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Can I Leave the Airport During a Layover? [Insider Tips and Tricks]

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James Larounis
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James Larounis

Senior Content Contributor

554 Published Articles 1 Edited Article

Countries Visited: 30U.S. States Visited: 35

James (Jamie) started The Forward Cabin blog to educate readers about points, miles, and loyalty programs. He’s spoken at Princeton University and The New York Times Travel Show and has been quoted in...
Edited by: Keri Stooksbury
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Keri Stooksbury

Editor-in-Chief

35 Published Articles 3236 Edited Articles

Countries Visited: 47U.S. States Visited: 28

With years of experience in corporate marketing and as the executive director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Qatar, Keri is now editor-in-chief at UP, overseeing daily content operations and r...

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After a long flight, you’ll want nothing more than to grab some fresh air and leave the airport, even if you have an onward connecting flight to your final destination. While there are certainly some perks to leaving the airport on a layover, it’s not always the best idea.

In this guide, we’ll discuss why you might want to leave the airport, when it’s a good idea, when it’s a bad idea, and the strategies to help streamline your layover should you decide to leave the airport.

Why You May Want To Leave the Airport

There are many reasons why you may want to leave the airport during a layover, but here are some of the more common ones:

  • During an extended layover, sightsee in the city where you have the layover
  • During an overnight layover, sleep in a hotel before your onward flight the next day
  • During any layover, grab a bite and eat at a local restaurant
  • During any layover, get some fresh air and leave the terminal complex

Of course, you can purposely plan a longer layover to leave or plan an intentional overnight stay in the layover city, which is the best-case scenario.

In general, leaving the airport on a layover isn’t a “can you?” issue (you can), but rather a “should you?” issue.

Considerations When Leaving the Airport

There are many things to consider when deciding whether to leave the airport on a long layover.

  • How long is your layover?
  • What are the traffic conditions outside of the airport or the availability of public transit options?
  • How long are the security lines at the airport when you return?
  • Are there any specific logistical needs for your onward flight?

First, you need to consider how long your layover is. If it’s less than 2 hours, it’s generally not advised to leave the airport, as you won’t have enough time to pass through security coming back and won’t be able to make it anywhere worthwhile off-site. Since most flights board about a half hour before departure, sometimes longer if it’s a larger aircraft or international flight, passengers are advised not to leave the airport.

Even if you make it outside the airport, you need to worry about your accessibility to the city or whatever attraction you’re trying to see. Many airports aren’t accessible with good public transit, or there can be extensive traffic on the roads.

When you return to the airport, be aware of the potential for long security lines. Smaller airports, like regional airports that only accommodate smaller jets, typically have shorter security lines at all times. However, larger airports, such as Seattle Tacoma International Airport (SEA) or Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (ATL), which are known for their lengthy queues, can have extremely long wait times. Budget your time accordingly, and make sure you can return through security.

Charlotte Douglas International Airport CLT TSA PreCheck
Keep in mind that you’ll need to re-clear security if you leave the airport. Image Credit: Charlotte Douglas International Airport
Hot Tip:

Some airports have apps that allow you to track the length of security lines, check-in lines, and other points where you may need to wait. This can be particularly useful for monitoring when you need to return to the airport if you leave.

One of your other considerations needs to be the logistics of your connecting flight. You may need to participate in additional check-in formalities if it’s on another airline. If it’s a smaller commuter-type flight, it may be in a remote terminal that takes more time to get to.

If your layover is in an international city, you need to be sure you’re even allowed to leave the airport in the first place. Local or country regulations may not even allow this; even if it is, you may need a special visa or permit to visit that country. Leaving the airport on an international itinerary is much more complex, but it is certainly doable, depending on your trip.

Storing Luggage

If you’re going to head out, you’re certainly not going to want to take your bag with you. Some airports have luggage storage facilities, though most do not, thanks to security concerns post-9/11. If you’ve got a long enough layover, train stations usually have more luggage storage options.

Of course, you can also rent a car and leave your bags with the car, or perhaps work with a local hotel on storage.

Passing Through Customs on a Connecting Flight

People often wonder whether you need to pass through customs on a connecting flight in the U.S., which could influence your decision to leave the airport or not.

If you’re flying in from a U.S. destination connecting flight to an international flight, there is no exit control or customs before your departing flight. Because of this, there’s no need to arrive extra early before departure. Leave enough time to make it through general security.

If you arrive in the U.S. from an international destination without pre-clearance and then connect to a domestic U.S. flight, you must typically recheck your luggage and pass through customs and immigration at your entry point. You’ll then come out past security, where you’ll need to re-clear security again before your onward connection.

Hot Tip:

Please note that these policies only apply to U.S. airports. A different policy may apply if you’re connecting to or arriving at an international airport.

Final Thoughts

Leaving an airport on a layover can come with some challenges, but when planned right, it can provide an opportunity to get some fresh air and potentially see some of the connecting city. Be sure to check the security queues to see what wait times look like, and don’t underestimate crowds — things can get busy at a moment’s notice! The longer the layover, the better. This way, you don’t have to worry about rushing back to the airport or, worse yet, missing your flight.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it OK to leave the airport during a layover?

Depending on your time, it’s perfectly okay to leave the airport on a layover. Just ensure you have plenty of time to make it back.

How long of a layover is enough to leave?

If you’re leaving the airport, you might consider having a minimum of 4 hours between flights. This will allow plenty of time to grab a meal and return and pass through security.

Is it against the rules to get off at a layover?

In the U.S., leaving the airport during a layover is not illegal, though some international cities may have restrictions.

Can you leave airport after going through security?

Yes. Even if you go through security, you can always exit security, which you’d need to do on a longer layover if you wish to leave.

James Larounis's image

About James Larounis

James (Jamie) started The Forward Cabin blog to educate readers about points, miles, and loyalty programs. He’s spoken at Princeton University and The New York Times Travel Show and has been quoted in dozens of travel publications.

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