As a frequent traveler, I’ve been on layovers quite a few times. Most people who haven’t traveled that much don’t understand when their luggage needs to be rechecked, and when not.
“Do I have to recheck my luggage on international flights?” isn’t a simple yes and no question, because it heavily depends on the specific situation. In fact, I get questions about this all the time, so I decided to write a dedicated guide.
In this guide, I’ll answer this question in addition to a few other related ones.
What Is a Layover Flight?
For those that don’t know what a layover or a connecting flight really is, I’ll give a brief explanation.
Layovers are pretty common for cheap, long-distance flights. A layover happens whenever you’re flying with two or more airlines and have to stop at an airport somewhere along the way. When the time between both flights is short (30min – 4h), it’s usually referred to as a connection or a connecting flight, and when it’s longer (4h – 24h), it’s usually called a layover or a stopover.
If the layover happens to be in the same country you departed from, you’ll most likely end up in a transfer area. You won’t have to pass through immigration or security, and you won’t have to check-in again.
However, when you’re flying with different airlines or flying internationally, the layover process will be a bit longer. During the layover, you’ll most likely have to collect your bags, go through immigration, security, and then check-in again for your next flight.
Essentially, there are two types of layovers. The first one happens when you’ve bought a single ticket from an airline or a broker, which includes a layover. These layovers are easier because you’ll have clear instructions on what to do. And the second one happens when you’ve planned the layover yourself by purchasing tickets separately. In the second case, you’ll have to do everything yourself – research whether you need a transit visa, plan enough time for the layover, re-check your bags, e.t.c.
How to Know When You Won’t Have to Recheck Your Luggage
The best way to make sure that you won’t have to recheck your luggage is to ask an airline employee. When you’re checking-in your bag, the employee will attach a label to the handle with information on where the bag is heading to.
If, for instance, you’d be flying New York – Amsterdam – London, you should make sure that the label says London. If the label would say Amsterdam, you’d have to recheck your bag in Amsterdam.
Even if you’ve bought two separate tickets with different airlines (For instance, New York – Nashville with Delta, and Nashville – Dallas with United), most of the times both airlines have interline agreements. This means that both airlines have agreed to transfer checked luggage automatically, even if the tickets were purchased separately. You would check-in your bag in New York, and receive it at Dallas.
How to Know When You’ll Have to Recheck Your Luggage
Usually, passengers don’t have to recheck their bags when they’re flying domestically. The sole purpose of rechecking is for the customs to make sure that you’re not bringing in anything illegal from another country, like perishable foods, or plants. If your destination is in the same country, there’s no need for it.
The only instance where you’d have to recheck your bag when flying domestically is if both airlines didn’t have an interline agreement. But that’s rare because most airlines have these agreements.
If, however, you’ll be flying internationally, the story is much different. It heavily depends on which countries you’ll be flying through.
If you’re connecting in the U.S., they require everyone from international flights to re-check their baggage upon the first landing point. For instance, if you’d be flying Paris – New York – Dallas, you’d have to pick up your bag in New York, go through the customs, and then drop off your bag again for your next flight to Dallas.
Other countries, like Australia, don’t require you to re-check your luggage when you’re connecting internationally but do when you’re connecting domestically. For instance, if you’d be flying Singapore – Sidney – Wellington, you wouldn’t have to re-check your bag in Sidney, because your next destination is New Zealand. If, however, you’d be flying Singapore – Sidney – Melbourne, you’d have to re-check your bag at Sidney.
In Europe, usually, you’ll have re-check your bags only if your destination airport doesn’t have customs. For instance, if you’d fly New-York – Amsterdam – Girona (Smaller Spanish airport without customs near Barcelona), you’d have to re-check your bag in Amsterdam, because Girona doesn’t have customs facilities. If, however, you’d be flying New York – Amsterdam – Barcelona, you wouldn’t have to re-check your bags at Amsterdam, because Barcelona has customs facilities.
And when you’re flying through other countries, especially if the connection airports are small, it’s best to assume that you’ll have to recheck your bag at every connection. So if you’re purchasing tickets separately, make sure that the connection times are long enough.
Should You Short-Check Your Luggage?
If the layover is long enough, sometimes airline employees will allow you to “short-check” your checked bag, which means that it won’t be checked-in to the final destination. Essentially, short-checking means intentionally rechecking your luggage during a layover.
Short-checking is useful if the layover is long enough and you’ve got plans to do something during the layover. If, for instance, you’d have a layover in Berlin, where you’ve scheduled a meeting, you might need access to your suit from your checked suitcase’s suiter compartment. In this situation, you should ask the airline employee if it’s possible to short-check your bag to Berlin because you’ll need access to your checked luggage.
Personally, I always pack everything that I’ll need during a layover in my carry-on and avoid short-checking when possible.
What to Do with Checked Bags in Overnight Layovers
Essentially, in overnight layovers, you’ve got two choices to choose from.
First, you could pack everything you’ll need (toiletries, spare clothing, electronics, and chargers) in your carry-on. And when checking-in your luggage, ask the airline employee to check the bag to your final destination. This is how I personally deal with overnight layovers.
Second, you could ask the airline employee to short-check your bag, and not worry about packing everything you’ll need in your carry-on. If you’re an over-packer or don’t have enough space left in your carry-on for overnight items, this option might be better.
Just remember that airline employees won’t always let you short-check your bag. If that’s the case, then tell the airline employee you’ll need to quickly re-pack your overnight items to your carry-on before checking-in the bag.
What to Do with Checked Luggage When Hopping off on Connecting Flights (Hidden City Ticketing)
Hidden city ticketing is a term used for describing situations when a passenger purchases tickets with a layover with the intention of leaving during the layover. Sometimes purchasing a ticket with a layover and leaving during the layover is cheaper compared to purchasing a single ticket. And because of this reason, hidden city ticketing has become pretty popular. Especially among young people who are trying to save some money.
Although hidden city ticketing isn’t illegal, it’s against airline policies. And because of that reason, sometimes airline employees will be hesitant to short-check your bags, thinking that you might leave mid-way.
If you intend to hop off during a layover, you should travel without checked luggage. If you’ll be traveling with checked luggage and the airline will refuse to short-check your bag, you pretty much still have to go to the final destination.
If you’d leave without your checked bag, the airline would know that there is a checked suitcase onboard without an owner, un-load the bag, and call the security. Then, the security would look for you and interrogate you because of bomb threats. The flight would be delayed, and you could even get into the ‘no-fly-list,’ which would ban you from future flights. So it’s a wise idea to instead just fly to your final destination when an airline refuses to short-check your bag.
What’s the Minimum Layover Time When Traveling with Checked Luggage?
The ABSOLUTE minimum time you’d need for a short layover is 30 minutes for domestic flights and 60 minutes for international flights. Assuming you’d arrive on time, you wouldn’t have to recheck your luggage, and the customs and security lines would be short, you’d make your next flight on time.
That said, I would never book a flight with such short layovers. I recommend booking flights with 2-hour layovers for domestic flights and 3-hour layovers for international flights. Most people who travel frequently generally agree with this rule, and some even prefer to add an additional hour to the layover.
You should allow so much time for layovers because often planes get delayed for 20-60 minutes. I’d say that from my own experience, this happens maybe once in every four flights. Also, sometimes you could face double security, or the security and customs lines could be very long.
I like to freshen-up, breathe some fresh air, and have a meal during a layover. Having this much time avoids much of the stress that you would otherwise have.