Asia's best layover airports

Singapore Changi Airport

If you’re travelling to Europe from New Zealand in 2023, it’s likely you’ll be stopping over at an Asian airport. Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, and Tokyo Narita are three of the easiest and best for short layover for 3-12 hour stays. You can fly to each from Auckland International Airport with flight times of around 11 hours.

Three hours is the minimum you should allow when transiting, but when you have a little more, here’s what is available at these three airports.

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

KL Airport is the main operating airport for Air Asia X, currently the cheapest way to fly to Asia from NZ | Image: klia.info

Flights from Auckland International via Air Asia X or Malaysia Airlines (codeshares with British Airways, Qatar, and Oman Air).

Kuala Lumpur (KUL) airport has two main terminals, KLIA1 and KLIA2. They are six kilometres apart and connected by a free shuttle bus or train.

Free WiFi for up to 3 hours at a time is available, plus there are free internet kiosks if you don’t have your own device within use.

Luggage storage room rates are per bag per 24-hour period, from RM19.00 – RM51.00 (NZD$7-18), depending on size.

Two movie theatres offer free film screenings on reclining seats. These theatres can be a welcome place to stretch out between two economy flights. There’s also a free rainforest experience, where you can get the feel of the Malaysian Jungle and its humidity and quiet, natural sounds.

The closest hotels, Sama-Same Express KLIA, are inside both terminals and you do not need to clear Malaysian Immigration and Customs to stay there.

The Lounge, a pan-airline lounge, offers single entry for a fee – you don’t have to be travelling business or first class for access.

At KUL there are day rooms for 6+ hours and sleeping cabins and pods for rental for 3+ hour stays. Capsule Transit has locations both airside and landside at KUL, offering sleeping pods for 3, 6, and 12 hour stays. Shower-only packages are also available for RM 29 (NZD$10) and include shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, slippers, and have a hair dryer.

The airport train to KL Sentral train station takes 30 minutes and it’s possible to enjoy some of downtown Kuala Lumpur with a six or more hour layover.

Tokyo Narita, Japan

Narita's high street | Image: Wikivoyage

Flights from Auckland International via Air New Zealand, codeshare with ANA

Narita Airport offers eight shower rooms available to all arriving travellers. There are also nap rooms (with shower) which you can rent for 60 minutes or longer. Single rooms cost 1,560 JPY (NZD$18) for 60 minutes, and thereafter 780 JPY (NZD$9) for each additional hour. The showers have shampoo/conditioner, body soap, bath towels, face towels, hair dryers, and Japanese toilets with bidet washing, seat warming, etc.

Narita Airport is located 60km from central Tokyo. If you have a layover here that’s less than eight hours it is advisable not to travel to Tokyo proper, but instead to Narita City. Here, after clearing immigration and a 10-15 minute train ride from the airport, you can reach a bustling and traditional Japanese market street, which leads to Naritasan Shinshoji Temple.

Built in the 10th Century, this free excursion gives you a lot of Japanese culture if you only have a couple of hours between flights. Allow 6-8 hours between your flights to travel to and from the Temple with ample time to explore it.

Alternatively, with a few hours to spare at Narita you could visit the AEON Mall, which has premium designer outlets. It’s 20 minutes bus ride from the airport, and there are buses directly located outside the terminal to take you to and from, but checking the schedule is advised.

Singapore Changi

Changi is home to the world's largest indoor waterfall | Image: Getty

Flights from Auckland International via Air New Zealand, codeshare with Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines, and Asiana Airlines

Singapore is quick and easy to get in and out of from its airport, Changi. Travellers are granted transit for up to 24 hours to explore, but it isn’t recommended you leave the airport with fewer than six hours between flights. It’s safe to have at least eight hours, store your luggage at the airport, and then see what Singapore has to offer in a day. Marina Bay Sands, Gardens by the Bay, Merlion Park, and the Singapore Botanic Gardens, among others, are the usual “must dos” for short layovers.

If you are a transit passenger of Singapore Changi, with a layover period is at least 5.5 hours and less than 24 hours, and your flight schedule fits in with tour timing slot requirements, you can explore Singapore for free on the 2.5 hour shuttle tour. The availability of these tours are first come, first served and cannot be reserved. You don’t need to clear immigration to go on one of the three tours available (heritage, city sights, or jewel); registration is in the transit area.

When you don’t have enough time to leave Changi, there’s more than enough to keep you occupied between your flights. The duty-free shopping and dining available consists of an expansive mall-like experience, in each of Changi’s four terminals. Jewel Changi, a nature-themed entertainment and retail complex, allows you to hike the indoor forest Shiseido Forest Valley, check out the HSBC Rain Vortex, and see a movie at the Shaw Theatres in IMAX.

Also at each terminal are pay-per-use lounges. Here, you can nap, shower, exercise at the gym, or get a massage. However, each terminal has a different lounge with different facilities. Terminal 1 has Plaza Premium Lounge with five-hour lounge use for S$58 (NZ$69). Terminal 2 and 3’s Ambassador transit lounges are similar, but the former has a gym (S$28 / NZD$32 for two hours, including shower access) while the latter has massage services. The lounge at Terminal 3 also has a good view of Changi’s famous Butterfly Garden.

Terminal 4’s Blossom lounge has just the typical lounge facilities, while the lounge at Jewel has sleeping pods.

Elsewhere in Asia... 

As of January 2023, the other airports in Asia you can fly directly to from Auckland International are Seoul, Bangkok, Taipei, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. You can expect slower processes in transit at Taipei, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Guangzhou airports as China removes Zero Covid rules and deals with Lunar New Year traffic.

- Asia Media Centre