Which airports are the best to connect in when flying to Australia?

Sep 12, 2019

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Australia is a long way from the UK, and unless you are taking Qantas’ single nonstop flight to Perth, you are going to need to stop somewhere along the way — whether it’s for a proper stopover, to quickly change planes or just to refuel and get back on to the same plane.

I’ve written recently about which routes are the fastest for getting from the UK to Australia, and you can make the total journey less than 24 hours by flying almost in a straight line and briefly connecting somewhere along the way. The two regions ‘on the way’, if drawing a line from the UK to Australia that offer one-stop flights between the countries are the Middle East and Asia, and I’ve connected in numerous different airports when making this journey myself over the years. Here are my recommendations for connections in those regions.

Connecting through the Middle East

Of the three main options — Dubai (DXB), Abu Dhabi (AUH) and Doha (DOH) — I would choose Doha. The airport is an all-in-one terminal building and is well laid out, making connections easier. If you are flying in business or first class with Qatar Airways or its partner airlines, you will also have access to the spectacular Al Mourjan and Al Safwa lounges, respectively.

Arguably, more important than choosing your connecting airport is choosing your flight times. Flights between the UK and the Middle East are all around seven hours in length. That means if you’re taking an overnight flight there will be barely five hours even if you go to sleep as soon as the seatbelt sign is off. Even if you are in first class with a private suite, the flight length means it’s unlikely you’ll have enough sleep on the first leg before changing planes the following morning onto a much longer day flight to Australia.

A much better tactic is if you leave the UK in the morning, stay awake on the day flight and then arrive in the Middle East that evening. If stopping over, you can head straight to your hotel for a proper sleep in a bed, while if you’re connecting on to Australia you have a much longer (12+ hours) overnight flight to sleep properly.

On the return leg, most flights from Australia to the Middle East leave in the evening, which is ideal for getting a proper sleep on the first long flight and then having a relatively short day-time flight from the Middle East back to the UK.

Doha Airport. (Photo by The Points Guy)

Connecting via Asia

Asia is a huge region, with connecting options all the way from Delhi (DEL) through to Seoul (ICN) and Tokyo (NRT and HND). While there are some fabulous airports and stopover cities in northern Asia, this involves a reasonable deviation from the efficient straight line idea to get you to Australia sooner rather than later. For that reason, unless you particularly want to fly a northern Asian carrier or visit its respective hub city, I would stick with cities in South East Asia.

It’s difficult not to just recommend what is the best airport in the region, if not the world — Singapore Changi (SIN). This airport is built perfectly for stopovers with excellent signage, shopping, lounges and food and beverage options. I really like just stretching my legs at Changi, and now with the new Jewel attraction, it’s an excellent airport to connect in. I also love Hong Kong (HKG), especially if flying in a premium cabin on a Oneworld carrier like Cathay Pacific because of the spectacular range of lounges the airport boasts.

The Pier First Class Lounge, Hong Kong. (Photo by The Points Guy)

Other airports in the region like Bangkok (BKK) and Kuala Lumpur (KUL) are okay to connect in, though their layouts can be confusing for passengers who aren’t familiar with them, and their lounges are mostly forgettable. There are also some airports I’d avoid completely, like Manila (MNL) and Jakarta (CGK).

Like connecting through the Middle East, flight times are also important. The easiest way to think about ideal flight times through South East Asia are that they are the opposite of your Middle East mindset. From the UK, there’s a long, 12-hour — or more — flight to Asia, always overnight with the time difference. Therefore, it’s good to sleep on the first long flight. The second flight from Asia to Australia can either be during the day, or overnight depending on the carrier and schedule (most are overnight). And from Singapore (SIN) to Australia, for example, these flights can be less than seven hours, so you have the same half-night’s sleep issue. For this reason, I like leaving the UK around midday, landing in Asia early morning the next day, and then continuing on a day flight to Australia.

By the way, whatever your connection city and flight times, without fail I always find jet-lag worse flying east to Australia than west back to the UK.

Featured image by Ethan Steinberg / The Points Guy

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