Flow characteristics and fluxes in thermohaline staircases are measured in two tanks differing in aspect ratio A, where A is the ratio of tank width to fluid depth. In one tank (the ‘1 × 1’ tank) which is 30 cm deep and 30 cm wide, a staircase of one salt-finger layer and one convecting layer develops for a certain setting of the control parameters. The convecting layer has A ≃ 2. Shadowgraphs show convecting plumes that appear disorganized, and a large-scale flow never develops. Instead, the finger layer grows in height, overtakes the convecting layer and within a few days becomes one finger layer. The second tank (the ‘1 × 5’ tank) is also 30 cm deep but is 150 cm wide. For the same control parameter setting a similar staircase with a finger layer 20 cm deep and a convecting layer 10 cm deep develop. The convecting layer, with A = 15, has quite a different character. A large-scale flow develops so that the convecting layer has one cell, 10 cm deep and 150 cm wide. In this flow are large plumes which are transient and tilted; particle image velocimetry measurements of Reynolds stresses show they help to maintain the large-scale flow against viscous dissipation. Shadowgraphs show all the finger tips swept in the direction of the large-scale flow adjacent to the finger layer. Measurements show that the large-scale flow ‘collects’ the salt delivered by the many fingers so that the accumulated negative buoyancy leads to deep convection. This is a more stable arrangement, with the configuration lasting to the order of 102 days.