airport. You get an access code, so you can leave and come back and it's pretty cozy inside. There's a screen with a bunch of things to watch, listen, change the light or room temperature, alarm etc., but I didn't really explore it because I was busy sleeping.” - Eva
What the JFC team says:
Every travelling style is different, some of the team are very detail-oriented and love to plan every step, some like to let events take their course. Here are the teams’ best tips:
“You need to make a little schedule for yourself if it's a long layover. So usually, I wander for an hour then I go get food and read a magazine for 2 hours, wander for an hour, go find a good place for a rest, once I wake up I go get freshened up and swap clothes (even just my t-shirt to feel fresh) then off to find coffee and a good spot to read my book...having smaller time frames for activities helps you not get frustrated by the really long wait.” - Kim, Customer support
Excellent for the planners among us who may get nervous with so much time, this will keep you on-time and focused on when you’re moving on, especially if this is your first layover and you’re not sure what to expect. Research your layover airport, find out which terminal you’re arriving in, and what amenities you can expect. Andreia, on the other hand, has a different travel style:
“Last year I had a long layover, something like 8 or 9 hours in Montreal. What I did was plan ahead what to do in the city - what to visit, where to leave my bag, which bus to take, etc. I ended up going around town, stopping for a meal, then going back to the airport more relaxed and ready for the flight.” - Andreia, Flight-finding expert
When looking to leave the airport for a city-tour, you can research the best ways to return to the airport but a lot of this will come down to being comfortable should your return commute take longer than necessary - not always great for the nervous traveller :)
While we all hope to avoid long-layovers, sometimes they’re unavoidable. Hopefully, these tips help on your next long tour, and if you have advice of your own we’d love to hear from you and try it out the next time we’re abroad!
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Found the tips on this post useful (or have a few of your own)?
[email protected] and we'll be happy to help.
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