The Best Time of Day to Fly

Airplane window at the wee hours of the morning, probably.

Taking a flight isn’t just about the flight itself. Getting on that airplane is an event, which takes preparation (even if it’s just packing your carry-on), and has the potential to affect your first impressions of where you’re going.

Throughout the years, I’ve noticed consistently that there are several factors which make a big difference in the quality and enjoyability of flying, and the time surrounding it.

This article isn’t about which time of day you can fly to save 10 cents. With modern flight searching tools, generalizations like that are no longer necessary to consider, since each case is different, and the aggregation of flight information means you can see – at a glance – a multitude of factors to help you determine which flight is best for you.

What this article is about, is how one of those factors – time – affects your experience of the flight. Indeed, it’s about what time to fly, to get the most out of it.

Arrival Time

People arriving from their flights at the airport.
Last thing’s first.

When selecting my flight, I always work backwards. I have found that the time I arrive in a place has a profound impact on my first impressions.

I always like to arrive during daylight hours.

Firstly, things look better during the day. You can notice what’s actually around you, and start to get a true sense of the place. In some sense, it also makes the place less threatening.

Let’s face it – flying, although a miracle, isn’t the most comfortable thing in the world. Long times in small spaces with lots of people and little privacy, can result in poor sleep and irritability. When you arrive at night, this bad mood is easily projected onto the dark spaces of a place, and can lead to a negative first impression.

On the other hand, I find that the drive from the airport in a new place is exciting during the day – no matter how tired I am – as it’s full of new and often beautiful sights.

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Driving an SUV in the daytime on a picturesque mountain road.
This would be all dark at night – what a sight to miss!

It’s also slightly harder for you to fall asleep while driving during the day. Not impossible – as I nearly have on several occasions – but harder.

As an aside, I find that the moment I notice myself dozing off, I look for the closest place to buy a 5 Hour Energy (which has literally saved my life while driving on 3 separate occasions) if they sell them in that country, or otherwise, a different caffeine source (I’m partial to Monster’s Absolutely Zero, and Zero Ultra). On the way – and until I’m safely parked at my destination – I’ll also pause whatever audiobook I was listening to, put on 80’s-90’s-and early 2000’s gangster rap, and turn the volume way up. Between the caffeine and the yo yo yo, it works. An added bonus to this approach, when I’m stateside, is that there’s something funny about a driving through upper-crust neighborhoods in California with New York plates blasting Ja Rule at inappropriate volumes.

But, I digress.

Not only do I prefer to arrive in the country during the day time, I want to – where possible – make sure that I’ll also arrive at where I’m staying while there’s at least some sunlight left, even if the sun is just setting. Not only does it make it easier to navigate the unfamiliar neighborhood, but it gives that same positive daytime sentiment to the place.

Total Travel Time

Airport terminal concourse.
Spending as little time as possible in places that look like this, is naturally the second priority.

For the sake of completeness, I’ll mention travel time (including flight time, connections, and layovers), but I feel that it’s a given to want to reduce your total flight time, including layovers, as much as possible. Otherwise, you’ll have your own criteria for what you prefer, for example, if you purposefully want to lay over in a place to see it for a day.

After I have found my ideal arrival time, I’ll look for the shortest flight at the best price. Some of the better flight comparison tools will have a “Best Flights” feature that weighs both flight time and price. If you’re hunting for short flight times, and sorting only by price (or only by flight time), consider scrolling down further. Sometimes, an extra $100, $50, or even $10 can save you hours of flying, or the opposite: an extra 20 minutes (which may take scrolling past 100 identical times) could save you a few extra hundred dollars.

Departure Time/Date

Flight information display system - flight times at the airport.
Not all flight times are created equal.

Here we get into the other major factor to consider: when you’ll want to leave for your flight.

Sometimes, it’s worth picking a different departure time or date in order to minimize the amount of time you’ll spend getting to the airport on time.

I take the ideal time I want to arrive, get an idea of the best flight times, then pick departure times that avoid those common time drains and frustrations.

If that’s not possible, I’ll consider another day of the week – like a weekend – to make sure that the departure portion of the flight is as easy as I can make it.

Simple, right?

Hand holding paper airplane inside real airplane.
All it takes is a little effort.

Three factors, ones that you’ve no doubt considered on most if not ever flight you’ve booked. But none the less, making a conscious choice of their timings, will help you enjoy flying all the more.

In particular, arriving during the day time, always has me less irritable – especially after long-haul flights – and therefore, makes the place more enjoyable from day 1. It’s become the single most important factor in booking my travel (obviously apart from visa restrictions), to the point where I’ve purposefully spent less days in a country than I could have (in terms of visa allowance), to make sure that my introduction to a new country would be on as good terms as possible.

Do you have any of your own criteria that go into picking the best time to fly for you?

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