With a little bit of planning, a layover can be transformed from a necessary evil to a positively enjoyable part of your trip.
First things first, what exactly IS a layover?
It’s the time you spend at an airport in between connecting flights and can be anything from a couple of hours to the best part of a day. On international flights, a connecting time of up to 24 hours is considered a layover.
Got it – but why would I choose a layover when I can fly direct?
Because it’s cheaper! On a long-haul trip, opting for a multi-leg flight rather than a non-stop one can save you hundreds of pounds. Plus, airports are becoming far more interesting than they used to be. These days the best airports are things of beauty, with dramatic architecture, impressive art collections and all sorts of activities and entertainment to help you while away the hours.
Sounds promising. Where do I start?
Put in some research. You probably swot up on a destination before you decide to go there so it makes sense to do the same for potential layover airports as well. If you’re flying long haul you’ll have several route options and a choice of places to break the journey. Some are much more interesting than others, so before you plump automatically for the cheapest route, check out the facilities at the various layover airports to see how likely they are to keep you entertained.
What kind of things can I expect to find?
There’s all manner of quirky stuff out there, from the winter ice rinks at Denver International and Munich to the in-house rainforests at Kuala Lumpur International and Changi in Singapore. You can learn how to perform CPR on machines at Dallas-Fort Worth and Chicago O’Hare, take in live music performances at Nashville International and Austin-Bergstrom International or have a virtual dressing-up session at Incheon and snap souvenir pix of yourself in full royal regalia. Nervous flyers can help soothe transit stress by gazing at the marine life in Vancouver International’s aquarium or petting the therapy animals that patrol dozens of US airports. Most of them are dogs but the Wag Brigade at San Francisco International includes LiLou the therapy pig.
There can’t be too many places with a therapy pig…
You’re right. Pigs are a tad niche. But the best airports these days should all be able to deliver the goods on the following fronts: decent restaurants, airport lounges, spas, and fitness facilities (airport gyms are increasingly common, along with yoga studios, meditation rooms and, if you’re really lucky, the odd swimming pool).
Check out our top tricks and picks for the best food, lounges, spas and gyms:
Travel frequently? Consider joining a programme such as Priority Pass, which gives you access to 1,200-odd airport lounges around the world, with free or reduced-rate entry depending on which tier of membership you choose.
Before you book, check out the facilities and any restrictions. Do they have showers? Runway views? Is there a time limit on how long you can stay? Is there a dress code?
Don’t forget to check out what kind of feedback the lounge gets on user review sites before you commit.
Choose your time slot – if you have hours to spare you can spoil yourself with a full-on 60- or 90-minute treatment; if not, go for an express 15-minute version instead.
As well as individual spas look out for growing chains such as XpresSpa and Be Relax, which now have a presence in many of the world’s largest airports. Among them is Dubai International, where the Be Relax treatment list includes an innovative Virtual Reality Foot Massage.
But which treatment should I go for?
– Drop in for a neck and shoulder massage to relieve tension accumulated in flight.
– Relieve jet-lagged skin with a facial.
– Need a bit of pre-holiday sprucing up? Use your time wisely and opt for a mani-pedi.
Dallas Fort Worth and Minneapolis-St Paul International have designated walking routes to help you up your step count. You’ll also find an ever-increasing number of airport gyms with full-on workout facilities, from treadmills, rowing machines and bikes to resistance bands and exercise balls. No need to worry if you don’t have your gym kit with you either – most can rent you out all the top-to-toe gear you need.
If you’re into your yoga, you’ll find studios in Miami, Helsinki, Heathrow, O’Hare, Burlington and Chicago.
For something really special, Changi has its own rooftop pool on top of Terminal 1 and others are following suit. Vancouver, Stockholm Arlanda and Munich are among those airports with on-site hotels where non-guests can pay a fee and go for a dip in the hotel pool.
How about escaping the airport altogether – is that allowed?
In many cases, yes, as long as your layover is long enough, but remember to factor in the time it will take to clear immigration and customs on the way out. Plus you’ll need plenty of time for check-in and security on the way back. Also bear in mind that you might have to get a visa (check with the relevant embassy) and somewhere to store your luggage. Some airports make escape really easy, laying on organised transit tours (often free) for passengers with time to spare; you’ll usually need at least five or six hours between flights to qualify. These airports and airlines have got your back and all lay on tours of the surrounding area:
- Taiwan Taoyuan International – enjoy a free half-day tour.
- Changi Airport – join a free two and a half hour guided tour with two short photo stops.
- Incheon International – choose from two, four, or five hour tours of everything from Jeondeungsa Temple to Masirang Beach.
- Tokyo Narita – the Transit & Stay program offers volunteer-guided tours or fly solo and opt for the self-guided tours with map and directions to each destination.
- Hong Kong International – join the Hong Kong Island Orientation or the Lantau and Monastery Tour.
- If you’re flying Turkish Airlines with a layover at Istanbul Ataturk you can sign up for a free tour of the city.
- If you’re flying with Qatar Airways, join a guided introduction to the highlights of Doha for around £15 a head.
Any chance I could just snooze for a while instead?
Of course! Checking into a transit hotel for a few hours’ kip in a proper bed followed by a decent shower could be a really sensible way to spend a layover. Most airport hotels offer reduced rates if you book a room to use during the day, while others have the flexibility to book them for however many hours you need. Fans of YotelAir, the cleverly designed, good value airport hotels at Schiphol, Paris Charles de Gaulle, Gatwick and Heathrow, will be glad to hear that more are on their way this year, with new openings at Istanbul (March) and Changi (April). Like their siblings they’ll be bookable by the hour with a minimum stay of four hours.
GoSleep Sleeping Pods are also an increasingly familiar sight at international terminals – smart cocoon chairs that recline flat, come with charging points for your devices and storage space for your bag, and have a sliding screen you can draw down to shut out the rest of the airport world.
Now you’re an expert on layovers, it’s time to book that trip!