What is the best time of day to take a flight?

Plane Talk: all a matter of timing, but mornings are most popular

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Wednesday 15 July 2020 10:18 BST
Class act: an all-economy Wizz Air aircraft at Luton airport
Class act: an all-economy Wizz Air aircraft at Luton airport

Are you a morning or evening person, for short-haul European trips? As you know, budget airline flights are often very early or very late. Each has benefits and disadvantages, and a certain amount of bleariness is guaranteed with both.

That 7am departure implies a ridiculously early start. Even if you stay overnight at an airport hotel, only someone even more cavalier than me would wake later than 5.30am.

Compare this with the 8pm departure, which might allow you to squeeze in an extra day of holiday. But arriving at your destination at 11pm brings its own challenges.

To gauge the mood of the travelling public, I conducted a Twitter poll with 2,736 self-selecting respondents. Which do you prefer, I asked: a 7am departure or an 11pm arrival?

I was amazed by the results: almost nine out of 10 (actually 89 per cent to 11 per cent) opted for “early”.

For me, there are twin benefits of the journey involving a start at silly o’clock. First, punctuality: every airline wants to get its first wave of flights out on time, and delays tend to build up during the day. So there is more chance that you will reach your destination on time.

Furthermore, you get most of the day at your destination. “Redvee” writes: “Early departure from home airport means I’m in the hotel room for lunchtime then have the afternoon free to start my holiday.”

Sara prefers a daylight arrival: “Definitely early because trying to find your villa in the dark isn’t much fun.”

There is also the emotional element, writes Gazza. “My holiday starts at airport and I love getting rid of cases then getting breakfast in restaurant and relaxing.”

Fans of evening arrivals were harder to find, but John Keane sounds as though he has everything worked out for his trips to the Czech capital – in BA’s Club Europe.

“The 7pm from Heathrow airport to Prague is fine. A few drinks and some food in the lounge. Light supper in Club Europe. Arrive at hotel 11.15pm, drop bags, quick freshen up and head out 11.30pm.”

Mr Keane will be happy to hear British Airways is bringing back the evening departure in the autumn, and I am happy to applaud his stamina.

The optimum combination seems to be an early outbound flight and a late inbound. Anne writes: “The only time I don’t mind getting out of bed when it’s still dark is to catch a flight.

“Happy with late return flights to get the most of the day where possible.”

Joanne echoes: “Arrive early and leave late to get the most out of your holiday!”

“BlochairnBhoy” writes: “Got to agree. Glasgow to Alicante 7am, Alicante to Glasgow 9.30pm is how we always go.”

More extreme timings, in my experience, seem to happen on flights to eastern Europe. Gdansk airport is particularly lively tonight between 11.55pm and 1.10am, with arrivals from Doncaster, Gatwick, Luton, Edinburgh and Liverpool.

But Wizz Air to Bulgaria takes the prize: departing at around 10pm and touching down at 2am or 3am. Just as the alarms are bleeping for the early starters...

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