American Airlines’ Bizarrely Timed Rio De Janeiro Flight (Update)

Filed Under: American

Update: As noted by @IshrionA, American has this weekend updated the schedule for this flight to be more in line with what I would have expected. The southbound sector now departs at 9:30PM and arrives in Rio de Janeiro the following morning at 9:15AM. You can find the original post below.

If this is accurate, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this will be the most oddly timed flight operated by a US airline.

American resuming New York to Rio flights

American and JetBlue have launched a new Northeast partnership, and as part of this American plans on launching several new long haul international flights out of New York JFK. The first two destinations to be announced were Athens and Tel Aviv, but now American has opened bookings for another route.

American Airlines plans to launch daily New York to Rio de Janeiro flights as of December 16, 2021. The route will be operated by a Boeing 777-200ER with the following schedule:

AA2842 New York to Rio de Janeiro departing 2:59PM arriving 2:59AM (+1 day)
AA974 Rio de Janeiro to New York departing 12:01AM arriving 8:00AM

The ~4,800 mile flight is blocked at roughly 10 hours in each direction. This will be American’s third “deep” South America destination out of New York JFK (after Buenos Aires and Sao Paulo), and it also represents a service resumption, as American operated this route in the past.

What is up with the southbound flight timing?

The timing of that southbound flight is truly bizarre. The flight departs around 3PM and lands around… 3AM.

Let me of course note that in some parts of the world (like the Middle East and India), 3AM is a busy time for airlines. However, historically flights between the US and South America have either been proper redeyes, or in some cases daytime flights.

I would be hard pressed to think of a worse schedule:

  • This has none of the benefits of a daytime flight (being able to sleep in a bed at your destination)
  • This has none of the benefits of a redeye flight (being able to not “waste” a day, since you still have to be at the airport in the early afternoon)

I simply can’t make sense of American’s schedule here. When I first saw this, I assumed that maybe American was operating an early daytime flight on the northbound sector, but nope, the airline is operating a redeye there.

Furthermore, this isn’t about some sort of an aircraft swap with another route in Rio de Janeiro, since the only other American flight in the schedule is out of Miami, and that schedule isn’t complementary. The aircraft utilization here is terrible, as the plane will sit on the ground in Rio de Janeiro for 21 hours.

That leads me to a few possible explanations:

  • American decided that this would be the optimal departure time in terms of connectivity beyond JFK
  • American thinks customers prefer a quasi-daytime flight that lands at 3AM (where you’d probably get to your hotel at 5AM)
  • There’s something here I’m missing, like some cargo benefit for landing at that hour
  • This is actually just a mistake

I’m talking to sources to try to figure out which explanation is correct, but as an avgeek I couldn’t help but draw some attention to this unique schedule, and open this up to speculation.

Bottom line

American Airlines will be resuming daily flights between New York and Rio de Janeiro as of December 2021. This is American’s third new or resumed long haul route out of New York since the JetBlue partnership was announced, so that’s exciting.

However, the timing of the New York to Rio de Janeiro flight is easily the strangest schedule I’ve seen for any flight operated by a US airline. Maybe it will get adjusted (or corrected), but in the meantime it’s a fun mystery.

Can anyone think of a stranger schedule for a flight operated by a US airline? And what do you think — what’s the explanation for this schedule, or is it a mistake?

  1. Yes, very odd timing if true. I think it must be a mistake unless the time on the ground would allow the same crew to fly the plane back. Even then, it is weird.

  2. It’s gotta be a mistake unless they are planning for so much travel that Brazilians will be commuting from NYC and need to be back in the office early the next morning!

  3. AA is going to to use the layover for aircraft maintenance checks. They regularly cycle widebody aircraft through Brazil to take advantage of cheaper foreign mechanics. I’m an AA employee. Brazilian MX is normal for AA.

  4. Great time to Land in Rio
    No lines at Customs no traffic
    Flown to Rio many times waited in terrible lines
    Would take that flight

  5. Aerolineas Argentinas operates a similar schedule with their JFK flight and it’s awful. In that case I believe it’s an issue of what slots they could get at JFK, though presumably American has the option to use another slot in their portfolio if they wanted.

  6. It is most likely not a slot issue (at JFK). This flight has operated on and off for years (mostly off) since the early 1990s. It usually operates as an overnight in both directions. DL operated it for a time, seasonally, as a daylight service, as GIG is overwhelmingly a leisure market and thus less of a need to cater to business travel custom. AA probably filed the route and wants to sell tickets but has not sorted out the departure times, just yet, and given the pandemic, it’s less than 50% of a chance this flight will actually return. It was year-round for a time, until 2019 when it was pulled and then reinstated as a seasonal flight for 2020 but obviously, never started.

  7. Brazil sometimes has early AM connections to the north/northeast of the country. They might be trying to anticipate a 5am departure to Manaus or something like that (once schedules start to return to normal)?

  8. Yes typically AA uses long SA layovers to do some minor maintenance activity, which is cheaper to perform in SA. The 3AM arrival is very strange and not really conducive to business travelers, which are few in between at least in the near term. I guess it’s better than years back when I would fly JFK/GRU, layover there for a couple of hours then take a tag flight from MIA to GIG.

  9. That southbound flight would be awful – very little incentive to take that one and land at 3 am. And then what? It takes an hour to go through baggage/customs/immigration and get transportation to the city. And you arrive at your hotel exhausted – at 5 am? Why would you do this?

    I’ve taken numerous flights to deep South America and they’re all redeyes. Some northbound flights do arrive a little early (especially in MIA – like 4:30 or 5 am). But there’s sense to it, as you’re there in plenty of time to enter the US and take a morning connecting flight. This is just crazy.

    One last note: I still don’t understand all these flights in the Middle East/Africa and even Russia that leave at like 1 am and land at like 4 am. Not only are they horrible times for travelers, but they have an increased accident rate as well.

  10. There’s a 5th possibility and that is AA doesn’t actually intend to operate this flight but is fraudulently harvesting cash from unsuspecting buyers for when the inevitable reschedule happens most will grudgingly accept a 1-stop flight.

  11. I agree the southbound is an odd time. But it would work for me (and some others). When I go to Brazil I have to make a domestic connection. I have to clear customs, passport control, recheck baggage, and reclear security. Two hours is the min connection I would accept. They are a lot 5a-6a flights out of GIG to domestic cities. Getting me to my final destination by about 8a.

  12. The flight will have a 0% on-time probability and the 3am arrival will turn out to be 6am. Perfect. Lol. Though, good to see some activity from AA out of JFK.

  13. why would AA want these planes going to stay on the ground for 22 hours? they can operate a red-eye south-bound flight and still not screw up with the return flight.

  14. Boston Logan is one of the few US airports allowing flights to arrive until 2 AM. In pre-Covid times, Southwest ran a daily 10 PM flight from Chicago Midway to Boston, arriving around 1:15 AM EST. The major car rental agencies were also open then to support the late night arrivals, and I remember getting to my hotel around 2:30 AM for a 4 hour nap before getting ready for my morning meetings.

  15. I actually like the LATAM flight to Fortaleza from Miami that lands around 1AM. No lines, no traffic, and still gets you an ok sleep for a few hours that night. 3AM though? That’s pushing it. With a hotel arrival at around 5AM this will mean either paying for a room night to get early arrival or sitting in the lobby for hours waiting for one to open up.

  16. Ok isn’t it sometimes only a 4 hour time difference and sometimes a 7 hour time difference between US and Brazil ?

  17. @D3kingg for the West Coast of the US, yes. The difference between the US East Coast and most of the bigger cities in Brazil (São Paulo, Rio, BH, Salvador) is usually between 1 and 3 depending on the season.

  18. @stogieguy7 – it gets really hot in the summer in the Middle East; having a bank at the overnight hours helps. Also, most passengers are connecting beyond Dubai and the other Middle East hubs so it works out all right

  19. Wow, for all those not aware of GIG airport to go to the city Centre it’s needed to go through certain dangerous areas. Taxidrivers are used to go in groups 00:00 onwards (10 or more drivers)
    It doesn’t work either as a bit ago a governor or other public role was assaulted even with a full bodyguard. Id have breakfast in the airport better than going out at 04:00

  20. @Antonio Don’t scare people, there’s already enough misinformation about crime in Rio. The drive from GIG to anywhere of touristic or business relevance in the city is along freeways. In late december the sun rises around 5:00AM. There is no risk.

  21. Assuming you can sleep 3 hours on the flight and then 4 more hours when you get to the hotel at 5am, you’re ready to start your day – fresh – at 9a! Right? haha..I’m sure it’s an error if there’s no other flights landing at 3a in GIG.

  22. @jerry, I actually agree with @antonio. There is certainly a safety issue traveling to/from GIG in the middle of the night. It’s not uncommon for the freeway to be blocked by criminals so they can rob people. It’s been like that for years. The freeway you’re referring to is called “linha vermelha”, and it goes through very dangerous areas, including a complex of favelas/slums. Actually, the COPA flight that arrives in Rio around 1AM has the same problem. Yes, no immigration line, no traffic, but increased safety risk for sure. I am originally from Rio and I go there 3-4 times a year. Although I’m happy to hear that the JFK flight may be coming back, I don’t plan to take it if the arrival schedule doesn’t change. Or I’d stay a few hours at the airport hotel until after 6 or 7 AM. But that’s just too much work and additional cost.

  23. I’m also inclined to think it’s more to do with slots than anything else. December is still far out and I doubt AA has firmed up their long haul slots from 6pm onwards. I think this is just a placeholder until a later slot with an early AM arrival is firmed up.

  24. @Jerry Tiroteio fecha Linha Vermelha na tarde desta quarta-feira no Rio…
    There are assaults in Vía Amarelha and in the tunnels to go to Leblon under the Corcovado
    I don’t know how many times you’ve been in Rio but calling myself Antonio I’ve been several
    I have funny anecdotes like to menaced by a policeman to be burnt and thrown to the rubbish bin if drugs found when coming in a taxi from Escolá de Mangueira bloco en la favela :))

  25. @Antonio

    I literally just took an Uber from Ipanema to GIG at 5:00 AM last week and neither the driver nor I were scared. Do robberies sometimes happen on Linha Vermelha? Yes. Does happen at the frequency that some people claim it happens online? Absolutely not.

  26. I actually think this flight time is perfect. When I’ve gone to Rio, I’m normally up every night until 3-4 a.m. anyway and then sleep late. This would allow me to arrive at my hotel at about the time I’d normally be going to bed. I actually think it’s a great schedule for the “relax and party” vacationers in Rio.

  27. I was on JFK-EZE on aerolinas in 2015. just checked my boarding pass. 2:55pm departure. so it’s already been done before and not something new AA is doing.

  28. Landing at GIG at 3am. Good luck with your drive to Zona Sul and have to pass huge favelas and carjacking and robberies. I live 8n RJ and wont even attempt to take that flight

  29. For those who don’t live in Rio, a 3AM arrival likely means having to pay for an extra night at a hotel. So this is a pretty crappy flight for visitors.

  30. Hasn’t GIG been sold to a Chinese company, which has raised landing fees so high it’s now one of the most expensive airports in Brazil?

    Maybe these horrible slots were the only affordable ones?

  31. Check out the flights to/from Europe to China. Similarly unusual hours. Why? Well for one, traffic in Beijing to name only one example, is so bad arriving hours before dawn and leaving before dawn actually makes sense.

  32. I don’t find it odd (as a South-American)
    – Travel to the US is mostly expensive for most south americans (SA) due to exchange rate (us$ vs. Pesos, reais, etc) so we try to take advantage of every second of the trip.
    – Leaving at 3 pm means that you can check out your hotel at 11 and take a cab/train to JFK and not missing a second
    -Arriving at 3 am means that you can get home at 5, take a shower, a short nap and go straight to work.
    This is usual for us, all (most) flights from Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Peru, etc. departs/arrives at this hours. Remember that a 10 hour flight its just a “short” flight for us.

  33. Dont know about crew-rest-times but maybe they will make sure that the same crew will operate the flight in both directions?

  34. Simple reason. It’s all due to weather. Due to the severe thunderstorms that pop up there during the afternoon it’s better that they fly in the evening hours when it’s less of an issue. Calmer weather equals happy passengers even if that means you arrive in the middle of the night. How do you not know this? It’s very common.

  35. I would be curious to see if AA is looking at this from a southbound connectivity perspective: SP and Rio aren’t the only (very large) metro areas in Brasil – Salvador, Brasilia, Manaus, BH, Fortaleza, PA, Recife, Belém, Curitiba, and Goiânia all have over 1.5 millions people in the cities alone (and several, like Manaus and Brasilia, are growing rapidly)…the morning flights out of SP and Rio to these cities are (or were) popular, so this actually provides nice connectivity to other parts of Brasil, not to mention Argentina and Uruguay. Granted, there’s far more connectivity out of SP than Rio, but the Rio-Brasilia route is a popular one.

  36. @stogieguy7 wtf are u talking about? there is no “increased accident rate” for flights that leave at 3am? lol

  37. Crew rest. They have decided that 21 hours on the ground complies with the FAA rest requirements same crew both directions. I am not sure it sticks but from 7500 miles away, that’s what it looks like.

  38. Thank goodness for the update. I wonder if the first southbound schedule was a mistake or if they rethought it? I’m guessing the former, as it was too absurd to be true. In any case, as a heavy user of this route who can’t wait for it to come back, I’m pretty happy. But why wait until December?

  39. @TheNicePaul “Hasn’t GIG been sold to a Chinese company, which has raised landing fees so high it’s now one of the most expensive airports in Brazil?
    Maybe these horrible slots were the only affordable ones?”

    GIG is now operated by Changi Airport Group, the operator of Changi Airport in SIN, and perhaps the best operator of airports in the world, which has quickly remade Galeão into a world class facility. GIG – and all Brazilian airports – is expensive to operate out of not because of landing fees, but because of absurdly high and counterproductive government jet fuel taxes.

  40. The 9:30PM departure from JFK is roughly in line with what it always has been. Probably filed for the route authority to resume before full approvals and needed to publish something. There is no way AA would fly a 2:59PM to 2:59AM JFK-GIG flight. Even the horribly timed AR flight to EZE is a little later, at 4:30pm, arriving at 4:15am.

  41. What’s bizarre is how Brazil still allows travel from the US , albeit with a negative CR test and yet there’s a ban from other countries.
    There’s no issue with travel from GIG to Ipanema, Leblon or Copacabana. Done it many times , although 4:00 is not a good time.

  42. @Jerry: what are you smoking? Rio is one of the most violent cities in Brazil and I wouldn’t go there if you pay me. The drive from GIG to the city is very dangerous and you are lucky to not get into a situation where drug dealers are shooting each other. You have never been there and is reading way too much tourist magazines. Rio is one of the most beautiful cities in the world but also one of the most corrupt and dangerous places to visit.

  43. @santastico. Palhaço. I’ve been several times without an issue. This includes walking through Leblon and from Copacabana to Ipanema at night. How many have times have you been ? I’ve also been to several other cities in Brazil and never had any problems.

    Probably because I don’t look like a tourist and know where I’m going.

  44. Why the surprise ? Its just American Airlines thinking of themselves, and not their customers. Besides being a horrible time to arrive, with no benefit, it completely messes up your internal clock. You will find it is because of some operational need, to turn the aircraft around to leave in the am, or do maintenance, or something, that suits American, but has no benefit for passengers.

  45. @Santastico – Icarus has been there “several times” so he’s obviously an expert. Quite possibly a mongerer – they aren’t exactly known for situational awareness and making prudent decisions when it comes to personal safety.

  46. Guess #5: AA is probably preparing for the daylight saving time in US and potentially Brazil may adapt to daylight saving time (again) in the future. Taking into consideration of saving some peak hour slot fee, this will then make this flight a 2am or even 1am arrival and arguably can save the travelers from future NYC Friday pm traffic. Pretty much the same logic as the Fortaleza flight which takes off in the night and arrives 1am.

  47. For a one-off flight, it’s probably a repositioning (ferry) flight to bring crew down so they have a minimal rest time before operating the flight back north. Normal turnaround for international crew is 24hrs plus a few extra hours wiggle room to get plane ready for passengers heading back.

    The fact that it’s a 4 digit flight tells me it’s not a standard operating international mainline flight. It’s probably two sets of deadheading crew (one to work southbound, one northbound). Usually 4 digits are relegated to regionals/connecting carriers, 9000- series flights are usually ferry flights to bring the empty plane to reposition, 8000- and 6000- series flights are codeshares. Not sure how the current flight number nomenclature is set up in light of COVID flight reductions.

    If it’s a daily/weekly operation, I’m sure it’s probably a short notice addition where the cannot find crew to fly the plane. After a few weeks of tinkering, I’m sure they can adjust their schedules at the start of the next month with proper rotation bid cycles.

  48. This information is not correct.

    AA 973 will depart JFK on 16 DEC at 21:30 and arrive GIG at 09:15 on 17 DEC.

    AA 974 will depart GIG on 17 DEC at 23:00 and arrive JFK at 07:00 on 18 DEC.

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