May 6 2011 by Chris McGinnis
Your choice could have a big impact on the price, length and comfort of your journey.
As a travel writer, I'm frequently amazed at how many travel agents, airline employees, frequent business travelers and even fellow travel writers tend to think that direct and nonstop are interchangeable terms when referring to flights. They are not. So let's examine these three types of flights to determine which one is best for you.
A nonstop flight is just what is says: a single flight between two airports with no stops. Business travelers favor nonstop flights because they are the fastest, but they are frequently the most expensive.
While a direct flight might sound like a nonstop flight, it's not. A direct flight is one that makes at least one intermediate stop along the way to its final destination. A direct flight between San Francisco and New York would mean I'd fly on one plane (holding a ticket with one flight number) the whole way to New York. But that plane would make a stop in Denver or Atlanta or Chicago where it would drop off and pick up more passengers. Due to the stopover(s), direct flights can take an hour or more longer to get to your destination.
Last week I flew Southwest Airlines flight #1618 from Oakland to Phoenix for a meeting at the new Best Western Legacy Inn & Suites. My flight from Oakland to Phoenix was a nonstop. However, the plane continued on to St Louis. The folks who stayed on the plane in Phoenix and then continued flying to St Louis on the second leg of flight #1618 were on a direct flight. Make sense?
Direct flights are frequently less expensive than nonstop flights, but not always. If you've got a choice between a direct or a nonstop and the price is the same, take the nonstop!
When you take a connecting flight, it will take at least two different planes with two different flight numbers to reach your final destination. For example, a connecting flight from San Francisco to New York on Frontier Airlines would mean one flight to Denver where I would change planes for another flight to New York.
Connecting flights are almost always less expensive that nonstop flights, but you get what you pay for. First, you'll have to schlep carryon bags on and off the plane four times in each direction. Connections often mean landing on one concourse, then having to take a train to another concourse. When you take off and land, you double your chances of encountering delays due to weather or air traffic control. Connecting flights can also take significantly longer than direct or nonstop flights due to long layovers. For these reasons, connecting flights are always the least desirable in terms of convenience...but the most desirable in terms of price.
So there you have it. What type of flight will you be taking next time? Be sure you know before your book!