Every time I book a trip for work, I end up with an early morning flight. It never fails. I don’t think I’ve had a single itinerary among my occasional treks back east this past year that did not include an early morning flight on one, if not both, ends of the trip. It’s almost tradition at this point.
Each time I book an early flight, it seems like a good idea. Get to your destination at a reasonable hour? Sounds great. But when my alarm goes off at 3:45 AM for a departure long before the sun cracks the horizon, I question why I booked yet another morning of misery.
There are certainly upsides to early morning flights, however. Let’s start with the good before we tackle the obvious bad.
Early Morning Flights: The Upside
There are a couple reasons I keep booking early morning departures. My travels typically require me to fly between regional airports on opposite sides of the country, requiring 1-2 connections. I’ve learned through experience that the first flights out experience the fewest delays. By far. Our local airport (ACV) now has three planes overnighting there every day, bound the next morning for LAX, SFO and DEN. Unless the plane doesn’t make it in, or there is a mechanical issue, you’re golden.
I make sure that I’m on any one of them, as things just get worse as the day progresses, especially for the flights running to and from SFO. I was at our airport just the other day for non-flight reasons, managing to catch the delay notification for the noon(ish) flight to SFO. It was going to be delayed multiple hours. Everyone lined up to talk to the folks at the United counter.
If my schedule is tight, I book the early flight. With one or two connections on a given itinerary, it’s not worth chancing a later flight and missing a connection.
The second reason I like booking early flights is to be able to make it to my destination by a reasonable hour. Traveling from California back east, anything other than the first flight out gets me to the east coast around 10:00 PM, often later. With the correct one-stop option departing before 7:00 AM, I can arrive in Ohio or Virginia by late afternoon or early evening.
Traveling the other direction, the early flight out lets me land back in California before noon.
Early Morning Flights: The Downside
On Sunday my alarm went off at just after 4:00 AM, miserably early, even for me. I’m an early riser, but 5:30 feels a whole lot different that 4:00. A shower, a couple last-minute chores, and I was off to the airport for a 6:30 AM departure to Denver.
Standing in a long TSA line, dealing with gate agent confusion, and then hopping on a tiny CRJ-200 for two hours capped off the morning of misery. One coffee isn’t enough to deal with all that. Instead of rolling out of bed at 6:30 on the weekend, I’m already in the air. If mornings already aren’t your thing, morning flights are that much worse.
This is the major downside, and it is a deal breaker for many people.
But I’ll argue the upsides are worth the early wake up. I’ll suffer the 6:30 AM departure from ACV, or even a 5:30 AM(!) departure from Greensboro, to make it to my destination or back home at a reasonable hour.
Plus, there’s always the chance for a lovely sunrise. That alone makes any early morning flight worth it.
How about you…are you wiling to book early morning flights? Or do you avoid them at all costs?