Is changing airports in a city possible, or even a good idea? Here’s how to handle the transfer, what to consider before you book, and how to make the most out of your stopover.
Scrolling through available flights, comparing layovers and connections, your eye catches a good deal. The only thing is, the flight arrives into Heathrow, but the connection leaves from Gatwick. Your mouse hovers over the “Book Now” button. Is changing airports in a city possible, or even a good idea?
Here, we break down the benefits of changing airports during a layover, things to consider before you book, and five cities where changing airports is common: London, Tokyo, New York, Chicago, and Paris.
INSIDER TIPCheck with your airline to see if there are any perks on offer for a long layover, such as lounge access or a free night’s stay.
The Benefits of Changing Airports During a Layover
Connecting to a domestic destination is the first benefit when it comes to changing airports. Many major cities have an international airport and a domestic airport. The latter supplies routes for lesser-visited areas of a country. You might need to switch airports, but you’ll be rewarded with somewhere more local and off the beaten path.
Another benefit of changing airports? Cheaper flights. Airlines usually make airport-transfer flights cheaper because of the inconvenience. What’s a little extra traveling compared to a bargain?
Changing airports will also give you the chance to explore a new place. If you have to transfer through a city, why not take the scenic route and explore, or even stay overnight? It’s a mini-vacation within your vacation.
Things to Consider
What is the connection time?
The duration of the layover and the time of day you’ll be transferring. Do you have enough time to make your connection? Can you take public transport at that time of day?
What are the transport options?
Trains, buses, or taxis? How long do they take, what hours do they operate, how often do they run, how much do they cost, and how do you buy tickets?
Do you need a visa?
You’ll need to go through immigration and out into the city, even if you’re not spending any quality time there. Check whether you need a visa, if you need to apply in advance, and how much it costs.
What happens to your luggage?
You will need to collect it at the baggage carousel and take it with you, but check with your airline just in case they can transport it for you.
What about delays or cancellations?
Do you have any wiggle room in your connection time in case of delays? Are you protected if one of your flights is canceled, or you miss your connection?
How reliable is the airline?
Are you flying with one airline or two? If it’s two, you may not be protected in case of delays, cancellations, or missed connections. Next, ask yourself how likely those delays or cancellations are—is the airline reputable? Do you trust both flights to run on time?
Cities Where You May Need to Change Airports
Here are five common cities in the world where you may need to change airports and how to transfer between them.
London is home to six airports: Heathrow, Gatwick, London City, Luton, Stanstead, and Southend. Whichever you’re switching between, these are your best options:
Coach: The easiest and cheapest method of transport is the National Express coach service. Direct coach routes between major airports can be booked online in advance (which is usually cheaper), or if you’re nervous about delays and missing your transfer, on arrival.
Taxi: Taxis, especially black cabs (and especially black cabs in London waiting at airports), are notoriously expensive. Calling an Uber is a better option, but you’ll still be spending a small fortune.
Train: In theory, you can change airports by train, but you’ll need to change at least once in the city, switch to the tube, then back to a train again. And there are always delays and strikes to contend with. Dragging your suitcases through old-fashioned underground stations (read: no elevators) could end up being the most stressful part of your trip.
Transferring between Tokyo’s Narita and Haneda Airports takes between 60 and 90 minutes, so allow for plenty of time. Your options are:
Limousine Bus: Sadly not a bus-sized stretch limo as the name would suggest, these comfortable coaches run every 20 minutes between 6:55 a.m. and 9:25 p.m. (Narita to Haneda), and 6:25 a.m. and 6:10 p.m. (Haneda to Narita). The price is around $30 ($15 for children under 12 and free for children under six). You can change the bus time for free up to 10 times online and up to five minutes before departure.
Airport Shuttle: Shared buses operate 24 hours a day, though tickets are more expensive at $91 (or $23 for children). There’s also the option to book a private airport shuttle transfer: $239 for up to three people, $327 for four to six people, or $381 for six to nine people.
Taxi: A taxi will cost you around $225 (there’s also a 20-30% surcharge between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.). Uber is more expensive than a regular taxi in Japan, so the same journey could cost you around $255.
Train: You can also travel between the airports by rail, changing at Shinagawa Station. The journey takes 97 minutes and trains run every 15 to 30 minutes, from 7:45 a.m. to 9:44 p.m. Between Narita and Shinagawa you’ll pay $29 for Ordinary Car tickets, or $44 for First Class tickets. Between Shinagawa and Haneda you’ll pay $6.10 (or $3.10 for children under 11 years old).
New York City
New York’s major airports are John F. Kennedy, LaGuardia, and Newark Liberty. JFK and LGA are closer to each other, but transferring between any of the three can be complicated.
Bus: Take the NYC Express Bus (formerly the NYC Airporter bus), with a change at Port Authority bus terminal in Manhattan. Buses run every 30 minutes between 5 a.m. and 11:30 p.m. Tickets cost $29 (or $17 between JFK and LaGuardia) and you’ll need two copies of your ticket printed out—one for each leg of the journey. Check online for availability and timings, and don’t forget to factor in extra time for traffic.
Shuttle: The ETS runs every hour between 7:30 a.m. and 9:30 p.m., and tickets cost $34.
Taxi: A taxi between LaGuardia and JFK costs around $50, but from JFK or LGA to Newark costs $120 or more.
Chicago’s O’Hare and Midway Airports are only 17 miles apart, so transferring isn’t too painful.
Train: The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) train takes around two hours, with a change downtown. Take the Blue Line from Terminal 2 (around $5), change at Clark/Lake Station, then ride the Orange Line to Midway Station (around $2.50).
Taxi: A taxi between O’Hare and Midway costs around $50-60. There’s also the option to use a Rideshare service to make it cheaper—approximately $37 per passenger.
Shuttle: Hourly shuttles run between the airports for $16 and the journey time is around an hour too.
Paris Orly and Charles de Gaulle are the two biggest airports in Paris. However, be warned that Charles de Gaulle is a labyrinthine nightmare and simply getting out of CDG without the minotaur catching up to you is a challenge.
Bus: Le Bus Direct (Line 3) operates between 6 am and 10 pm, departs every 30 minutes, and the journey takes around an hour and a half, or more at peak times. Tickets cost about $24 (or 40% less for children under 11 years old).
Train: From CDG take the RER train to Anthony Station, then change to the Orlyval shuttle (or the opposite route if you’re transferring the other way). Check you’re on the right train, as trains on the same line can stop at different stations. The trains run between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m., and journey time is around 75 minutes in total. Tickets cost $14, or $7 for children under 11.
Taxi: A taxi takes 40 to 60 minutes and between $45-90, depending on traffic and whether you book in advance.
So, Can You, or Should You, Change Airports During a Layover?
A stopover with a change of airport helps break up a long-haul journey and can even add an extra destination to your trip, but only if you have plenty of time to explore or you can stay overnight.
A shorter layover with a city-wide airport switch is not ideal. But, hey, sometimes you’ve got to do what time and your bank balance allow you to. Just make sure you’re well prepared and know all your options, then you’ll find a way to make it work.