10 Things you MUST Know About Connecting Flights + Airport Layover Itinerary Guide

Last Updated on January 30, 2024 by Christine Kaaloa

Things to know about Layovers and Connecting Flights

As a solo female traveler based in Hawaii and on a budget, I’ve gotten to be a fan of cheap fare flight and ultimately, a fan of layovers and connecting flights.  Yes, fan. I enjoy the diversity of new airports and what I learn passing through them. Often I see connecting flights and airport layovers as an opportunity to check out a new airport layout, security regulation, in-transit city and even get an extra trip for free.

But connecting flights and airport layovers can be tricky suckers. All airport procedures and layouts are not entirely alike, throwing first time travelers to it, for a loop.   In this layover itinerary guide, I’m sharing the essential things you MUST know about connecting flights & airport layovers.

10 Things you MUST Know about Connecting Flights

1.Your international terminal switches to domestic

Always read the fine print of where your connecting airport is. Travelers assume their connecting flight will be in the same airport terminal… or at least same airport.  Not always

International airports are for international flights. Domestic airports are for inter country flights. Sound simple, right?

If I’m flying internationally (from U.S.) and arriving in Delhi (India), but my final destination is Kolkata (India), then when I arrive into Delhi, in many cases, I must transfer to their domestic terminal to continue my flight connection. Domestic terminals can be on the opposite site of the international terminals and sometimes, a good 20-30 minutes away (or so it was in Delhi’s case).

Domestic airports and budget airlines terminals are tricky. Did you know Bangkok’s Don Muang Airport located around 20-30 minutes from Suvarnabhumi Airport is a domestic airport, which services Southeast Asian routes like Myanmar, Borneo- Malaysia, Bali-Indonesia, etc..?  It’s actually the home of smaller airlines carriers such as Skoot and Air Asia.

2. Interconnecting airport transportation

Most interconnecting flights are gotten to by either a short walk to another gate or through the airport monorail from terminal to terminal.

But then you have those times the connecting terminal is a 15 minute airport shuttle bus away or you need to shuttle over to another airport entirely.

3. Domestic terminals

I’m going to repeat this again, as this is the tricky one… If you’re coming internationally into a country but you transferring to carrier that will fly you domestically with in that country, you will need to go to the domestic terminal or airport.

Many domestic terminals are located in a different terminal. Sometimes it is a 5-15 minute skytrain or shuttle bus ride away. But in the worst case scenario,  they’re located further apart and you need to take an airport shuttle bus or taxi. Chicago and Delhi airports can hit this latter one; thus, if I am booking tickets online, I have to be careful about timing my layover.

Read Tips for Choosing your Airport Layovers

4. Need a In-Transit Visa?

Failing to check the visa requirements can lead to denied boarding, missed flights, and hefty fines upon arrival. By taking a few minutes to check the visa situation beforehand, you ensure a seamless transition through your layover, allowing you to relax, explore the city, or simply catch your connecting flight with peace of mind.

Travelers flying through Russia or China (Updated: China has a free 144 hour transit visa), even on a layover, might need a transit visa to pass through immigration and customs. This holds true for some other countries too, like Afghanistan, Albania, Bolivia, Cuba, DR Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, and Iran.

Thankfully, staying within the secure international transit area usually doesn’t require a visa, as you’re not officially setting foot into the country.

But if your flight involves switching airports, like Heathrow to Gatwick, a transit visa becomes necessary as you’ll need to pass through customs and immigration at the layover point. Remember, checking visa requirements for your layover country, even for short connections, can avoid potential headaches and ensure a smooth journey.

Tip: Getting a visa through iVisa is quick and easy and you avoid the hassles of bureaucratic government website applications.  

5. Airlines carrier changes?

Always check your flight itinerary details to see if your connecting flight is with the same airlines carrier you started with.  If your airlines carrier has a little note under it saying “Operated by (another airlines)“,  this means you are not only flying with one carrier but more than one and its partner/s are taking over the other connecting routes.

This is crucial because a secondary airlines managing your connecting route, can mean anything from walking to another terminal can be far away or re-checking into another airlines counter.

6. Forced to exit baggage and check in again.

Along with airlines carrier changes, some airlines force you to do the entire check-in process again.

When I fly with China Eastern Airlines (read my review), it makes a lot of connecting flights in Shanghai, which is infamous for forcing travelers to exit baggage claim and doing the entire check-in process again.  I often need to retrieve my luggage in baggage and go upstairs to Departures to get my boarding flight ticket with another airlines.

That increases connection time, because the check-in process have a long queue and you need to account for the time going through security and immigration before connecting to your next terminal.

7. Check your airport terminal and gate before landing

Knowing your terminal and gate before landing cuts the stress of trying to find it when you land.

Download your airlines’ mobile app to see the airport gate map. Sometimes, they’ll send you texts or email messages updating you on where to go next.

You can also find an airport terminal and gate map in the back of in-flight magazines.

Another resource is download the mobile app: Gate Guru (iPhone | Android).

8. Research airport resources

Sleepinginairports.net is a site around airports and all the facilities travelers have in them. They have a breakdown list of airports across the globe, with information about each from lounges, to airport Wi-Fi, Internet access, sleeping accommodations, etc..

Download your airlines mobile app. It may have vital information in an airport map of gates, terminals and transportation. Some even send text updates about delays and gate changes.

Read Tips for Surviving Airport Layovers

9. Book at least 3 hours for your connection

Unless you know your route is all domestic or all international, and you know your connection terminals are in the same airport, always book at least 3 hours for your connecting flight.

International flights are tricky – if you’re connecting to a different airport or a terminal located further away,  factor in baggage claim, an entire check-in procedure, security and immigration (for international travel). 50 minutes for that type of connecting flight won’t cut it.

10. Be Strategic to Maximize your Layover

This bit of advice is for travelers looking to make the most of their layover. Airports are wonderful places of discovery. From museum exhibitions to rooftop gardens, free layover tours, free in-transit hotels and spas or showers. Research your airport beforehand and follow these tips to surviving and thriving on your next layover

Airport Layover Itinerary Guide: What to do on a layover?

I adore layovers because it’s either recovery time to stretch my legs or it can present the opportunity to sightsee a new city or discover hidden airport gems. This airport layover itinerary guide shares what to do on a layover based on the most common times. Use this as a guideline to enjoy your next layover.

Download my layover itinerary guide checklist

Best things to do with a 3 hour airport layover

Three hours may not seem like much, but even a short airport layover can be an opportunity to refresh, recharge, and avoid boredom. Ditch the stress and unlock the potential of your layover with these essential tips:

Stay Connected:

  • Free Wi-Fi: Not all airports offer free Wi-Fi, but many do. Check signage or ask airport staff for hotspots. If Wi-Fi is limited, consider investing in a travel-sized Wi-Fi router like SkyRoam Solis. Use code GRRRLTRAVELER for 10% off Skyroam for secure internet access throughout your journey. Read more on how to get internet abroad
  • Mobile Charging: Keep your devices juiced up at charging stations strategically placed throughout the airport. Look for areas near gates or in transit zones.
  • Bring your charging cables and a backup power charger. Last thing you want is to be unable to surf the Wi-Fi because you’ve run out of juice.

Grab a Snack & Relax:

  • Grab a Bite: Skip the generic food court chains and explore hidden dining gems of the airport. Airports like Incheon Airport are renowned for their gourmet eateries and their 7 Elevens!
  • Indulge in Duty-Free: Treat yourself to a luxury perfume or souvenir at duty-free shops. Be sure to compare prices with regular retailers and if there is a credit card fee. I once tried to buy ayurvedic skin care gift box in Delhi duty free and their credit card fee was an exponential whallop, sending a $55 gift item into $110. Always check your the final price at the cash register.
  • Airport Lounges: If your budget or reward points allows, consider the luxurious escape of an airport lounge. Invest in a Priority Pass with access to over 140 lounges around the globe. Enjoy comfortable seating, complimentary snacks and drinks, and priority Wi-Fi for ultimate relaxation.
  • Explore the Art: Many airports showcase lovely art installations, exhibitions, or even museums. Immerse yourself in local culture or admire stunning visuals to break up the monotony.
  • Pampered Yourself: Some airports offer massage services, spa treatments, or even barbershops. Pamper yourself and arrive at your next destination feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.

3 Hour Layover Survival Tips:

  • Check Departure Gate Changes: Stay vigilant for gate changes to avoid last-minute scrambles. Download your airline’s mobile app for real-time updates.
  • Factor in Security Lines: Allow ample time for security checks, especially during peak travel hours.
  • Enjoy the People-Watching: Embrace the diverse atmosphere of the airport. Observe cultures, styles, and travel stories unfolding around you.

Your 3-hour layover can transform from a waiting game into a mini-adventure. So, put down your phone, explore the possibilities, and conquer your next airport layover!

  • Emirates Airlines Review Dubai Airport
    Emirates Airlines Review_Dubai Airport Comfy lounge seats arent everywhere

Best things to do with a  5 Hour Airport Layover

Five hours might not seem like much, but with smart planning, your airport layover can be a mini-adventure. Here’s your guide to unlocking the best things to do:

Embrace the City & its Metro:

  • Metro Transportation: If your airport boasts an efficient metro connection (think Incheon, Bangkok, Shanghai, Frankfurt, Hong KongNew York,), grab the express train and squeeze in an hour or two of sightseeing! Tourist Information desks or even friendly locals can help you craft a quick itinerary.
  • Layover Tours: Skip the research and hop on a pre-planned layover tour. Airlines like Korean Airlines and Qatar Airlines offer fantastic city tours for layovers exceeding 5 hours. (Image of a layover tour group exploring a city landmark)

airport guided tours

    airport layover tours

Pamper Yourself:

  • Airport Relaxation: Some folks don’t care about sightseeing, but just want to unwind after a long flight or layover. Airport lounges offer comfy seating, Wi-Fi, and refreshments; sometimes even a shower and massage. Apps like Loungebuddy grants access for a fraction of the price, while Priority Pass provides tiered membership options.
  • Spa Sanctuary: Rejuvenate with a massage or unwind in a spa. Some airports, like Incheon Airport, even have unique offerings like traditional Korean jjimjilbang for ultimate pampering.
  • Explore Airport Hidden Gems: Many airports offer unique experiences beyond lounges and shops. Explore art installations, museums, hidden pools and golf-courses. Tip: San Francisco International Airport offers free yoga and meditations sessions! (mat provided)

5 Hour Layover Survival Tips:

  • Budget your Time: Remember to allocate time for check-in, security, and immigration, especially for international connections.
  • Download Apps: Airline apps keep you updated on gate changes. Download NordVPN plan to protect yourself on public Wi-Fi

Make your 5-hour layover a chance to explore, unwind, or simply get organized for your next adventure. So, grab your essentials, research your options, and conquer your layover like a pro!

Best Things to Do with a 10 hour Airport layover

A 10-hour layover isn’t just a stopover; it’s an opportunity to turbocharge your travel experience. Forget boring airport lounges – dive into a new city, recharge in style, or treat yourself to some layover luxuries.

City Sightseeing

With 10 hours at your disposal, transform your layover into a mini-city break. Explore iconic landmarks, soak in local vibes, and tick bucket-list destinations off your list. Research pre-planned layover tours or simply hit the streets and discover your own adventure. Remember to factor in travel time and border control queues if venturing outside the airport.

Explore Airport Hidden Gems

  • Enjoy Lounges: Escape the hustle with airport lounges. Luxurious amenities, a food buffet, showers and comfy seating await. Tip: Get a Priority Pass with access to over 140 lounges around the globe.
  • Shopping Duty Free: Dive into duty-free havens or browse local shops for souvenirs. From designer finds to handcrafted treasures, airports offer a retail therapy paradise.
  • Hidden Facilities:  Research your airport beforehand. Some boast free showers, or stunning architecture or entertainment, like Singapore Changi’s butterfly garden, San Francisco’s rooftop garden or Incheon’s ice-skating rink.

Rest & Recharge

Say goodbye to uncomfortable airport floors! Prioritize your comfort and well-being with a variety of options:

  • Sleeping Pods: Several airports now offer sleek, futuristic sleep pods for rent, providing a private haven for power naps or deep slumber. Check out my to list of 21 airports with sleep pods
  • Free In-Transit Hotels: Airlines like Turkish Airlines and Emirates Airlines offer complimentary hotel stays for long layovers. In-transit hotels not only offer a hotel room for you to rest in during your layover, but often, they include meal vouchers or a restaurant. Check your airline’s layover policies.
  • Airport Hotels: Did you know Fairmont Vancouver hotel is perched above the terminal (I loved waking up to it) and Yotel is inside the Istanbul Airport overlooking check-in counters? Opt for convenience with a hotel within or near the airport, freshen up and get rest before your next flight.
Here’s a list of airlines with free transit hotels

10 Hour Layover Survival Tips:

  • Airport Hours: Research your airport’s opening and closing times to avoid surprises.
  • Sleeping in Airports: While possible, consider the comfort level and potential security concerns. Websites like sleepinginairports.net offer reviews and tips for specific terminals.
  • Book in Advance: Secure your sleep pods, transit hotels, or airport lounge access before your trip to avoid disappointment.
  • Luggage Storage: Luggage storage facilities let you ditch your bags and roam the city baggage-free. Check for overnight options if you have a longer layover, freeing you to consider an airport hotel stay.

Make the most of your 10-hour layover. Adventure beyond the airport walls, activate your inner explorer, and turn your stopover into a memorable travel experience!

What are things you MUST know about connecting flights? What would you add to this layover itinerary guide? Share your comment below!

Related Posts:

Tips on how to survive a last-minute trip!   (Part 4: Layovers and Connecting Flights)

Things to Know About Layovers & Connecting flights
Things to Know About Layovers & Connecting flights

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