Why You Shouldn't Leave The Airport During A Long Layover

Long flight layovers present travel's biggest gamble. You can roll the dice, leave the airport, and dip your adventurer's toes into an unexplored city with the intent to comfortably return for wheel's up. Or, you can choose not to gamble, stay at the airport, maybe grab a bite to eat, and begin a hours-long, airside roost as comfortably as possible.

While staying at the airport isn't the exciting option, it's definitely the safer one. Although airlines must provide adequate time between connecting flights, they're under no obligation to assist you if you miss a connecting flight due to adventure and bad time management. Of course, you'll ultimately decide if the opportunity is worth the risk. But the risk is real.

The specific airport, your time window, and type of flight will all inform your decision to leave or stay. However, if there's even a small chance you'll miss your connection, we recommend you err on the side of caution. Typically, the risk just outweighs the reward.

Is the risk (and hassle) really worth it

First, let's talk about the reward. Hypothetically, you have a five-hour layover and want to leave. In the best possible scenario, there will be a metro line running from the airport to the city center (or somewhere worth exploring). While each airport-to-downtown connection will differ by city, most metro lines will take you at least 30 minutes each way. That's an hour.

If you're traveling internationally, you'll probably go through customs twice (leaving and coming back), which we'll estimate takes 30 minutes each time. That's another hour. Upon returning to the airport, you'll need to go through security and find the connecting flight's gate. We'll give this process an additional hour.

You've already allocated three hours solely to the process of coming and going, leaving you two hours to explore the city's downtown area. Is that three hours of navigation worth the two hours of sightseeing?

And that's if absolutely everything goes perfectly. Have you ever missed your stop on a new metro line? Been in a customs queue for over 30 minutes? With so many variables, your layover's time window can easily start to crack. Even if you do make it back in time, navigating a foreign place while super stressed is no fun.

Take a nap or explore the airport's amenities

Again, this depends completely on the airport, but some airports are definitely worth checking out. You can stroll through the orchid gardens at Singapore's Changi Airport, lounge poolside at Munich Airport, and explore the Museum of Korean Culture at Incheon Airport. While not every airport will boast incredible amenities, most major cities have invested heavily in upgrading their airports over the last few years.

And let's face it. If you're traveling with a long layover, you're most likely already road weary. While it may be tempting to leave the airport, if only to break up the slog of air travel, taking a nap is a more restful idea. Fortunately, most international airports now feature sleeping pods, allowing you to rent a little oasis by the hour.

In almost all cases, the reward of exploring a city during a long layover isn't worth the risk and/or hassle. In reality, you probably won't have time to visit that popular museum, take a guided tour, or eat at the well-known restaurant. Even if you can, it's hard to enjoy these activities with a clicking clock in the background. While it may be hard to admit, there's actually nothing wrong with accepting and enjoying a long, relaxing layover in the airport.