There appears to be a fine shade of meaning between the words 'transfer' and 'transit' in the domain of airports and train stations, possibly sea ports as well.

Consider this typical usage fragment...

I'm flying from Colombia to Munich with transfer in Atlanta. The transit time is 3h and 58m. The flight is on Sunday and Atlanta, indeed, is the airport with the heaviest passenger transit in the world...

Also, sometimes you also see text referring to 'transfer fees', but never 'transit fees'. But alternatively, countries issue 'transit visas', but never 'transfer visas'.

Question: what are the differences between 'transit' and 'transfer' in the overall domain of travel.

Note: The question here is prompted by an effort in Travel to introduce precision into these words as site tags. In addition to authoritative English usage answers, pedantic and/or didactic answers that clarify these terms are also welcomed.

  • What does your dictionary say? – TimLymington Aug 6 '15 at 11:09
  • 2
    @TimLymington, we're not concerned with prescription or etymology, It's a fine shades of meaning type of question. – Gayot Fow Aug 6 '15 at 11:18
  • Since we are asking about an argot specific to traveler, and not the words as they are generally used in English, I think the question will be more competently answered at TSE. – choster Aug 6 '15 at 14:49

According to several sources found by googling "transit vs transfer";

  • Transit means people on the same flight/plane/airline. For example when a plane lands to refuel.

  • Transfer means people switching flight/plane airline.

A transit would be cheaper because you, the passenger, don't really need to do anything at the airport like checking out and in.

Extrapolating logically, I would explain them as halfway switch and endpoint switch, respectively. Transit visa and transit flight are two entirely different things. A flight means the flight is still 'in progress', but momentarilly paused. This means you're not actually "in the country", but on the flight. If you transfer between flights, one flight ended and another one starts... but your JOURNEY has not ended, it is just paused, i.e. in transit. But because you're not on either flight at the moment, you're in the country, and thus you need a visa.

Not needing a visa also ties in to absence of a (flight) transit fee, I suppose.

  • There's also "airport transfer", which I'm not sure means "transfer between two airports in relative proximity to continue a flight itinerary" or "transport between an airport and a place of accommodation". Or it could mean both. – hippietrail Aug 6 '15 at 11:20
  • It can mean both, and more. Transfer here would just mean as much as "you're done at this airport, and you move on to the next whatever". Technically it could be as little stepping out and into a taxi. But generally it does mean from airport to hotel and vice versa. "Hotel transfer" seems more apt for a guided tour past several establishments, and airport-to-airport could be described as a flight transfer. – PixelSnader Aug 6 '15 at 11:36
  • And thus I must now ask what precisely is a "flight transfer"? (-: Is this a common term or just the wording that happened to pop into your head for no particular reason? – hippietrail Aug 6 '15 at 11:49

In the context of travel ...

A "transfer" is essentially moving from one item to another item. So it would apply equally to going from a hotel to an airport, as well as going from one airplane to another airplane.

The term "transit" applies more to staying temporarily before continuing on to your next destination. You would "transit" an airport if you fly from A, stop for a while, then continue another flight to B. You "transit" a subway station when you stop to change from train C to train D.

  • By "transfer" did you mean moving from one place to another place? The word "item" seems a bit generic here. – Marconius Aug 6 '15 at 17:29

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