What’s the Difference among Nonstop, Direct and Connecting Flights?

What’s the Difference Among the following types of flights by number of stop:

  • I. Nonstop
  • II. Connecting
  • III. Direct
  • Have you ever taken a flight you thought would fly you directly from A to B, but you found out later that there is a stop along the way?

    That’s likely because it’s not a nonstop flight.

    Is it then a direct flight? Not necessarily.

    So what’s the difference among nonstop, direct and connecting flights? Let’s have a look. This article will provide you with some examples and the reasons why you will opt one over the other.

    As the name implies, it does not stop anywhere. It’s from A to be without any stop in between.

    A British Airways flight from London-Heathrow to New York-JFK.

    Why choose nonstop?
    Time. A flight from A to B is definitely going to fly you quicker than something that looks like an A–>A1–>B, where A1 = stopover airport; in some cases, there may even be an A2, A3 and so on.

    If you are flying for a business meeting, nonstop is definitely the best option.

    Why do some airlines prefer to fly nonstop?

    From A to B, with one or more stops, let’s call them A1, A2….In short, it’s A–>A1–>B. Flight consists of two or more different flight numbers, likely using different planes.
    Passenger get off from the plane during layover.

    A British Airways flight from Prague to New York-JFK via London-Heathrow
    Note that you may disembark from one terminal of Heathrow and board the plane from another.

    Why choose a connecting flight?
    It’s usually cheaper than a nonstop flight. You get the perks of enjoying the facilities of the layover airport, perhaps squeeze in a quick city tour. Some passengers prefer multiple short flights over one very long flight. (Example: American Airlines flight from Los Angeles to New York-JFK via a stop in Dallas-Fort Worth)

    Q: Is a connecting flight necessarily be of the same airline?
    A: Most of the times, Yes. But there are times when a partner airline flies passengers from A1–>B. (Example: An Emirates flight between Delhi to the US via Dubai; Emirates flies you between Dubai and onward to New York-JFK, the JetBlue flies you the domestic leg from New York-JFK to Houston-Hobby. Of course, Emirates also flies nonstop between Dubai and Houston-Intercon).

    Q: Should I collect my baggages at the airport and check them in again?
    A: If it is with the same airline operator (e.g., British Airways all the way), then baggages are likely to be checked through. You get two boarding passes and you collect your baggages at final destination. If you’re not sure about this, ask the staff during your check-in from your airport of disembarkation (i.e., point A).

    Q: I was told My baggages are checked through. Why didn’t I get my boarding pass for my last flight?
    A: Likely because issuance of boarding pass for the last sector of your flight is not yet available or because you are flying two different airlines. For example, you are flying this itinerary:

    2 sectors:
    1st flight: Mumbai–>Singapore with Singapore Airlines
    2nd flight: Singapore–>Auckland with Air New Zealand
    This kind of itinerary usually issues multiple boarding passes from point of origin, in this case, in Mumbai. If not, get your final boarding pass when you stop by in Singapore at the transfer desk. You don’t need to collect your baggage in Singapore and check them in again. You will get them in Auckland.

    Q: In above example, what if I’m flying onward to Wellington? What difference does that make as regards my baggage collection?
    A: The big difference now is that the last sector of the flight is a domestic flight. You will need to clear immigration and customs at Auckland, collect your bag there and check it in again for the last domestic leg of the itinerary (Auckland-Wellington). Think about this: if the last part of your flight is domestic, you need to clear immigration and customs, collect your bags and check them in again.

    In an earlier example of Emirates-JetBlue flight, you will need to clear immigration and customs at JFK, collect your bags, then check them in again.

    Tip: Always clear immigration at the point when the international flight starts or ends. In above example from Mumbai, you will need to clear border control in Mumbai for departure then in Auckland for the arrival.

    On the way back, you will again need to clear immigration before you board your international flight (in Auckland, for above example). Good thing is, your bags will already be checked through. There’s no need to collect them again in Auckland to check them in again. Unless you are specifically advised to do so. But that’s unlikely.

    Exception: The Schengen area of Europe is considered as domestic. Example, when flying from Warsaw, Poland to Beijing, China via Frankfurt, Germany. Poland and Germany both belong to the Schengen region. So flying from Poland to Germany is like flying domestic from Auckland to Wellington or within the USA. Hence, you clear immigration where you leave the Schengen area – that is, in Frankfurt. Same thing when you fly back from Beijing to Frankfurt onward to Warsaw.

    Q: I purchased two separate roundtrip tickets online. First flight is Mumbai to Singapore with Air India then second is from Singapore to Sydney with Scoot. Do I need to collect my bags in Singapore and check them in again?
    A: Yes. You have two separate tickets and two separate itineraries. This is no different from visiting Singapore for few days then flying onward to Sydney. In fact, you paid for Singapore taxes that you need not do if you booked a single itinerary with Singapore as your stopover.

    Now our last type of flight:

    Not to be confused with a nonstop flight.
    It’s like a nonstop flight – one flight number, same aircraft, except that you have a stop along the way. It’s like a mix of nonstop and connecting flights.

    Example 1: A KLM flight from Amsterdam to Bali, Indonesia with one stop in Singapore, vice versa (Flight KL 835/836). KLM’s partner airline Air France codeshares in this flight. Only single boarding pass will be issued for this flight despite flying two sectors (Amsterdam to Singapore and Singapore to Bali). This flight, is in fact, marketed as an Amsterdam to Bali flight.

    Tip: In your ticket, it may not seem like you are stopping by somewhere. Read it carefully as it should say 1-stop in Singapore. You will need to get off the plane in Singapore taking all your belongings and carry on bags with you. No need to collect your checked in bags, and no need to clear customs and immigration even if the next flight is domestic. Plane will be cleaned, a new set of crew takes over, then passengers board into the same plane taking the same seat as the previous flight. So don’t forget to bid goodbye to your crew and thank them for the job well done.

    Exception: Some relatively short direct flights do not require you to leave the plane. For example, Turkish Airlines in the past, used to fly to Varna, Bulgaria via Constanta, Romania. Passengers flying onward to Varna were not required to disembark in Constanta. This is in fact a triangular route as TK flies Istanbul-Constanta-Varna-Istanbul in some days of the week, then Istanbul-Varna-Constanta-Istanbul. As this is such an interesting routing, we will look more closely at this on a separate article.

    Example 2: British Airways (BA) flight from London-Heathrow to Sydney vice versa (Flight BA15/BA16). Note that there are two daily BA flights between London and Singapore. So a passenger from London has two choices from London (BA11 and BA15), but one choice only onward from Singapore to Sydney (BA15). The BA15 flight is the same aircraft that flew from London as the same flight BA15. This is a direct flight between London and Sydney forming what is known as a kangaroo route (think of kangaroo doing 2 big leaps).

    If passengers took BA11 from London, they will need to transfer to BA15, it’s two different flights, of different aircraf. This is a connecting flight.

    BA11/BA12 is currently operated by the superjumbo Airbus 380 while BA15/BA16 by an older Boeing 777.

    Think about this: The two planes both depart in the evening from London, arrive in the afternoon next day in Singapore. While the big Momma Airbus 380 takes an over 7-hour beauty rest before she returns to London, its Boeing 777 cousin will only rest for 1 hour 35 minutes, and still have to do an extra trip to Sydney, even picking new passengers in Singapore. By around that time, another Boeing 777 which arrived in Singapore the day prior had also done the same and is already on her way back to Singapore from Sydney. That same B777 will rest just a little over an hour, pick some more passengers, offload some, and flies red-eye to London. It’s a cruel world, ain’t it? But planes are meant to be flying to make some money. A plane sitting at the airport is a plane losing money (read: airport parking fees).

    Q: That sounds complicated, why does British Airways do this? Any other option?
    A: While the answer can be equally complicated and may be somewhat political in nature, the good thing is that BA can ferry passengers nonstop between Singapore and Sydney, AU because of its fifth freedom rights entitlement. Hence by flying onward to Sydney, it completes the kangaroo route thus maximizing profit in this lucrative route and making extra revenue along the process by picking extra passengers in Singapore. Certainly better than just sitting there for few hours in Changi, Singapore.

    A future article about the kangaroo route will be published soon.

    Q: Why are the other airlines not doing the same thing as BA does on onward Sydney flight?
    A: Other airlines from Europe make use of their alliances. For example, Lufthansa and Swiss Air rely upon their Star Alliance partner Singapore Airlines to fly their passengers onward. The good thing is, Singapore Airlines doesn’t fly only to Sydney. It flies also to other Australian cities like Adelaide, Brisbane and Melbourne. In fact, for these destinations, SQ is a partner of Lufthansa, Turkish, Aegian, Swiss, Ethiopian, Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia. BA also does the same thing with its oneworld partner Cathay Pacific from Hong Kong.

    There you have it. I hope you learned a thing or two from this article. This was meant to be short. However, there are quite a few interesting things and stories surrounding the routing system and preferences of each airline.

    Other related articles will be published in the future to answer questions such as – how do I know my flight is a codeshared flight or what if there are multiple equally nice options for my upcoming flight, which one should I choose? And more….

    If you got a few questions or points you want to add, please feel free to leave a comment below.

    Until then….



    Author: Francis

    Francis is an aviation fan. He loves to travel for the flying part of it and to plane spot during stops. He likes to express his views about some aviation industry news, from the perspective of a regular traveller. Finally, he writes anything that he thinks can help others make the most out of their flights.

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