Wherever we may travel, navigating layovers in unfamiliar international airports can be a little bit daunting – and sometimes, boring. For those who often travel, whether for business or pleasure, enduring the layover is a part of the deal. But for those who seldom step foot into an airport, the time in limbo may be more difficult to pass.
If you find yourself watching the clock or pacing in your departure terminal, the minutes until takeoff may seem to tick by at a glacial pace. Instead of dreading this time between flights, why not get creative and make the most of your layover?
To spark some ideas that may help you enjoy the journey toward your final destination, we surveyed 932 people who’ve had a layover between international flights in the past year. From eating gourmet meals to shopping the duty-free stores or even getting a full night’s sleep, we’ve discovered the best ways to pass the time – and the airports where time seems to fly.
The Shorter, the Better?
Overall, only 16 percent of survey participants enjoyed layovers. This might not be too surprising since a layover can be just one more obstacle between you and your dream vacation, job interview, or pets and loved ones.
However, not everyone wanted to rush the layover process: According to our respondents, the ideal layover time was an hour and 24 minutes. Millennials surveyed may view layovers as more of a hassle, since their average ideal layover was just an hour and 22 minutes. Compare that to baby boomers, who said their ideal time was just over an hour and a half.
That time preference crossed countries, too. Those in the U.K. preferred a longer layover than Americans; the difference was 14 minutes.
When it comes to traveling via direct flight, would you pay more? Or do you value money over time? American respondents would pay up to an additional $115 to travel nonstop, compared to those in the U.K. who’d be willing to cough up an additional $85 to avoid a layover.
Run for It
Catching a connection is sometimes out of your control and contingent on the timeliness of the first flight. Delayed departures, crew switches, weather, gate changes, and technical issues are just a few of the things that can throw a wrench in your trip. While only 28 percent of travelers said they missed a connecting flight, some had a slightly higher chance of getting left behind.
The most common reason for missing a flight was a previous plane delay. In second place was a long deplane on the previous flight. However, even those who preferred to keep their layovers over two hours were most at risk of experiencing other mishaps with missed connections like early departures, changing gates, sitting in the back of a plane, or switching airlines.
Flying internationally for some can cause anxiety over passing through customs, dealing with security personnel, communicating in foreign languages, missing a flight, and getting lost in an airport. Again, those who preferred longer layovers were more likely to miss flights due to getting lost, at a nearly 18 percent occurrence. By contrast, only 9 percent of those who liked scheduling less than one hour between flights missed flights for that reason.
When it comes to making connections, a little advanced planning and preparation can go a long way. However, even the most organized among us still may have to dash through the airport tripping over luggage while the gate attendant calls your name over the intercom. Keep reading to find out the airports you might actually want to take your time exploring on your next layover.
Looking Forward to the Layover
While only 16 percent of respondents said they enjoy layovers, the airport in which they experience their downtime may help to raise travelers’ feelings of contentment. According to our survey participants, Tokyo’s Narita International Airport topped our list. Here, 78 percent of travelers said they mostly or greatly enjoyed their time between flights.
South Korea’s Incheon International Airport came in second, with 73 percent of travelers mostly or greatly enjoying their layover. In 2018, this Asian hub added a stunning new terminal to welcome athletes and spectators to the Pyeongchang Olympics, complete with high-efficiency security screening technologies and breathtaking art installations.
The world’s third busiest airport for international travelers also ranked in the top 15 airports for layovers. Dubai International Airport served just over 88 million people in 2017, a 5.5 percent increase from 2016.
To see the ranking of all 50 airports included in this study, scroll down to our interactive table.
Enjoy Delicious Cuisine
Although bringing snacks on a long journey may help you feel healthier or save money, you may want to actually treat yourself to a meal at some of the airports on our list.
Again, Narita International Airport in Tokyo took the top spot, with nearly 93 percent of its travelers satisfied with the restaurants available. Business Insider named the airport the 14th best airport in the world in 2017, partially due to its numerous food offerings.
Even if you’ve only got a few minutes in the airport, you still have ample opportunity to enjoy Japanese favorites, like ramen, udon, and sushi. Nanosato’s menu is full of homestyle Japanese dishes, and even the local airport staff fill the queue at this eatery. If you’re looking for sushi during your stop, be sure to try Sushi Yuraku. They source their fish locally from the Tokyo Bay.
Among the American airports, Denver International came out on top in our study. If you’re lucky enough to have a layover in this mountainous Western city, be sure to check out Root Down DIA in Terminal C, especially if you’re in need of a cocktail. Root Down is one of Denver’s favorite eateries, and you can enjoy its locally sourced menu for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
If you’re looking for special dietary options such as gluten- or dairy-free, kosher, or halal, London Heathrow is the place to be. Caffe Nero provides many of these options, although each terminal should have something to please those with specific needs. The airport also provides mums with baby-friendly food items such as snacks and formula.
Another part of international travel is safety. When you traverse an airport, do you feel safe enough to relax and enjoy your time, or is your body in fight or flight mode, scanning for an emergency?
Along with its high passenger satisfaction in dining, Tokyo yet again scored the highest for passengers’ feelings of safety. Of the 932 passengers surveyed, over 97 percent of travelers felt safe while waiting during a layover, followed by American hubs Orlando, Charlotte, and Denver.
SkyTrax named Tokyo No.1 in 2018 for the world’s best airport security screenings, which could contribute to how safe travelers feel here. Centrair Nagoya and Copenhagen were listed at the second and third spots, respectively. Despite its high-security measures, though, Tokyo’s Narita International had its share of incidents in 2018 such as a bomb scare in September that closed one of its two runways for close to three hours.
Similarly, Orlando International canceled flights when an overheated camera battery gave off popping noises resembling gunshots. USA Today said 24 flights were canceled and passengers were evacuated, resulting in long lines at security checkpoint locations.
Top Terminal Pastimes
Whether you have two hours or six to hang around the airport, you may want to grab a bite to eat, catch up on work, make a phone call, or do some shopping. By far, the top layover activity was eating, so choosing an airport with great food options is a benefit for most travelers.
However, U.K. and American respondents differed in their preferred activities. Brits were more likely to use that time to nap, see the surrounding city, and lighten their wallets with some duty-free shopping. Americans were more likely to stay busy working on a computer or talking on the phone.
Some airports offer more unusual and exciting ways to pass the time. For instance, Singapore’s Changi Airport has a selection of gardens, theaters, and a swimming pool that is complete with a hot tub. Dubai International Airport can also provide travelers with a particularly lavish layover experience. Here, travelers can enjoy gourmet seafood, luxury shopping, and Zen gardens. Additionally, if you’ve got a few hours to a full day between flights, there’s an easy-to-use metro line that runs right into the heart of the city.
Nearly 30 percent of the travelers surveyed said that if they had the option, they’d choose to use their layover time exploring the surrounding city. If you’re lucky enough to have a stopover at Dubai International, you’re just 20 minutes away from the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa.
Other people surveyed said they’d prefer to catch up on sleep, go shopping, or take a refreshing shower, all of which are possible options at Dubai International.
Curious about where your home airport falls in our rankings? Explore the interactive table above to see which ones came out on top – and bottom.
While layovers are often unavoidable on the longest of trips, there are definitely certain stops that are a welcome addition to your itinerary. Whether it’s a layover or a final destination, make Dubai a part of your next trip so you can see why Dubai International Airport is one of the best launch pads to almost any location on the globe.
If you’ve transited through Dubai and are wondering what it would be like to make this city your home – or home away from home – Bayut can help you find the perfect place. No matter how long you plan to stay, we have the largest selection of luxurious apartments, homes, and villas available for rent in Dubai on a weekly, monthly, or yearly basis or invest in an apartment in Dubai to benefit from the amazing ROIs the emirate has to offer.
This study was conducted using both Amazon’s Mechanical Turk and Prolific. We surveyed 510 American residents and 422 British residents. To qualify for the study, participants had to have flown internationally in the past year. Additionally, those who never made connections between flights were not qualified.
50.3% of participants were female, 49.4% were male, and fewer than 1% were nonbinary. The average age of our participants was 35.6 with a standard deviation of 11.6 and a range of 18 to 73 years old.
We included the top 30 airports in the U.S. for passenger boardings in 2017, the top 20 international airports for passenger boardings in 2017, and the top 10 U.K. airports for passenger boardings. However, airports with fewer than 26 respondents who traveled through them were not included in our analysis.
Fourteen of the airports included in our study were not included in our final visualizations because they lacked sufficient sample sizes (26 respondents who’d transited through them):
- Portland International Airport (PDX)
- Bristol Airport (UK)
- London-Luton Airport (UK)
- Taipei Taoyuan International Airport (TPE)
- San Diego International Airport (SAN)
- Glasgow Airport (UK)
- Edinburgh Airport (UK)
- Belfast International Airport (UK)
- Tampa International Airport (TPA)
- London Stansted Airport (UK)
- Vancouver International Airport (YVR)
- Birmingham Airport (UK)
- Manchester Airport (UK)
- Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC)
Additionally, we included 10 more United States airports than airports from all other countries combined. Given this, U.S. airports were more likely to appear in the top 15 lists.
This study relies on self-reported data from our participants. This means there could be issues with the information provided, such as exaggeration, simplification, or forgetfulness, among others.
Data were neither weighted nor statistically tested and are purely for exploratory purposes.
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