Sometimes, when you are travelling, you may need to spend some time waiting between your flights. The waiting period is called the layover. If it’s short, like a few hours. You may just explore the airport. But what if the layover is longer, like a full day or more? Can you leave the airport during a layover?
Yes, you may leave your airport without a problem for local destinations during a layover. For international flights, you may need a suitable visa to leave the airport. When going for a layover, ensure that you have adequate time to travel back to the airport and to go through security checks to board your flight.
This article will explore if you can leave the airport during a layover and other related layover-related questions. These questions are if you need to check in again for your second flight and what you can do during a layover.
Why Do Layovers Happen?
Layovers happen to benefit both the airliners and passengers like you. For the airlines, instead of arranging direct, long-distance flights connecting two destinations, they can schedule many short flights connecting many destinations at a lower fare. For passengers, you get to save money by flying layovers.
A layover is a time between your flights if you are flying multiple routes in a single trip. For example, say if you fly from LA to NYC via KC. This means you will fly two routes, LA to KC and KC to NYC. The time between both flights is the layover.
Layovers happen for multiple reasons, usually for the benefit of the flight companies and passengers. For flight companies, it allows them to create a more flexible and lower-cost way of transferring passengers across a major route. Layovers may also allow the flight companies to arrange to fly to many more destinations. This is often called the ‘hub-and-spoke’ system.
For passengers, you can fly cheaper, although at a slight inconvenience of having to transit between flights and having some layover time to waste. But flight companies make up for this by arranging for things like automatic baggage transfer; some even offer layover vouchers to lounges.
For short layovers, sometimes you only stay in the plane and are not allowed to exit. For longer layovers, you may be able to leave the plane and wait for a bit inside the airport. If the layover is really long, six hours or more, then you may explore the option of leaving the airport.
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Can You Leave The Airport During A Layover?
Generally, you may be able to leave the airport during a layover. Domestic destinations tend to be much laxer, allowing you to leave the airport easier. For international layover, you may need to ensure you have the correct visa to enter the destination.
Generally, you are allowed to leave the airport during a layover. However, some factors may also be involved if you can, for example, things such as visa or customs requirements.
For domestic destinations, leaving the airport during layovers is usually much easier. This is because there are no immigration rules to deal with. You are a US citizen flying inside the US itself.
However, leaving the airport during layovers may present challenges for international destinations. You may be dealing with two issues, immigration and customs.
For immigration, you are entering another country by leaving the airport. This means you may need to have a visa to enter the country. Fortunately, the US passport is one of the strongest passports in the world, meaning you can enter many countries visa-free.
However, some countries require a visa for US passport holders, for example, Saudi Arabia, Australia, The Philippines, Russia, China, etc. For these countries, you may need to ensure you have the correct clearances before you leave the airport for layovers.
Another issue you may have to deal with is customs. Some countries have very tight customs checkpoints, for example, Australia and New Zealand. They may regulate things down to checking your shoes for mud and if you are bringing any foodstuffs with you.
Some countries also have a tighter duty-free allowance, meaning you may be unable to bring out your duty-free goods.
For these issues, your best bet is to rent temporary storage for your carry-on baggage and leave the airport with the bare essentials.
How Long Should A Layover Be To Leave The Airport?
In general, you may consider leaving the airport if the layover is at six hours or more. This is because you may need time to get out of the airport, travel to the local city, enjoy the place, travel back to the airport and go through security again. You may need more spare time if your layover is at an international destination.
In general, the consideration for layover time should take into account factors such as:
- Time to clear security, immigration and exit the airport
- Time to travel to the nearby city
- Time to enjoy the destination city
- Time to travel back to the airport
- Time to clear security, immigration
Clearing Security & Immigration
When clearing security and immigration, the time can be somewhat unpredictable. You may be held up by immigration, your visa-on-arrival may take more time to process, and there might just be a long queue.
On top of that, you may have issues with airport security and customs. The time needed can be considerably longer for international destinations.
Travelling Into Destination City
For local layover, it could be as simple as exiting the airport and catching a local public transport to the city. You just have to find out the time it takes to travel to the town to help you estimate when you should travel back to the airport.
For international destinations, you need to consider the general unfamiliarity with the place, language barriers, and the type of public transport available to take you to the city. Distance may also be a significant factor. Your best bet with these is to research before you fly in to gauge if you have enough time during your layover.
Enjoy Your Layover Destination
Whatever spare time you have in between the travelling is spent here. The key is to not over-enjoy yourself, so you do not have enough time to travel back to the airport. Estimate the time needed to travel back and check for traffic conditions.
Travelling Back To Airport
Certain cities are known for having their airports very far away. Some cities are known to suffer from horrible gridlock jams, making airport travel extremely time-consuming. You must take into account these factors to ensure you have ample time. Use Google Maps to estimate the time needed to travel back to the airport and plan accordingly.
Clearing Security & Immigration
Reentering the departure gates means you must clear security again to board your connecting flight. If you are in an international destination, you have additional immigration clearance. Departing a country should be easier than entering it. Still, again, you want to spare enough time to get this done correctly.
Must You Check In And Go Through Security Again After Layover?
You may need to go through airport security after a layover, as you have left the security area. However, for check-in, your airliner may have checked you in for the connecting flight, particularly if both your flights are from the same airliner.
In general, you will have to go through security again after a layover because you have left the airport and the security cordon. By leaving the airport, you could come back with contraband or carry things unsafe for air travel.
Expect to go through similar security checks as required by the TSA or the local AVSEC (aviation security) at your international destination.
As for the check-in, usually, you are checked in for your connecting flight. This is more so if your layover time is not too long and if both flights are with the same airline.
Usually, when you check into your first flight, the airliner officer would also ask if you want to be checked in for your connecting flight. You may not need to check in again if you agree to this.
However, suppose your connecting flight is with another airliner or your layover is longer than 24 hours. In that case, you may not be checked into your connecting flight. It may be prudent to check with the airliner on this matter before you leave your layover airport, just in case.
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What Happens If I Miss The Flight?
If you miss your connecting flight, you may need to check with your airliner to see if they can put you on the next flight. Many airlines do this out of courtesy to their customers. However, low-cost or budget airlines are known to be much stricter on this matter. Be prepared to pay fines or have to repurchase another ticket in this case.
Welcome to layover hell. Your plan did not work out well, or that something happened along the way that stretched your travelling times beyond your deadline to reach the departure gate. You missed your flight.
If this happens, you may proceed straight to an officer from the airliner that you are flying with and see if they can help to arrange for you to board the next flight. Many airliners will do this out of courtesy to their customers. Some may charge a fee for it, while some do not.
However, low-cost or budget airliners are much more strict on missing flights. You may be requested to pay a rescheduling fee, but they will move you to the next available flight. Some will deny your request outright, and you will have to fork out money to purchase the ticket for the next flight.