Here Are Our Top 10 Insider Tips to Surviving a Long Layover

Two friends entering a hotel lobby

5min read

Published 11 January 2022


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 consultants 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.

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 an 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. 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 your travel consultant 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 (or booked on multiple tickets), however, 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!

What to do on a long layover

There are so many things you can do on a long layover, including these 10 activities.

Woman relaxing in an airport lounge
Woman relaxing in an airport lounge
Woman relaxing in an airport lounge

1. Get a day pass for a comfortable 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.

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

Specifically in Europe, there are usually really good public transit links to the city from the airport. Even with only 5–6 hours, you could nip in for a walk around and then back to the airport instead of just sitting around.
Kate Neufeld, 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 or finding a quiet area to do some gentle stretching, your body will thank you.

Times Square
Times Square
Times Square

5. Hop on a guided tour

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.

A group of friends dining at a restaurant during a layover
A group of friends dining at a restaurant during a layover
A group of friends dining at a restaurant during a layover

6. Grab a bite

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!

I had a layover in Frankfurt once and had lunch in the city centre before heading back. I've done the same in Amsterdam, too. Most airports in Europe are close to city centres and easily accessible by train or taxi.
Stefanie Tuccori, 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 Wag Brigade 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.

I usually check to see if the airport is 'known' for something and visit that. SFO has 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, Toronto
Woman getting a relaxing head massage
Woman getting a relaxing head massage
Woman getting a relaxing head massage

8. Escape to the spa

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?

I go looking for a massage service in the airport. There's nothing like a good massage in between long flights.
Carolyn Exelby, 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 consultants how you can make the most of a multi-city getaway!

Flight Centre

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