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Direct vs Non-stop flights

The airline industry has its own terminology which can be confusing for the average traveller. One of the main examples is the different terms “direct” and “non-stop” flights. They can be the same thing, but often they are not.

A direct flight implies that it flies from A to B without stopping - but this isn’t always the case. In fact the plane may stop and pick up passengers or you may need to change planes (and even terminals) at a mid way point. The flight does retain the one flight number and so it is considered a “direct flight” and not a “connecting flight”. A “non-stop flight” does just that, it doesn’t stop and is the quickest way to get to your destination. Non-stop flights are often more expensive and harder to get on in peak times.

Always check which type of flight yours is when you book your tickets. You don’t want to arrive at the airport to find that you have to change planes mid-way and your travel time will be extended.

I had a rude shock when I flew with my then 13 mth old baby to a wedding in Cairns in 2000. My husband was not able to come with us and so I was facing the trip alone. When I booked the ticket I asked for a direct flight, not realising that direct did not mean non-stop. It was only when I was checking in and the customer service officer gave me two boarding passes (one for Sydney and one for Brisbane) that I realised that not only were we going to be stopping in Brisbane but that I had to change planes.

For anyone who has travelled on a plane with an infant, the most stressful times can be takeoff and landing because the baby needs to sit on your lap. On this particular day my son was not happy - it was mid-evening and past his bedtime and we were on a business person’s flight that was packed to the rafters with a cabin crew who could care less about a mother flying solo. Even though I had an upset baby the cabin attendant handed me two meals at once and I was forced to put one on the floor. As the flight to Brisbane was only an hour and a bit there was little point in getting Loll to sleep as he would need to be awoken for landing. It was one of the more stressful flights that I have taken and made all the worse knowing that I would have to get off and change planes. Luckily Loll fell asleep on the second flight but it was midnight before we arrived in Cairns - if we had been on a non-stop flight we would have arrived at least 2 hours earlier (and probably saner!).

Since that occasion I have always double checked with the airline about whether the flight is non-stop or simply direct.


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