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direct vs. layover

Would love to hear opinions on if you would rather fly direct vs. having a layover on an international flight. Also, if you had a layover, what would be the MINIMUM amount of time you would feel comfortable with making your next connection? I appreciate the input.

Posted by
6629 posts

I used to think a layover would give me a chance to stretch my legs between flights. It didn't take long to realize that minimizing total time made for easier trips, at least for me. Besides getting there faster, it eliminates the risk of missing a flight connection. So now I usually fly direct between Seattle and a European hub -- London, Paris, Amsterdam, or Frankfurt. Often my destination is elsewhere in Europe, but if I miss the connection I have more options to get there, including rail if necessary. Icelandair is an exception though -- it goes to lots of European cities with a short easy connection at Reykjavik, and often saves enough on airfare to be worth the stop.

I'm not comfortable with layovers less than about 90 minutes, and I prefer 2-3 hours. But there are lots of variables. Will there be later flights with seats? Am I starting the trip or ending it? Would I have to change terminals? Do I have experience with the airport? And a shorter layover is less risky after a shorter flight, which is less likely to arrive late. A Madrid-London flight is short enough to risk a short layover before departure for Seattle. A Seattle-London flight needs a bigger time cushion before a London-Madrid flight.

Weather is also a consideration. In winter, I'd much rather fly straight from Seattle to the east coast or Europe than through a place like Chicago, Minneapolis, Detroit, Denver, or elsewhere in the land of ice and snow.

You might get more focused help if you lay out your specifics. When, where to, what are the choices? EDIT -- And, like AMann said, in the Transportation forum, or the forum for whatever destination country you're looking at.

Posted by
4441 posts

Direct-no chance of missing or cancelled connection, less chance of lost luggage.

Posted by
14167 posts

I vote for as direct as you can get. I have to fly to a hub from my local airport but then if I can get a direct flight to my destination I'll take it. The last few years I've generally flown to/from Paris or Amsterdam which is direct to Seattle. This Fall I flew to Italy and had layovers in Seattle and Paris on the way going and Atlanta and Minneapolis on the way home. Coming back was brutal due to me not doing enough research on travel times, lol. Lesson learned.

Minimum amount of time for me for a layover for an international leg is 3 hours although I'll do 2.5 for my Spokane to Seattle flight or the reverse. There are many flights in both directions so I know I'll get back home eventually.

This Fall was the first time I transited thru CDG (having always landed there as an end point before). I allowed 3 hours and that was a generous plenty as I hit minimal lines at security when I changed terminals and zero line at Passport Control. That probably was a fluke and I would never count on that happening again. I also allowed 3 hours coming back in at Atlanta which was plenty of time there as well. I am not one to want to be rushed and hate feeling anxious about catching my next flight.

When I was booking my flights for this Fall it was back last winter when a negative Covid test was still required to re-enter the US. I felt like it was better to transit thru a US airport because of that requirement although by the time I flew it had been discontinued. I didn't want to get into a situation where a flight was cancelled requiring me to get another Covid test. That was a moot point by the time I actually traveled but last winter...who knew??

Posted by
8597 posts

Many of us don't have a choice. We live in areas without direct flights to Europe, so we have to get to a gateway airport to connect to an overseas flight. In that case we have to consider the history of those connecting flights and the likelihood of delays. For example, I knew from monthly flights on regional jets to Chicago, a common connecting city for us, that those flights were almost always delayed getting into ORD, not to mention they're at a terminal a long way from the international departures. So I avoid those specific connections, or would want a much longer time, than at Minneapolis, for example. Even then my minimum would be 2 hours.

Posted by
11398 posts

Also, if you had a layover, what would be the MINIMUM amount of time you would feel comfortable with making your next connection?

Which airport makes a difference. KEF and CDG are VERY different creatures

Posted by
2734 posts

When flying internationally, I prefer layovers of 3-4 hours, just to be safe. On my last trip, my first flight over was delayed an hour. On the way home, my first flight was delayed an hour and a half. Having extra time helps keep me from biting my nails down to stubs.

Posted by
2565 posts

There also is a price point issue. I much prefer direct flights and will pay more for them when available. But there is a limit to how much. I just bought flights to Rome with a connecting flight in Paris for $500 less than the direct flight. I hate CDG but for a $1000 (for two of us) I will put up with it.

Posted by
14580 posts

Flying out of SFO to Paris CDG or Frankfurt, I always choose direct, ie non-stop, much rather prefer the overnight non-stop of 11 hours from SFO arriving sometime between 09:30-10:30

To London I chose once the flight from OAK having a lay-over. That was five hours in SeaTac, then continued to Gatwick...worked out quite nicely. Would I choose that option again if the price were incentive enough? Under those circumstances at SeaTac, absolutely.

Posted by
8537 posts

I think it depends on so many factors, Direct flights do reduce opportunities for something to go wrong and may save time if you are in a time crunch for your vacation time. An easy connection (like through Iceland) may add a few hours but save hundreds of dollars.

I’ve recently tried a different approach with long layovers (overnight) on some trips. This trip it was Seattle to London, overnight at Heathrow, and then on to Malaga. I was able to use that overnight to go enjoy Christmas at Kew which was lovely and to start my body adjusting to a new sleep schedule. Interestingly, a series of events led to my flight from Seattle arriving in London an hour late. If I had been trying to make a regular connection, I would have been completely stressed out.

Every option for flights can be good if the option you pick meets your specific needs for that trip.

Posted by
365 posts

Domestic flights I’ve had SO many problems with connecting flights I will try to drive farther to an airport vs a smaller local airport to avoid them. For me, a connecting flight just means hassle. Possible delays, more chances to lose luggage or have issues, and more time in airports and traveling to the destination.

Posted by
7403 posts

Absolutely would go direct if it’s an option. You skip the worry of a missed connection if your first flight is late. And from the experience of having my first domestic flight 4, then 5 hours delayed yesterday (luckily not a vacation trip overseas) and the subsequent domino effect, I really vote for direct! ; )

I want two hours in Amsterdam or three at CDG.

Posted by
37 posts

After our recent experience with a missed connection, I will do direct only to/from Europe. We had a 2 1/2 hour layover in Miami on a flight from Madrid. The flight was an hour late and even with carryon bags, we could not make it to the connection. American has no responsibility except to get you on the next flight which happened to be 12 hours later, the next morning. Long night in the airport and lesson learned, no more connections in Miami (their customs is slow and you have to go through another TSA check) or layovers in the US. If you have to I would want 4 hours minimum.

Posted by
18567 posts

My preference is direct to Europe from the US, but after that since there are so few destinations that I am interested in that have direct connections to the US I do have to make a connection in Europe; even to do that I have to drive 90 to 180 miles to an airport with direct service to Europe.

At least I am in Europe at that point and the hard part is done; for the lay over length it depends on where I am making the connection (LHR and CDG = nothing less than 3 hours; most of the rest 2 hours but I feel better with 2.5 hours).

There is one flight to Budapest from Houston that I have taken a number of times which on some days/seasons/months has a 2 hour layover in Istanbul and on others has a 1 hour layover.

I have made the 1 hour connection a few times out of necessity but prefer to just spend the night at the IST gateside airport and arrive fresh the next morning in Budapest - or - spend a day or two in Istanbul.

Layovers can be a good excuse to see something new.

Posted by
2031 posts

I don’t want to sound pedantic but I do have a question. Years ago I was roundly scolded by an airline agent for misusing the term “direct” when I meant nonstop. I was told that a nonstop is just that, no stops. A direct flight I was told could make any number of stops, but as long as I did not change planes (and, I believe that the flight number remained the same) I was on a direct flight. So, can’t a direct flight have a layover, or several? Or am I as confused now as I was years ago? It seems an important distinction that I want to get correct. Thanks.
EDIT. I just noticed Paul’s post.

Posted by
8210 posts

It all depends on the airports you have to connect or layover at.

I just have memories of poor travel experiences at ORD, JFK, CDG and many others. I am very picky at what airports I go through.

Posted by
3961 posts

My preference is to fly direct, but not always feasible. As far as minimum we thought a layover of 3 hrs. at CDG was ok. That said, we spent 3.5 hrs. in passport control. The same happened at JFK.
Have to say we’ve had a few connections that were positive. One layover that stands out was at DTW. We were Athens-bound. It was not a delay, but a request from airlines to change our seats. It ended up a passenger needed my Comfort Plus seat due to being wheelchair bound. We were moved to first class. Very grateful.

Posted by
323 posts

You're likely asking nonstop vs direct...

Direct is an airline term that means stopping during your trip for perhaps hours at an airport you're just passing through -- but flying a (relatively) direct route to your destination. Layover generally means flying from your embarcation point to an intermediate destination, leaving the in-between airport for a lengthy number of hours or overnight, and then continuning on to your final destination.

Nonstop is generally preferred by passengers -- and airline ticket prices reflect that. I prefer nonstop -- boarding the plane at my embarcation point and arriving at my destination without landing at an additional airport. Doing so gets you to your destination sooner than a direct flight. For every stopover you avoid, you eliminate the chance for a delayed flight. If you're checking bags, the airline(s) also have fewer opportunities to lose those bags.

A good friend of mine looks at long stops during direct flights or even layovers as a bonus, giving him the opportunity to go into the airport's city for a quick visit.

As planes increase fuel efficiency and have gained the ability to fly for sixteen or more hours, I'm growing more and more open to layovers... I know someone who flew from Indonesia to California... Nine hours from Indonesia to Dubai... A five hour layover in Dubai. And then sixteen hours in the air to California. If it was me and I had the time, I would have opted for a layover in Dubai to get a relatively quick taste for what that city/region is like.

Optimal time for a stop on a direct flight? As some have pointed out here, each airport has its own needs/requirements/challenges. Typically airlines won't let you book a connecting international flight unless you have at least two hours -- to collect your bags (if necessary) and proceed through customs. With E-Passport available at some major international hubs, and with Global Entry for getting back into the U.S. (and by carrying rather than checking luggage), I'm growing pleasantly surprised at the efficiencies at customs gates, which may someday make international flight changes fast enough for passengers that nonstops become much less appealing because of their higher ticket prices.