Not all nonstop flights are created equal (apparently)…

A lot of US airlines market “direct flights,” which I find to be an incredibly deceiving concept. Basically two segments have the same flight number, even though they’re operated by different aircraft, from different gates, etc. For example, United 900 operates between San Diego and San Francisco (on an Airbus 320) and then San Francisco to Frankfurt (on a Boeing 747). Many would book San Diego to Frankfurt as a “direct” flight, thinking it’s nonstop. Not only is it not nonstop, but you could very well misconnect in San Francisco, despite having originally thought you were on a “direct” flight.

And that’s the major distinction between a direct flight and a nonstop flight. A direct flight is all about marketing, while a nonstop flight is, well, nonstop… or so I thought.

Just for fun (yes, this is how exciting my Monday nights are) I was pricing out fares on Malaysia Airlines’ website this evening between Kuala Lumpur and Los Angeles, and this flight came up:

Now, those with a basic understanding of geography are probably thinking that this is a pretty darn long nonstop flight. Then I clicked on the flight details, only to find this:

Interesting. A nonstop flight from Kuala Lumpur to Los Angeles… with one stop.

Filed Under: Other Airlines
  1. Perhaps they don’t market the segments separately? were you able to price kul-tpe and tpe-lax on the same flight?

  2. This new MH website is only in the air for a couple of days. I’ve also found some glitches on it.
    Please say your gonna fly them! It’s really a great airline!!!

  3. @ Byron — Nope, they market/sell the segments individually as well.

    @ KLM — I don’t have any plans to yet, but I’d like to. They’re on my “list.”

  4. MH94 is a “direct flight” (same equipment – 1 or more ground stops) and UA900 is a “change of guage flight” (change of equipment, 1 or more stops – you may have two separate seat assignments.)

    Many people may not read the details, so yes marketing. As you show, it is not just US based carriers. A non stop flight marketed as “non stop” = 0 stop, pt. A to B, other wise it is a direct flight.

    Not all airline flight designations/numbers are equal. Then throw in some code shares. It can get more complicated, and even be a whole other airline. Read the fine print…”flight operated by.”

    Safe traveling.

  5. at least San Diego and SFO are not too far from each other… I recently almost took a UA flight marketed as non-stop from LAX to Sao Paulo. Except it stopped at ORD along the way.

  6. Thy cynic in me, having lived in Malaysia for over 2 years, isn’t too surprised…

    I’m not sure I’d say “great” airline. Their short- mid- haul hard product is horrible. Old seats that look like a carnival exploded. Meals are quite good, though, as is the service. The long haul product is good, at best. But when compared to other regional operators in Biz, such as ANA, Singapore, Thai, Cathay, Air NZ, etc, it pales in comparison…

    Heck – even the ultimate LCC, AirAsia, uses the same seat for their “premium class”.

  7. The terms “non-stop” and “1-stop” do not have the same meaning in different parts of the world. A couple years ago, I remember wondering why so many passengers were booking (at the same price or even a premium) on 1-stop flights from Accra to London via Dusseldorf rather than on the non-stop options. Well, it turns out that many were scared about the term “non-stop” believing that the aircraft did not land at destination and they would have to parachute out of the plane (I swear I am not making this up!!!), so the 1-stop flight at least assured them that they would land. These same passengers then usually kicked up a fuss at check-in when they were told that they were going via Dusseldorf. At the end we stopped using “non-stop” and “1-stop” as descriptive terms and instead used “via XYZ” where the flight had an intermediate stop. That seemed to solve the problem.

  8. I think that those who call MH a “great” airline have an old-world, colonial mentality that doesn’t expect much from lowly 3rd world countries or their carriers, that when they get the bare minimum they think it’s great. It’s called condescension. MH is not a great airline. It’s not even a good airline, in that to be good you must at least be consistent, something MH is not. As someone here mentioned, it’s short- and mid-haul products leave plenty to be desired and even its long-haul product is a crap-shoot. In a region filled with great airlines, MH should not be on anybody’s list, except someone like Lucky who’s flown everyone else and is looking for new experiences.

  9. I have a friend who is fairly sophisticated in flying. Whenever he says ‘I’m taking a direct flight’ I ask him where he’s stopping. He then replies that he’s not stopping. ‘Oh, so you’re on a nonstop’ I say. He refuses to use the word ‘nonstop’ even though he knows better. So, I guess a lot of people don’t know or don’t care.

  10. I have gone on United 895, ORD-SIN (via HKG), and 876 SIN-DEN (via NRT and SEA). Both of these were marketed as direct service, which I understand, but it was very clearly marked that they were 1 or 2 stops respectively. Of the hundreds of routes I have priced out at sometime or another there is almost always a direct flight with 1 stop, and I have never seen any of those marketed as non stop.

  11. I have flown that exact Malaysia Airlines flight and while you do stop in Taipei, you get back on the exact same plane and get your exact same seat back (or sometimes get to move if you are lucky). There is no chance you will miss the connection unless you lose track of the time in Taipei while eating some airport noodles. I actually welcomed the stop as it gave me some time to stretch the legs a bit and get off the plane. I have also flown the Singapore Airlines flight that does the same thing and stops in Tokyo on the way to LA. Get off, get back on. Although I did find it funny that they make you go through separate security again before re-boarding.

    Granted, it shouldn’t be called “nonstop”. However, it is a little more convenient than the United 900 “direct’ flight.

  12. China Airlines – JFK-TPE (stop in ANC)
    South African – IAD-JNB (stop in DKR)
    Ethiopian – IAD-ADD (stop in FCO)

  13. What about that “non-stop” British Airways all business class flight you reviewed last year from LCY to JFK, wasn’t there a stop RKV or somewhere on your way back?

  14. The LCY-JFK flight makes a stop in Ireland on the way to JFK to refuel and since they are on the ground they might as well do US border clearance. The flight to LCY is much shorter and it can start with a full load of fuel, so no stop is required.

  15. Hey if you book and fly SAN-FRA, do you get the 5840 miles for SAN-FRA, or the 6146 miles for SAN-SFO-FRA that you actually flew?

  16. Beware! It is very bad when you mis-connect on a direct flight. In most cases, assuming you are on an e-ticket, you only had one segment for your complete direct journey.

    I’ve missed the direct connection more than once (on a variety of carriers) because the release the second plane before the first plane’s tardy arrival. Invariably, club staff are baffled with how to book me on a subsequent flight – the replacement boarding pass always reflects that a flight coupon (ie:physical ticket) is required. While it’s always worked out, it’s always taken me 20+ minutes to resolve the matter. Never a fun situation.

  17. Sam, on a direct UA flight, you accrue mileage as though it is a nonstop. So you will get SAN-FRA mileage, and credit for one flight segment. (In your case the difference in miles isn’t much. But in some cases it matters. For example UA offers direct flights from SFO to Munich with a stop in ORD.. You can earn several hundred additional miles, and reduce the chance of a misconnect, by taking the next earlier flight from SFO-ORD.)

  18. United has a flight from YVR to LAX #305 this summer that departs at 1PM and arrives at 6:30. Just 1 stop and a plane change.

  19. There is a website that shows ALL nonstop flights in the U.S. from any airport and knows the difference between “direct” and “nonstop.” Check out for 1-click nonstop visual flight search (shameless plug).

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