Connecting flights: Frequently asked questions

Flying direct may sound great. But not always taking a direct flight is an option. Even now when there are direct 12+ hour flights and it’s possible to fly non-stop from London to Perth in Australia. In some situations it’s gonna be way more expensive than taking a connecting flight between the same two places, in other - you will simply have no choice but to take a connecting flight.

What is a connecting flight? What are the main differences between self transfer and airline transfer? How do connecting flights work? These are some of the questions you’ll find answers to in this article.

People at the airport - Connecting flights

1. What is a connecting flight

A connecting flight is two or more subsequent flights. Passengers are required to change from one airplane to another in-between. A wait at the airport between the two flights is called a layover.

2. How do connecting flights work

If you are travelling on a single ticket connecting flight procedure is very easy.

What is a single ticket? This means that your flight is booked on one ticket. Yes, there might be two or even more subsequent flights but you have booked them as one.

When checking in your luggage in most cases it will be checked through to your last stop. When arriving at the connecting airport all you have to do is to go to your next gate and wait for the next flight. There might be a security check in the terminal at the connecting airport. But mostly you don't have to do anything about your luggage. It's being taken care of by the airport personnel.

If, however, you have booked your flights separately - mostly you will have to take care of your luggage yourself. What's even more important, you may have to enter the country you're travelling through, which means a visa might be necessary. Even if you aren't leaving the airport and are only collecting your luggage to check it in for the next flight.

Here’s a video on how to catch your connecting flight at Heathrow airport in London

Many large European airports work in the same way.

Embedded content: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ZPiKn4Z4o&list=PLtgduu23yPBNoonkrOpu_Qo1VSy7cjy1

3. Self transfer vs. airline transfer

What about connecting flights with different airlines? Yes, it’s possible.

But remember - if you're be booking your flights separately, and, let's say, your first flight gets heavily delayed, so you can't make it to the next one. In situation like this it's gonna be your responsibility to buy yourself a new flight or flights.

You may still be entitled to flight delay compensation for that first flight. But you'll have to find a new flight and possibly book a hotel room yourself.

Such transfers - when flights are booked separately (from different or the same company) - are called self-transfers, or non-protected transfers.

The main difference between the two is what happens if the flight gets cancelled or delayed.

  • Self transfer. If the first flight gets cancelled or delayed and you don’t make it to the connecting airport in time, then you miss the next flight. Because of that you have to book a new one. A travel insurance that covers such cases might help you in situations like these.
  • Transfer protected by the airline. If you have booked a connecting flight from a traditional airline (some budget airlines offer connecting flights, too) then the airline will take care of you if the first flight is delayed or cancelled.

Another difference - in case of a self transfer mostly you have to take care of your checked luggage yourself. You have to collect it and check it in after every flight.

There are also transfers which are protected by the 3rd party. Such as separate flights bought via kiwi.com and which are protected by kiwi.com.

4. How to book connecting flights

Connecting flights with an airline protected connection are the easiest to book.

You can book them directly from the airline or via some third party service such as Kiwi, Expedia or eDreams. Just choose the origin and destination, select the dates and number of travellers, and press “Search”. Choose the flight, book and pay.

When booking flights via service like Kiwi, Expedia or eDreams, pay attention to the length of the layover and airport codes. Are you departing from the same airport you are arriving to?

The same holds true if you are buying separate flights - pay attention to the airport codes (names), length of the layover and minimum connection time. You can check the minium connection time for different airports here.

People at the airport

5. How long before the flight you have to arrive at the airport

Go to the airport early, 2-3 hours before the scheduled departure time. Of course, sometimes 1 hour will be enough, but better don't rely on your luck. Because you never know how much is it going to take you today to make it to your plane.

How to get through airport security faster? Know the rules and come prepared. No scissors or knives. No matches and not more than 1 lighter. No liquids over 100 ml in your hand luggage.

Fly premium or buy Fast Track pass to get through airport security faster.

Also not all airports are open 24/7.Do your research if you have an overnight layover. You may not be allowed to stay inside the airport during the night.

6. Missed connecting flight due to delay

Has your flight been delayed? Don’t stress over it (unless you have bought separate flights!). Flight delays happen every day. Just follow the information regarding your flight and everything’s going to be OK in the end. If because of that you're going to miss the next flight, airline will take care of that, by, most probably, putting you on another flight for free.

If it’s the airline’s fault, you might be entitled to flight delay compensation from the airline (see information below).

But you aren't going to get a new flight, if you booked the flights separately yourself. Flight delay compensation may can cover part of the loss, though.

Airplane at the airport

7. Connecting flight and luggage

What happens to your luggage during a connecting flight? If you are traveling on a single ticket (the connection is protected by the airline), most of the times your bags will be checked through to your last stop. If you are not sure, ask the check-in agent.

If you have booked separate flights you’ll have to pick up and recheck your luggage at the intermediate point.

In any case pack a change of clothes in your carry on bag / personal item. In case your checked luggage gets lost or arrives late.

8. Travel insurance, do you need it? Yes

When booking separate flights buy an insurance that covers flight delays. Do it right after you book your flights! So you're covered in case there are some changes.

If you are buying separate flights yourself and plan to get an insurance, take into account that there are minimum connection times, that differ from airport to airport. Here is one website where you can check them online. If you buy separate flights with a layover that is less than a minimum connection time and you don’t make it for your next flight the insurance won't help you.

Insurance will come in handy also if your luggage gets lost.

KLM aircraft flying over the sea

9. Know your rights regarding delayed and cancelled flights

Here are the basics:

If you are flying to or from Europe and your flight is delayed for more than 3 hours, cancelled less than 14 days before the scheduled time of departure or you've been denied boarding, because there are no more free seats, then chances are you are entitled to compensation of up to €600 per passenger.

In this case, Europe means all EU Member States and Iceland, Norway, and Switzerland.

If you are at the airport and if your flight has been delayed for more than 3 hours the airline must provide you with free meal and drink plus two free phone calls, e-mails or faxes.

If you are flying from a country outside the European Union your flight must be with a European airline.

You don’t have to be a citizen of the European Union to be entitled to European flight delay compensation.

Your under 2 years old child is entitled to flight delay compensation, too.

Compensation always has to be paid in cash or by bank transfer. Not in coupons or vouchers.

Watching sunset from the plane

Connecting flights: Tips

  • Fly on a single ticket, otherwise don't forget to buy an insurance.
  • Arrive at the airport in time.
  • Take into account that there’s minimum connection time.
  • Fly premium or buy Fast Track pass to get through airport security faster.
  • If you have tight connection time choose to sit closer to the plane’s door. Choose your preferred seat in advance. Even if it costs extra.
  • If you have tight connection time don’t waste your time and try to be among the first who disembarks.
  • Ask for help when you need it. Don’t be shy.
  • Pack your carry on as light as possible - and you’ll be able to get through airport security faster.
  • If your flight is delayed, proceed through the security anyway - to avoid possible queues later.

Have a great trip!