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What is a layover? How it differs from a stopover, more flight term meanings explained

  • March 19, 2023

If you’re not flying nonstop to your destination, you probably have a layover. Or, you might have a stopover. Or, you might just have a direct flight with a stop.


That’s OK, that’s why we’re here.

Stops, layovers and stopovers are three different ways your flights can be broken up, and it’s a good idea to know what’s part of your itinerary, because it can change both what you’re able to do with the time between legs and what protections are available to you if something goes wrong during your trip.

According to Loulu Lima, founder of the Texas-based travel agency Book Here Give Here, layovers are typically just a few hours and designed to give you some breathing room while changing planes, but stopovers are longer, sometimes days-long pauses between flights to give you a chance to explore an extra destination as part of your trip.

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► Long layovers approach stopover territory, which is, essentially, an even longer layover.

“A stopover is a legal stop (to) your trip,” Lima said. “I’ll use Icelandair as an example … They have the ability for you to say, make a stop in Iceland for a couple of days before you move onto another destination.” 

Lima added that with official layovers and stopovers, passengers typically have some level of protection if something goes wrong. For example, if the first flight on your itinerary is delayed or canceled and you miss the connection, airlines will have to reaccommodate you. However, she said, travelers sometimes create their own layovers or stopovers by buying tickets on different airlines or buying flights separately even on the same carrier, but on unlinked reservations. In those cases, she said, you can be on your own if something goes wrong.

“If one of those legs is not on the same ticket and something happens to my flight and I miss the other one, I’m not protected,” Lima said. “You’re truly at the mercy of the airlines.”

She’ll sometimes book unofficial layovers or stopovers for clients who want to visit extra cities on their trips, but Lima said she’s always careful to build in a buffer and educate the travelers about what could happen if something goes wrong in those cases. 

How do airlines decide where to fly?

“That just means you unfortunately have made your trip a little longer,” Lima said.

Southwest Airlines and Breeze Airways are the airlines that are most known for having direct flights with stops on their schedules these days, with Breeze’s direct stopping flights branded as “BreezeThru” service. 

Zach Wichter is a travel reporter based in New York. You can reach him at

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