Back to Basics: Variations in Air Travel

This month, we are continuing with going back to the basics, reinforcing principles and filling in some gaps in learning. As an educated travel professional, part of your role is to save travelers time and money and to provide peace of mind. So, it’s important to revisit foundational concepts from time to time.

If you need to start building a solid foundation on the critical areas all travel professionals must have to be successful, check out The Travel Institute’s Travel Introductory Program, the TRIPKIT℠

One area the TRIPKit covers is air travel. If you are a leisure agent, this might be an area you don’t focus on much; on the other hand, if you handle corporate travel, air is the holy grail. Nonetheless, a true travel professional should have overall knowledge of all aspects of the industry. While some can speak in fluent code (i.e., I logged into the GDS and xld the last leg from BOS to MSP), most simply need to understand the terminology used by travel professionals when discussing air travel. For example, what is the difference between types of flights and types of journeys?

Types of Flights

For most people traveling by air, the only thing that matters is that their flight is safe, on time, and as fast and simple as possible. The simplicity of a flight depends on the stops. A stop occurs whenever a plane lands, and there are different types. A connection is a stop that occurs when the passenger gets off a plane with the sole purpose of boarding another plane. A stopover is a planned break in a journey. Stops count as stopovers whenever the traveler stays at a domestic location for more than four hours—or, for international flights, 24 hours—unless no flight to the destination is available on that airline. If such a flight is available, the passenger must take the next available flight to avoid paying for a stopover.

Depending on the stops involved, travelers might take three different types of one-way flights.

  • A nonstop flight has no intermediate stops.
  • A connecting flight has a stop that requires the passenger to change planes.
  • A direct, or through, flight can have one or more stops at which the passenger does not have to change planes (i.e., a WN flight from PVD-PHX could have a stop in HOU; in this case, the passenger does not have to leave the plane in HOU and continue on to PHX). In some cases, however, some so-called direct flights change aircraft at the stop, requiring passengers to switch planes, even though these flights are not listed as connecting flights but rather as a “change of equipment.” The government requires that clients be notified in writing when a flight with a change in aircraft is listed as direct. This usually is indicated on the client’s itinerary.

    Airlines often will list a direct flight that requires a change of equipment; that means it really is a connecting flight. In other words, a direct flight can be a nonstop flight or a flight that makes stops en route to a destination. Many clients use the term direct for non-stop, it always is important to advise a customer if a direct flight is not a non-stop. Often, a connection can be faster than a direct flight that makes three or more stops en route to the destination.

Types of Journeys

No matter the type of flight, travelers always will take four basic types of journeys:

  • A one-way trip is a journey from an originating city to a destination city, with no return to the origin. The journey may be made on one or more flights and may or may not require the passenger to change planes.
  • A round-trip is a journey that returns to the city where it began, without additional stopovers. Thus, the ultimate destination is the originating city, with the same route used going and coming.
  • A circle trip is like a round-trip except that the route on the return trip differs from the route on the outgoing trip. The journey involves two or more stopovers and returns to the originating city.
  • An open-jaw trip is like a round-trip except that the passenger either: (1) returns to a city different from the point of origin, or (2) departs for the return trip from a city other than the original destination. For example, a passenger might go from Seattle to Boston by plane, then to New York by car, and then return to Seattle by plane from New York. Thus, the traveler uses some form of transportation in addition to air.
  • A double open-jaw trip often is found in itineraries where there is more than one airport in a city. One example is Oakland to La Guardia, returning Newark to San Francisco. Some international airlines allow an APEX (Advance Purchase Excursion) fare with a double open-jaw, such as San Francisco to Frankfurt, returning from Munich to Los Angeles.

As you can see, air can be complex. Whether or not you sell much air, it is important that you have a basic understanding of what it all means. In general, we recommend that agents avoid the overuse of industry jargon. However, the use of proper and specific industry terms is critical when explaining important distinctions like these to your clients or colleagues alike.