For many passengers, a direct flight and a non-stop flight are the same thing, when in fact they are not, even if the difference for the passenger is minimal.
“I’ve been ripped off, I bought a direct flight and we had a stopover in Singapore, can I be compensated?“. Here’s the kind of message you might read on some specialized forums, or the kind of questions we’re sometimes asked. Well, this is a totally normal situation, and even if the terms sound similar, a non-stop flight and a direct flight are not the same thing.
What is a non-stop flight?
As the name suggests, a non-stop flight is a flight that makes no stopovers between its departure and arrival airports. These are the most sought-after flights for passengers, as they are the shortest and avoid the need to disembark on the way and manage a possible connection. Although we’re not sure everyone will appreciate spending 20 hours flying between Sydney and London without being able to stretch their legs when Qantas’ Project Sunrise becomes a reality.
For this reason, they are generally the most expensive flights because they are the most popular.
What is a direct flight?
A direct flight is one that goes from your departure airport to your arrival airport without changing aircraft, but not changing aircraft does not mean no stopover.
This allows the aircraft to make a technical stopover, for example to refuel when it does not have sufficient range to reach its final destination.
For example, future Turkish Airlines flights between Istanbul and Sydney will make a stopover in Singapore, as none of the aircraft currently has sufficient range and needs to be refueled on the way.
The reason for the stopover can also be commercial, to disembark passengers and embark new ones, particularly in the case of 5th freedom flights.
And very often it’s the technical constraint that gives rise to the commercial opportunity.
During these stopovers, passengers may or may not have to disembark, depending on the case, but their luggage remains on board, they don’t have to go through immigration and they generally leave after a one-hour stopover, during which they refuel, refill food if necessary and change crew.
On the other hand, it is the same aircraft that operates end-to-end with the same flight number. Flight KL835 therefore refers to both Amsterdam-Singapore and Singapore-Denpasar.
This is how it differs from a connecting flight, where you change aircraft and the flight numbers are not the same.
All non-stop flights are direct
Ultimately, and even if the difference is subtle, all non-stop flights are by definition direct flights, whereas not all direct flights are non-stop.
What’s the impact on passengers?
Apart from having to disembark, re-embark and take advantage of a very short stopover to stretch one’s legs, and of course the fact that a direct flight is a little longer, this has no other impact on the passenger.
If there were a change of carrier, this could have implications in terms of liability in the event of delay, for example, but as long as it’s the same flight with the same carrier, it makes no difference.
A non-stop flight does not stop on its way, whereas a direct flight has a technical stopover but no change of aircraft or flight. Apart from the duration of the flight and possible disembarkation, this has no other impact on the passenger.