Travelin' to Europe

Why is it that flights to Europe (thinking mainly of France, U.K. etc.) leaving from the eastern part of Canada are almost sytematically scheduled to leave around 10 or 11 PM? I know there’s the time difference but frankly, being one of the lucky few who can’t sleep a wink on a plane, I wouldn’t really mind arriving in gay Paris at 6 PM instead of 6 AM!! I know, I know… The day would be shot but at least I’d arrive in something resembling more a human form and less a zombie. And except for those who can turn the lights out when the plane leaves the tarmac and turn them back on automatically when the plane lands, a flight to Europe isn’t one of the most pleasant experiences given all the interruptions along the way (meals, movie, etc.). Not to mention the rest of the first day of arrival.

I was lucky enough to be part of official delegations to international meetings on a couple of occasions, riding on government aircraft. Strangely enough, the Prime Minister and his party didn’t ABSOLUTELY NEED to arrive at their destination around 7 AM; the plane landed very nicely in the middle of the afternoon. And no one complained…

So what gives??

I can hedge a bet on this one. As a former travel agent, flights departing from East Coast/Midwest to Europe depart anywhere between 4pm-10pm-ish because of the time you gain going over. Leaving at 7pm Detroit time from Frankfurt (nonstop) puts you in at about 6am their time.

Reasons for this can/may be:

  1. Since there is little else to do on an long haul flight other than watch really stinkbomb movies, departing at night helps the traveler fall asleep according to his own natural time. Thereby, waking refreshed as one can be for sleeping straight up with a chiclet sized pillow to support your head for 6 hours.

  2. The later departures overseas (10pm ish) are popular because it allows the business guy to finish an entire day at work, go home and pack and still make it on the JFK to LHR flight.

  3. The flights between LAX and NYC run all day and being on a plane between these two cities is an all day affair. If you leave NYC at 9am you arrive into LAX about 1pm and it screws up your whole day. Many people who don’t mind screwing up their whole day, take these flights. Most travelers, however, take the night before flights to let them get stuff done at the office and get a good nights rest once they arrive in CA… If you reverse that, LAX to NYC - departing at 1pm you arrive home abouty 10pm. Still giving you enough time to dipsy doodle around the CA office before heading off to the airport. Same logic applies to NYC to Heathrow.

  4. British Air is/was experimenting with morning departures over the pond. 7am to 4pm to NYC. For the leisure traveler, this is fine, but for the business guy, it’s screws up the wholework schedule. I don’t know if it was successful.

  5. A smaller reason, but a contributing factor, I’m sure. On the night flights, there are less problems to deal with as most people are asleep. Any chance to avoid the drunken rugby team in air, the flight attendants are appreciative.

Bigamy is having one wife to many. Monogamy is the same. - Oscar Wilde

Very thoughtful responses, Shirley, but I find it strange that almost ALL the flights would leave from the US/Canada to Europe within a two or three hour time frame, regardless of airlines. And returning, almost all the flights to Chicago (for instance) leave within a couple of hours of noon, and arrive around 2 - 4 PM in the afternoon.

I suspect that it has to do with the government not needing to have a full staff for customs and immigration except for a short period of time… thus, the scheduling is not so much the departure time as the arrival times, trying to have most arrivals within a few hours.

There is also some negotiation between the carriers and the national air control agencies. For instance, American and British Air now have night flights from London to NY/Boston, they leave London early evening (5 - 6 PM). United has not yet been granted permission for such flights.

Must be an East Coast/Midwest thing. Virgin Atlantic has fights leaving Los Angeles in the morning and the afternoon.
I’m amused (and a little disgusted) to hear someone complain about a five hour flight to Europe. Try 11 to 12 hours! There isn’t enough dramamine, alchohol, or in-flight video games in the world to make that experience anything less than the most unpleasantly boring experience imaginable.

Customs probably has a lot to do with it. They would rather be jammed with 10 arrivals in in three hours than spread it out over an entire day.

Another thought is that Foriegn travel is scheduled all around the same time frame, because ( I would think) because Domestic flights take up the bulk of the departures anyways. However, flights overseas are usually larger capacity planes and take more time loading/unloading all the stuff.

I was told once by someone that another reason the planes leave later in the day for Europe is so that the US mail can stuff as much as possible on to each and every flight. I don’t know if this is true, but it sounds good.

That’s because the sun rises in the east, and goes down in the west. If you’re flying in the morning towards the east, the photons are pushing the plane back, i.e. more fuel consumption.

If you’re flying at noon, the photons are pushing you down, and there’s a higher chance of crashing.

If you’re flying at dusk, the photons are pushing you from behind, and the plane would be going too fast, so you might not be able to brake in time in case there’s another plane in your way.

Night time is the best time to fly.


I’m with you! My last trip to Nepal took 40 hours because of stop-overs and delays. I went to Korea a few years back and, IIRC, that was about an 18 hour flight.
I try very hard to do these flights on foreign carriers because they don’t gripe about the alcohol—they’ll bring you as much as you want. American carriers look at you as if you’re a potential threat if you ask for a second glass of wine.

“I think it would be a great idea” Mohandas Ghandi’s answer when asked what he thought of Western civilization

Some airlines have crews that live in Europe. They leave there at some reasonable time and spend some hours in NY or whatever and the plane goes back. Possibly with a new crew. But when they get home they can just go right home and rest. Must be quite a routine pilots have to work out. If you don’t stay at your destination too long, you can ignore what the local time is.

Some airlines have crews that live in Europe. They leave there at some reasonable time and spend some hours in NY or whatever and the plane goes back.Possibly with a new crew. But when they get home they can just go right home and rest. Must be quite a routine pilots have to work out.If you don’t stay at your destination too long, you can ignore what the local time is.

I don’t have much of an answer, but just wanted to say that the two times I’ve flown over the big body of water to the east, I left at about 2pm-6pm from O’Hare International. Nonstop flights on British Airways and AirFrance. I think I arrived in the UK about 10ish or so and we arrived in France at like 5am. Go figure.

“I guess it is possible for one person to make a difference, although most of the time they probably shouldn’t.”

I think a large part of the reason that the flights are timed in bunches is that there are night-landing restrictions in place at most airports, typically no landings between 10pm and 6am, so actually you have only half the day to play with on the arriving end. Combining this with similar take-off restrictions at the point of departure and also just plain finding a decent time that passengers want to fly, bearing in mind work schedules and the like, restricts possible take-off times considerably.

It only hurts when I laugh.

Thanks to all for the useful insights in what seems to be a more complex issue than I first thought it was. Would be interesting to have the point of view of someone directly working with the aviation industry. I’m still more than a bit annoyed, but…