Simon Calder's Holiday Helpdesk: What time of day is best for departures to JFK?


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The Independent Travel

Q. I'm going to New York JFK in October. All the fares seem to be about the same, at about £450 return. So what time of day is it best to depart?

Peter Reynolds, Ealing

A. As early or as late as possible. Most flights on the busiest intercontinental air link in the world, from Heathrow to JFK, leave late morning or early afternoon (touching down, local time, two or three hours later). Avoid those departures. They are timed for connecting passengers arriving from the rest of Europe or changing planes in New York to continue deeper into the US. They tend to be packed, and cause long lines for US immigration.

In contrast, BA's 8.30am departure from Heathrow gives few transfer opportunities for European travellers; and the 8pm flight arrives too late at JFK for many meaningful connections. So they tend to be emptier - at least at the back of the plane. Yet early or late flights are ideal for time-sensitive business travellers, who can arrive in New York by 11am, or do a full day in London before flying west. So these flights are often packed in business class yet half-empty in economy, where you may find three seats together - the cheapskate's equivalent of a lie-flat bed.

Coming home, almost all New York-London flights are crammed into the band between 6pm and 11pm. Last time I flew back from JFK, the plane queued for over an hour before it was cleared for take off. Instead, choose one of the rare morning departures such as BA's 8am flight, which touches down at a quiet Heathrow at 7.40pm. You'll whizz through passport control and be home within an hour.

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