When choosing a domestic or international flight, there are several options. You can choose to fly non-stop, direct, or have a flight with layovers or stops. There are reasons to choose each type of flight. Some destinations require a layover and care must be taken to ensure that your flight will go smoothly.
Flying non-stop is by far my favorite way to fly. Luckily, I live near Chicago where many non-stop flights originate or terminate. I often have a choice of more than one non-stop flight for my journey.
My carrier of choice for domestic flights is Southwest Airlines which flies out of Midway airport on the south side of Chicago. Southwest usually has two or three non-stop flights to popular destinations each day. Often though, one will be a 6 am flight or a 9 pm flight, which can be inconvenient. I don’t like having to be at the airport at 4 in the morning. If I’m traveling to another city, arriving late at night might make getting to the hotel more difficult.
To fly internationally, I use O’Hare airport. I often choose United Airlines, American Airlines, or one of their partners. In this case my flight is chosen first by price; time and day are considered second second. When I travel internationally, my schedule is often more flexible. If I can save $100 or more by going a day later or earlier, I probably will.
When my family and I went to Japan a couple years ago, we flew non-stop. In that situation, it was the only thing that made sense. We had a limited number of days to spend on the trip, so we wanted to spend the least amount of time in the air. If we hadn’t seen the great deal on non-stop flights from Chicago to Tokyo, we would not have made the trip.
Each airline may offer a limited number of non-stop flights to an international city each day. Prices vary. Sometimes buying early or buying last minute can get you a good deal. Other times, it seems there are just no deals. It may be cheaper, then, to fly direct or with a layover.
For people who don’t fly often, a direct flight may sound like the same thing as a non-stop flight. It is not. A direct flight will stop at an additional airport on its way to the final destination. Some passengers will get off, others will get on the plane at this middle stop. If you are on a direct flight, you will just wait on the plane.
The flights from cities A to B and cities B to C share the same flight number, as it is continuous. On a flight with a layover, each segment will have a different flight number.
Although a direct flight will take longer than a non-stop flight, it isn’t necessarily a bad option. It may be priced less. Since you don’t change planes, there isn’t any hassle. On Southwest flights where there are no assigned seats, you might be able to move to a better seat for your second segment – my daughter did just that on her flight here last weekend.
Flights with a Layover
Often the best deal for a flight comes with a layover – a stop at an intermediate airport where you change to a different plane. There are times when you may experience two or more layovers depending on your destination. On my recent trip to France, I flew from Chicago to Vienna and then Vienna to Nice. Nice is a smaller city and there are no non-stop flights from Chicago.
I returned to Chicago from Paris – non-stops are available. Unfortunately, none of the available flights coordinated at all with my schedule, so again, I flew with a layover. I flew from Paris to Zurich, Switzerland, and then to Chicago.
Layovers can be as short as 30 minutes or as long as several hours or overnight. I don’t mind a longer layover if I have access to an airport lounge, although three or four hours would be my limit. I’d rather spend my vacation time at my destination, than in even the most luxurious lounge.
Making your Connection
It is important to pay attention to your connection times, especially when flying internationally. If you have a short connection time, try to secure seats near the front of the plane (or at least the front of the economy section). Research ahead of time the layout of the airport, passport and immigration regulations, and possible transportation between terminals.
When flying into continental Europe, your first stop will probably be in a Schengen Area country. There are 26 countries in this group, although England and Ireland are not included. If you stop in Vienna, Frankfort, Zurich, or many other possibilities, you will go through passport control there, rather than at your final destination. You will still go through immigration at your destination, but if you have nothing to declare you do not need to stop.
Very Short Connections
Some airports are equipped to handle very short connections. When my daughter and I flew through Vienna on our way to Venice, we had a 30 minute layover. I was concerned that we would not make our connection, but we did.
We booked our flight on a single ticket through United Airlines (although it could have been any airline). It was United’s choice to assign us flights with that length of connection, so if there was a problem, they would have had to re-book us an the next available flight and probably give us some sort of compensation.
If, on the other hand, I had chosen the flights and booked them separately on my own, I would be responsible for any missed connections, even if it was due to a flight delay.
On a trip last year, my daughter and I did book separate flights for one part of our trip. The savings was worth the risk. However, we built in a five hour layover, which we hoped would be a large enough cushion. It was, and since the airport where we waited had an accessible lounge, we had a relaxing lunch while we waited between flights.
If you Miss your Connection
What do you do if you miss your connection? If the flights have been booked as one ticket, you will need to immediately go to the ticket counter to determine how the airlines will handle the situation. When our plane had a mechanical issue and left Frankfurt, Germany, over six hours late, the airline give us meal vouchers for lunch before we flew. When we didn’t make our connection in Philadelphia because of the delay, we were put up in a hotel, and given additional vouchers for breakfast before the flight the next morning. This was all arranged by the airline.
If you have booked your flights separately, you should also go to the ticket counter immediately to see what can be done. You will probably be able to get a new ticket, but the time may not be convenient and the price much higher than your original. There is a good chance that your original ticket will be worthless.
If you have a tight connection like my daughter and I did in Vienna, you may want to prepare for the worst. Our connecting flight was supposed to leave at 9:10 am. If we had missed it, there was another flight, but not until evening. After researching, I saw that downtown Vienna was only a short train ride from the airport. If we missed the connection, my daughter and I could have explored Vienna for five or six hours and still got back to the airport in plenty of time for the later flight. We made the connection, so Vienna will wait.
Do the research so you know your options for a later flight and maybe some extra sightseeing.
Choosing a Flight
Of the three options for flights, I almost always prefer non-stop. Sometimes, though, timing or price makes me choose one of the other options.
Do you have other suggestions for choosing a flight? Have you had experiences with missed connections? How were they handled? Share your stories below.