About the author:
Una is an organized globetrotter and foodie who’s been living a digital nomad lifestyle since 2013. She always starts her day early with a good book before diving into work. Apart from traveling and aviation, her other passions include gym, hiking and cycling. Una is also a strong proponent of AI technology. She firmly believes in its potential to simplify life and has often advocated for its wider adoption in our day-to-day activities. Her favorite airlines are Qatar Airways, Emirates, and KLM.
There are official (airline-protected) connecting flights.
And then there are self-transfer flights. While airline-protected connecting fights are the best way to travel if there are no direct flights, it’s not always the option. There might not be connecting flights at all, they might not be available at the moment or on your dates, or they simply might be too expensive. If you experience any of this, consider booking a self-transfer flight.
And then follow the steps below to make it safe!
Book protected self-transfer connection with Kiwi.
What is a Self-Transfer Flight?
To put it simply, it is a DIY connecting flight.
It’s when you book two or more separate flights to get to your destination. It can be with one airline or with two or more different airlines. But since it’s a DIY connection, not an official, airline-protected connecting flight, carriers won’t take responsibility for such a connection. If something happens, if one flight is cancelled or delayed and you miss the next flight, this is your responsibility, not any of the airline’s. That’s the biggest risk with self transfers.
This is the reason why so many people prefer official, airline-protected connecting flights. If you have such a connecting flight, and miss your connection due to delay or cancellation of the previous flight, the airline will put you on the next available flight.
This makes airline-protected flights safer than self transfers. Read more about the differences between airline-protected and self-transfer connecting flights.
Read more: UK / EU Flight Compensation Guide
Are Self-Transfer Flights Safe? Yes and No
This is one of the most popular questions about self transfers.
In short, yes, self-transfer flights can be safe. However, unlike with airline-protected connecting flights, there are some extra steps necessary to achieve that. There are things you need to know and do, in order to have a safe airport transfer. We have a separate article on that.
How to Tell It’s a Self-Transfer Flight?
How do you know if it’s a self-transfer flight?
The easiest way to tell it’s a self transfer, is if you have made several bookings. It’s self-explanatory. You made several reservations. Hence, these will be treated as several reservations. These can be flights from the same company or from several. These can be low-cost airlines like Wizz Air, or full-service traditional airlines like Qatar Airways. None of that matters — if these are separate reservations, it’s a self transfer.
However, if you have booked all your flights “with a single click” (for example, using flight booking websites like edreams.com or kiwi.com), you may also miss that fact. It’s up to you to pay attention to details like these. Because a fact alone, that you have booked all your flights with a single click, doesn’t mean anything — it still can be a self-transfer flight.
How to tell it’s a self-transfer flight?
- You don’t have a single booking reference. Instead, each flight has its own booking reference / booking number.
- In most cases, it’s written somewhere. That’s if you’re making a booking from an online travel agent / searching for a flight connection on flight search websites. They show it at some point. For example, here’s how you can see it on Skyscanner (see below), a popular flight search website. You click on any of the results and there you see if it’s a self transfer or not.
- Low-cost airlines sell self-transfer flights. Most of low-cost airlines around the world don’t offer protected connecting flights. If you see a connection on a flight search website or an online flight booking website, and if any of the flights is operated by a low-cost airline (such as Ryanair, easyJet, Wizz Air), it’s almost 100% clear that you’re looking at a self-transfer connection.
Self-Transfer Flight Checklist
Yes, airline-protected flights are safer than self transfers.
But self-transfer flights can be safe, too. More or less. Follow the steps listed below, do a bit of work, and you will have a stress-free journey.
1. First, Check Visa Requirements
Do this before you’re making a booking.
If you have a self-transfer flight, you may need a visa for your connection.
However, it depends on a country you are transiting through. If a country requires visa for entry, then you’ll need to apply for a visa before your self-transfer flight. Because when you have a self-transfer, you are entering the country — you can’t stay at the departures terminal. You need to go through passport control to access landside area of the airport, where check in counters are located. Since self-transfer connecting flights consist of multiple separate flights, you need to check in for each flight. You can’t do it at a departures terminal.
If you have already checked in online, you still need to go to landside area of the airport — to check in your bag.
What if you travel with a carry on only, and you have already checked in? This depends on the airport. Most probably incoming passengers will be directed to the exit of the city (and immigration). If you are transiting through a major airport (such as Suvarnabhumi, Singapore Changi or Kuala Lumpur International Airport, some of the best layover airports/cities), you can try to approach a transfer desk/counter. In some cases, self-transfer transit passengers are permitted to stay at the departures terminal. Ask at the a transfer desk/counter.
Self transfer without luggage works differently in different airports.
1.1 Entry Requirements and Visa Requirements Vary a Lot
Some countries offer visa on arrival, others — don’t.
Citizens of some countries can travel visa-free, while others, traveling through the same country, may be asked to apply for a tourist visa in advance. Check the rules before making a booking, and pay attention to what applies to you. It is always best to refer to official information before relying on Facebook groups and internet forums.
In many cases, you can get a visa on arrival. It might be an actual visa sticker, or an entry stamp. Find out if it’s free (entry stamps usually are). And if it’s not — find out how much does it cost beforehand. And in what currency the payment is accepted? Do you need to exchange money? If yes, consider changing it at your home country. So you have the money ready, preferably exact money.
If you are traveling within a region (e.g., EU), you won’t need to go through immigration (if you have done this already, or if you are an EU citizen). If you are flying from Berlin to Paris, and onwards from Paris to Vilnius, you won’t need to go through immigration. And most probably you will be able to stay at the departures terminal. However, it depends on the airport. If airport has several terminals, and is huge, you’ll need to travel between terminals.
2. Don’t Risk With Short Layover Times (Under 2 Hours)
Anything less than 2 hours is risky.
3. Book a Safe Self Transfer
Kiwi self-transfer is one of the best options.
It comes with insurance right away. Apart from that, it gives you extras like an option to check in for several flights at once. You can also book several flights with a single purchase. Plus, in some situations, Kiwi Guarantee will give you a free flight if you miss your connection.
Book protected self-transfer connection with Kiwi.
4. Buy Travel Insurance
What’s the difference between Kiwi Guarantee and insurance?
Do you need both? It’s a good idea to have both. You see, when you are eligible, Kiwi Guarantee will give you a new flight right away. For free. Travel insurance won’t do that. They will pay you afterwards. At the same time, Kiwi Guarantee won’t protect you against anything else, like health problems abroad. That’s why it’s a good idea to have both — safe self-transfer flight and travel insurance.
Make sure your travel insurance covers changes to the itinerary.
4.1 When to Buy Travel Insurance?
The sooner you do it, the better.
Because this is when it starts working. This is when it starts protecting you against possible flight or itinerary changes. So, book a flight and buy a travel insurance right afterwards. And thank me later.
Flight changes may happen at any time on any day.
They may happen also one day after you have bought a flight. They may also happen literary 5 minutes after you make a booking. You can’t predict that. Airline may reschedule your flight, and it may destroy your travel plans. That’s why it’s important to buy insurance as soon as possible.
Duration of insurance? Duration of your trip.
Insurance start date? The first day of your trip (but it starts to work right away, right after you’ve bought it).
Make Your Trip Safe From Day 1
SafetyWing – Insurance for nomads
5. Come Prepared
If layover time is short, be prepared.
It’s better to travel without checked baggage in this situation (with carry-on bag only). It’s also a good idea to let flight attendants know that you’ll want to get off the plane as fast as possible. And — to learn some things about the airport.
Find info about the layover/transfer airport. See where all the terminals are located, and find out how to get between them. If it’s a large airport, terminals might be connected with a train or bus. Make sure you check how frequent these trains and buses are. If they are not frequent, in some cases, you may need to take a taxi. Find out where the taxi stands are located.
When booking a flight with a short layover time, make sure you depart from the same airport (more on this below).
6. Make Sure You Are Departing From the Same Airport
Self-transfer flights with low-cost airlines may involve a change of airport.
When you are booking a self-transfer, especially with low-cost airlines (or traditional airline AND low-cost airline), make sure you pay attention from which airport you are departing. Make sure it’s the same airport (the same airport you arrived at), unless you have a very long layover or stopover.
6.1 Changing Airports
When you are flying with low-cost airlines, sometimes you’ll need to change airports between flights. If you are on a budget, make sure you find out if getting between the airports is not too expensive for you. If it is, look at other options.
Also pay attention to distances and public transport.
Are there fast and frequent train connections? Local bus? If you need to get from one airport to another, make sure you find out how long does the journey take. Allow yourself more time in case there are traffic jams.
Sometimes, you find out that it’s both expensive and takes long time. And, overall, just doesn’t make sense to travel this way at all.
7. Check In for Each Flight Online
You have to check in for each flight separately.
Unless you have booked your flights via a third party flight booking website which allows you to check in for all flights with a single click. Or, they do all of that on your behalf. But in most cases, you will need to check in for each flight separately — mostly you will have to do that yourself.
The best and most convenient way is to check in online.
If you have multiple separate flights with long stopovers in between, you won’t be able to check in for all flights before you go. Because, in most cases, online check-in opens only like 24 hours before departure.
7.1 Airport Check-In
Can you check in the airport?
Yes, you can. But it may cost you extra. Low-cost airlines such as Ryanair, Jet2 and Wizz Air charge for airport check in. So, whenever it’s possible, make sure you don’t forget to check in online!
8. Don’t Forget to Collect and Recheck Your Bag
Collect and recheck your bag at the transfer airport.
Go through immigration (if necessary). You are getting out of the transit area (no-visa zone). Go to the landside area of the airport where all the check-in counters are located. Check in your bag there.
Don’t forget that you have to do it for every flight. If there are more flights after that, you’ll need to collect it and recheck it again. That’s how it works with baggage on self-transfer flights — it’s your responsibility.
8.1 If the Layover Is Too Short
What if your layover is very short?
As we have already mentioned, we don’t recommend you to book a self-transfer flight with a short layover. If it’s a 1.5 or 2-hour layover, there’s a possibility that you may not make it in time for your next flight. Especially if you are traveling with checked baggage. Your first flight might be late or there might be long queues at the airport. Anything could happen.
If there are no other options, and you must book a self-transfer with a short layover time, travel without checked luggage. Book bigger carry on baggage (when possible) if you want to travel with a larger bag, but don’t check in your bag. You may not have time for rechecking it later.
9. Book a Hotel (For a Long Layover)
If you have a long layover or stopover, book a hotel.
Of course, you can stay at the airport, but it’s not always an option. Many airports are closed during the night. Or, simply it’s not comfortable to sleep at the airport. Speaking of hotels, many airports have airport hotels located inside the airport. Alternatively, you can book a hotel nearby. Just look on booking.com in a map view, and then read descriptions of the nearby hotel that you like the most and that fit your budget — they may also offer free airport transfer.
If your layover is a few hours long, and if you would like to rest, check if the airport has sleeping pods. It’s a more budget friendly way of sleeping at the airport (when compared to an airport hotel).
What about you? Do you book self-transfer flights? Do you do it directly from the airline or using flight booking websites? Do you buy travel insurance? What is your experience with self-transfer flights?
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