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Check if your airlines offer longer layovers for a lower fare.
Check if your airlines offer longer layovers for a lower fare.

Plan your layovers better and experience the country you are passing through

  • The Indian passport is being welcomed across the globe, so access more parts of the world
  • When flying internationally, a layover can be anything from a few hours to up to 24 hours. A stopover is anything above 24 hours and should be treated as break

When you are travelling, whether for work or leisure, you are usually in a rush to catch the next flight and reach the destination. In the process, you may miss the forest for the trees and lose out on the opportunity to visit an exciting country you are transiting through by restricting yourself to the airport.

If you are wondering how much of a different place you can see within a few hours between flights, I must clarify. When flying internationally, a layover can be anything from a few hours to up to 24 hours. If you stay for more than 24 hours, it is a stopover, and treated as a break in the journey.

This distinction is important, because if you maximize your layover, you can actually get out of the airport, stay a night and experience the country you are passing through. Airlines often offer longer layovers for a lower fare, making the decision easier. These can be immensely helpful. For instance, you can head into Amsterdam for a nice breakfast in a quaint café when flying back from the US and connecting between Delta and Jet Airways, or you can stop for the night in Singapore and visit the night safari before boarding your next flight to Australia on Singapore Airlines. You can also choose to book a stopover for two-three days—this is encouraged by some countries.

Many countries have made it easy for Indians to access their country, and this is why it becomes attractive to plan for a short visit on your layover. For instance, Qatar offers a visa-free visit for Indians for up to 30 days. You can club it with the “+Qatar" offer, where Qatar Airways passengers can get free hotel stay for a night at a five-star hotel as long as they have at least a 12-hour layover. This should allow you to get out and experience a bit of Doha before flying to Europe or the Americas. For a longer stay, you get the second night at a discount.

The UAE last year introduced free 48-hour transit visas, and Etihad offers discounted and free hotel options, including some five-star options, to visit Abu Dhabi as well. This is a great opportunity to visit the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi before continuing your journey. If you plan to stay for longer, Indians can now get a visa on arrival, which costs less than what you would pay for getting a visa processed before arrival. The only condition: you need a US visa on your passport. Visiting Ferrari World or glitzy Dubai just became easier.

For those who prefer flying East, there is the option of a layover in Singapore and Hong Kong. Singapore, since 2016, has been offering the visa-free transfer facility (VFTF) to Indians, allowing passengers changing flights at Changi Airport an opportunity to access the country for up to 96 hours. You need a valid ticket for the onward journey from Singapore, and a valid visa/long-term visit pass for the US, UK, Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Germany or Switzerland. You could be transiting from Singapore to any country as long as you have the visa of one of these eight countries.

Hong Kong, on the other hand, provides free entry to the country for stays of up to two weeks, subject to pre-registration before arrival. With the high-speed connection to the city centre, you can get off at the Hong Kong Disneyland park, or head into the city for a meal at Din Tai Fung and some shopping therapy before your next flight.

Many governments, in fact, are now making it easy for Indian citizens to access their countries. For instance, Kazakhstan launched a 72-hour transit visa for Indians last year. Turkey and Malaysia offer e-visas, and Thailand will offer these from 14 February onwards. In the meantime, Thailand is offering free visa on arrival for Indians through April. Europe, unfortunately, still requires you to have a Schengen visa to enter the Schengen Zone countries.

Given the new paradigm where the Indian passport is being welcomed across the globe, it makes sense for Indian travellers to make use of their newfound privilege to access more parts of the world just by planning their layovers better. Who knows, that may entice you to go back for more of the same country on a longer trip.

Elevate Your Travel is a column for the business travellers by a business traveller

Ajay Awtaney is founder and editor of Livefromalounge.com, a frequent-flyer website

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