Flying Direct v. Layovers

Is it better to break up a long trip with a layover enroute, or tough it out and take a long (but nonstop) flight?

We generally recommend a direct flight if possible.

Yeah, it costs more, but stopovers/layovers mean there is an additional chance for weather and mechanical delays, a second chance for the airline to lose your luggage, another opportunity for a third country immigration or security clerk who just had a fight with his spouse to take it out on you and another international airport where you don't have the right kind of coins to buy juice.

A word on terminology and yes, this will be on the test.

Direct and non-stop aren't always the same thing. Airlines can call a flight “direct” if it keeps the same number. It can change aircraft. Ask if the “direct” flight is also non-stop.

Are We There Yet?

A long flight is still long, but, since you are with the same cabin crew for the duration, you can lay out your needs and then get used to what you get, rather than start anew every eight hours. The numbing mantra of “Are we there yet?” queries get sharper with layovers, as it is obvious to even a three year old that you have gotten to SOMEWHERE once the plane stops.

If you do need to layover, do it in a place that is kid-friendly. We had a great time at the kids' play area at Chicago O'Hare. The play area is located in Terminal Two, with lots of signs to help you find it.

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The climb-on, play-on displays are all flight-themed. Kids can handle luggage and weigh themselves, climb around on a large wooden airplane and wrestle, tumble or do flips on the carpet. The area has a low wooden wall, about knee high on a grownup, so it is easy to watch the kiddies. The area seems aimed at older pre-school to elementary school aged kids. The little ones can have fun but you'll need to watch them more closely, while older kids will likely end up bored.

O'Hare is probably also the only airport with its own full-size dinosaur skeleton on display. Ask for the current location after landing. Also, the bones are not real but certainly look real enough to a kid and all non-paleontologist adult travelers.

A Word from the Opposition—HAH!

Proponents (typically hip travel magazine writers who still believe kids will use the little waxy bags when they get sick to their stomachs; ours always blew chunks right after saying “Mommy, I don't feel well… (SPLASH!”) will tell you that layovers give kids a chance to stretch their legs and run off some pent-up energy.

If you have been successful in tiring a child over say three years old out in an airport, email me and we'll line you up with a nanny job that would make Mary Poppins green with envy. In addition, all that running around stuff will be occurring in an airport in a place you are unlikely to be familiar with, meaning one or more parents will need to be awake, alert and in motion to avoid international incidents as the child runs about (if Madeline Albright is on your flight, skip that last bit as she'll take care of you).

If you've read all the advice columns, you have likely also prepared all sorts of goodies to entertain your children in flight. Why would your obligation to amuse, educate and entertain cease simply because you are sitting in a transit lounge in Bolivia versus sitting in a coach class seat at 40,000 feet?

To be fair, one reader does speak well of layovers—
bq. As a mother of two who often travels alone with my two children (now 3 and 10 months), one thing I can say in favor of layovers is it gives the three year old and me a chance to go to the bathroom with the baby in the stroller, leaving my hands free to deal with the 3 year old. Also, airport bathrooms are a way better place to change a baby than 40,000 feet up where it seems few airlines have any facilities for this purpose. (Of course, these facts would not stop me from booking a nonstop flight if one were available!)—Shauna

A Last Few Words

Lastly, think of this: layovers mean the actual trip will take even longer from door-to-door. Why would you want the trip to actually take longer?

See you in the boarding lounge!

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