Why I swear by daytime flights from New York to London, in any cabin
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.
Travel is back which means right now I’m travelling just as much as before the pandemic, and I have a strong recommendation for anyone flying from New York to London.
I flew to the United States twice last month, once to see my TPG colleagues in South Carolina, and then again to attend a wedding in upstate New York. There is no shortage of flights from the east of the United States 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, United, Delta and JetBlue). Norse Atlantic will join the pack later this month with a new service to London Gatwick (LGW) — I’ll be trying them out soon.
Flights from the west coast of the United States to the United Kingdom can be upwards of 10 hours in length, but if you’re departing from further east in the U.S. back to the U.K. these flights become much shorter. Most flights from the United States to London depart in the evening, arriving the following morning/lunchtime given there is at least a five-hour time difference. New York, Chicago 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 always opt for daytime flights over the slew of overnight choices.
Here’s why daytime flights from New York to London are much better than overnight flights.
For more TPG news and deals delivered each morning to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.
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 at just under 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 of other passengers eating you can easily get just four hours in slumber land 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 personally need a lot more sleep than that to function properly the next day.
If you want to maximise 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.
Daytime flights of course take similar lengths of time but as they operate during the day 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 despite doing it countless times.
Flatbeds in premium cabins do provide a better sleeping experience but I am usually tired when I land as my sleep is restless, perhaps from the warm temperature in the cabin, the noise I can still hear through my earplugs, or attempting to sleep immediately after a heavy meal.
I live in London, so taking a day flight home from New York, even if it doesn’t land until 10:30 p.m. and I don’t walk through my front door until midnight, I can go straight to sleep in my own bed fairly easily. This is always preferable for a night of uninterrupted rest at the right temperature, with no other passengers or aircraft noise, and no-one turning on lights to wake you up for landing.
There’s no jet lag
New York’s timezone 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. But, on top of the various sleep disruptions mentioned above, if I’ve been on 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, so 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 (i.e. between 10 p.m. and midnight) and, 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 go straight to sleep once you’re home. Equally, on onboard, the later your departure, the easier it is to fall to sleep as the lights will be dimmed much faster.
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 outright or upgrade to a seat with a fully flat bed to ensure better sleep.
On a daytime flight scheduled for less than seven hours but likely to be less than six hours with tailwinds, it is less important to travel in a premium cabin. These flights go by so quickly (especially if you are working or watching a couple of films), often the benefits and added comfort of business or first 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.
Having taken day flights in different cabins I have no problem flying them in economy, and that is despite having 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 to 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 the response is usually: “yes, but you lose an entire day on the plane.” It’s true that flying overnight maximises your holiday and if you can manage to sleep properly despite all the obstacles above you can save a night on accommodation.
But that isn’t always a consideration. The last two-day flights I’ve taken on the route (American, and 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 but 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 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 and allows you to work straight 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 Airlines flight is the best option for the simple reason that 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 was to be a flight departing at 10:00 a.m., scheduled to land just before 10:00 p.m. that would be ideal, noting 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 and tried out all sorts of different flight options that have ranged 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 arrive back in London feeling as fresh and healthy as possible.
Featured image by Tetra Images / Gettys
Welcome to The Points Guy!