Why I swear by daytime flights from New York to London, in any cabin
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I flew to the U.S. twice last month, once to see my TPG colleagues in South Carolina, and again to attend a wedding in upstate New York. There is no shortage of flights from the East Coast of the U.S. to the U.K., especially on the ultra-competitive New York to London route. I counted 25 nonstop flights departing today alone on this route serviced by six carriers (British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, American Airlines, United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and JetBlue). Norse Atlantic will join the pack later this month with a new service to Gatwick Airport (LGW) — I’ll be trying it out soon.
Most flights from the U.S. to London depart in the evening and arrive the following morning or around lunchtime given there is at least a five-hour time difference. New York, Chicago, Washington and Boston, however, are somewhat unique as these cities also offer a handful of daytime flights to London. These flights are so short that you can depart in the morning and arrive in the evening on the same day.
I’ve flown from New York to London more times than I can remember on a variety of different carriers, in different classes and at different flight times. With practice, I’ve perfected my strategy for the route as much as possible, and now I always opt for daytime flights instead of the slew of overnight choices.
Here’s why daytime flights from New York to London are much better than overnight flights.
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Overnight flights are too short to sleep on
An overnight flight would mean a full night’s rest right? Not quite. Flights from New York to London are scheduled are just less than seven hours in length. This doesn’t mean seven hours of ‘lights off, eyes shut’ rest. If you want to eat the two meals served onboard, or struggle to sleep through the noise and light, you’ll probably get just four hours of slumber, if not less. I’ve never understood why anyone wants to eat breakfast four hours after eating dinner, but some passengers do, and you have to put up with that if it’s happening around you.
Aircraft flying east over the Atlantic almost always enjoy strong tailwinds, so these flights can be even shorter. I can’t remember a New York to London flight I’ve taken that did not land early.
How fast can these flights be? In 2020 a British Airways plane managed the journey in four hours and 56 minutes. That’s a lot less than the seven-hour scheduled time. I would be surprised if the lights were off for more than three hours on this flight, and I need a lot more sleep than that to function properly the next day.
If you want to maximize rest periods, you could skip the meals completely — perhaps by eating in the lounge beforehand — but even if you are in first class with an eye mask, earplugs and a flatbed, you’ll only be allowed to recline your seat for less than five hours between takeoff and descent.
Of course, daytime flights take similar lengths of time but sleep is rarely a concern — you can easily stay awake the whole flight. I’ve found the flights ‘fly by’, so to speak, and feel much shorter than flying the reverse leg from London to New York.
You can sleep in a real bed
I can’t sleep sitting up for more than about thirty minutes at a time, so an overnight flight in economy is not an experience I ever enjoy.
Flatbeds in premium cabins do provide a better sleeping experience, but I am usually tired when I land since my sleep is restless, perhaps from the warm temperature in the cabin or the noise I can still hear through my earplugs.
I live in London, so if I take a day flight home from New York, I can go straight to sleep in my own bed fairly easily even if it means I don’t get home until midnight. This is always preferable for a night of uninterrupted rest at the right temperature, with no other passengers or aircraft noise.
There’s no jet lag
New York’s time zone is usually five hours behind London. Overnight flights depart as early as 6 p.m. which would be 11 p.m. U.K. time. In theory, that would be the perfect time to go to sleep to reset your body clock to the timezone at your destination. However, on top of the various sleep disruptions mentioned above, if I’ve been used to New York time for a week, I’m just not tired at 6 p.m.
I wouldn’t go to bed at 6 p.m. at home, and I don’t suddenly want to just because I’ve stepped onto a plane.
The daytime flights allow you to go to bed in London at a very reasonable time (usually between 10 p.m. and midnight). Assuming you can sleep through the night — which I usually can after such a flight — you wake up at a normal time the next day feeling rested, refreshed and without jet lag.
Compare that to taking a 6 p.m. departure, forcing yourself to sleep and managing barely a few hours before landing at the crack of dawn, disorientated and jetlagged. No, thank you. These flights are absolutely brutal, and I would recommend doing everything you can to avoid them.
If you do want to or really have to take one of the many overnight flights to London, I recommend choosing a departure that’s as late as possible (ideally 10 p.m. or later). Sure, you will still be jet-lagged when you land but owing to the later flight time, it will at least be easier to fall asleep onboard.
You can save your points and miles for another day
If you struggle to sleep sitting up as I do, I recommend using your points and miles to either book or upgrade to a seat with a fully flat bed to ensure better sleep.
It is less important to travel in a premium cabin on a daytime flight. These flights go by so quickly (especially if you are working or watching a couple of films), and often the benefits of a higher class may be wasted on a flight like this. This is especially so when you consider the massive surcharges imposed on redemptions by the likes of British Airways and Virgin Atlantic.
I have no problem flying in economy during the day — and that’s despite the fact that I have hundreds of thousands of points and miles across different accounts ready and waiting to be redeemed.
I’d much rather use my points and miles for longer, overnight flights where I can truly take advantage of the amenities on offer.
It can be a normal workday
When I tell friends and family about these lesser-known daytime flights from New York to London, they usually say “Yes, but you lose an entire day on the plane.” It’s true that flying overnight maximizes your holiday and, if you can manage to sleep properly, you can save a night on accommodation.
However, that isn’t always a consideration. The last two-day flights I’ve taken on this route (American then United) have been normal work days. Both flights had Wi-Fi, so shortly after takeoff, I opened my laptop, connected and worked solidly for most of the flight. It was easy to catch up on emails, Slack colleagues and write a few stories for TPG on each flight. I wouldn’t plan to join long video calls or download large video files. Still, the flight passed by quickly and I was as productive as I would have been anywhere else.
If you do want to work on a flight and you have lounge access, I recommend eating breakfast in the lounge and skipping the first meal onboard these flights. The quality of the lounge food is significantly better, allowing you to work right away rather than waiting for your meal to be cleared.
Obviously, not everyone can work remotely, especially at 30,00 feet, but if you would otherwise be working from home that day, consider if you can work from the skies instead.
Which flight is best?
There are currently five daytime flights from New York to London — three from John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) on British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and American, and two from Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) on British Airways and United.
The best flight to take raised a spirited debate amongst the TPG U.K. team who regularly fly this route. Nicky Kelvin prefers earlier departures as the early wake-up call jolts him back to London time quickly, and he can still get to sleep in his own bed at a reasonable hour.
For me, the American flight is the best option simply because it does not require an abnormally early wakeup time, and I won’t feel tired all day. This means I won’t need to take a short nap on the flight, can work productively throughout and go to bed the moment I walk in the front door, around midnight. If there were a flight departing at 10 a.m., scheduled to land just before 10:00 p.m., that would be ideal (plus it would likely land at 9:30 p.m. or earlier, given the tailwinds).
As my most frequent long-haul route, I’ve flown from New York to London more times than I can remember; I’ve tried out all sorts of different flight options ranging from brilliant to awful. The very short nature of flights on this route means it’s unlikely you will land rested and refreshed from an overnight flight, even if you are flying the world’s best airline.
I can’t recommend strongly enough the handful of daytime flights operating on this route. They are my tried and tested way to return to London feeling as fresh and healthy as possible.
Featured photo by Tetra Images/Getty Images.
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