Home Travel The Great Debate: Do Airport Layovers Count as “Visiting” A Place?

The Great Debate: Do Airport Layovers Count as “Visiting” A Place?

by SharonKurheg

Joe and I started running a travel-focused Facebook group in 2018. We ran it for about 5.5 years and at the time we closed it down, we had amassed over 23,000 members from literally all over the world. The group supported our blog, but we also used it as an opportunity to have some fun, with travel-related memes, quizzes, occasional giveaways, etc.

Besides the stuff that we posted in the group, we also encouraged our members to add things – photos of their own travels, questions they may have about a travel-related topic, etc. It usually brought about some good conversation and it was fun to see the travel-related interests and experiences other people had (like when people would ask about traveling with kids; Joe and I don’t have kids, so that topic was a whole other world to us).

Anyway, a while back one of our members, Mary, posed a very interesting question:

Please settle this important (ridiculous) debate between Hubs and I:
If you have to change planes in a state you’ve never been in, does that plane change count as going to a new state? In other words, we have to change planes in Oklahoma City. Do I get to count that as having been in Oklahoma?
It quickly garnered nearly 150 comments and probably would have gotten more, but comments were shut off after the first 24 hours.
Anyway, although posted in fun, most (but not all LOL!) people seemed to be deadly serious about their replies.
You had the ones who said there was no way it counted:
  • “I don’t count it”
  • “That doesn’t really count LOL!”
  • “No.”
Others suggested that of course it counted:
  • “Counts for me! If I set foot on land in a state then I’ve visited it!”
  • “If you fly into Will Rogers Airport, then you are here and consider yourself greeted by me, an Okie! Howdy, and enjoy your time here in OKC”
  • “If you were there, you were there”
A small number of people thought that stopovers counted as “being in” a state but not “visiting” it.
And a fourth group added their own stipulations – each one was as different as the people themselves:
  • “A visit only counts if you leave the airport…or sleep in the airport overnight”
  • “It counts if you eat there, preferably something local”
  • “It counts if you go outside and step on the ground”
  • “I count it IF you buy something there”
  • “My philosophy is, if I spend more than an hour there, I’ve been there”
  • “If you can manage to purchase a fridge magnet, then yes!”
  • We have a wooden cutout of the USA and we color in all the states we’ve been to… but we only color in that state if myself, my husband and all 3 kids stayed the night together in that state
  • “Landing there doesn’t count but getting off the plane does”
  • NO. WAY. You must leave the airport and visit one attraction”
  • “Only if you go to the bathroom and flush”

It was Mary’s question so I put her in charge of keeping track of the responses (Delegating. It’s a good thing LOL!). Her final count was:

  • Doesn’t count: 53
  • Counts: 45
  • Conditional: 8 (conditions include buying something, eating something local, staying over an hour, using the facilities, etc.)

As for the debate between Mary and her hubby, apparently Mary’s husband had said that layovers don’t count:

So, hubs “wins” this debate… But I’m still counting it 😂

That was the response in our little corner of the internet, but I knew we weren’t the first ones to ask. So I did some of my own research to see what other groups of people have said at other times in history.

About a year before the discussion on our FB group, the question was raised on Quora: “Does a layover count as visiting a country?” (I know we had been talking about states but really, it’s the same concept, just a different location). They only had 6 responses: 3 “No,” 2 “Maybe,” and one “You be you.”

A few years before that, back in 2016, Max F. asked on a TripAdvisor forum if airport stop-overs count as visiting the country. He got 32 replies and although there were many hard-lined yes or no replies, there was a fair share of, “It’s whatever you want it to be.”

In 2015, someone on StackExchange asked a similar question, albeit for a legit reason, rather than just curiosity: “What counts as a “visit” for immigration forms?” They only got 2 replies but one, from Kate G., was particularly well thought out:

Better safe than sorry. If you claim to have visited a country but never left the airport, what will happen to you? Nothing. They may say “tell me about your visit to X” and you will say “actually I never left the airport, it was a connection” and that’s that. No consequences.

But if you leave it off, and they say “well how did you get from A to B?” and you say “I transited through C” and then they say “why didn’t you list C on here?” then suddenly you’re a person whose answers on the form might not be complete.

I recently had to list ten countries to answer that question. I listed them all. Just do it.

Going further back in time, in 2011, a member of City-Data.com did a poll that asked whether or not layovers “count.” 19.18% said they counted, 80.82% said they did not.

And WAY back in 2002, Travel Weekly did a piece on “Rules For Counting Countries.” Apparently one of their readers, Bob K. of Gainesville FL, and a friend of his, came up with “Bob & Jim’s Official Country Count Rules.” It’s kind of an amusing read.

As for me, I keep two lists – one of the places that I actually visited (read: left the airport and did something), and one where it was only a layover.

What do you think? Do airport layovers count as “visiting” a place?

*** Many thanks to Mary C. for the inspiration for this post!

Feature Photo: Stockvault by Pixabay

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19 comments

CEP June 3, 2021 - 3:47 pm

I don’t count them. Which means I still haven’t been to MI, MN, MO, and UT. This also brings the question if driving through states without stopping in them counts as visiting those states? If theu don’t count then I haven’t been to MS and AL.

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Frank June 3, 2021 - 3:56 pm

Once I had a layover at Shermetyevo and ran into Edward Snowden. We had a conversation about the Washington Football Team. So I say it counts if you talk with an international fugitive.

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derek June 4, 2021 - 2:50 am

What if Frank strangled Snowden? He could be accused of anything ranging from a lunatic to 007. Me, not wanting to go to prison, I would merely ask for an autograph.

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David E Botts June 3, 2021 - 5:05 pm

Being in the TCC, the rules state that any visit, no matter how short counts as a visit. If a GPS says I’m in a country and I’m physically on its land or ice or on or under its waters (sailing, diving, etc), I count it. If I fly or balloon over a country’s airspace I don’t count it.

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derek June 3, 2021 - 8:02 pm

My criteria is that stopovers count as a footnote. My criteria is that my foot has to touch the ground (sidewalk counts). Just the building and jetway then it is a footnote.

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derek June 4, 2021 - 2:48 am

I have been to 49 states and none of them as a footnote. As far as countries, the count if variable depending on length of time spent and what is a country. For example, Berlin was not part of West Germany. It was the free city of Berlin. How about Hong Kong pre-1997? Not really a country but is a distinct entity. So I don’t have a country count. I could calculate one by the strictest measure and the most liberal measure and report the number as a range. Or choose a middle of the road definition.

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Troy June 4, 2021 - 12:06 am

I don’t count it seriously, but do use it antidotally. For example a couple of years ago i had a stop over in Frankfurt on my way from NYC to Singapore. So I’ll generally say – sure I’ve been to Germany, but all I’ve seen is the first class lounge of Frankfurt Airport..

I wouldn’t seriously count it as having been to Germany though as i haven’t seen or experienced anything.

Even driving, while in the US, i did a coach tour from one side of the country to the other. There were lots of places where we stopped for lunch, or for a couple of hours break. I wouldn’t really count it as having been to that location though. Other places where we stayed overnight or for a couple of days/nights i do count though.

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Chuck Griffin (@chuxter65) June 4, 2021 - 7:35 am

On the plane or in the airport, you are subject to the laws of that particular jurisdiction. So yes, it counts.

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Rich June 4, 2021 - 5:34 pm

Of course it counts. Just as much as driving through a state at 65 miles an hour with only a restroom break.

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Fooshie October 18, 2021 - 5:58 pm

Legally, you are in a state if you are in an airport. You are breathing the air, contributing to the local economy, presumably leaving essence of yourself behind in the restroom. If you die, you will be sent to the local coroner’s office and that state will appear on your death certificate. If you are arrested, you will be sent to the local jail. You may not be experiencing much, but in the eyes of the law AND the spacetime continuum, you were there. (Did you cease to exist during the time your were in an airport?)

Being in a state or country’s airspace is an entirely different matter, since then you are bound by different laws.

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Ryan October 30, 2022 - 12:33 pm

Legally, you are not really in the state. I disagree with your comment about being in the state. It is actually Federal jurisdiction. Look at 2020 when the Michigan governor ordered all restaurants closed. Not even take-out, yet the restaurants at Detroit airport were still open. Also, you cannot take Marijuana bought in the state legally to the airport and use it. It’s under federal laws.

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Mark H October 30, 2022 - 12:35 pm

This is specific to me, but I collect Starbucks mugs, so if I am able to purchase one during my time at the airport, it counts.

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whocares October 30, 2022 - 12:37 pm

nomad mania has a whole discussion about this. I think it’s folly…only count a place if you’ve spent meaningful time there in some form is usually how I do it. and really it doesn’t matter… I don’t count airline stopovers and for the most part not quick drive throughs of a place either.

It’s pretty stupid…what’s more important is what you see. UN World Heritage sites for example are a better marker of the quality of one’s travels…since there are so many of them and they encompass so many kinds of places. But after awhile…those are all the same as well.

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derek October 30, 2022 - 1:46 pm

I have 3 categories of country count. One is every country that I’ve been on the ground, even if only at an airport. Overflight without landing does not count. A second counting method is to exclude countries that I didn’t see anything or saw for less than an hour or two. A third counting method is countries that I’ve been to extensively, such as more than 30 days in total.

As far as US states, there is not much difference between these categories so I don’t categorize them. At one time, there were states that I just drove or rode through but, eventually, I stepped foot in all of those states at least to see one tourist site. The exception is North Dakota, which I’ve never been to. A family member went to ND and said I didn’t miss much and that it is just like SD.

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Boraxo October 30, 2022 - 10:30 pm

Glad I am not the only one who had this (internal) debate. I think I will go with the asterisk solution, as some proposed to do for the home runs records held by Barry Bonds (and before him, Roger Maris)

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Christian October 31, 2022 - 12:54 am

I go with leaving the airport as counting. It’d be pretty embarrassing to say that I’d visited Japan only to be asked about specifics and have to mumble back something about how the airports are nice.

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Jon from Boston November 1, 2022 - 10:54 am

I technically count it, but those stops get a footnote. I’ve connected through Doha many times, I’ve spent over 80 hours there total, I’ve eaten there, slept there, though never left the airport. Compared to 3 hours in Vatican city, which I also count (without a footnote).

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Kevan Hubbard November 3, 2022 - 2:55 pm

The only one I semi visited in this way was flying to Johannesburg and we landed in Zimbabwe and got out of the plane presumably for refueling.Have I been to Zimbabwe? The way I look at it is ‘sort of’as although you don’t go through passport control you are still on the land of the country the airport is in and say you committed a criminal act in the airport you’d be arrested by the police of that nation.It’s more complicated with trains and buses crossing a from one country via another to get to another country although you don’t get out, assuming it’s daylight,you get to see a lot of the country you are passing through unlike in an airport.

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V. W. November 6, 2022 - 11:08 am

I was a commercial driver in the past. 48 of them I was paid to travel through. 1 was impossible to drive to but I did make it there via plane and stayed a week and drove a rental there. I’ve spent money in those places. One state really was transit only but I dropped money there as well so it counts. Was too cold to do much else there.

Since then I’ve been in 30 countrys. Drove in some did the train in others. Took the bus through a large area of Asia. Sailed to a few that are island nations. But I have left cash in every one of them so they count. That’s just the way I keep track. The color in the spaces map worked in the us. But I’ve not gotten a world map to color yet. I use my check ins on Google maps to keep track now. Some of the islands I’ve been on have no claim other then ww2 actions made them a point of interest to me. Not many people go to them now.

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