Keeping track of all the details of an international flight can be difficult, particularly if you’re taking one or two connecting flights or layovers. It’s even harder if you’re doing it for the first time. One of the main issues that usually come to mind during this time is your luggage! After all, your luggage is the second most valuable item on the flight (after yourself). People often wonder, if you’re going to stop for a significant period in between flights, what happens to your luggage? Is it automatically rerouted to your next air carrier, or are you expected to pick it up yourself and then recheck it in the new airport?
That’s where we come in. Below we’re going to cover all the bases regarding your luggage status during layovers and connecting flights.
What Is a Layover Flight?
For those that don’t know what a layover or a connecting flight is, here’s a brief explanation.
A layover happens whenever you’re flying with two or more airlines and are required to land at different airports 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. Layovers are pretty common for cheap, long-distance flights.
If the layover happens to be in the same country you departed from, you’ll most likely end up in a transfer area. This is convenient as it means you won’t have to pass through immigration or security, and you won’t have to check-in your suitcase 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’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 this will be a rare occurrence, as most airlines have these agreements nowadays.
If, however, you’ll be flying internationally, it’s likely going to be a different story. Though this can heavily depend 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 were 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 to re-check your bags only if your destination airport doesn’t have customs. For instance, if you were flying 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. You may also want to do some prior research pertaining to your layover destinations and specific airports, just to make sure you don’t get caught out.
How to Know When You Won’t Have to Recheck Your Luggage
Thankfully there’s a pretty simple way of confirming a luggage recheck. When you’re checking-in your bag, the airport employee will attach a label to the handle with information on where the bag is heading. If the label says that your checked bag is going to your final destination, not the layover, then you won’t have to recheck your luggage.
But if, for instance, you’ll be flying New York – Amsterdam – London, you should make sure that the label says London. If the label says Amsterdam, you’ll 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 time 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.
The Process of Rechecking Luggage During Layovers Explained
Now let’s say you found yourself in the slightly less convenient position we’ve discussed. You arrive in your layover country, and you’re ushered through customs and out into the luggage pickup area. Now you have to recheck your luggage in preparation for the next flight. Thankfully, it really isn’t as complicated as it might sound.
- First, keep an eye on the departure time of your next flight. If your layover lasts more than three hours, it’s unlikely you can check-in again on arrival. If that’s the case, I hope you packed a good book. Buy a coffee or snack, find a seat, and prepare to wait until your flight opens for check-in.
- Once the check-in desk opens, drop off your bags and pick up your boarding pass.
- Go through security screening as you normally would.
- Prepare to depart for your next flight!
Yes, it’s honestly that easy. When we’re unsure of a new situation we may find ourselves flustered and overestimating how complicated the situation really is. That’s definitely true here. Rechecking bags between flights may be an added task you don’t really want to do, but it’s hardly different from checking your bags in as you would on the first departing flight.
Do You Have to Pay Additional Fees When Rechecking Luggage?
No, you should never have to pay extra luggage fees, no matter how many times you check-in your luggage. The luggage fee you pay on purchasing your ticket applies to each segment of your itinerary. This means that whatever luggage deal you’ve purchased, your ticket costs cover every flight between your departure and arrival destinations.
This will be true regardless of what airline you are flying with. Meaning if you start on a Delta Airlines flight, only to transfer to a Lufthansa carrier, etc, you will not be expected to pay extra.
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 options 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 a situation wherein a passenger purchases tickets with layovers, but with the intention of leaving during the layover. Sometimes purchasing a ticket with a layover and leaving before the final destination is simply cheaper compared to purchasing a single ticket. Because of this reason of course, 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 is 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 refuses to short-check your bag, it puts you in the situation where you will have to go to the final destination.
If you do choose to leave without your checked bag, the airline will see that there is a checked suitcase onboard without an owner. They’ll unload the bag, and call security. This may mean that airport security track you down for interrogation on suspicion of a bomb threat. The flight will be delayed, and you could even get into the ‘no-fly-list,’ meaning you’ll be banned from future flights. Considering all of this, it’s probably a smarter idea to just continue to your final destination if staff will not short-check your luggage.
What’s the Minimum Layover Time When Traveling with Checked Luggage?
The ABSOLUTE minimum time you need for a short layover is 30 minutes for domestic flights and 60 minutes for international flights. Assuming you arrive on time, you won’t have to recheck your luggage, and the customs and security lines will be short enough that you’re sure to catch your next flight on time.
That being said, I never book flights 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 more time for layovers because often planes will be delayed for 20-60 minutes. I can say confidently from my own experience, that this happens maybe once in every four flights. Also, sometimes you may face double security, or security and customs lines could be unusually long on that particular day.
Personally I like to freshen-up, get some fresh air, and have a meal during an extra-long layover. Having this much free time can help you to avoid much of the stress that you might accumulate during transit.