Long-haul flights often include a long layover in a connecting airport. More often than not, this is an inconvenience. But what if this airport is near an interesting city that you’ve always been interested in visiting? Can you leave the airport during your layover and get out exploring?
If you board a lot of long-haul flights, you’ll have to deal with layovers from time to time. Sometimes the break between the connecting flight is so short that you have to rush to make the next flight. Other times, it involves a long wait of multiple hours — or up to a day.
When you’ve got a bit of time to kill, it’s only natural to wonder whether you can leave the airport during a layover. And the answer is yes, you can. Under certain circumstances.
First of all, you have to be able to enter the country. For domestic flights, that won’t be an issue. However, with international flights, you’ll need to check if the stopover country requires a visa. If it doesn’t, you’re free to get out and about and explore the surrounding areas. If it does, you can always apply for one.
But before we get more in-depth about when you can leave an airport during a layover, let’s explain a few things.
What Is A Layover?
A layover is simply a stop between two flights. Direct or non-stop flights typically go from Point A to Point B. However, in some situations, there is a stop in-between before you get to your desired destination. These stops are known as connections or layovers.
For example, there are very few direct flights if you are traveling from New York to Johannesburg, South Africa. Instead, your route could be New York to London and then on to South Africa. In this situation, London would be your layover or connection.
A layover can last between 30 minutes and a whole day (or more), depending on available flights.
Why Do Layovers Exist?
A lot of people find layovers pretty inconvenient. You’ve got to get off a flight just as you’re getting comfortable, board a new one, and in addition, worry whether the airline will safely transfer your bags onto your new flight. Worst of all, they add to the time it takes to reach your final destination.
However, there are good reasons for layovers to exist. Running flights is an expensive business, with razor-thin margins. Often, airlines want to service a city, but there isn’t enough demand to make the route possible. Instead, they use a network of connecting flights to ensure everyone can get wherever they need to go.
Then there are other things to consider, like regulations that only allow each pilot to fly for a set amount of hours. Similarly, flights have a limited fuel capacity and need to stop off and refuel. In some of these cases, the logistics make it easier to use connecting flights.
But while a lot of people find layovers inconvenient, other travelers feel less strongly about them. For starters, you can often pick up a connecting flight at a lower fare than a direct flight. In fact, experts suggest that this is one of the factors that has led to the dramatic reduction in air travel prices in recent years.
Many travelers intentionally book flights with layovers so they can see a nearby city or visit friends and family. If there is sufficient time between your connecting flight, it can be a great way to save some money and have a little fun. However, missing your connecting flight is a serious possibility if you don’t plan things properly.
How Long Does A Layover Need To Be To Leave The Airport?
There’s no correct answer here. You’ll only want to leave the airport if you have enough time, and that depends on a lot of factors, like the distance between the airport and the city, your luggage, security control, etc. Getting out and exploring a new city is cool, but if it’s at the cost of missing your connecting flight, you’re bound to regret it.
So, you’ll need to think about a couple of things when you’re figuring out if you can leave the airport during a layover.
Checking in on your connecting flight
The majority of airlines expect you to show up for your flight about 2 hours before boarding. If you have to re-check your luggage and go through security all over again, you need to budget for this time. Online check-in has cut down airport wait times, but just like any other flight you take, you can’t expect to just turn up at the airport and get on a flight.
As anyone who has booked flights with a budget airline knows, some airports technically service a city, but they are actually quite far away from the center (RyanAir is a very apt example). You need to factor in travel to and from the connecting city too.
Time of day
The next thing to consider is the time of day. If you get into your connecting airport in the middle of the night, it might not be the best time to leave. Instead of experiencing a local city at its best, you’ll instead find closed shops and empty streets. At worst, it could be a bit dangerous.
The time of day could also affect how long it takes to travel to a city. For example, if you are planning to take a bus or a taxi, factor in how busy the area is. Sweating in a cab during peak time traffic and hoping for a miracle to happen so you make your connecting flights is not many people’s idea of a relaxing break.
What you want to do in the city
Even if you just want to have a quick browse around a city and have a bite to eat, you’ll probably need a few hours. For anything more ambitious, you’ll need to think about where the bus/train/cab leaves you and how long it takes to travel between locations.
So, use this rough guideline when you want to work out if you can leave the airport during a layover.
- Exiting your flight and collecting your bags: 30mins to 1 hr
- Transport to the city: 1hr
- Spending time in the city: 2hrs
- Travel to the airport: 1hr
- Showing up at the airport in advance: 2 hrs.
By our estimation, you’d need around 7 hours between connecting flights. You can adjust that number for travel in and out of the city and maybe save a few minutes here and there. But we’d say about 6 hrs is the absolute minimum time you’ll need.
The rough guidelines we’ve supplied above haven’t budgeted for any delays and mishaps. Any small thing can happen when you’re operating on a razor-thin timeline. So try not to take a gamble and only leave the airport when you’ve got a more extended layover.
So, if you’re wondering, can you leave the airport during a layover of three or four hours? The answer is yes, you can, but you’ll probably miss your flight, and if you won’t, your little break will stress you out. So we wouldn’t advise it.
Can You Leave The Airport In The Event Of A Delayed Flight?
Flight delays and cancellations have become a normal part of airline travel since the pandemic due to staff shortages, strikes and surges in demand. And as the holiday season approaches, travel chaos is expected at airports around the world during peak times.
While being stuck in an airport for multiple hours would be incredibly boring, an extended flight delay might give you time to soak up some tourist attractions and still be back in time for your next flight.
For British travellers in particular, there are over 180 countries you can visit without a visa, so if you’re going to be stuck in an airport for an extended period, leaving the airport shouldn’t be a problem – just make sure to check visa requirements at your connecting airport before you arrive.
Many common layover cities have excellent public transport options and you can quickly make your way from the airport into the city centre. A bit of quick research will help you find the best routes to make the most of your time.
Apps like Google Maps or Citymapper can give you some great insight into local transport delays and traffic, which will help you plan out whether you have enough time to leave the airport and return before your next flight.
If you’ve booked your connecting flights together, your checked bags will automatically be loaded onto your next flight, so you don’t have to worry about queuing up to check your suitcases again.
Depending on where you’re flying to, most airlines suggest you be at the airport between two and three hours before your flight. However, this may also depend on the airport you’re flying from. While some airports are incredibly efficient, there are still some that are struggling with staff shortages and lengthy queues.
Look out for news stories about airports that you’ll be travelling through or set up some alerts to be notified when the airport is in the news. This will help give you a better idea of how the airport is functioning, and if you’ll be able to pass through passport control and security checks efficiently.
Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, for example, is still struggling with hours-long queues. In these situations, it may be better to forgo a quick visit to the city to avoid missing your next flight. You can also check with an information or airline desk within the airport about the status of queues.
While it is exciting to make the most of a delayed flight and get in some extra sightseeing, rather be over-cautious with your timings. If it’s estimated that it will take you an hour to get to and from the airport, give yourself a few hours of leeway.
It’s also worth finding out the airline’s policy for extended delays, in some instances, you may be entitled to compensation and potentially even accommodation if you have a lengthy overnight delay.
What Do You Do With Luggage If You Leave The Airport During A Layover?
If you have a connecting flight with the same airline, your luggage should be automatically transferred to the next flight. However, in many situations, a connecting flight will be with two separate airlines, meaning you’ll need to collect it before you leave the airport.
Most people traveling on long-haul flights aren’t traveling very lightly. Exploring a city and hauling luggage around isn’t ideal, so you should find somewhere to store it.
One option you can use is an airport left luggage service. However, like everything in an airport, you pay a bit of a premium.
Your other option is to choose a service like Stasher. Our luggage storage network allows you to drop your bags off at a hotel or a shop for as little as $5.90 per day. We aim to provide at least 50% cheaper services than airport left luggage services. That means you can spend the money you saved in your connecting city instead!
We work with reputable, vetted businesses to ensure your luggage is kept safe and secure, leaving you to enjoy your time in the city. Booking with our service means your luggage is insured for up to £1000, giving you peace of mind as you go on your mini-break.
Our network operates across most major cities — and lots you’ve probably never even heard of! The best thing about our service is that you can book ahead, so you’ll have somewhere to put your luggage during a layover.
Of course, you can use our service more than stashing bags during a layover. You can also put your bags in hold if you arrive early in a city and can’t check into your hotel quite yet. Similarly, if you have an early checkout but your flight isn’t happening until later, you can use Stasher to find somewhere to drop off your bags.
Tips for leaving the airport during a layover
Leaving the airport during a layover can be a great way to experience a city. Here are a few tips to ensure your layover mini-break is a success.
- Always check if you’ll need a visa to enter the connecting country: Some countries require that you book a visa ahead of time. Others will grant a visa on arrival. Additionally, some countries have transit visas that are designed for short stays of 48 to 72 hrs. In short, do your research beforehand.
- Lookout for long layover tours: Some airports organize tours for travelers with long layovers. These guided tours provide transport to and from various local hotspots. The best thing about these tours is that the schedule will be rock solid, so there’s no way you’ll miss your connecting flight.
- Research your city: If you’re operating on a tight time frame, you’ll need to play your layover trip with military precision. Things you should research are transport schedules and what you’ll do in the city. Additionally, look at the price of transport and what currencies are accepted. While you can use an international credit or debit card for most transactions, it’s best to make sure.
- Double-check that your ticket allows you to leave: Not all airlines allow you to exit the transit area during a connection. While most do, it’s essential to get confirmation of this.
- Always leave some extra time for the unexpected: No matter how well you plan your layover trip, things can go wrong. While you can’t exactly prepare for the unexpected, you can leave yourself with enough time to overcome things like bad traffic, protests, breakdowns, or anything else that will cause a delay.
- Have fun: If you do have a chance to leave the airport during the layover, make the most of your short time in the city. Eat some food, see some sights or go to a museum. It’s probably best to avoid places known for having long queues. You don’t want to get to the top of the line and have to dash off to catch your connecting flight.
Answering the question, “can you leave the airport during a layover?” isn’t straightforward. Whether you can leave or not depends on the country your connecting flight is taking off from. Some regions require visas, while others don’t. Naturally, for domestic flights, a visa isn’t an issue.
Whether you should leave the airport during a layover is a different question altogether. The answer to that question depends on various factors, such as how much time you have, how easy it is to get to your nearby destination, and, importantly, if the city is even worth visiting.
Ultimately, you’ll need to weigh up all these factors when deciding if you can leave the airport during a layover. One thing you won’t have to worry about is finding a place to leave your luggage. Stashers’ network of shops and hotels near major tourist attractions and landmarks means you’ll always have somewhere to go with your bags for a very reasonable price.