One of the questions we get asked a lot is about the difference between nonstop flights and direct flights, and how they differ from connecting flights.
As it turns out, the differences are important -- and could save you hours on your next journey.
Since these are technical terms used by airlines, nonstop, direct and connecting flights have specific characteristics.
Nonstop flights are flights that literally do not stop between your origin and destination airports, while direct flights stop at another airport, but continue on with the same flight number. Connecting flights are where you change plane and flight number at that other airport.
A good example of the difference is Qantas' flights to Dallas/Fort Worth. QF7 from Sydney to Dallas is a nonstop flight: you take off from Sydney and land in Dallas. QF8 from Dallas to Sydney is direct, but via Brisbane: you take off from Dallas and land in Brisbane to refuel, then reboard the same plane to Sydney.
A connecting flight would be continuing on from Brisbane to Melbourne on a separate Qantas flight number, on a different plane.
Nonstop flights, where they're available, are usually a faster and more convenient option. You get on the plane, and you get off the plane. They're the first choice of most business travellers for routes where the plane can fly long enough and there are enough passengers to make it worthwhile for the airline.
Why direct flights are useful
Direct flights use at least two legs to get where you're going, and usually -- but not always -- continue on with the same plane.
For example, Emirates flies the same Boeing 777 planes between Melbourne and Dubai nonstop (EK406/407) and direct (EK408/409 via Kuala Lumpur). So you'd probably want to pick the nonstop flight there.
But as a counter-example, Qantas flights QF107/108 between Sydney and New York use a Boeing 747 between Sydney and Los Angeles, then an Airbus A330 between Los Angeles and New York.
Sometimes when direct flights stop, you can stay on board, but often you'll have to disembark (with all your carry-on belongings) so that the plane can be refueled, cleaned and security-checked.
Direct flights are usually better than non-direct connections, though, because the time you spend on the stop is kept to the absolute minimum. It's nearly an hour shorter to New York with the direct Qantas flight than by connecting to American Airlines in LA, for example.
You usually won't need to check in separately for the continuing part of the flight either, and if there isn't a change of plane then the gate is likely to be the same even if you have to disembark during the stopover.
Your onward direct flight will almost always be held back for late departure if the first leg is delayed, which is another tick in the plus column.
And where direct flights are shorter hops tagged on to another longer flight, you'll generally see better, more comfortable seats across the plane -- and especially in business class.
So, overall, we tend to pick flights in this order:
- Nonstop flights
- Direct flights
- Connecting flights
How about you? Are there routes where you'd pick a direct flight over a nonstop -- or a connecting flight instead of either? Share your thoughts in the comments below or on Twitter: @AusBT.
About John Walton
Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.