Hub airports: What are the rules if you’re just changing plans?

Travel is opening up, with destinations from Australia to Vietnam preparing to welcome visitors. And with long-haul travel once again a possibility, the often-tricky rules for the world’s hub airports come into play. While some international gateways are content so long as you meet the requirements for your final destination, others impose tight restrictions.

These are the rules for international-to-international transfers as of 16 February 2022. All are based on a journey from the UK to a third country, and assume that the traveler has not been to other nations in the two weeks before their departure.

Please note that travel restrictions change frequently, and you should double-check the requirements yourself before booking a ticket.

Abu Dhabi

Unusually, Etihad – the national carrier for Abu Dhabi – requires all passengers to present a negative Covid-19 PCR test result. Even if it’s not needed for your ultimate destination, you must take a test in the 72 hours before your first flight departure time, to show the result at Abu Dhabi’s airport.

For onward travel, PCR tests are available at Abu Dhabi airport, price US$50 (£37).

Addis Ababa

No additional requirements beyond those of your final destination. If you have a long layover between Ethiopian Airlines flights, you are able to leave the airport to go to a designated hotels, where you must self-isolate until your next flight.


“All passengers traveling to, from, or via the Netherlands need to fill out a health declaration,” says the Dutch airline KLM. This includes transit passengers and everyone else aged 12 and over.

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Then the picture gets more complicated.

Hubs in the Schengen Area (covering most European Union countries, plus Switzerland, Norway and Iceland) have unusual rules: connections to non-Schengen destinations are straightforward, but those to Schengen Area countries generally require the traveler to enter the bloc, before making what is effectively a “domestic” flight to the final destination.

Therefore travelers must meet the Dutch requirements as well as their destination’s – and the Netherlands currently requires a negative antigen test taken no more than 24 hours before departure.

So, for example, Manchester-Amsterdam-New York passengers need only comply with US demands (plus that Dutch testing form). But Newcastle-Amsterdam-Oslo travelers must present a Covid test even though the final destination does not demand one.


International transfers are allowed, but the rules are so onerous that probably most people will not bother. You need a PCR test taken less than 72 hours before departure to Thailand and a worldwide travel health insurance policy covering Covid-19 expenses (with at least US$100,000 of protection).

Maximum transit time: 12 hours.

Canada (all hubs)

Calgary, Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver are among the traveler’s dream hubs. You are exempt from all testing rules as long as you stay “airside” and connect within 24 hours.

You need not collect baggage that has been checked through to your final destination.

Travelers continuing to the US will clear American formalities before the onward flight.

One hitch: if your flight is severely delayed and you need to leave the airport to go to a hotel, you become subject to mandatory quarantine until your flight finally departs.

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Since the start of the pandemic, Qatar Airways has been offering connections through its hub – in April 2020, when many people were seeking repatriation flights from Asia and Australasia to Europe, the carrier provided them. The Qatar Airways network never fell below 30 destinations, and currently serves 140.

Today, no test certificates are required beyond the demands of your final destination country.

However, leaving the airport during a long layover is not currently feasible without a PCR test and quarantine.

Jewel, the entertainment and nature complex at Singapore’s Changi Airport

(Getty Images)


No tests required beyond the demands of the destination country – so long as you do not want to leave the airport.

If you do wish to spend time in Dubai, you will need a negative PCR test result taken in the 48 hours before the scheduled flight departure from the UK.

Emirates provides some clear and helpful online advice.


Because the Republic of Ireland is in the Common Travel Area, along with the four UK nations, a journey to Dublin is effectively domestic.

As such, you must complete an Irish passenger locator form and show proof of full vaccination – or a negative PCR test result taken within the 72 hours before departure.

US-bound travelers can clear American formalities before leaving Dublin airport, which means they are treated as domestic arrivals once they land.

Frankfurt and Munich

Germany’s hubs are relatively tough. Even if you are continuing to a restriction-free destination, everyone aged six and over must show proof of vaccination or recovery (28-90 days since positive result) – or a negative result from a test taken within the 48 hours before arrival.

Hong Kong

Covid restrictions mean one of the world’s great hubs is currently off-limits, with no indication when it might return.

Its main airline, Cathay Pacific, says: “The Hong Kong Airport Authority has announced that from 16 January until 15 March 2022, transfer and transit services at Hong Kong International Airport will be limited to customers coming from non-high risk places.” That certainly does not include the UK – from which a flight ban is in place until 4 March at the earliest.


No additional restrictions if your transit time in the airport is less than 12 hours.

For longer stopovers, Istanbul is an excellent place to spend time between flights – no testing or quarantine required of fully vaccinated travellers.


As with Amsterdam, UK passengers flying somewhere within the EU’s Schengen Area must comply with local rules – which, for fully vaccinated arrivals, do not require testing or quarantine. This also means that, on long stopovers, you can leave the airport and head into central Paris.

Despite being the world’s worst airport from many points of view, Paris Charles de Gaulle is not too bad from a Covid perspective. For passengers transferring from the UK to intercontinental destinations, no additional rules apply.

Air France also offers the weirdest transfer option I have ever seen: “Would you like to collect your baggage at Paris-Charles de Gaulle between two connecting Air France or KLM flights? You will be charged €275 [£231] for this service, regardless of the reason, the number of baggage items, or your flight cabin.”

Abu Dhabi International Airport

(Getty Images)


You do not need a Covid test to connect flights in South Korea.

The Foreign Office is unusually helpful with transit information at Incheon airport. It says: “All transit passengers receive a temperature check on arrival in Korea.

“Symptomatic individuals will be subject to a Covid-19 test and hospitalization if found positive. Passengers who do not show symptoms and/or test negative may continue their journey.

“Transit hotels are available in both Terminals 1 and 2 at Incheon airport.”


A Covid test result or proof of recovery is required of fully vaccinated travelers – who can currently enter or transit through this mega-hub as part of a Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL). The UK, perhaps surprisingly, is in the preferred category of countries from which lateral flow (rapid antigen) tests are allowed, rather than PCRs.

From 21 February, arrivals from all countries will be permitted to take lateral flow tests. The airport warns that you must book a lateral flow test with a professional rather than using a self-swab kit.

Proof of recovery can be used in lieu of a test, if you can provide a positive PCR or professionally-administered rapid antigen result between a week and 90 days before your date of departure for Singapore.

In normal times, Singapore is a superb destination for a connection – even laying on free tours of the city-state between flights. At present, however, the rules for immigration are complex.

However there is so much on offer for transit passengers that filling time is easy. I particularly recommend the rooftop swimming pool, open 6am-midnight, which costs a very reasonable S$17 (£9). Keep your swimmers in your cabin baggage. Towels supplied.

US (all hubs)

One strange consequence of travel in the Covid era is that America’s once-onerous rules for anyone hoping to transfer between international flights now look reasonably mild.

US Customs and Border Protection requires anyone landing at an American airport to comply with all the rules for entering the US, even if you have no intention of straying further than the departure gate for your onward connection.

The first step is to acquire an Esta (online visa), price $13 (£9), to allow you to board a plane to America. Then you need to meet the prevailing rules for the US: proof of vaccination and a lateral flow test taken on the day of departure or the previous day.

Unlike most other hubs, the fact that you have had to legally enter the US means you are free to explore between flights. For example, on the six-hour-plus layover at San Francisco between United Airlines’ arrival from London Heathrow and departure onwards to Sydney, you could go for dinner at the city’s Fisherman’s Wharf waterfront.


As with Amsterdam and Paris, if you are transiting to a Schengen Area nation you must meet the local rules – which, in the case of Switzerland, do not require testing or quarantine for fully vaccinated travellers.

There are no further requirements beyond the demands of your final destination.

Note that the national airline, Swiss, has some pretty specific rules, saying: “Please bring your own mask along. Please note that face shields and masks with valves are not allowed on board. Scarfs and other textiles are not accepted as substitutes.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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