If you’re not flying nonstop to your destination, you probably have a layover. Or, you might have a stopover. Or, you might just have a direct flight with a stop.
That’s OK, that’s why we’re here.
Stops, layovers and stopovers are three different ways your flights can be broken up, and it’s a good idea to know what’s part of your itinerary, because it can change both what you’re able to do with the time between legs and what protections are available to you if something goes wrong during your trip.
According to Loulu Lima, founder of the Texas-based travel agency Book Here Give Here, layovers are typically just a few hours and designed to give you some breathing room while changing planes, but stopovers are longer, sometimes days-long pauses between flights to give you a chance to explore an extra destination as part of your trip.
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“It really just depends on how the ticket is done,” she said, noting that layovers and stopovers are typically multiple flights on the same ticket.
Here’s how it all works.
What’s the difference between a layover and a stopover?
► Layovers are probably the most common type of pause in an airline itinerary these days, and also may be called a connecting flight. Basically, a layover is the time an airline gives you to change planes between flights. On a layover that’s scheduled by the airline, you’ll likely be traveling on the same ticket for every flight included in the itinerary, and you may have some time to kill at the airport.
“It could be anywhere from 35 minutes, which is considered a legal connection, sadly, and it could be a layover of, I’ve never seen more than like 14 hours, but it could be a little longer,” Lima said.
Especially on long intercontinental routes, an overnight layover is not unheard of, and the airline may even allow you to claim your bags and head to a hotel before your next leg in the morning. With shorter layovers, baggage is typically sent right through to your final destination, although if your connection involves transferring from an international to a domestic flight, you may need to claim and recheck your bags for customs.
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► Long layovers approach stopover territory, which is, essentially, an even longer layover.
“A stopover is a legal stop (to) your trip,” Lima said. “I’ll use Icelandair as an example … They have the ability for you to say, make a stop in Iceland for a couple of days before you move onto another destination.”
Lima added that with official layovers and stopovers, passengers typically have some level of protection if something goes wrong. For example, if the first flight on your itinerary is delayed or canceled and you miss the connection, airlines will have to reaccommodate you. However, she said, travelers sometimes create their own layovers or stopovers by buying tickets on different airlines or buying flights separately even on the same carrier, but on unlinked reservations. In those cases, she said, you can be on your own if something goes wrong.
“If one of those legs is not on the same ticket and something happens to my flight and I miss the other one, I’m not protected,” Lima said. “You’re truly at the mercy of the airlines.”
She’ll sometimes book unofficial layovers or stopovers for clients who want to visit extra cities on their trips, but Lima said she’s always careful to build in a buffer and educate the travelers about what could happen if something goes wrong in those cases.
How do I book a stopover to add a destination to my trip?
If you’re not working with a travel advisor like Lima, who can book the stopover for you, you’ll need to do a little extra legwork yourself.
On Icelandair’s website, for example, itineraries that connect through Reykjavik include an option to add a stopover in Iceland on the booking page. Other carriers, like Hawaiian Airlines, may require you to use the multi-city itinerary search function to select the different flight legs individually. For complicated itineraries, it could be a good idea to work with a travel agent who is familiar with the individual carrier’s rules, to make sure you have all the protections you need if something goes wrong.
Nonstop vs. direct flight: What’s the difference?
Nonstop versus direct is very much a square versus rectangle problem.
All nonstop flights are direct, but not all direct flights are nonstop.
A direct flight can include a stop at another airport that doesn’t require you to change planes.
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“That just means you unfortunately have made your trip a little longer,” Lima said.
Southwest Airlines and Breeze Airways are the airlines that are most known for having direct flights with stops on their schedules these days, with Breeze’s direct stopping flights branded as “BreezeThru” service.
Zach Wichter is a travel reporter based in New York. You can reach him at [email protected]