Typically when I book my airline tickets, I look for the best prices and non-stop flights. But our airline experts pointed out a few other factors to consider. They shared with us the best and worst times in the day and year to fly domestically and internationally.
Best Times To Fly
Most of us have heard that mornings are the best time to book your flight but do you know why? Pilot Christy Karsten says early birds definitely have the best chance to make it to their final destination with the fewest delays and disruptions. While there are many variables with on-time departures, weather is the biggest factor.
“When the sun rises, thunderstorms that typically brew later in the afternoon are just waking up too,” Karsten told us. “Inclement weather is typically at its infancy early in the morning. Most likely the airplane has been parked overnight from the last arrival, the previous day, with no known mechanical issues. The crews are either driving to work at their home base or are arriving from the hotel. Everyone should be in place and ready to go!”
Karsten also says there is an urgency from the gate staff to make the first flights depart on time or even earlier.
“On our flight plans, we have bold words stating Right Start Flight between 5 and 9 a.m.,” Karsten continued. “If these flights, for any reason depart late, the domino effect downline can create major headaches, misconnects, coordination issues, and frustration for passengers and crews.”
Pro Tip: When booking a flight with a connection, if at all possible, don’t book with a layover less than an hour. At large airports, the chance of a hiccup and a misconnect are high. Large hub airports invariably mean longer taxi times, longer walks to your connecting gate, as well as tarmac and gate issues. Sometimes the stress just isn’t worth it. If at all possible, give yourself 1–2 hours to connect and continue on your trip.
Just Before Lunchtime
If you can’t get on the early morning flight, Karsten says right before lunchtime is another good time because your flight is probably coming from a hub airport.
“If you happen to be at an out station airport, instead of a major hub, odds are you will be rendezvousing with the first flight out of the hub, which is enroute to your location,” said Karsten. “While at a hub, the options are greater if there is a hiccup on your planned departure. There may be other aircraft that can be swapped out if your jet has a lengthy mechanical issue. There are more flight crews available if a crew member can’t complete the flight. We even have flight attendants, at our bases who are sitting ‘airport standby reserve’ in case they are needed on extremely short notice.”
Pro Tip: Karsten says if you do misconnect and need to make a change, hop on your phone immediately! Download and utilize the airline’s app while you wait in line at customer service. Multi-task and dial the 800 number at the same time.
Retired flight attendant Kentrell Charles says to pick the time that works best for you. He factors in who is picking him up from the airport and hotel check-ins. He wants a reasonable hour for friends and family to arrive at the airport. If he’s staying at a hotel, he either schedules his flight to arrive right before check-in or asks for an early check-in if he takes an earlier flight.
Pro Tip: Charles also suggests non-stop flights and carrying on your luggage when possible. Here is what he includes in his carry-on bag.
Spring & Late Fall
Spring, late September, and October are good times to travel if you are looking for smaller crowds and better deals.
“Most travelers hit the amusement parks or beaches for spring break,” commented Nancy Lee, veteran flight attendant. “We flew non-stop to Tokyo and avoided hub-to-hub congestion. Asia isn’t a big destination for spring break and my son was the only child at the Children’s Museum in Nagoya.”
Fall has the same feel because kids are back in school and most families are not traveling. Heather Earl, who has worked in aviation for 30 years, says she has found accommodations are much cheaper and easier to book at the last minute.
“I can usually find some great off-peak season deals on rental cars and lodging,” Earl told us. “Flight crews and other travel industry workers have been working hard during the busy summer months and are tired so I always bring a little goodie bag for them.”
But Earl says to be aware that there may be fewer flight options in the fall because airlines are transitioning from their busy summer schedules.
Pro Tip: If you are looking for great international flights, try Thanksgiving or May. Earl says Europe and Asia can be a breeze over the Thanksgiving holiday if you leave from a gateway city like New York or Chicago and don’t have a connecting domestic flight. May is another great time to visit Europe because it’s shoulder season and the weather is warming up. Airlines also start to beef up their summer routes in May and add many trans-oceanic routes.
Worst Times To Fly
Late Afternoon In The Summer
Karsten has one reason for this — the weather!
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen passengers’ plans crumble in front of them due to late departures during summer afternoons East of the Rockies,” explains Karsten. “Summer months can brew up wicked thunderstorms that create havoc on airline operations. These storms can cause extensive delays, limit airport arrivals and departures, and even close the ramp due to lighting strikes.”
She says the snowball effect on these types of irregular operations can be very frustrating for passengers and crews alike.
Pro Tip: Something to consider: If a flight is canceled due to weather, the airline isn’t responsible for providing its passengers with hotel accommodations if they misconnect with their flights. If an afternoon flight is your only option, plan ahead and prepare for an unexpected overnight situation. Pack a carry-on accordingly. Although I am an optimist, I always plan for snafus when I’m traveling. Karsten has a “back-up” for plans B, C, and D that make for a less stressful travel experience.
Thanksgiving, Christmas, And New Year’s
Our experts agree and some of you may have experienced travel during the holidays. Charles says he avoids it because of the crowds and the hustle and bustle. He absolutely will not fly the day before or the day of a holiday.
Lee says the annual migration during Thanksgiving and Christmas creates additional stress because everyone is trying to get to their destinations. If holidays are for being with family, Lee suggests celebrating a few days before or after and staying longer.
Pro Tip: If you are flying internationally, Earl says to avoid August at all costs. The entire population is on vacation and flights will be packed. Sightseeing spots are crowded and lodging is expensive. She also says to forget trying to get on a last-minute flight within Europe in August, unless you like long lines, high fares, and lots of stress.