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“Nonstop” and “Direct” mean different things

Trying to correct a frequent error on this site:

NONSTOP: a flight that has no stops

DIRECT: a flight WITH A STOP but no plane change en route

It’s hard to figure out the meaning of posts when the wrong term is used.

One of many identical sources.

Posted by
6550 posts

I have also seen several people use the term "Layover", which technically can be up to 24 hours, but with Covid imposing all sorts of requirements, it is probably better to say you will be in-transit or transferring to another plane at an airport.

Posted by
3926 posts

The misuse of the layover term annoys me to no end. There's a difference between a layover and just a connection to a different flight.

Not knowing the difference between nonstop and direct flights was once the subject of a spirited debate between DH and me. OK, it was a flat out argument. Our neighbour, an airline pilot, finally convinced DH that he was in the wrong. As he should have known from the start, after 45 years of marriage. ;)

Posted by
4987 posts

Is there an authoritative source with this definition?

I thought direct meant the flight number didn’t change and thus:
- All non-stop flights are direct
- A direct flight may or may not be non-stop

Posted by
3318 posts

With the hub and spoke model that most airlines use, are there any direct flights still being offered? The concept is sort of a historical artifact and IMO the vast majority of people mean non-stop when they say direct and everyone knows that so the error such as it is (if it even is one as language does change and adapt) really does not affect the questions or the answers.

Posted by
7745 posts

Tom, a noble effort, but I think we'll always be guessing at what someone means when they post a question.

Posted by
2918 posts

What Laura said. They are not mutually exclusive. And it is not incorrect to use the term direct for a non-stop flight.

A non-stop is necessarily “direct”. It flies directly from Point A to Point C without stopping.

A “direct” flight can be non-stop—-and usually is. But it can also have a stop on the way, like going from Point A to Point C with a stop at Point B on the way. It has one flight number and passengers stay on the plane the whole way, not changing planes, which makes it “direct”.

These days there are not many of those, at least not in North America. Alaska Airlines does have a few. AS67, goes from Seattle to Juneau with 2 stops on the way (Ketchikan and Sitka). AS 65 has 3 stops on the way. I think both of these planes may continue to Anchorage after that, but I cannot get the website to show them on the schedule if I put in Seattle to Anchorage. But I see on TripAdvisor that some people love that flight ( I guess they like takeoffs and landings).
I guess it is good know that there CAN be a difference (I.e. a direct flight can have stops) so if someone is booking flights they don’t accidentally get a “direct” flight that stops somewhere in between. But I have yet to see a flight schedule that lists flights as “direct” and “non-stop”. They are listed by number of stops. Those Alaska Airlines flights I mentioned will not show up if you filter for “non-stop”. But if you leave filters unchecked so you see flights with one and two stops, they will show up, along with all the options where you actually change planes somewhere. But the schedule never says “direct”.

Posted by
285 posts

@JHK: Southwest does not use a hub-and-spokes model. On our last trip our plane from Portland (PDX) to OAK(land) went on to Burbank, I believe. Returning, our plane as I recall was coming from Phoenix, picking up/dropping passengers in OAK then continuing to PDX. Outbound when we landed in Oakland the flight attendant was telling continuing passengers to remain seated while Oakland passengers deplaned, so they could get a head count to cross-check reservations.

Posted by
1621 posts

We discovered this by accident years ago. We took a flight from LAX to Dublin. When we boarded, there were a bunch of very tired passengers already on the plane. They had travelled from Tahiti. That was a LONG flight for those folks.

Posted by
4117 posts

I have been on at least 5 direct flights in the last 20 years:
To San Juan with a stop in Orlando (both ways)
To San Juan with a stop in Ft Myers (both ways)
To Boston with a stop In Newark (both ways)
To Cancun with a stop in Dallas (both ways)
To Paris with a stop in Reykjavik, however we had to deplane for Schengen and although it was the same plane flying onwards it had a different flight number.

As already pointed out nearly every Southwest flight has multiple hops, and a direct flight on them is a preferable distinction since it’s impossible to misconnect on a direct flight. Assuming the price is the same, a direct flight to DCA via Nashville is preferable to a connection at Midway.

Posted by
2765 posts

I understand the difference but have never seen a “direct” flight (that is, one with a stop but no plane change) so have used the terms interchangeably. I probably should be more precise.

What’s the difference between a layover and…whatever you’d call changing planes in a short period of time at an airport? If I fly Chicago to New York to Athens, with 2 hours in New York to change planes, isn’t that a layover? That’s what all the booking sights call it. Is there another term?

A stopover is longer. At least pre-pandemic, you could fly on some airlines, spend 1-4 days in their base city, then continue on to another place and count it as one ticket. Like fly New York - Lisbon - Madrid on TAP airlines, with 2 days in Lisbon before going to Madrid.

Posted by
4656 posts

To Paris with a stop in Reykjavik, however we had to deplane for
Schengen and although it was the same plane flying onwards it had a
different flight number.

That wasn't a direct flight, that was two different flights that happened to be flown by the same plane.

I understand the difference but have never seen a “direct” flight
(that is, one with a stop but no plane change) so have used the terms
interchangeably. I probably should be more precise.

They were very common 40-50 years ago. But, since planes have longer range now they are getting rarer even if there still are examples of direct flights being used to serve a larger market. Ethiopian e.g. flies Addis Ababa-Oslo via Stockholm, allowing them to serve both cities with one plane. Or when there is no plane with enough range, like Qantas flight from Sydney to New York that stops in Los Angeles.

Posted by
1105 posts

Also see Air France flights 76/77...CDG-LAX-PPT, and vice versa. It's a direct flight between Paris and Tahiti, made up of 2 non-stops each way.

Posted by
4117 posts

99.9% of those reading this thread know/understand the differences.

Anyone who reads this forum (or just this topic) knows most don't know (or care) about the difference. But the words are different and misuse is confusing.

Posted by
2425 posts

Thank you Tom.
A lot of people are confused about the terms, so thank you for pointing them out.

New travelers can always use some information...that's why they come here!

Posted by
3643 posts

I find that airlines have really stepped up their game in the last few years and made it very clear if you are stopping, or transferring, and how long you'll be on the ground. They still seem to "allow" ridiculously short transfer times especially for flights arriving from overseas. Some years ago we were transferring at O'Hare and didn't realize that even though it was United to United, we had to change terminals. Barely made that one after clearing customs and immigration.