Direct, Non-Stop or Connecting Flights

What are they and which is best for family travel?

Before we dive into which is best it is worth understanding the difference between Direct, Non-Stop and Connecting flights.

What’s the difference between a Direct and Non-Stop flight?

Direct or non-stop sound like they are the same thing but there is a subtle difference. Non-stop will deliver you straight from your start point to your destination in one go, on one plane and with no intermediary stops.

A direct flight on the other hand will take you to your destination on one plane but stopping on route to let some passengers off and some on. Therefore, a direct flight will take longer than a non-stop flight but will often be cheaper than a non-stop flight.

For example, we travelled from Sydney to Bangkok on a plane that stopped in Perth. In Perth we remained on the plane while a few people got off and lots got on.

What is a connecting flight?

A connecting flight is one where you will change planes on route with a few hours transfer time between planes. For example we recently flew back from Orlando to London changing planes in New York.

What is a layover?

One more flight type you might hear is layover. This is when you stop on route and stay for a night at your transit destination.

So which is best?

So which flight type is best for family travel. Direct, Non-Stop or Connecting? You may be thinking this is an easy one. But, like most things in life the answer isn’t that straightforward and breaks down into the following three key considerations and the importance you give to them.

Is it cheaper to fly non-stop, direct or with connecting flights?

Price is one of the most important factors in selecting flights as it is often the biggest holiday cost. You may think that direct flights would be cheaper since it is only one journey but this is often not the case and connecting are usually cheaper. Additionally, it can also depend on how you put the flights together as If you try to build multi stop legs into your flights yourself you will get a different price to searching with a stop included.

For example, I searched on Sky Scanner for flights from London to Orlando next Easter and the cheapest Non-Stop flight I found was £1,175 per person with Virgin Atlantic.

I then searched to go via New York and put the legs together myself. I got £373 for the London and New York flights and then £519 for the New York to Orlando return leg (the cheapest flights allowing time for changing planes at the same airports). This gives a total price per person of £892. You could mix up the airports and providers on Sky Scanner for further savings but this will complicate the return legs and for this example I wanted it simple so kept it to the same airports.

For the next search I plugged in London to Orlando and selected 1 stop. The cheapest flight deal shown was £632 (with reasonable flight times getting you to Orlando within a day). In this example by selecting a connecting through flight I would have saved £543 per person (enough to buy our Disneyworld tickets) when compared to the non-Stop flight and £260 when compared to putting the legs together myself.

The above example provides such a good saving as it involves tranferring from an International Flight to a Domestic Flight. So can we achieve similar savings with an International flight?

For this example, I selected flights from London to Hanoi in Vietnam with a maximum travel time of 24 hours over the Easter school holidays in April.

The cheapest direct flights to Hanoi were £584 with Vietnam Airlines.

I then selected London to Hanoi with just 1 stop and the cheapest flight package with reasonable times is £478 traveling with Turkish Airlines via Istanbul. If you are prepared for longer travel times you could save more.

I then selected Istanbul as my stopping point and put the flights together individually. The first return leg from London to Istanbul could be purchased for £141 and the next leg from Istanbul to Hanoi for £637 giving a total cost of £778 and by far the most expensive and fiddly option to take. This may not be the case every time so it is worth trying all three when searching for flights. Remember, spending a bit more time on your flight search could save you hundreds which you can put towards having fun on your holiday.

Overall, taking connecting flights is often cheaper than non-stop and sometimes significantly. But not always as our tests show. The tests also show that the best approach to get the cheapest price is to search for a total flight package with a 1-stop option. Especially if part of the trip includes domestic flights or low cost carriers. Additionally, putting the legs together yourself on connecting flights can carry some additional risk and this will be explained in the next section.

However, if you want to stay in your connection for a day or two (and have a layover) then put the legs together yourself or even contact a flight agent such as BA or Virgin directly and see what options they have.

Is getting a connecting flight more stressful than going non-stop or direct?

There is no getting away from the fact that connecting flights add stress to your journey. You cannot help but worry about the first flight and whether it will make it in time for the connection. Will the flight get delayed, will you get held up in customs and a hundred other things that can make you worry about missing your connection? Especially as sometimes you are not given very long. For example, we once flew back from Singapore via Sri-Lanka and Dubai. We didn’t need to change planes in Sri-Lanka but did in Dubai and were actually delayed by two hours in Sri-Lanka. We did make our flight, and so did our luggage amazingly, but we had to run through Dubai airport and were the last on the plane and had to endure the looks of the other passengers all convinced we were just late and had spent too much time in the airport bar (this trip was before we had kids).

To help reduce the stress you just have to tell yourself that the airlines do this all the time and will factor in the right amount of time for the connection. But what happens if you do miss your connecting flight?

This will depend on how you booked it. If it was booked as one trip on a through ticket then the first airline is generally responsible for getting you on the next available flight and sorting out hotels etc. For more on this see the rules set out by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).
Unfortunately, If you booked the legs yourself then sorry it is just up to you to sort out. You may even have to buy brand new tickets and then try to claim the money back if the delays were severe enough.

Overall, a non-stop flight will be the less stressful option.

Which is more comfortable a non-Stop flight or connecting?

Connecting flights offer you a chance to break up your flight and stretch your legs. Walkabout, and even the chance to grab some food in a restaurant or café as opposed to airline food. It will add time to your journey but you may welcome the break. On the flipside if you move from an international to a domestic flight (or vice versa) you will find the domestic flight a lot less comfortable. For example, take a look at the picture of my legs on our recent trip to Florida where we changed planes in Miami. I was quite relieved we were only in the air for an hour. Also, if you are one of the lucky people who can sleep on flights then you may be better off going non-stop or direct to get the most rest.

Overall, the choice between connecting and non-stop is down to you and how you and your family want to fly.

In conclusion

Consideration Winner
Price Connecting
Stress Non-Stop
Comfort No clear winner

In conclusion there is no clear winner when comparing flight types and it comes down to your priorities. For us price will often win out over stress and comfort as we tell ourselves it is only for a limited number of hours against the total holiday time and we can get through it. But we recognise this won’t be the same for everyone and really it depends on the size of the price saving. For example, if it is just £50 per person you can probably accept paying the difference for the ease of non-stop, but if it was £200 per person then that suddenly adds up.
Additionally, if you do choose connecting flights we would strongly advise a through ticket to provide some cover and comback should you run into a problem.

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