When traveling long distances, it’s not uncommon to have a stopover to refuel, pick up more passengers, or change flights.
Some airlines, like Icelandair or TAP Air Portugal, even allow passengers to schedule layovers into their flight plans.
Other times, these flight breaks are just part of traveling – and some can be several hours or longer.
You can almost always leave the airport during a layover if you don’t want to hang out in the terminal. However, there are a few things to pay attention to, including how much time you have before the next flight and any security or customs requirements.
This article explains everything you need to know about leaving the airport during a layover.
Leaving the Airport During a Layover
There usually aren’t any laws or regulations forbidding passengers from leaving the airport during a layover.
However, whether you can leave the airport and still make your next flight depends on several things – the most important of which is time.
For starters, not all airports are close to the cities they’re in.
To maximize your layover by heading out sightseeing, you must factor in travel time to and from the airport.
If you do leave the airport, when you return, you’ll also have to go through the security checkpoint again to board your next flight.
Furthermore, your options may be limited depending if your flights are domestic or international – you’ll have to consider additional rules when traveling abroad.
Leaving the terminal is usually fine if your flight originated in the US and your layover is in the US.
Moreover, when traveling on domestic flights, you’re not required to go through customs before you exit the airport – which saves you time as you leave.
Just ensure you have your boarding pass for your next flight, and you give yourself enough time to go through security again.
Additionally, you may be tempted to shop during your layover – just remember you won’t have access to your checked baggage, and anything you buy must comply with TSA rules and fit in your carry-on luggage.
It’s rarely an issue to leave the airport when traveling internationally.
Having said that, doing so can be a bit trickier, as you’ll have to consider local regulations, visas, and long lines at customs that can reduce your layover time.
Certain countries require visas for you to leave the transit area. Even a short visit for some fresh air could mean you need a short-term visa.
Before you schedule a day trip during your layover, check the customs rules for the country you’re visiting.
Some countries will allow you to buy your visa at the airport, while others may require that you obtain it beforehand.
However, many countries have visa-free entry, depending on your citizenship or if you’re just transiting.
Transit visas allow holders to stay or visit a country short-term under certain conditions.
Acquiring them can be easier than applying for a tourist visa, but they still require extensive documentation.
Below you’ll find additional information regarding specific visa requirements for visiting different localities short-term:
For other countries, check out their embassy website.
Customs and Immigration
Even if a visa isn’t necessary to enter a country temporarily, you’ll still need to pass through customs and immigration if you leave the airport during a layover.
Depending on the time of the day and year, this process can take up to two hours.
You’ll also need to consider further timing restrictions that apply before boarding a plane.
For example, some airports suggest that you show up 90 minutes before your scheduled flight time – otherwise, you may not make it through security before your departure.
How Long Should a Layover Be to Leave the Airport?
Between security, customs, boarding times, and finding your way in a foreign city, there often isn’t enough time left to step out and explore.
For this reason, it isn’t always realistic to leave the airport before a connecting flight.
Overall, a layover should be at least six hours if you want enough time to comfortably leave the airport and make your next flight.
Eight hours or more would be ideal in most cities, while three to five would probably be insufficient – especially at international destinations or if the airport is far from the city center.
Having enough time isn’t only crucial for catching your next flight, but it’s key to your enjoyment as well!
A longer layover will allow you to enjoy the new location without stressing about timing.
Time Spent in the Airport
Before deciding whether it’s worth leaving the airport during a layover, you’ll want to check any timing restrictions airlines may have regarding boarding.
Usually, you have to be at your departure gate at least 30 mins before your flight takes off.
Additionally, you’ll want to account for the hour (or two) needed to get in and out of the airport.
This time may vary depending on your familiarity with the area, the size of the premises, etc.
Also, remember that you’ll need more time just walking through larger airports.
Some international hubs have many terminals, and your gate may be far from security or the exits.
Time Spent in the City
Since most airports are usually away from city centers, getting to and from your destination may take additional time.
You’ll have to consider what transportation options are available and figure out the most efficient route.
Use Google Maps to determine how long it will take to get to the places you want to go while accounting for any delays due to traffic, public transportation, or events happening in the city.
Is It Worth Leaving the Airport During a Layover?
Even if time allows, leaving the airport isn’t always worth it – several other factors play a crucial role when deciding what to do with your spare time.
Leaving the airport during a layover is only worth it if you:
- Have enough time
- Can store or manage your bulky checked baggage
- Can endure any possible extra cost
- Can safely sightsee at the location you’re visiting without fear of missing your flight.
Luggage is only a consideration if you haven’t checked your bags through to your final destination.
If you’re traveling with a larger carry-on item only or have booked two separate flights requiring you to recheck your luggage, you will need to decide what to do with your stuff.
Most airlines won’t let you check your bags until two to three hours before departure.
The check-in desks won’t be open for your flight, and it’s rare for airports to have baggage storage.
One option is to get to the nearest train station, as some may have suitcase-sized storage lockers – but this will add extra time you may not have.
If you have a significant layover and are getting a hotel room, you can always go there first and leave your bags there.
Some cities also have companies that offer short-term bag storage, but any additional stops along the way will have to be factored into your timeline.
Before taking off on a sightseeing adventure, you’ll want to check whether the areas you’ll be exploring, especially in a new country, are safe for tourists.
Even the safest-looking cities have dangerous neighborhoods, so do a little research before wandering around a foreign location.
Additionally, if you’re traveling abroad, keep in mind there may also be cultural or linguistic differences you should be aware of.
For example, some countries don’t operate in English outside major tourist areas, and some religious countries don’t allow certain clothing.
If you have an exceptionally long layover, there’s a chance that the airline may offer organized tours for its passengers.
These tours are the safest, least stressful way to experience a new city while waiting for your next flight.
What Should I Do If I Stay in the Airport During a Layover?
If you know you have a long layover and don’t feel comfortable leaving the airport, you can do a few things to pass the time.
One option is downloading movies or tv shows on your smartphone or tablet before leaving your house – this stores them in an app (like Netflix) and allows you to watch them without using wifi or data.
When stopping over at major international airports, there are often large shopping areas where you can browse local items and maybe pick up a souvenir or a gift.
Most airports have restaurants or other food services, so you can always grab a bite to eat, hang out, and people-watch while you wait.
Some airports have sleep pods you can rent for short periods, so if your layover is overnight or you’re feeling a bit jetlagged, you could consider catching some shut eye.
If you’re traveling with friends, bring cards, games, or other things you can do together, or you can always just bring a book and catch up on your reading.
Stopovers are a common aspect of air travel, and if done right, leaving the airport can mean getting out and enjoying a new city before heading to your final destination.
Making the most out of a layover requires a little planning.
You’ll have to consider how much time you have, visa requirements, distance, security lines, airline policies, and your luggage.
If you’ve got those things covered, you should be good to go!
Table of Contents
- Leaving the Airport During a Layover
- How Long Should a Layover Be to Leave the Airport?
- Is It Worth Leaving the Airport During a Layover?