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TPG reader Aproujan sent me a tweet to ask about airline schedules:
“Do you know of any nighttime Transatlantic flights from Europe to the US?”
Some people hate red-eye flights and avoid them whenever possible, but I think nighttime departures have a certain allure. There’s something romantic about boarding a plane in the evening, (hopefully) falling asleep and waking up on a new day in some other part of the world. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a comfortable lie-flat seat (or perhaps your own bedroom in the sky), but no matter which cabin you’re flying in, I’ve found most red-eye flights to be fairly pleasant.
If you have much experience with flying at night, you’ve probably noticed that red-eye flights almost always travel east (at least on flights within the US, or between North America and Europe). There’s very little nonstop, westbound service along those routes that departs late at night. Domestically, there are a handful of transcontinental options, like JetBlue’s 10:40pm flight from New York to Los Angeles, and American’s 10:19pm flight from Charlotte to San Francisco.
Coming from Europe, however, there’s almost nothing headed to North America after 8pm. Several carriers offer red-eye flights to Mexico City — Aeroméxico from London and Paris, Iberia from Madrid and Lufthansa from Munich — but that’s it. You have to go farther east to find red-eye flights heading west to the US, like Delta’s 11:35pm flight from Tel Aviv to New York.
There are several reasons why there’s not more traffic at these times. For starters, many airports have curfews to limit the impact of aircraft noise on the nearby population. Some facilities (like London Heathrow) impose restrictions rather than an outright ban. However, many others (like Frankfurt and Zurich) simply don’t allow arrivals or departures between certain hours.
Second, the timing of those itineraries is impractical. An 11pm takeoff from London gets you into Chicago around 2am. That’s pretty inconvenient, since airport services are limited at night and there aren’t likely to be connections until the morning. You’re also going to be wiped out unless you’re a true pro at avoiding jet lag. The timing isn’t ideal for airlines either, since flight operations require staff on the ground to assist passengers and sort baggage, not to mention customs and immigration personnel.
The simplest answer, however, is that there’s just not enough demand. Airlines are in business to make money, and if there were a plane full of people wanting to fly at those times, one carrier or another would find a way to accommodate them. Until then, we’ll just have to stick with daytime departures.
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