Non-Stop, Direct, and Connecting Flights: What Are the Differences?

Many people including me often use the phrases “non-stop flight” and “direct flight” interchangeably. And, while there are situations when the terms are interchangeable, that’s not always the case.

In this article, I’ll take a look at what non-stop, direct, as well as connecting flights are. I’ll also give you some examples of each and talk about their advantages and disadvantages – and which one you should choose for your next trip.

Non-Stop, Direct, and Connecting Flights: What Are the Differences?
Can you spot the direct but not non-stop flight on this flight information display?

 

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What Are Non-Stop Flights?

Out of the three types of flights that I talk about in this article, non-stop flights are the easiest to define and understand. After all, their name literally describes what they are.

Non-stop flights are flights that take you from one place to another without stopping – i.e. landing – anywhere along the way.

Examples of Non-Stop Flights

There are countless examples of non-stop flights. In fact, almost every single flight is – for at least a portion of it – a non-stop flight between two airports. The one exception to that are one-stop flights where the airline doesn’t have the rights to transport passengers on just one segment of the flight.

Here are a few non-stop flights:

  • British Airways 2 from New York JFK to London City
  • Air France 279 from Tokyo Haneda to Paris CDG
  • Singapore Airlines 26 from Singapore to Frankfurt
Non-Stop Flight
The flight map onboard a non-stop flight from Tokyo to Delhi.

 

What Are Direct Flights?

People often confuse non-stop and direct flights – for a good reason. That’s because aside from the similar meaning of the two words, all non-stop flights are direct flights as well.

However, the important thing to distinguish is that not all direct flights are non-stop. Direct flights connect two places under one flight number (generally without changing planes), but not necessarily without a stop.

While more often than not, direct flights are non-stop, there is a fair amount of one-stop flights as well. The reason these flights make a stop varies. In the past, it often used to be to refuel – and potentially to pick up or drop off passengers. Nowadays, it’s most often the latter.

Examples of Non-Stop Flights

The reason I mentioned British Airways 2 when talking about non-stop flights is because in the other direction, the flight is not non-stop.

Flight British Airways 1 from London City to New York JFK stops in Shannon in Ireland to refuel – and to let its passengers pre-clear US immigration while doing so – making it direct but not non-stop.

Similarly, while Singapore Airlines 26 is a non-stop flight if you are traveling from Singapore to Frankfurt, it’s direct but not non-stop if you are traveling on the flight all the way from Singapore to New York via Frankfurt.

There are quite a few similar flights operated by other airlines as well, many of them using fifth freedom rights to carry passengers even on the segments unrelated to their home countries.

Direct Flight
On some direct, one-stop flights, you need to get off the aircraft and re-clear security along the way.

 

What Are Connecting Flights?

Lastly, connecting flights are flights where, to get from one place to another, you have to transfer at some airport onto a different flight.

These flights are neither non-stop nor direct. Instead, they are two or more separate non-stop or direct flights that are sold as one ticket from point A to point B via point C (and D).

Oftentimes the flights will be on the same airline. That said, cases where the flights are on different airlines that either belong to the same alliance or partner in some other way are not unusual either.

Examples of Connecting Flights

There are countless different connecting flights. In fact, if you search for flights – especially long-haul ones – using one of the search engines, most of your options will likely be connecting flights.

Just to give you a few examples:

  • KLM 1598 and 427 from Rome to Dubai via Amsterdam
  • Etihad Airways 603 and 450 from Johannesburg to Sydney via Abu Dhabi
  • China Southern Airlines 6998 and 6021 from Shanghai to Vienna via Urumqi
Connecting Flights
Besides serving non-stop passengers, large hubs like Frankfurt also serve a lot of connecting passengers.

 

Non-Stop, Direct, and Connecting Flights: Which Are the Best?

Each of the three types of flights have their advantages and disadvantages. As such, instead of telling you which type to go with, I’ll go over those and let you form your own opinion based on your circumstances.

Starting with non-stop flights, they are – of course – the most convenient since they will take you from point A to point B the fastest with the least hassle.

That said, sometimes it might also make sense to break up a very long journey and take a 10 hour and a 5 hour flight instead of a single 15 hour flight. Especially so if you are flying in economy on an ultra-long-haul flight.

Non-stop flights can also be more expensive than connecting flights. And, depending on the city pair you need to travel between, there might be no non-stop (or even direct) flights available.

The advantages and disadvantages of direct – more specifically one-stop – flights are more or less the same as those of non-stop flights. That is, unless there are nonstop flights on the same route. In that case, naturally, the non-stop flight will be a bit shorter.

Finally, as for connecting flights, their two biggest advantages are that they are oftentimes cheaper than non-stop options and that they can transport you between more or less any pair of airports with airline service on the planet.

Sometimes you can also arrange a stopover where you stay at the city you connect in for a longer period of time. Airlines like Turkish Airlines, Qatar Airways, and Singapore Airlines among others even offer transit tours and other programs like that.

The downside is, though, that connecting flights take longer than non-stop and direct flights. That might also involve having to spend long transits in airport terminals and having to go through the transit process at sometimes stressful airports like Paris Charles de Gaulle.

 

Summary

Hopefully, the above gives you a clear understanding of the differences between non-stop, direct, and connecting flights. Generally, it’s pretty intuitive, although the differences can sometimes be subtle and confusing.

As for which one of the three types of flights you should choose, that will depend on your circumstances. It will depend on the route you need to travel, the budget you have, as well as how much time you are willing to spend in transit.

That said, if you are planning your first flight, then I recommend picking a non-stop flight if possible. That will save you a lot of the hassle by not having to transfer somewhere along the way and make your experience much more pleasant.

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No, I am not going to tell you how to fly in first class and sip Dom Perignon for free…

But, I am going to introduce you to a couple of ways you can experiment with to try a business class flight without having to spend thousands of dollars.

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