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In a recent question somebody asked about a layover without mentioning how long the stop would be, thus implying it might perhaps be understood whether layover generally refers to a stop not requiring an overnight stay.

In Australia where I'm from we don't really use layover but we're familiar with it from American TV and movies, in which travellers never appear to take breaks between flights to stay a few days.

In Australia we do use stopover (it can also be spelled stop over and stop-over) and very often we do take a break on our flights, because they can be very long, to stay one night or many nights in a destination other than our ultimate destination.

So is it that layover means a short break where you just hang around in the aiport and stopover means a long break where you'll spend some nights in a second place en route to your destination?

Or is it that both words mean a stop, either short or long, and the only difference is which is the more popular in each country?

As evidence that they're not the same:

As evidence that they're the same:

As evidence that the issue is not totally straightforward:

  • Neither of our tags have a tag wiki yet, suggesting they were not as easy to write as you might think. (I wanted to include how long the tags have existed but there seems to be no way to get this info even from the API)
  • 2008 forum thread "stopover/layover" on wordreference.com where some people seem to think they're the same, and others think they're different.
  • 2011 forum thread "stop over vs lay over" on wordreference.com which much the same mixed opinions as the 2008 thread.
  • "What is the difference between stopover and layover ?" on Yahoo Answers mostly say they're the same with the lowest voted answer saying "I believe layover is overnight and stopover is an hour or more."

Note 1. I know I could've asked at english.stackexchange.com but we are the specialists in the domain of travel terminology. Note 2. I'm specifically asking about how these terms relate to air travel if it's the case that the meanings are more specific in this subdomain than how they're used elsewhere.

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You say you have taken Layover from US TV. I think this may be the cause of some of the confusion. It is my understanding that the US (unlike every (?) other country) has no official concept of "in transit" foreign passengers. Officially your destination is considered to be America even if you never leave the airport; and have to go through immigration (and customs (?)) even if this is going to be all you see of the States. –  Chris Walton May 17 '12 at 5:35
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FYI, For crew members, Layover is used when crew member will leave the plane and stay a night or so in a foreign city for rest. The time crew members spend in airports or between connection flights is called (Ground Time). –  MeNoTalk May 17 '12 at 18:11
    
Flightfox actually uses both terms in contrasting senses in their "Enter Trip Details" page: 2. Will you a consider a 24-72 hour stopover in another city? vs 4. Will you consider a layover of 5+ hours to save money? –  hippietrail Aug 9 '12 at 19:02

4 Answers 4

up vote 15 down vote accepted

There are two issues here: what people mean, and what airlines mean.

Airlines vary, but generally they mean layover to mean you changing planes for their reasons. They don't fly from London to Venice, for example, so they fly you London to Frankfurt then Frankfurt to Venice. You might have an hour or two in the airport to change planes. They mean stopover to mean something you choose to do, like if you want a day or two in London on your trip from Toronto to Frankfurt. Typically they will allow you one free stopover (or two) but not more. Layovers, being a more technical issue, are not limited.

Some people do clever things, if they'r on a routing that involves a layover, like coming in at 2pm and going out at 10 am (less than 24 hours) giving themselves an afternoon and evening in the layover city for free. This is where you see people making a strong distinction between layover and stopover. It was a layover to the airline, so it didn't cost anything, but the person got the goodies we usually associate with a stopover.

Other people just say layover when they don't leave the airport, for a short connection, and stopover when they do leave the airport and spend some time in the actual city. Or they'll use stopover if it's overnight. You can't be sure what someone means, but it probably doesn't matter much. The words are very similar when they don't affect the fare you paid for your flight.

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Oddly, in my head a stopover implied the plane merely stopped (for an hour) and a layover meant staying so that you could 'lay' - as in go to bed, not...the other meaning.

However, from online definitions:

lay·o·ver

noun /ˈlāˌōvər/  layovers, plural

A period of rest or waiting before a further stage in a journey

stop·o·ver

noun /ˈstäpˌōvər/  stopovers, plural

A break in a journey - the one-day stopover in Honolulu

A place where a journey is broken - an inviting stopover between Quebec City and Montreal


So those definitions certainly seem to define stopover as being the longer one.

However I do agree that over the years, the differentiation has decreased and definitions blurred.

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Given this is a travel forum, the airline terminology is the best one.

A layover refers to a break between two flights taking you to your destination. Normally this would be short (a few hours), but the definition will vary depending on the airline and the route.

A stopover is where you actually break your your journey at a point that isn't the destination for longer than the time allowed for a layover. Stopovers almost always have additional fees associated with them - not only from the airline, but also as you may end up paying additional taxes/airport/customs fees as a result of the longer stop.

How long a layover can be varies. Some US airlines for domestic legs will define it as less than 4 hours, OR the next available flight to you destination. ie, if the next available flight to your destination isn't until 6 hours after you arrive, that would still be a valid layover - even through it is more than 4 hours. Many airlines will also allow a layover to extend overnight, again as long as that's the next available flight out.

For International flights most airlines allow up to 24 hours count as a layover, and many countries also use 24 hours as the limit (eg, if you are in Singapore for less than 24 hours then you do not pay the taxes you would for a longer stop).

Personally I've used the international 24 hour rule countless times to be able to spend a day (and sometimes even a night!) in a country without having to pay for the stopover!

Edit: IATA () has a "Glossary of Terms" on their website. It's doesn't have a definition for Layover, but the definition for Stopover is :

Equivalent to a "break of journey", means a deliberate interruption of a journey by the passenger agreed to in advance by the airline, at a point between the place of departure and the place of destination.

One important point I forgot to mention earlier is that many airlines will treat checked bags differently for a stopover v's a layover/connection. By default, your bags will be checked to either your destination or your stopover point if there is one. Some airlines will allow you to "short-check" your bags to a layover/connection point, but many will not.

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It would be really great if we could get some reference that defines the two terms or clearly uses them in these different ways to be a rock solid answer for the future that doesn't seem based on any of our assumptions. Another thing I think we need is to show whether or not the distinction is used even outside the US. –  hippietrail May 17 '12 at 5:10

As a Travel Agent, layover means a short stop to change planes, typically required by the airline itinerary due to the connection schedule. A stopover is a voluntary extended stay overnight in a city to explore and spend time in the city. This is typical travel industry lingo.

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