7 Main Rules to Enjoy Long Stopovers

Published in
14 min readMay 4, 2016


Flights with stops are chosen in terms of economy, or as a last choice when there are just no other variants. But every coin has its other side.

Is there something interesting in such flights which can change your mind from accustomed comfortable direct flight? What to do at a stopover instead of sitting in the building of the airport and eating in expensive and mostly tasteless restaurants? Of course, if you have a business class or a first class ticket, you’ve got free access to convenient lounges, sometimes to first-rate spas… But is it the thing we mostly travel for?

If you have plenty of time between flights consider a short trip to the city! These are things you should remember about.

Calculate Routes to and from the City

For instance, your stopover lasts 4 hours. Is it enough to leave the airport and go to see the city? Presumably not. Most airports are far from its cities, and you would need about an hour to get to the center.

Add to this the time you would spend to get down the airplane, go through all the formalities and come to the transport which would deliver you to the city. Moreover, you should return an hour or two (depending on the flight) before your next departure. If the flight is international, even more time should be required because of passport and customs controls.

Before departure, calculate the time for getting from the airport to the city and multiple by two — for return trip. Check the schedule of the public transportation in advance if you are not going to take a taxi.

Check the Entry Regulations for the Country

Before you decide to go to this little adventure you should get to know the entry regulations for foreign citizens. Usually you don’t need visa for the airport transfer, but if you leave the airport it would be an official entry to the country.

If the visa is required consider whether it is worth the money you would pay for it and the time you would spent on all the official red-tape. The optimal variant is EU countries from Schengen zone. You surely may leave the airport building and go to the city if you have a Schengen visa.

Always check in advance the website of the embassy to inquire the entry regulations and visa requirements for the citizens of your country.

Decide in advance what to do in the city

Explore the places you’d like to visit. It could be a museum, a park, a national cuisine restaurant, or just a walk in the center of the city. Do not try to get everywhere — you would not in several hours. But you would sure feel the spirit of the city and probably decide to explore it later in more details.

The longer your stopover is, the more places you can visit, but do not overdo it. It is quite possible you would get tired or suffer from the jet lag. Try to suggest the time you need for everything planned. If there is a possibility to make a booking for a certain time in advance or to buy a ticket and not to stay in queue, do it.

Avoid long night stopovers

You should surely take the time of a day into consideration. If the stopover is at night then probably the walk at the unknown city at 3.00 AM is not a good idea. So avoid long night stopovers if you can. They are exhausting and useless.

Get to know the baggage regulations in your ticket

If your flights are booked in a single ticket, your luggage would be probably automatically transferred to the next flight— check this in advance. If the two flights are separate, you have to go to the baggage claim area, get it and check it again for the next flight.

For instance, in US you would anyway have to claim your luggage after arrival in the transfer airport. The majority of airlines do not permit to check luggage long before the departure, so you would have to find the luggage boxes or the locker room in the airport. You can explore this problem in advance to understand which choices you would have.

If you travel with hand-luggage only, you do not have to worry about the luggage. But you may want to leave your bag in the locker and not to carry it through the city. You should surely take your money, passport and everything you may need during your adventure in the city of stopover.

You should take additional time for any actions with the luggage whether this be searching of a locker room or re-checking the luggage. Include this time in your stopover plans.

Prepare the necessary currency or a bank card

It is simple if your stopover would take place in one of the cities in your country or in a country that uses the same currency. Otherwise, you will have to be sure of the exchange rates. Consider changing your currency before the trip not to loose precious time. It also might be a problem to find a place to change your currency if it’s not a popular one.

The bank card is a convenient choice but get to know in advance whether they are accepted in the country and inquire the conversion regulations in your bank. Remember that some banks charge a fee for operations abroad in the currency other than the currency of an account.

You should have a notion about the cost of goods and services otherwise you could take too much or too little local money.

Make a deep breath and be determined

If you decided to go to the city during your stopover you wouldn’t regret it. Short acquaintance with the city would bring a lot of impressions. It is not an easy task to find time and money for the full-fledged trip to the city, and now you can see a new place and probably plan a new trip.

Always consider all pros and cons before you go to the city during your long stopover. Do not forget to inquire the visa regulations, calculate the trip time with dew regards to traffic jams and the walk in the city. If everything fits — surely go!

Personal experience

Opinions and real experience of long stopovers.

Anastasia Rikhter — content director in a marketing agency.

Long stopover adds one checkpoint on the route, and it is always interesting. Sometimes you just feel it’s beyond your strength to walk between the flights. But remember that our life is quite short and the planet is too enormous to miss a possibility to see a new place.

For instance, 6 years ago I visited Kiev this way. I arrived at 5 AM after Kazantip and found it really, really difficult to decide to go for a walk. But double espresso gave my mind back to me, and I spent 7 hours walking in this beautiful city. In the meantime, I managed to ascend to the Upper Town in the cableway, walk to Andreevsky slope where I nearly bought a gramophone, around the historical district of Podol, in the catacombs of Kievo-Pecherskaya Lavra, think of the eternal in the rose garden, get astonished by the architecture and celestial lights of Mikhaylovsky cathedral.

I added to this the gastronomical must-have — Ukrainian borshch with pampushki and horylka. After this, I had some more stopovers in the Ukrainian capital, and once I made use of two-hour delay of my flight and reached the Maydan.

Another time, while returning from Rome to Mocow, we had a nice walk around Vienna with my friend. We chose Vienna as a transfer point to visit the famous Vienna opera, but by mistake we bought tickets in Volksoper, not in State Opera, so we decided to go for a walk.

Per 6 hours, we visited the Christmas fair against Karlskirche, reached the symbol of the city — St. Stephan’s Cathedral which stabbed heavy foggy air, like in a horror film, and had a classical Vienna dinner in the restaurant Plachutta… By the way, we still managed to see the interior of the Opera.

Once there was 17-hour night stopover in Riga and morning walk around the historical center in search of a bank: we need a local currency to buy some water at least.

Very soon, the night stopover in Berlin is forthcoming, and as a final flourish of the vacations, I will certainly go to CDV (Club der Visionäre), meet my friends and dance a lot!

Etapp Kyle — DJ and producer

Via Skype from Berlin

Actually, I don’t know how to spend time in the airport if you don’t have any work. In the laptop, for example. I just like airports, so I feel good being there.

Some advice. First of all, I want to share my experience from the previous weekend when I had a set in Batumi and decided to get there via Istanbul. It was the most acceptable choice — faster and cheaper than via Kiev, for instance.

So we selected this variant. Turkish Airlines fly from almost all main European airports, and their hub locates in Istanbul. Then they sort out who and where travels next. The stopover was just 1,5 hours to Batumi and 50 minutes on the inbound flight. This short stopover turned to be a problem. That is why I decided to share this experience. I was late for the connected flight and had to spend 12 hours in Istanbul.

In Batumi we were told that we can’t depart yet as they can’t accept us in Istanbul. We were late for 15–20 minutes and I had only 50 minutes for changing planes. I checked in online and hoped I was on time. But I wasn’t.

When you go boarding, they announce for transfer passengers, for instance: flight to Berlin, gate number something. You understand you would be expected even if something would go wrong. It happened to me that I wasn’t even checked in, and the officials wrote my boarding pass just by hand, met right near the arriving board, took along to the departing one, and I flew out.

So, the gate number was announced. Finally, I was late for 7–10 minutes only, but the gate was already closed, and I realized that I have to stay for the night in Istanbul. I was lucky because at the transfer desk I met a guy whom I had seen in the airplane. I understood that he tried to go to Berlin, too. He also turned to be a DJ.

We got acquainted, he saw my suitcase, asked whether I’m a DJ, we fell into talk. We were at once offered to stay at hotel and get transfer to and from it. I wasn’t pleased to stay in Istanbul for a night, but there was no choice.

Actually, I was lucky because this guy had sets in Istanbul before. He knew some promoters. We called them. Then we went for a walk, saw some tourist streets, hopped to the bar. So I managed to carry off the time spent in Istanbul, because it’s clearly nothing interesting just to sit in the hotel.

What about previous experience and advice how to spend time if you have a long stopover…

Of course, first of all, if possible, go to the city. You should calculate everything in advance and check in for your flight online. With the seat. Sometimes you can check in online and still not get a seat. This happens. If this is the situation, I do not recommend to leave the airport. If you don’t get a seat an overbooking might be a problem for you. In this case, it’s better to come an hour before the boarding starts.

If going to the city is impossible, I recommend to provide yourself with good movies. This is an important moment. Airports not always have free Wi-Fi, especially European ones. And if they do have it, it is quite slow, so it’s hard to expect you manage to download something. Online streaming is also unreliable.

Surely, it is convenient to have some kind of cushion as you always want to lie down and nap for 2–3 hours after the flight. The seats in good airports usually don’t have elbows, so you can lie down. I had an experience of sleeping on the floor — it’s quite okay, not too cold. You can sleep or just sit down.

But the most pleasant entertainment at the airport, as for me, is eating tasty food. Often it’s expensive, and good food is available not in all airports. For instance, in Terminal C in Tegel. There is nothing to eat there. You can’t buy anything but bratwursts and cola. Or maybe a panini made 3 days before.

I work with a computer often, so I always know how to spend my time at a profit: I can begin working. When I know I’m going to sit at the airport for a long time, I even leave some work for it on purpose. You can get prepared for the show. Because writing music at the airport… as for me, it’s some kind of perversion. Maybe you can make some sketches, but full-fledged composing with all this noise is impossible.

Michael Miroshkin — interior designer (Geometrix Design)

Live broadcast from Copenhagen airport

When traveling with a little child you are a bit afraid of a long stopover. But we were lucky to have spent the whole day at Copenhagen airport! Here is a separate child zone around 300 square meters in area with lots of toys and activities — slopes, iPads, constructors, and so on. Special wickets prevent children from running away, and parents can have a nap nearby. Strongly recommend. Some photos:

Vadim Shevchenko – RED BULL

Something about stopovers and how to make them comfortable. Some basic things first.

It is better when your flights with stopovers are issued as a single ticket. It is possible when both airlines you fly with are members of the same alliance (SkyTeam, SkyAlliance, OneWorld, etc.). In this case, if the first connection flight is delayed or canceled, your chances to get to the final destination without losses would raise significantly.

Do not avoid loyalty programs of the airlines: the miles collected via them would sooner or later turn to a free ticket, and after reaching an “elite” status you would get an access to business lounges which would make your life in the airport much more comfortable. Moreover, the airlines are more loyal to loyal passengers which would raise your chances in case of mishaps.

And now about the stopovers.

  • 1–2 hours — enough time to warm up a bit in the airport, have a bite, smoke a cigarette (it is not permitted everywhere, though).
  • 3–4 hours — the least convenient terms. Too little time to go to the city, enough time to get bored.
  • 5–10 hours — you can go for a walk if you have a visa of the country of stopover. You can leave your heavy bag in the locker room. Note the time you would spent for the trip from the airport to the city center and leave this time plus 30 minutes for the return trip. If you don’t have a visa then explore the airport.
  • 12 hours and more — several airlines (Qatar, for instance) provide a free hotel for the passengers with long stopovers. Others give coupons to enter a special lounge where you can have a bite. Inquire all the available options on the website of the airline before you depart.

My favorite airports:

Schiphol (Amsterdam).

This is probably my European favorite. It is enormous but really convenient, with perfect navigation. Actually, there is no reasons to get out of it — it has everything. There are two hotels (conventional and capsule), several spas, library, children’s playroom and countless shops, cafes and other duty-free entertainments. Among other special things, there are a fine cheese shop and a smoking room in Irish Pub where you can combine the harmful with the harmful. But if you have a Schengen visa, it is worth going to the city for a while. If you are not slow you can get from the airplane to Amsterdam Centraal railway station in approximately 40 minutes.

Hamad (Qatar).

The old Qatar terminal was quite gloomy, but the new one really boggles the mind. It seems there is everything you could dream about, and this “everything” is created with the Oriental swing and luxury. You can see examples of the monumental contemporary art — Urs Fischer’s Lamp Bear in the central hall, Tom Klaassen’s Oryx in the arrival hall. Works by Damien Hirst and other contemporaries are hiding somewhere nearby.

Everything is made for your comfort: a lot of “quiet rooms” to take a rest, smoking rooms, shower, pray rooms, incredible diversity of premium lounges. Silver card gives access to the lounge with cozy sofas, snacks and shower, golden card leads you to personal cabins for rest and free alcohol. Some lounges (Oryx Lounges) charge an admission fee — about $60. There is a hotel in the airport, and if your stopover is long, the airline often grants a hotel in the city and free round-trip transfer.

By the way, Qatar Airways miles (the airline is in OneWorld alliance) could be spent right in the airport. The card of the airline is accepted in any Duty Free. So if you do not plan to save miles for a premium ticket, the miles for one round trip would bring you a bottle of good whiskey.

One more life hack from this airport: in Qatar, they ignore the prohibition to take liquids in the hand luggage. Presumably, they are not afraid of terrorists being situated in the very heart of the Islamic world. So you should not worry about your expensive SPF in the beauty bag or about a bottle from the previous airport Duty Free not covered in plastic. They won’t take them away :)

My next favorite airport is not built yet but I already dream to get there. The new terminal in Beijing was designed by one of the greatest architects of modern world, Zaha Hadid.

Authors: Valeriy Bespalov and Kirill Khomko




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