Traditionally, the layover has been seen as an air travel hassle. Something to be avoided and spurned, with all booking preference given to direct flights only. “Why waste time in another airport when you can just fly right to your destination?” cried the travelers of previous generations. But that view seems to have changed in recent years. With the rise of many new low-cost carriers with cheap flights to new airport hubs all around the globe, it’s now possible to save a considerable amount of money on a long trip by booking two flights with a layover instead of a single direct flight. In fact, there’s a plethora of affordable travel options if you don’t mind spending some time waiting between flights. So to be a cost-savvy world traveler these days means knowing how to survive and even take advantage of a long layover.

Layover 101

Airport signs and symbols,connecting flights

The consensus among most travel experts is that no planned layover should ever be less than an hour. If you book two connecting flights, you need that cushion of at least 60 minutes between landing and takeoff so not only can you make your second flight in case there are any delays, but your checked luggage will as well. It’s also recommended that you try to book your flights with the same airline, which will work to ensure you don’t miss your connection and also give assistance if you do. This also lowers your risk of losing your checked luggage.

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Do Your Homework

No matter how long you plan on staying there, you should always research your layover airport ahead of time. You can usually figure out which terminal you’ll be at from your booking, but if not, you can find it using a simple online search with the airport name and airline. Then, you can look up the terminal floor plan on the airport’s website and find out what kind of services and amenities are available. You don’t need to write up a detailed itinerary for while you’re waiting for your next flight, but it’s good to know what you can do there before you arrive.

Layover activities are really limited by the length of the layover. You don’t want to overextend yourself, lose track of time, and then end up racing to make your connecting flight. You also don’t want to die from boredom waiting for boarding to start. So it’s best to have an idea of what can be done depending on how much time you have.

For Layovers Less Than 3 Hours…

It’s the sweet spot. It’s easy to hangout before you have to get to your gate for boarding. You can easily keep busy by walking around and exploring. A lot of terminals that are used for connecting flights, especially international ones, are more like upscale malls with tons of shopping. Heathrow’s Terminal 3, for example, which is a hub for American Airlines, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, and others, features close to 80 retailers selling everything from souvenirs to high-end fashion labels. It’s also a good amount of time to eat something, whether it’s a sit-down meal at a restaurant owned by Wolfgang Puck or grab-n-go nosh from a Pret a Manger. If you’re on a redeye flight with a layover and then a short trip to your end destination, this is a perfect layover duration to grab some breakfast and adjust to the time zone, helping mitigate jetlag.

For Layovers of 3 Hours or More…

You can still explore, shop, and get something to eat. Some airports even have amazing amenities that you can really take your time to enjoy. Singapore’s Changi Airport — ranked by many as the best airport in the world for years — has gardens, a science museum, and more than one movie theater! But more than likely, you’ll end up hunkering down — finding a spot to sit and while away — for a good amount of time. What someone does while hunkered down in the airport is unique to their personal preferences (and whether the airport’s Wi-Fi is free or not). Some people like to watch Netflix, others prefer to look up where they’re going and refine their trip plans a bit or catch up on work, while some even like to read a book. But no matter what, there are a few things to keep in mind when you pick a spot to hunker down:

  • Try to be out of the way and far from crowds. It’s less stressful.
  • Make sure you have sight line for the nearest display of flight info, so you can just glance over to see your gate when it’s announced.
  • Be as close as you can get to an outlet or charging station to juice up your phone and other gadgets while you wait.

For Layovers of 6 Hours or More…

There can be a certain point when exploring the terminal and hunkering down just aren’t enough. When that happens, you need to refresh and recharge (even though it might seem odd). A lot of international airports are now offering flyers opportunities to shower. Some, like the facilities in the T1 terminal of Sydney’s Kingsford Smith International Airport, are free (although you need to bring your own towel and soap), while others feature vendors that charge a fee, like the Minute Suites at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport’s Terminals A and D. Another service that’s becoming more and more popular with travelers is exercising at airport gyms. Places like Roam at Baltimore–Washington International Airport and GoodLife Fitness at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport offer short-term use of a variety of equipment to get a solid workout in. They also, like non-airport gyms, come with showers to use after you work up a sweat.

For Layovers of 8 Hours or More…

The big thing is to get some sleep. A layover of this amount of time is tough to deal with and can feel a little too long to plan on spending in an airport, even if you do all the suggested layover activities above. And unfortunately, it’s still too short a layover to turn into a day. So why not catch some zzs? If you’re willing to spend the money, there are several airports that feature hotels just past security, like at Frankfurt Airport in Germany that has numerous hotels connected to it (although you’ll have to go back through security for your flight) as well airports with transit hotels in the terminal, like Yotel in Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport (which requires proof that you’re on a flight leaving in 24 hours before you can check-in) that you can book for night. But there’s always the cheap option to find a spot in the terminal and conk out for a bit.

For Layovers of 10 to 24 Hours…

It’s best to get out of the airport. In fact, some fliers now make it a point to plan a 10+ layover going to or heading back from their destination because it allows them to add in a bonus day trip to their journey. There are some destinations that are better for layover day trips than others. You’ll need to do research and maybe fill out some applications ahead of time to make sure you get the right visa. Some countries with normally strict visa application, like China, offer a 24-hour visa-free entry permit that you can get at the airport and then use to go sightseeing. There are even some destinations like Istanbul that offer free city tours for travelers that are just there for a day.

So the next time you’re looking for cheap flights and it comes with a long layover, embrace it and follow these simple tips to make the most of your precious vacation time!

Got some layover survival advice that we didn’t cover, leave it in the comments sections below.

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About The Author

Dave Odegard

Dave Odegard is an ex-army brat turned internet word person, whose work has been published on Maxim Online, USAToday, Buzzfeed, and more. He is currently the Senior Content Writer at Fareportal (CheapOair's parent company) and spends his free time exploring the wilds of Brooklyn, New Jersey, and Sweden.