Top 10 Insider Tips to Survive a Long Layover

Because people-watching can only get you so far.

by Emese Graham
A couple smiles while entering a hotel through a revolving door

Thanks to a certain pandemic, more Canadians than ever are booking trips with connecting flights. Tightened flight schedules mean that it’s become very common to have two legs of your journey (especially if your home airport isn’t YVR or YYZ). Fortunately, a long layover doesn’t have to be a drag. Our Travel Experts have been there and are here to help you make your travel plans easy.

Keep reading to make sense of what a layover is, what you can (and can’t) do with a layover, and how you can pass the time in style.

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What Is a Layover Flight?

If your flight isn’t direct or non-stop to your final destination, you’ll have what’s known as a layover or connecting flight. During a layover, you’ll switch planes for the next leg of your trip. Some layovers are quite short (just enough time to find a restroom and then catch your next flight), while longer layovers give you an opportunity to add some fun experiences to your getaway.

What Are the Rules For a Layover Flight?

If you have questions about your upcoming layover, you’ve come to the right place!

Can I leave the airport during a long layover?

In most cases, the answer is yes. Keep in mind that unless your flights are all domestic, you should expect to go through customs on your way out of the airport.  Also, when you return for your next flight, you’ll need to plan for enough time to proceed through airport security before making your way to your gate.

What about random arrival testing for COVID-19?

Some countries, including Canada, require passengers to be subject to random arrival COVID-19 testing before exiting the airport. If someone is selected for a random test, they must self isolate until their results come back negative. (If you’re flying from a Canadian airport to another Canadian airport for your layover, you don’t need to worry about this step).

Obviously, getting picked for a random arrival test is not ideal if you’re hoping for a quick look around your layover city. So, we recommend checking whether your connecting destination is doing random testing; if it is, you’re better off finding ways to enjoy your layover within the airport. More on that to come!

Do I need a travel visa to leave the airport during my layover?

If you’re planning on exploring outside the airport during your layover, you should double-check the visa requirements for your connecting destination. For Canadian passport holders, most international destinations either do not require a travel visa or a travel visa can be obtained at customs. Some notable exceptions include India, China, Nigeria, Ghana, and Venezuela, for example.

If you’re ever in doubt- just ask a Travel Expert for some assistance!

Can I get my checked bag during a layover?

Typically if your flights are operated by the same airline, your baggage will be transferred directly to your destination for you. If you’re flying with separate airlines, however, or booked on multiple tickets, you’ll need to claim and re-check your luggage before boarding.

Either way, we think the easiest approach is to simply pack your essentials in your carry-on. Rummaging through a big suitcase to find your charger is never a good look!

Travel Expert Tip

Many airports, including Toronto’s Pearson airport, offer short-term luggage storage for just a few bucks. It’s a great option to take advantage of during a long layover!

What To Do on a Long Layover

1. Get a day pass for a comfortable airport lounge

a woman checks her phone at an airport lounge

Complimentary food and drinks. Charging outlets everywhere. Super cozy seats. Showers! Once you experience the comforts of an airport lounge, it’s hard to go back.

If you don’t already get access to your airline’s lounge through points or your seat class, you can simply purchase a day pass at the entrance.

2. Freshen up at an airport hotel

Are you the type of traveller who can’t sleep on a plane? This option is for you. There’s nothing quite like a solid nap to get you feeling ready for the next part of your trip.

Travel Expert Tip

“I had a 7-hour layover at Heathrow and rented a room for 3 hours. Took a nap, had a shower, changed clothes and was ready for the next leg!” Megan Dunn of Toronto

3.  Explore the city for a few hours

Stretch your legs and your travel experience at the same time by flitting over to the nearest city centre to do some exploring. Take in the sights and make note of where you might like to return for a longer visit.

Travel Expert Tip

“Specifically in Europe, there are usually really good public transport links to the city from the airport so even with only 5 to 6 hours, you could nip in for a walk around and then back to the airport instead of just sitting around. Amsterdam comes specifically to mind here as well as Munich!” Kate Neufeld of Burlington

4.  Squeeze in a light workout

There’s no need to overdo it with a challenging HIIT routine, but one of the best ways you can spend your layover is by moving your body. Whether that means just exploring the airport terminal, taking the kids to a park to play, or finding a quiet area to do some gentle stretching, your body will thank you.

5. Hop on a guided tour

a red double decker bus drives through times square in new york city

We can’t all be blessed with a reliable internal compass. If you want to explore your layover city, but you’re worried about getting lost or losing track of time, we highly recommend booking a guided sightseeing tour.

Stick to the classic double-decker bus, or go for something as unique as you! History walking tours, wine tastings, street art crawls, and guided shopping trips are just the tip of the iceberg.

6.  Grab a bite

a group of friends share a meal at a restaurant

Don’t underestimate airport dining! Whether you’re simply sampling the local fast food (hello, Dunkin’ Donuts) or sharing something a little more gourmet with your travelling companions, you often can’t go wrong with what’s nearby. For the more adventurous, get a cab to take you to a local must-try restaurant, pub, or food truck. Yum!

Travel Expert Tip

“I had a layover in Frankfurt once and had lunch city centre before heading back. I’ve done the same in Amsterdam too. Most airports in Europe are close to city centre and easily accessible by train or taxi.” Stefanie Tuccori of Vancouver

7. Pet a pup (or a pig!)

Did you know that you can hang out with therapy dogs at the San Francisco airport? The WagBrigade crew, which includes Lilou the therapy pig, spread smiles all over the airport (Psst… you can follow them on Instagram to get your ‘cute’ fix now!). You can meet similar friends at Pearson, LAX, Minneapolis, and several other North American airports.

Travel Expert Tip

“I usually check to see if the airport is “known” for something and visit that. I had a stopover in SFO once and they have therapy dogs in the airport! I also have been to a few airports that have mini-galleries and museums that have been pretty cool.” Darrell Donaldson of Toronto

8. Escape to the spa

a massage therapist gently massages a woman's forehead

Give those tight shoulder and neck muscles some love with a relaxing massage at an airport spa. If you end up also getting your hair done, makeup freshened up, and nails perfected, who can blame you?

Travel Expert Tip

“I go looking for a massage service in the airport. There’s nothing like a good massage in between long flights.” Carolyn Exelby of Toronto

9. Pray, Meditate, or Reflect

For many people, it’s not easy or even possible to observe religious practices on a plane. So, it’s helpful to know that most airports have dedicated quiet spaces for interfaith prayer and reflection. These spaces welcome people of all or no faiths.

10. Swap your layover for a stopover

Whether you’re grabbing the chance to visit a friend in the city, adding a beach break to your trip, or checking a destination off your travel wish list, there are plenty of reasons to turn your long layover into a rewarding stopover. Ask our savvy Travel Experts how you can make the most of a multi-city getaway!


Talking to a Travel Expert couldn’t be easier.

We offer travel consultations in-person, by phone, email, online chat, video chat, and our 24/7 Customer Care line. Whatever works for you!

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