Can You Leave the Airport During a Layover?


Man and women in a car with hardside suitcases in the back seat

When searching for flights, typically, the goal is to avoid layovers. Sometimes, however, a connection on the way to or from your destination is inevitable. While the average layover is only a couple of hours, an extended wait between connecting flights adds an extra layer to your plans.

There are plenty of reasons you might end up with a long layover. Flights with significantly cheaper fares often come with extended layovers. You might be loyal to an airline with limited flight options to and from your final destination. Maybe your stopover is in a city you’d like to explore, or near family you would like to visit. Or perhaps you just want a break between two long flights because you’re traveling internationally.

Factors to consider before leaving the airport during a layover

If you have an excessive layover time you may be wondering: Can I leave the airport between connecting flights? The short answer is yes. It is possible to exit and reenter the airport. Whether or not you should depends on a range of factors, including if you’re traveling internationally or domestically and how much time you have between flights. Here are a few layover flight “rules” you should consider:

1. How long is your layover?

Time is the number one factor to consider when deciding whether leaving the airport during a layover is feasible. Consider the time it will take to deboard the plane, exit the airport, secure transportation, do everything you want to do at your layover destination, and then travel back to the airport, go through security, and navigate the airport to your departure gate. Remember to consider the unexpected. Traffic jams or similar delays can leave you scrambling to meet your flight or, in a worst-case scenario, miss it completely.

2. Can you leave the airport during an overnight layover?

Overnight layovers are an ideal time to leave the airport. No layover flight rules say you have to curl up on a chair by your departure gate to catch some sleep. Plan to secure lodging and schedule transportation to get you to the airport on time in the morning. You’ll feel refreshed and ready to travel, which no one has ever felt after spending the night in a departure lounge.

3. Can you leave the airport during a layover while traveling on a domestic flight?

As a U.S. citizen, it’s easy to leave the airport when traveling within the country, as there is no need to worry about going through customs and immigration. Plan to be back at the airport two hours before your connecting flight, to give you plenty of time to get through security and find your departure gate.

To help you avoid delays, download your airline’s app or sign up for text message updates to stay notified of any travel delays or changes pertaining to your next flight. The TSA precheck program allows you to move through security faster for domestic flights, helping you reach your departure gate in plenty of time.

4. Can you leave the airport during a layover while traveling on an international flight?

Leaving the airport during an international layover is possible but can be more complicated. Depending on the layover country, layover flight rules may require you to secure a visa before being allowed to venture out of the airport. You will have to go through customs and immigration upon exiting the airport and on your return.

If you choose to leave the airport during an international flight, be sure to be back at the airport at least three hours before your flight to allow time for customs and immigration as well as check-in and security.  If you are an American and your connecting flight returns you to the USA, Global Entry lets you breeze through customs.

5. How will you manage your luggage?

When flying domestically, your checked bags are tagged at the check-in counter and routed to the final destination on your ticket. If you’re on an international trip connecting through a country that requires you to clear customs, you’ll have to collect your luggage, go through customs, and then check in your luggage all over again.

How your baggage is handled affects whether you can leave the airport during your layover. When your baggage is transferred directly from one plane to another, you can leave the airport with only your carry-on luggage with a minimum of fuss. If, however, you have to collect your baggage before going through customs, the situation changes. Exploring the local sights during a long layover becomes much less appealing if you have to haul full suitcases around at the same time. Many airlines will only check-in luggage a few hours before flight times, so you can’t just check in your luggage and spend the day out and about.

There is a solution to this problem if you are willing to travel light: travel with just a carry-on and personal item instead.

Platinum Elite Carry son spinner and carry on regional duffel sitting next to bed in bedroom

If you take these flight layover rules into account, there’s no reason you shouldn’t leave the airport during the layover. Just keep an eye on the time, and use your airline's travel app to track changes to flight times and possible delays. Happy traveling!

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