The 2-hour layover

I was just booking a flight, and it reminded me of some things that I’ve learned from traveling a lot. I thought I’d share, in hopes they save some newbie travelers hassle and stress.

Flight booking websites will happily present you with connections with 1:30, 1:20, or even less time between flights. These are often presented first, because they are the “shortest travel time”. And to an unprepared traveler, an hour and twenty minutes can sound like plenty of time. If this is you, here are some factors to bear in mind:

  • Let’s say your first leg flight has a landing time of 2:25PM. Even if it is on-time, it may be delayed on the tarmac 10 or 20 minutes depending on airport conditions.
  • Flights are delayed for all kinds of reasons. And that connecting flight is not going to wait for you just because your incoming flight had to do some unplanned maintenance before departing. Your layover is your delay buffer.
  • The departure time on your ticket is just that: a departure time. If it’s an international flight, it’ll start boarding a full hour before departure, and it may close its doors a half hour before. That means to be on time for boarding, you need to subtract an entire hour from your expected layover time.
  • Some airports are very large. Some may take you a half hour or more to traverse. You can minimize the chances you’ll have to hoof it across a mile of airport transit by making sure all of your flights are owned and operated by the same airline, but that’s not a guarantee. Last-minute gate reassignments to the other end of the airport can and do happen.
  • Do you want to eat something other than in-flight meals during your travels? You may want to allow time to find a restaurant and eat.
  • Even if you make it to your connecting flight, your luggage might not. Longer layovers decrease the chances you and your luggage will part ways. That, or only take a carry-on bag.
  • Depending on where you are connecting from and to, you may need to go through security and/or customs between flights. These are rarely going to take less than 15 minute, and they might take you an hour. (Note: for US travelers returning to the US, Global Entry is your friend).

Bottom line? Skip those short layover options. For international flights, two hours is a good minimum layover in my opinion. For domestic, you can reduce it to one hour.

I hope this helps someone!

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