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How to Handle a Layover

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It’s Motivation Monday! This Monday I want to motivate you to get out of your comfort zone and not allow your fears of the unknown keep you from going where you want to go. I belong to several Facebook groups where people can ask questions about travel–what to do or see in a city or country, how to handle jet lag, how to find deals on flights all over the world, and the like.

Recently, someone asked a question about layovers. She said she had traveled a lot before, but always on a non-stop flight. She’d never had a layover before! She wasn’t sure how long or short she should make her layover, what to expect, or how to make sure her luggage made the transition with her–a huge fear for her and for other travelers as well! I’ve probably made hundreds layovers and connections in my travels over the years, so I never even realized a layover might make someone forego a trip to a location they want to visit. So I wracked my brain to come up with a few things to consider to make your layover worry-free!

1. Domestic or International?

Is your layover in the same country where you are beginning (domestic), or is it in another country? I’d recommend at least 1 hour for a domestic and at least 2 (a little more wouldn’t be a bad idea) if it’s an international layover because you’ll need to allow time for customs and passport control.

2. Same Airline or Different Airlines?

Yes, try to book both flights on the same airline and on the same reservation. This will lessen your chances of lost checked luggage, and they might even hold the plane a few minutes if they know their plane was late and their customers have a tight connection. Neither of those is a guarantee, but it definitely helps not to change airlines if you’re not sure. You will possibly have to pick up your luggage and re-check it if you are connecting internationally.

3. Pay Attention to Those Airport Codes!

Make sure you are connecting within the same airport! Some airlines and discount sites will show you great deals, but only if you’re willing to change airports, which I do not recommend with anything less than a 6 hour layover. Look for this when laying over in cities like NYC, London, Istanbul, and DC (my home base) where there is more than one airport serving the area.

4. There are Safety Measures in Place!
  • If you’re booking on the one reservation (as opposed to separate flights on separate reservations), the systems used to book flights online (or through a live person at the airline) are programmed not to show you connections of less than the minimum required time for your connecting airport. Each airport has agreed upon a minimum required connection time because every airport is a little different–some are quite large, requiring trains or shuttles to go from terminal to terminal (I’m looking at you, Newark). Others are small and only require a short walk from one terminal to the next (like Nashville’s airport). So don’t worry too much about booking too short a layover, since you won’t be shown options less than the minimum requirement!
  • When booking your flights on the same airline (or on airlines within an alliance), your connecting flight will have a level of protection. They’ll know if your flight is delayed, and if they can wait for you (and others making the same connection), they will. This happened to us on a connection in San Salvador, El Salvador. There were at 30 people connecting from Lima, Peru, to Washington, D.C., on the same connecting flight, Avianca Airlines held our plane and waited for all of us for an hour!
5. What About My Luggage?

If you’ve booked both segments on the same airline, and you are connecting domestically, the airline will transfer your checked luggage for you. If you are connecting internationally or to another airline, you may have to pick up your checked luggage and re-check it. Sometimes this requires another trip through security, so heads up! However, if you go carry-on only, you can keep your luggage with you and not risk losing it! If there’s no way around checking your luggage, keep the tag the check-in agent will give you when checking in your bags. The gate agent at your connecting flight can scan the tag for you and tell you if your bag was scanned into your connecting flight.

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