Last Updated: March 9, 2023

How Do Layovers Work?

Are you curious about how layovers work? Then you’re definitely in the right place because this guide to layovers covers everything you need to know about them!

Whether you’re a first-time flyer or just a curious traveler, you’ll find all the information you need about layovers right here. What they are, how they differ from stopovers, what happens with your luggage, and whether you need to clear security are just some of the questions we’ve answered in this detailed guide on how layovers work!

What Is A Layover?

Tijuana Airport

A layover, also known as a connection, is a stop between two flights. Say you want to travel from Phoenix to Madrid but there are no direct flights. You’re able to find a flight to LAX, where you can catch a direct flight to Madrid – that means you’ve got a layover in LA before you can get on your connecting flight.

A layover is when your plane stops at an airport that isn’t your final destination. Layovers are very common if you’re not flying from (or to) the major international hubs, especially if you are trying to reach some more remote places.

Domestic Layovers

A domestic layover is when you’re catching a connecting flight within the same country where your first flight was. Flying from Phoenix to Los Angeles in order to catch a flight to Madrid would be a domestic layover.

Normally, you don’t need to go through security and border control on a domestic layover. Domestic layovers are usually a bit quicker and easier to navigate than international layovers, and in most cases, you won’t need more than a couple of hours at the airport if you’ve got a domestic layover.

Flight attendants recommend that you always plan at least an hour for layovers when flying domestically. Although a 30-minute layover sounds great in theory because you can head straight from one plane to the next, if there are any delays or unforeseen events whatsoever, you’ll end up missing your flight.

International Layovers

An international layover is when you have a connecting flight in country B, but you flew out from country A and you’re traveling to country C. Say you’re trying to get from Amsterdam to Delhi with a stop in Abu Dhabi – that’s a flight with an international layover.

International layovers usually take longer than domestic layovers, so you should always plan to have at least two hours to catch your connecting flight. Keep in mind that a simple delay could make you miss your connecting flight, so it’s always best to have some extra time for contingencies.

Sometimes you’ll need to clear immigration and border control during international layovers and other times you won’t. It depends on many things, mostly which countries you’re flying from/to, what citizenship you have, whether you’re leaving the airport during the layover, and what the rules of the airline you’re flying with are.

Also, some airports have domestic terminals on completely opposite sides from the international terminals, and you will need to go through security and customs just to get to reach the terminal.

Difference Between A Layover and A Stopover

At The Airport

In essence, a layover and a stopover are the same things – the time you spend waiting for your connecting flight. The main difference is that the term layover is used to describe stops of up to 23 hours and 59 minutes – anything longer than that is considered a stopover. So, a stopover is just a term for a really long layover.

If you love traveling and discovering new countries, you should definitely consider taking more flights with stopovers. Some airlines are even promoting stopovers at their major hubs with discounted tickets, and this isn’t a bad option at all for a round-trip flight with a quick city break in between your final destinations.

The great thing about stopovers is that you’ll usually have plenty of time to explore a completely new city. Why spend two hours at an airport in Dubai, when you could spend two days exploring the city instead?

Do I Need A Boarding Pass For Every Connection?

Boarding Pass

Yes, you need separate boarding passes for all your flights and you will most likely get them when you check in for your first flight. A boarding pass is essentially proof that you’re allowed to board an airplane, and you will need to present one for every plane you are boarding during your journey.

If you purchased separate airline tickets and the two flights you’re taking have nothing to do with one another, you will need to check in again at the layover airport. When you check in there, you’ll be issued a boarding pass, which will allow you to board your next flight.

One thing to note is that you should always check to see if the airline offers online-check in. It’s so much easier and quicker to deal with all this before your flight, especially because you can usually just print your boarding passes and have them ready, instead of standing in line and waiting to check in.

Checking in online and printing the boarding passes early will also save you the same time before your connecting flight and it’s particularly good for very short layovers.

Do I Need To Re-Check My Luggage On A Layover?


It depends. If you purchased tickets through the same carrier and you’re flying with the same airline, your checked luggage should get tagged for your final destination. That means you don’t have to recollect your luggage at the layover airport even if you’re on an international flight.

It’s even easier for domestic flights and layovers, especially when you’re traveling with the same airline. Your luggage is automatically checked for your final destination and you should collect it only after the flight lands in the final country you’re visiting.

On the other hand, if you were scouring the internet for deals and you booked the tickets separately, you will need to collect your checked luggage and re-check it before your connecting flight. Buying tickets for connecting flights separately is always a bit riskier than sticking to a single itinerary, mostly because there are just so many things that can go wrong.

If your plane is delayed and you miss your flight, the second airline is under no obligation to put you on the next flight. They have nothing to do with your previous itinerary, and to them, you’re just a passenger who didn’t show up on time. The same goes for your luggage.

It’s worth noting that shipping your luggage directly to your final destination is a great alternative to flying with it on multiple connecting flights. You can choose where you want the luggage shipped, and it will probably arrive in a better condition than a suitcase that’s been handled by baggage handlers at several different airports.

Do I Have To Go Through Border Control/Immigration And Customs?

That depends on quite a few different factors. First, it depends on whether your layover is domestic or international. Usually, you don’t need to go through border control on domestic layover flights, but even that’s not always the norm. If you’re catching a domestic connection from an international flight, you will need to go through border control first.

Say you’re flying from Paris to Atlanta and you’ve got a layover in New York City – the first time you land in the United States, you will need to clear customs and immigration, even though you’re technically on a domestic layover. It’s worth noting that this is specific to the United States and Canada, and it generally depends on which country you’ve got a layover in.

On international flights, you will most likely need to clear border control before you can catch a connection. But not always – this also depends on where you’re flying, which airport you’re landing at, and if you’re a passenger in transit.

A passenger in transit is someone who has a short layover and no intention of leaving the airport during the layover. If you’ve got just a few hours to catch your connecting flight and you’re heading straight to the next terminal, you won’t always have to clear border control. But if you have a longer layover and you want to leave the airport and explore the city, you will need to clear security and customs.

Do I Need To Go Through Security?

Airport Security

Again, it depends on quite a few things. On a domestic flight, you usually don’t have to go through security again, especially if you’re heading straight to the next gate. Then again, if you’ve got a domestic layover before you can catch an international flight and the international terminals are on the other side of the airport, you will need to clear security before you can actually get to your terminal.

It’s worth noting that this is a rare occurrence but it happens, so it’s usually best to read up on the airport you’re landing at. Passengers who are on international layover flights will usually need to pass through security again before they can get on the plane to their final destination.

It’s worth noting that the same rules apply every time you’re going through security. Just because you got that water bottle from your previous flight doesn’t mean you’ll suddenly be allowed to pass through security with more than 100 milliliters of liquid in your carry-on!

About the Author Roger Timbrook

Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!

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