COVID And Layovers: Are Flight Deals With Stopovers Too Risky?

We’re seeing attractively priced long-haul flight deals being advertised by 5-star carriers. These deals involve starting the flight at another European airport, then transiting through a Middle-Eastern hub airport. These multi-stop flight deals usually take longer, but the inflight experience often makes up for it, as does the price! Having taken a few “ex-EU” flights in the past, these Qatar deals piqued our interest. However, as we researched a little further, reality began to bite. Things just aren’t how they were. In fact, it’s a bit of a minefield for the unsuspecting traveller and it seems COVID-19 has made flight deals with stopovers far too risky. Let’s explain why.

In this article:

Are You Permitted To Enter The Country You’re Transiting Through?

In most cases, airports accepting inbound flights are also allowing passengers to transit, provided they they stay airside. This means you need to be holding a boarding pass for your onward flight and don’t need to check-in again.

Things go wrong when you’re connecting with another airline on a separate booking, changing terminal/airport, or your stopover includes a hotel. In cases like these, you will need to officially enter the country and must meet the COVID rules of entry. Note that it will be all the countries you’ve visited in the last couple of weeks (including your home country).

Marina Bay Sands Hotel from Supertree Grove, Singapore
Off limits to most travellers: Marina Bay Sands Hotel, Singapore

For example, if you’re flying from London to Sydney on a through ticket with Singapore Airlines, you will be permitted to transit at Singapore’s Changi Airport and board your onward flight. If, however, your onward flight from Singapore to Sydney is with Qantas, you’ll have to check-in and would need to enter Singapore to do that. Entering Singapore to transit is currently not permitted.

See our guide on transit restrictions at popular worldwide hub airports.

Be careful about booking seemingly cheap “hacker fares” on flight booking sites. These flight deals with stopovers are far too risky. The itinerary may not be compatible with the entry restrictions currently in force. We’d seek to book the most direct flight with as few stops as possible, and all on a single ticket.

Can You Re-Enter Your Transit Country On Your Return Leg?

Although you may be fine arriving at your transit country from your origin country, you may hit problems coming back the other way. Your transit country may not welcome you.

For example, you can travel freely from London to Doha, via Oslo, but coming back the other way, the Norwegian authorities may not grant you permission to transit. Checking the Norwegian Government website, we see they currently allow transit from Doha, but this pandemic is ever-changing and you should be prepared for countries being added and removed from “safe lists.” Other countries may not be as comfortable with transit passengers, like Sri Lanka and Brunei.

qatar airways planes
Qatar Airways aircraft at the gate

In a lot of cases, you’ll be subject to invasive PCR testing. In an increasing number of cases, you may be forced to quarantine in a government sanctioned facility for up to 2 weeks. We’re sure you’d agree that flight deals with stopovers like that are far too risky.

So, what’s the takeaway here? Even if your home country is happy for you to travel through to your destination, it doesn’t mean your stopover country will also be happy with your itinerary. Each country operates a their own list of “allowed” countries and your final destination may be on a quarantine list. Check the entry requirements and quarantine rules for all countries you’ll fly to, even when it’s just a stopover.

Will Your Transit Stop Force You Into Quarantine At Home, Or Away?

Your choice of stopover may turn a quarantine-free trip into an awkward 14 days stuck at home on your return. Remember, the rules say you shouldn’t leave your home to shop for essentials.

For example, you can fly from Thailand to London without having to self-isolate on arrival. If your journey takes you via Dubai or Doha, you will have to isolate for 14 days. With France and Spain also removed from the UK’s safe list, the same would also be true if you travelled via Paris or Madrid.

If your journey involves a stop or a visit in the UK, see our guide on countries cleared for UK travel.

Will You Invalidate Your Travel Insurance Travelling Via A Third Country?

Since the coronavirus pandemic started, travel insurance has been a confusing topic for most of us. Many insurers withdrew cover for any claims related to COVID-19 and later stated they wouldn’t cover countries where the advice is not to travel. With some countries then being added to an “OK list”, insurers pledged varying levels of cover.

We took a look at our own policy to see if we’re covered when a trip involves a stopover in a third country. Fortunately, the wording was unambiguous. We’re only covered for travel to countries where the UK Government advises non-essential travel is OK. This is true for stopovers too. If the stopover country isn’t on the OK list, our insurer won’t cover us for claims arising from trip.

COVID-19 signs at London’s Heathrow Airport

Familiarise yourself with your travel insurance policy wording before you book. If you’re debating whether insurance is worth the bother, take a look at our brief guide on why travel insurance can save you a fortune.

BG1 Verdict

With travel advice varying day-to-day, booking advance travel is already a precarious business. It’s anyone’s guess whether you’ll still be able to travel to the destination when the departure day arrives. We think last minute bookings are less of a gamble. Adding more countries into the mix just adds to the risk. Put simply, flight deals with stopovers are far too risky right now. When thinking about future trips, we consider the route to our destination with the fewest stops as the safest bet. Don’t get us wrong, we love the heavily discounted ex-EU deals with Qatar and Etihad. Saying that, we’re going to save the disappointment of further cancellations and avoid them until next year.

Transiting soon? Read our post about what travelling through Heathrow Airport is like during the pandemic. Also, see our summary of the transit restrictions for your next stopover.

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