Making the Most of a Long Connection

by Mike on June 7, 2012

When you’re flying internationally and have a long connection of less than 24-hours, airlines simply consider this a transit and not a stopover(a break in your journey).  Arguably, some feel that enduring a long connection of 12 or so hours is inconvenient and choose itineraries with shortest connection time to get to their final destination.

I somewhat agree because you have to deal with the age old question of “what do I do?”  Additionally, there’s the incurred cost of a hotel room if it’s an overnight connection.

On the other hand, I find a long connection time a great way to explore the city.   I’ve intentionally created paid and award itineraries where I’ve wanted these long connections.  I’ll admit my adventurous and light packing approach makes it more conducive.

If I deliberately plan long connections, I generally try to plan the longest possible connection to allowing the most ground time.

There are occasions when I arrived early in the morning and departed later that night.  Other times, I arrived at night and departed the following afternoon.  In either case, it was plenty of time to do something other than wander the caverns of the airport.  Some highlights include eating local cuisine(way better than airport food), going to the top of the Burj Khalifa.  Lastly, I have actually worked out during these long connections at a Crossfit Affiliate.

Burj Khalifa Dubai

Burj Khalifa in Dubai

The possibilities of what to see and do are endless, I encourage travelers to try and at least venture out to the city during a long connection.

To verse some novice travelers, here’s some of my own insight to make your long connection more palatable.

LUGGAGE

Everyone’S traveling with luggage, the less luggage you have, the easier it is to venture out.  On the other hand, what if your carrying too much luggage?

The answer is left luggage or luggage storage facilities.

Though not as common in the U.S. due to heightened security measures, they’re still common around the world and extremely convenient.  I’ve used the service at airports with the facility and never had a problem in retrieving my luggage at odd times because the vast majority of them are open 24-hours.

On flights that arrive early in the morning and depart later in the day, I use these left luggage facilities to store my carry on roller board while I take a daypack into the city.

If I’m arriving at night/evening and I have a hotel booked, I ditch my entire rollerboar at the left luggage facility and take a daypack with the necessities I need for that one night in the hotel – there’s no sense in taking the entire rollerboard.

I did this in Hong Kong and I’m glad as the it would have been annoying dealing with the crowded subways with a rollerboard.

CHECKED LUGGAGE

If you have checked luggage, you may be wondering what happens at these long connections.  Does the luggage get dispensed out or is it checked to your final destination?  In my experience, checked Luggage always gets dispensed during these long connections unless the agent in your departing city tells you otherwise.

When I was flying to Kathmandu via London and Bahrain.  I had an overnight connection in Bahrain.  Even though my flights from London to Bahrain and Bahrain to Kathmandu were on the same airline, my checked luggage came out at baggage claim.

DO YOUR HOMEWORK

If I know I’m going to have a long connection, I research the different modes of transportation from the city to the airport and the hours of operations.  If I’m taking the subway or metro, I find a PDF version of the subway map and load it on to my dropbox folder and cache the PDF in my iPhone so that I have it for my reference.

Muscat Oman

Hired a Cab for a few hours to drive me around Muscat, making the most of a connection

I co-ordinate or pre-purchase  any visits to major attractions ahead of my arrival.  When I had a connection in Dubai, I bought my admission ticket to the Burj Khalifa and afternoon tea at the Burj Al Arab far in advance allowing me to secure a spot and avoid wasting time in lines.

STAMPS AND MORE STAMPS

If you’re a passport stamp horder, you’ll love these long connections as opportunities to accrue stamps in your passport.   Everytime you leave the airport, you’ll have to go through passport control and clear customs in doing so you’ll get a transit visa or an arrival stamp like any other foreign person entering the country.

Connection in Shanghai(PVG)

Wandering the sheets of Shanghai, China during a long connection to Thailand

Some countries, you’ll still have to pay a small visa fee even though you’re just transiting.  An example of where I had to pay was in Muscat Oman.  However, other countries like China, where a U.S. Citizens needs a visa, a transit visa is issued and valid for 72 hours at no charge.

FINAL WORD OF CAUTION

I’ve booked a single award itinerary with several long connections built in.  For what ever reason, if I missed one connection flight, it would have a detrimental cascading effect on the rest of my itinerary.  Bear in mind the consequences before getting over zealous in trying to squeeze in some extra shopping or taking a long meal during you connection.

So get out there and get adventurous, I want to hear some crazy stories.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Greek2me June 7, 2012 at 10:59 pm

Great post. We put an overnight layover in Amsterdam into a family trip to Africa years ago. It was a bit of a sightseeing blur, but we wanted to break up the long flights so it made sense to see some of the city and take a break for sitting on planes.

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Mike June 8, 2012 at 10:59 pm

Amsterdam, is a great city to have a long connection at. The main downtown area is about 20 minutes by train.

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Aoife Maria October 4, 2012 at 12:05 pm

Great post, I fully agree. I had a 10 our stopover in Hong Kong once and managed to see some of the city and do some sight seeing. Fitting in a drop in at a CrossFit affiliate is a genius idea which I must try next!

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