This article was written in partnership with United Airlines. All views expressed in the article are the independent opinion of DollarsAndSense.sg
The world we live in is shrinking. Air travel has drastically reduced the time and cost involved in travelling from one city or country to another. This improved accessibility and price-point has enabled an increasing number of people to experience diverse cultures and unique sights and sounds, stay in touch with family and friends as well as expand businesses globally.
When we travel from Singapore to nearby destinations such as Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta or Bangkok, we don’t think much about our flights. Majority of us would just look for the most affordable and convenient options as these journeys take just a couple of hours.
Long-haul flights are a totally different beast. Taking a long-haul flight usually means spending more than 10 hours onboard an aircraft and we tend to invest a lot more effort researching our options.
What Options Do We Have For Long-Haul Flights?
Our two main options for long-haul flights include non-stop flights and connecting flights.
As their names suggest, non-stop flights take us from point A to point B without stopping, while connecting flights take us from point A to point B, but with one (or more) connecting destination(s) in between.
While majority of us would choose a non-stop flight over a connecting flight as they tend to be much faster and provide a more comfortable experience, there are always pros and cons that we have to consider.
# 1 Cost Of Flights
One obvious difference between non-stop flights and connecting flights is the cost of it. Non-stop flights tend to be costlier than connecting flights.
We went on United Airlines’ (UA) website to check how much flights from Singapore to San Francisco cost. As you can see in the screenshot below, the first two flights are non-stop flights while the third flight has one connecting stop in Tokyo.
All flights are selected based on travelling during the December holiday period, from 22 November 2018 to 6 December 2018. Prices of flights are as at 13 November 2018, and may be subjected to changes.
Source: United Airlines
Comparing the prices, we found that the connecting flight with the layover was actually more expensive than the non-stop flights.
This could be down to several reasons. Firstly, United Airlines could be running a promotion after recently announcing the addition of a second daily flight on its Singapore-San Francisco route.
Another reason that the connecting flight could be more expensive than the non-stop flight is because one, or both, of the legs is (are) operated by a partner carrier. In this case, All Nippon Airways (ANA) is operating the Singapore to Tokyo leg of the journey, while United Airlines would operate the Tokyo to San Francisco leg. This could mean higher individual prices for one or both legs of the trip.
Apart from a few people who really want to visit the Narita Airport in Japan or need to stretch their legs at a layover destination, everyone would choose to purchase the non-stop flights in this case. However, if we assume that the connecting flight becomes cheaper at some point, perhaps post-promotion or when demand for the non-stop flights cause a price surge, leisure travellers with flexible schedules may prefer saving some money by booking it.
For business travellers, it makes sense to save time and have greater peace of mind. This makes the twice daily non-stop flights the preferred options regardless of cost.
# 2 Time Spent On Journey
While leisure travellers can afford to spend more time in transit, we would rarely choose to do so. However, some leisure travellers may want to enjoy the scenery of a new airport (especially one like Changi Airport), stretch out our legs and even take a day excursion at the layover city if time permits (and, of course, we need to worry about having the right visa to exit the transit area of the airport as well.)
In the example above, the connecting flight gives us nearly four hours longer to reach San Francisco. This is a decent amount of time to stretch our legs and visit the overseas airport, if that’s what we really want!
More realistically, if we want to enjoy a day trip in the connecting destination, there are layover options that are over 24 and even 36 hours to give us more time for an excursion in the country. However, for this “inconvenience” we may have to pay more than the non-stop flights.
For business travellers, it’s more straightforward – maximising the amount of time spent on business during the trip is the main point. This means getting to the destination in the shortest possible time and with as little unnecessary stress as possible.
This makes connecting flights a bad idea for business travellers as it would leave individuals with less sleep, longer transits, having to go through multiple customs checks, being stressed over flight delays and making it for the connecting flight, worrying about your checked-in baggage making it through transit and so many other things that may go wrong.
In the same example above, business travellers have the luxury of choosing between two daily departure (or arrival) time to San Francisco. This means being able to depart in the morning or in the evening after work depending on an individual’s schedule and needs.
Most meetings start in the morning, making it logical to want to arrive in the morning to get into business right away. However, business travellers also have the flexibility of being able to travel in the evening, right after your work day, to attend a late meeting or, more realistically, get some much-needed rest in order to prepare for an important meeting the next morning.
# 3 Comfort
As mentioned above, taking a non-stop flight means not having to stress over flight delays, which may cause us to miss our connecting flights or meetings in the foreign country. We don’t have to worry about our connecting flight being in a different terminal and having to navigate a new airport under time pressure and stress, or even find out that it’s in a totally different airport!
We don’t have to wait in transit for so many hours doing nothing, especially when we could be resting or preparing for our business meetings. We don’t have to go through multiple custom checks removing different clothing and carry-on items each time. We don’t have to hope that our baggage makes it onto our transit flights. We don’t have to lug our carry-on baggage on the flight, then off it, then on a new flight and then off that flight finally.
Just not having to worry over these things can make a big difference for both business and leisure travellers.
In addition, taking a connecting flight does not always mean we travel on the same airline for both legs. We could very likely see ourselves boarding a partner airline (which may even be a budget airline). This could mean a different level of service, standard and in-flight amenities.
In the example above, the first leg of the connecting flight between Singapore to Tokyo is serviced by All Nippon Airways. While this is a quality airline, for those of us not familiar with the airline, we’d have to do more research on partner carriers.
Lastly, boarding a full-service carrier with an extensive network within the Americas also provides better connectivity if we have to transit to another city. In the example above, flying via United Airlines will give us up to 280 other connecting destinations within both North and South American continents operated by the same carrier.
A Less Stressful Way To Fly
Whether we’re flying for a holiday or for business, taking a non-stop flight definitely gives us greater peace of mind. If we’re on holiday, we might get upset over losing our baggage, forfeiting deposits on our hotels and bookings or even lose a day due to flight delays.
For business travellers, the implications of flight delays and missing connections or losing baggage is magnified. It could mean the difference between a productive business trip and a useless one, which would be a great loss after spending so many hours on the trip, time preparing for our business dealings and money on the airfare and accommodation.
While this may be the case, not every faraway destination offers us the convenience of a non-stop flight. Given the option, we should definitely consider taking advantage of it.