Nonstop vs Connections – Which Is Best For Long-Distance Journeys?

There are several factors to think about when considering whether to take a direct flight to your destination, compared to a connecting flight through a hub airport. Let’s look at all the factors involved in making the choice…

Qantas Sydney
Qantas’ Project Sunrise test from New York to Sydney was the longest nonstop commercial flight in history. However, some may still prefer to use a connection. Photo: Qantas

Speed

It’s a no brainer when it comes to passengers flying from their origin to their destination, flying direct is the fastest way to go. There’s no second take-off or landing and no transfer security point. One less plane lowers the odds of a mechanical issue delaying or canceling your flight, so when it comes to getting there swiftly, a direct route is the way to go.

Comfort

Here’s where many may think that a direct flight would be best. But when it comes to longer journeys, some would prefer to break it up a little bit. Project Sunrise between London and Australia’s east coast is developing quickly. However, some might still prefer to have a layover in Singapore or Dubai to stretch their legs and walk around.

And of course, comfort depends on the class that a passenger travels in. Perhaps for those longer journeys, a direct flight is best when flying in premium economy and above. On the other hand, sitting in the middle seat of a ten-abreast high-density Airbus A350 might have travelers desiring a layover after five or six hours.

Delta and KLM Tails at AMS
Amsterdam Schiphol airport is the only hub and transfer-airport for KLM flights. Photo: Alexey Komarov / Wikimedia Commons

Price

The decision becomes further complicated when passengers factor in price. Airlines often charge a premium for a direct flight because they know that’s usually what people want. Furthermore, if a passenger is flying to that airline’s hub, they may increase prices because they want to discourage them from purchasing the flight. This is because they would rather save capacity for fliers connecting through to another flight with that airline.

This has given rise to the practice of skiplagging – the process of purchasing a ticket beyond your destination to avail of lower fares. For example, if a passenger wants to fly from Milan to Amsterdam but the direct flight is more expensive. Instead, they find a cheaper flight from Milan to London connecting through Amsterdam. Their real destination is just the connection point in the itinerary.

Also, competing airlines obviously want customers to fly with them through their hub airports. Therefore, connecting flights are usually even cheaper because there is more competition to get them from point A to point C through a list of possible point Bs. Traveling from New York to Singapore? The only choice direct is with Singapore Airlines with a minimum of premium economy. However, with a connecting flight you can choose from a long list of options:

  • British Airways through London Heathrow
  • Air China through Beijing
  • China Eastern through Shanghai
  • China Southern through Guangzhou
  • Cathay Pacific through Hong Kong
  • Eva Air or China Airlines through Taipei
  • United Airlines through San Francisco
  • ANA or Japan Airlines through Tokyo
  • Emirates through Dubai
  • Etihad through Abu Dhabi
  • Finnair through Helsinki
  • The list goes on and on… and on.

Therefore, on some routes competition will drive down the price compared to another journey of the same distance with fewer options.

Emirates airline in flight
Emirates is the biggest operator of the A380 in the world, connecting cities around the world through its Dubai hub. Photo: Emirates

Environmental impact

Some might think flying direct would be best for a long flight. There is one less aircraft that isn’t expending fuel by taxiing and taking off a second time. However, it may be easier on the environment to take that connecting flight. This is because fuel adds weight to a flight. And after a certain flight distance, your aircraft is carrying extra fuel to carry… extra fuel.

In fact, according to the video below, the burn rate of a Boeing 777 increases after 3000 nautical miles. Any journey shorter than that and a direct flight is best. Anything longer and a passenger will have a smaller carbon footprint by breaking up the journey into two shorter flights.

Other minor factors

Two other minor factors that must be considered are airline loyalty and the benefits of an extended layover in a new city. For frequent travelers looking to climb the ladder of an airline’s loyalty program, connecting through a hub adds another segment and more qualifying miles. This may help the traveler maintain or gain status.

Lastly, some people might intentionally select an itinerary with a transfer because there is a long layover in the transfer city. This is nice for tourists who get to tour an additional city without booking another flight. Turkish Airlines among others has its TourIstanbul program, which promotes Istanbul tourism through free tours as part of your long transfer.

Conclusion

What’s your preference? A connecting or direct flight? And did we miss any factors? Let us know in the comments!

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