Question: Can you leave the airport during a layover?
Answer: Generally yes, you can leave the airport during a layover.
But! Can you leave the airport during a layover on an international flight? And can you leave the airport during a layover in the US? Are there other questions you should consider? Here are 13 things you really should consider first!
1. Is It A Domestic Flight?
Yes, you can leave airports during domestic layovers. For example, if you’re a US citizen on a layover within the US, then you can leave the airport legally and safely. (Just make sure you’re back in time!)
Another thing to know is that if your domestic layover is more than an hour, you’ll probably have 2 boarding passes. So just make sure your 2nd boarding pass is printed off or downloaded on your phone before you leave the airport. You can usually print them off at airport counters.
2. Is It An International Flight?
This is the answer to the question of whether you can leave the airport on a connecting flight while traveling internationally.
If the country requires visas in order for you to visit, leaving the airport without a visa will get you into trouble and you will be violating the layover flight rules. However, you won’t need a visa for that country if you’re just passing customs to board the next flight. But remember, the moment you step outside of that airport you’re technically a visitor and so will be expected to have a visa if required.
So, if you have a visa (or your connecting country doesn’t require one), then, yes, you can leave the airport during a layover on an international flight. If you need a visa but you don’t have one, then you can’t leave the airport during an international layover.
3. How Long Is Your Layover?
If your layover is just a few hours then don’t get off the plane during a layover. Don’t risk it. You’ll need that time to pass customs and do other essential things. Also, if you leave the airport and come back in again, you’ll have to go through security again. Do you really have time for that?
Although it can be tempting to want to see as many countries as possible, just think about how bad it would be potentially getting stranded in a foreign country or having to fork out more cash booking a new flight last minute.
4. Does Your Ticket Allow You To Leave The Transit Area?
A “transit area” is a place travelers are allowed to visit without going through customs. A few tickets don’t allow people to leave transit areas or airports during layovers (airports count as a transit area). In this day and age it is much less common, but it might be a good idea to check with your airline before planning on doing so. Send them an email a few weeks before your trip.
5. Is Your Layover In A Safe Country?
Luckily most countries are safer places these days, but if your layover happens to be in a place prone to terrorism, you might want to stay inside the airport during a layover.
And, unfortunately, women traveling alone need to be extra careful. Is the country that your layover is in known for being safe for women? If the answer is no, it’d most likely be a bad idea to leave the airport during a connecting flight.
6. What About Your Luggage?
Even walking around a city with a carry-on would be a massive nuisance, but what about your main luggage?
If you booked two separate flights then you’ll be collecting your main luggage during your layover at the baggage claims. You’ll then have to check-in your luggage again for your next flight, but some airlines don’t allow this if its too soon before your flight.
If that is the case, you’d then have to find a place within or near the airport to store your main luggage (and your carry-on) before leaving the airport to explore.
If your flights were booked together then this wouldn’t be an issue since your airline would keep hold of your main luggage until you arrive at your final destination (even if you spend the night in your layover country). But you’ll still need to find a place to store your carry-on if you leave the airport during transit.
When storing your luggage, make sure you take out your ID, money and other essentials to carry around with you in person—not doing so could cause big problems in trying to return to the airport or getting your luggage back!
7. What Time Of Day Is It?
Not only is exploring a city at night on your own probably unwise, but they’ll also not be much to do anyway. If its dark outside, find a safe and comfortable place to try and catch a nap within the airport. Some airports even have sleeping areas!
8. How Far Away Is The Airport From Anything?
Most airports are quite a distance away from the center of cities or from interesting places. Be sure to check out how far away your airport is from anything good before you decide to leave the airport during your layover. You wouldn’t want to spend a fortune on taxis or spend all your time on just getting to the place you wanted to explore!
9. Do You Have A Backup In Case You Get Lost?
What if you get lost exploring? Make sure you have maps or a GPS to guide you back to the airport in case you get lost. Carry a portable battery charger so that your phone can remain charged up.
10. Is The Place A Tourist Trap Or Expensive?
Is the country your connecting flight is in known for being a tourist trap or expensive? Be careful how you spend any money, you won’t want to blow your budget for the country you’re actually intended to visit!
Moreover, don’t forget you may need some of the local currency that could be different than the currency of the country you’re traveling to. Not everywhere takes card, so this might make you want to stay in the airport during a layover.
11. Is There An Airport Organized Tour You Should Go On Instead?
Some airports feature organized tours that are designed for passengers with long layovers. So if want to leave the airport during transit, it might be best to do it through an organized airport tour. They’ll make sure everything is sorted out for you!
You could even plan to stay in your layover destination for a couple of days based on what kind of packages the airport tour offers! So, how about taking two vacations instead of one?
12. Would You Even Enjoy It Anyway?
The idea of exploring a new country might sound great when you’re not tired, sweaty and drained from traveling, but travel can take it out of you! Will you even want to leave the airport anyway?
Furthermore, isn’t there something to be said about seeing a country properly? Perhaps your perspective of that country will be negative by rushing it and seeing it whilst being tired or mildly stressed out?
13. Do You Know What To Do If You Miss Your Connecting Flight?
We’re assuming this won’t ever happen since you’ll have already read all our warnings, but on the off-chance that it does, do you know what to do if you miss your connecting flight?
The airline won’t owe you anything if you miss your next flight because of your own fault. Miss one leg of your flight and all the rest of the legs will be automatically canceled and will need to be rebooked.
Some travel insurances may help cover some of those costs if you do miss your layover, but the moral of the story is just to not miss your connecting flight.
If its the airline’s fault they should book you in on the next available flight and book you into a nearby hotel if its nighttime.
So, can you leave the airport during a layover?
Absolutely! But, if you want to leave the airport during a layover on an international flight or domestic flight, just be sensible about it.
Suggested next reading: 9 Clever Tips That’ll Actually Make Your Long Layover Worthwhile