Transit flight: what to do if I have a connecting flight

Many travelers choose connecting flights to save money, explore new cities, and create multi-destination journeys. However, first-time flyers on such routes often have numerous questions. We've compiled the most common ones and are here to provide you with clear explanations.
25 january 2022

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Who Can Benefit from This Article?

  • First-time travelers
  • Individuals embarking on their first transit flight
  • Travelers concerned about tight connecting flight schedules

Understanding Your Connection

When you find yourself facing a transit flight, the first step is to determine the type of connection you'll be dealing with.

Transit flights come in various forms. One common scenario is having a single ticket, where a single airline manages the entire connecting flight. This option offers great convenience as the airline takes full responsibility for ensuring you reach your final destination. If, for instance, your first flight segment experiences a delay, and you're at risk of missing the second segment, the airline will arrange for an alternative flight within their network. In cases where the layover exceeds 8 hours, certain carriers like Emirates and Qatar Airways even provide transit passengers with accommodations in a transit hotel. Moreover, your baggage will be checked through to your final destination, eliminating the need for additional check-ins.

Photo author - Phil Mosley

Another option to consider is a codeshare arrangement. This involves purchasing a single ticket from one airline, but for a portion of your journey, you'll be flying on a partner airline's plane. In this scenario, you'll still check in your luggage to your final destination, and any connecting flights will be seamlessly arranged. The main distinction is that if any unexpected situations arise, such as lost or damaged luggage, you'll need to address these issues with the partner airline.

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Keep in mind that for this type of flight, the name of the additional carrier may not be displayed on the ticket.

Another option worth mentioning is an interline agreement. This is an arrangement between airlines where one carrier acknowledges and sells the tickets of another. In other words, one airline can offer tickets from another airline. The advantage here is that it often allows you to purchase a single ticket at a more attractive price compared to buying multiple separate tickets. Special fares are frequently available for these types of flights.

Important! Tickets of this type always list all the operating airlines involved. Baggage check-in will also be done for you throughout the entire journey, but you may need to request it separately. Sometimes, you might also need to obtain your ticket for the next leg of the journey during a layover – keep this in mind as well.

Photo author - JESHOOTS.COM

Another option to consider is booking multiple separate tickets. However, many find this option less convenient. When using separate tickets, you'll have to retrieve and re-check your luggage at the transfer point, as well as go through the check-in process again for the next leg of your journey. If you happen to miss a flight, you'll likely need to purchase a new ticket, and the overall cost of such a combined journey can often be higher than other options. So, if you opt for this approach, ensure you have ample time to make your connections (it's a good idea to be extra cautious and schedule your flights with a layover for the following day).

Now, let's talk about low-cost carriers. It's important to understand that low-cost carriers do not offer connecting flights as a rule. The routes you see on aggregator websites, including tripmydream, typically involve multiple separate flights. Consequently, when flying with a low-cost carrier, you bear full responsibility for managing your luggage and ensuring you arrive at your destination on time.

Transit Visa: When Do You Need One?

Here's a crucial point to address before buying your tickets. Generally, you won't require a transit visa if your next flight departs from the same airport and terminal where you arrive, and if you don't need to collect your luggage. In such cases, you can simply wait for your next flight in the airport's transit area without going through immigration control.

Additionally, in the current times, it's vital to check transit rules related to COVID-19 restrictions. This is an absolute necessity!

Photo author - Igor Menezes
Photo author - David Klein

Transit in the UK

But when it comes to connecting in the UK, be on your guard. Very often, travelers are tempted by the low price and buy a connecting flight in London. For example, Ryanair always has plenty of offers to fly to different European cities at the lowest prices just with connections in Stansted or Luton, and then they are simply not allowed on the flight because of the lack of a transit visa.

Remember, you don't need a transit visa when connecting in the UK, only if you're transiting at Heathrow or Manchester International Airport. BUT, on top of that, a number of other conditions must be met. Which ones? Find out more in this article about transit in London.

When do I need a transit visa?

A transit visa is issued if:

  • Flying with a connecting flight and need to change airports.
  • You need to change terminals, and to do this you need to go out into the city (the departure terminal is in a different neighborhood, for example).
  • You need to change terminals.
  • You need to make two or more connections in the Schengen area, and you do not have a biometric passport. In this case, a transit visa is issued at the embassy of the first country.
  • A transit visa will be issued at the embassy of the first country.
  • The transfer will take place in the UK (provided that its duration is 24-48 hours). Then you need to apply for a Visitor in transit Visa in advance. But if your layover is longer than 48 hours, you will need a regular Transit Visa.
  • You are flying on two different tickets (say, from Madrid to London and from London to Berlin). Then you need a visa to get your luggage and check in for the next flight.

Important! Some countries (like the United States, Australia and Canada) require a transit visa even just to be on the airport grounds in the transit zone.

It's a separate story with luggage, as you get it after you've gone through immigration control. So make sure your suitcases are checked in for the rest of your trip, and you're allowed to stay in the connecting country without a visa.

Photo author - Neil Martin

Another important consideration involves the availability and operating hours of transfer zones. Firstly, not all airports have transfer zones. Secondly, these zones don't always operate around the clock. If you arrive late at night and your departure is scheduled for the morning, but the airport doesn't operate overnight, you'll need to find accommodation and secure a transit visa (if necessary) in advance. This can be the least convenient option, so it's essential to plan ahead to avoid being stranded.

Arriving at the Connecting Airport: What's Next?

If this is your first time flying with a connecting flight, remember to stay calm and keep moving forward. Don't worry; the gate and the plane will still be there, and you'll continue your journey as planned – have confidence in that!

So, you've reached your connecting airport. What's your next step? First and foremost, always keep your tickets and documents readily accessible. This way, you can check important details like departure time, gate, and terminal against the airport's information board at any time and present them promptly when boarding.

If you're traveling with a single ticket, upon arrival at the connecting airport, simply follow the signs labeled "Transfer" or "Transit" to locate the transit area where you'll wait for your next flight. Once inside, head straight to the airport's information board and look up your flight details, including departure time, gate number, and any other relevant information (remember that this information can sometimes change). It's also a smart move to identify your gate early on so you know where you'll need to go when it's time to board your flight. After that, you can explore the airport at your leisure.

Keep in mind that if you're flying to one of the countries within the Schengen Agreement, you'll need to go through passport control immediately upon arrival. The same procedure applies to those flying with two separate tickets, as you won't be considered transit passengers in such cases. Upon arrival, you'll need to retrieve your luggage, follow the signs to the check-in counters (look for the helpful signs!), and register again, checking in your baggage once more.

Hold on. Do I need to collect my luggage, or will it be transferred?

It depends on the type of ticket you have. If it's a single ticket, you can usually check your luggage through to your final destination and not worry about it. However, if you need to change airports during a layover, you might need to collect and re-check your baggage, even with a single ticket. Therefore, it's crucial to clarify this when checking in your baggage.

Photo author - Markus Winkler

Extended Layover: What to Do?

If you have a 3-4 hour layover, you might choose to simply wait it out. However, there are occasions when you're faced with a significantly longer wait for your next flight. If you can venture into the city, and the airport is reasonably close, consider going for a stroll. It's an excellent way to make the most of your time. Plan ahead with a list of places you'd like to visit, calculate the time it takes to reach the city and return to the airport, add some extra time for security, and you're all set!

Even if you can't leave the airport premises, there's no need to feel disheartened. Airports often offer lounge areas with comfortable armchairs and sofas for relaxation, along with the latest newspapers and magazines. You'll find designated sleeping areas with cushioned loungers when you need a nap, as well as complimentary Wi-Fi, and food and beverages.

Typically, lounge access costs around €30-40 for a three-hour stay, with the cost per hour decreasing the longer you stay. You can even save a bit more by purchasing a pass online.

Photo author - Mr.Autthaporn Pradidpong

Accessing the Business Lounge

Here's a little-known lifehack that can come in handy. Many major European airports provide complimentary access to the business lounge for World Elite MasterCard cardholders. To gain entry to the business lounge, simply inform the staff that you hold such a card and present it. In return, you'll enjoy all the benefits of the Business Lounge at no additional cost. We recommend checking in advance with your bank's support service to confirm whether your card grants you access to the Business Lounge.

If your layover is longer than 10 hours, some airlines offer complimentary hotel accommodations or meal vouchers for passengers. In any case, it's a good idea to explore all the options available on the airline's website when facing a lengthy layover.

  • Plan your itinerary with some buffer time. If you're handling flight connections independently, make sure you allow 2-4 hours for your layover. This gives you time to navigate the airport, find your gate, and handle any luggage.
  • If your ticket doesn't display your gate number, don't worry. Simply check the arrival/departure board at the airport, and you'll find your gate information listed there.
  • If you're catching a connecting flight, you can find that information there as well.
  • When dealing with flights across different time zones, remember to account for the time difference, as tickets usually indicate local time.
  • If you're connecting at a major airport, it's a good idea to familiarize yourself with the airport layout(s) in advance. This is especially helpful for meticulous planners.
  • If you arrive late at night and your next flight is in the morning, check in advance whether the connecting airport has overnight accommodations within the transit zone. Also, find out if the airport operates overnight. It's possible that you'll need to arrange an overnight stay in the city, potentially requiring a visa.

Wishing you a pleasant flight!

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