London Heathrow 24-Hour Operations?

Many major European airports take their curfews very seriously, whereby flights can’t land or takeoff in the “overnight” hours. While the exact times vary by airport, it’s in stark contrast to the Middle East and Asia, where the overnight hours are often the busiest.

Busy Heathrow!

This brings us to my favorite guy in the airline industry, His Excellency Mr. Akbar Al-Baker, CEO of Qatar Airways. He sits on the Heathrow Airport executive board representing the second biggest shareholder, and has been advocating for Heathrow to become a 24-hour airport.

Selfishly I’d love for that to happen. I know I’m probably in the minority, but I’d love to see westbound transatlantic redeyes between Europe and the US. Leaving London at 2AM and arriving in Miami at 6AM sounds downright lovely to me, but again, I realize I’m probably in the minority.

The only transatlantic westbound redeyes between Europe and North America that I know of are operated by Aeromexico, Iberia, and Lufthansa, into Mexico City. I’ve always wanted to take that Lufthansa flight — have dinner, sleep for 10 hours, have breakfast, and wake up refreshed on another continent? Works for me!


So while I think there’s some merit to Heathrow going 24 hours, what I love is Al-Baker’s justification. Via the Surrey Comet, he’s quoted as saying:

“The thing that is impending Europe’s growth is that airports are locked up from 11pm until 5.30am, which is a very, very critical time for east-west transfer.

“If you live under the flight path of an airport, I assure you, over a period of time you will not even hear the aircraft passing over your house.”

If that doesn’t convince them I don’t know what will. 😉

Aside from the ridiculousness of Al-Baker’s comments, how do you feel about curfews at European airports? Logical and necessary, or kind of ridiculous in the 21st century?

Filed Under: Qatar
  1. Ive been stranded more than once in San Jose because of their curfew. I’d also love West bound red-eyes to NA.

  2. this will happen for sure, even in this country. only poor people live around the airports and they don’t matter to the wealthy. it will even be presented to them as progress because it will create some jobs.

  3. @Lantean, I think that is a generalization and one that isn’t really correct. Look at DCA, it is located in one of the wealthiest counties in the nation and the people impacted by it are by no means poor. BOS is similarly situated where, with certain winds, the planes are flying over expensive real estate.

  4. Lucky….Impending growth or impeding growth?
    BTW… Just flew BA to LHR and down to BCN and back from FCO. 24 hours works for me too.
    Have a great holiday weekend wherever you are!

  5. Yeah who cares about the poor slobs below? They don’t need peace and quiet. They need a third job working at the airport. I promise after a period of time you won’t even remember they’re down there tossing and turning.

  6. Hah! “I assure you, over a period of time you will not even hear the aircraft passing over your house.” What an @$$hole. The exposé on the life of flight attendants at QR several months ago turned me off the airline, and comically out-of-touch comments aren’t causing me to change my mind.

  7. The mideast ones are partly due to necessity. With the extreme heat in some countries (e.g. Bahrain) which requires a longer time to get up to speed to take off they try to schedule long haul flights at the coolest time of the day (late night/early morning).

    As a customer the worst part of those flights is that (unless you pay for an extra night) you have to check out of a hotel 10+ hrs before your flight leaves. It makes for a long day.

    Heathrow just plain sucks compared to most European airports.

  8. Looks like Iberia also has a 1am departure MAD->MEX, and Aeromexico has 11pm-12am departures to MEX from MAD, CDG and LHR.

    Biggest problem with this flight timing is that it is bad for aircraft utilization — if BA sent a plane to MIA overnight, that plane would have to sit on the ground at MIA until the next evening before it made sense to return. Likewise, if AA operated such a flight, the plane would have to sit at LHR all day.

    If you thought really hard you could probably come up with a routing that makes it work (daytime NY->LHR feeds into overnight LHR->MIA?), and if the route were popular enough it could even justify parking a plane for an extended period of time at an outstation — but compared to how neatly most other US-Europe routes fit into a 24-hour block of airplane time, this would be a hard case.

  9. Firstly, there are other westbound redeye flights to south America, the longest operating flight and Lufthansa network goes down to plan a sorry’s, leaves at 10 PM and arrives at 7 AM. If it more civilized than the Mexico City flight.

    I think that as jet engine technology improves and the fleet of operating aircraft improves, there will be some noise threshold under which aircraft will be permitted to land at most major airports. Heavy inbound cargo flights may be the exception because they have to run their engines at a higher throttle. Obviously the power point for take off is not going to happen in the middle the night at airports near urban centers.

  10. It is genuinely difficult to feel bad for people who moved next door to one of the busiest airports in the world and then complain about the noise. As is becoming the norm in Europe, people continue to whine and demand that their governments make decisions that damage the entire region’s economy. This discussion wouldn’t even be necessary if people hadn’t stopped every attempt at building more runways over the past two decades. 24-hour operations at Heathrow will benefit all of Northern Europe while inconveniencing a few people who are free to move to another part of London.

  11. @ Bgriff — Excellent points and thanks for the correction. I updated the post to reflect the Aeromexico and Iberia service. Good point about aircraft utilization as well.

    To be honest I’m equally frustrated by the timing of eastbound transatlantic flights. For example, from the east coast so many of them leave at 6PM, for example. I’d much rather they left after midnight, so they got in late afternoon/early evening, so you could actually easily sleep aboard, and then upon landing you could stay up for a few hours and then go to sleep at a reasonable hour.

    Or heck, how about a 1AM departure from Los Angeles to London that gets in at 7-8PM?

    Again, I realize I’m probably in the minority here, but with the number of frequencies operated in many city pairs, I feel like a bit more schedule diversity would be nice. Even if the curfew were lifted at Heathrow (which is highly unlikely), I would imagine only a very small percentage of westbound transatlantic flights would be redeyes.

  12. Lucky,

    I guess a lot of travel is still business travel. My former boss did the JFK-LHR Route regularly and was always happy to take a pill, nap for 5h and go into a meeting at 9am….

  13. I live under the flight path of a regional airport about 5 miles from my house. There is often overhead traffic particularly in early morning hours. I must say that I rarely notice it. I think mr. Al-baker is correct.

  14. Why not try any of those flights. I would love to see an Aeromexico report, and I know you want to try Iberia. I’ve had a friend who did the LH520 leg and loved it. Either one would be great. Make it happen captain!
    But, I do agree with you that a redeye west bound would be nice. Make it easier to sleep and be refreshed when landing.

  15. Love westbound redeyes, notably the late night TLV->JFK flights. Leave around midnight, sleep well and land at 6am ready for a full day.

    Also would love to see more daytime NA->Europe flights. Leave NYC/BOS/ATL/CLT wherever at 8am and get to your European destination in time for a late dinner.

  16. “Have dinner, sleep for 10 hours, have breakfast, and wake up refreshed on another continent? Works for me!”

    Isn’t that what you do when you leave the US and travel to Europe?

  17. Sydney is one of the worst. When the morning curfew comes up, widebodies from all of the world starting lining up to land. Try getting a taxi after 12 jumbos land in an hour.

  18. I don ‘t think al Baker’s statement was ridiculous at all. I presently live by an American air force base and I have certainly gotten use to the commotion. And how many decades has Heathrow been in operation? I am not sympathetic to anyone who moves by a major, well established airport and then complains about the noise. Heathrow is a major economic engine for London and it needs help. If Heathrow’s attempts at building much needed additional runways are going to be constantly thwarted then, by all means, push for a 24 operation.

    Isn’t there talk of building a replacement for Heathrow on a man-made island in the Thames estuary?

    One final note: I was in London two weeks ago and had the misery of flying in & out of LHR’s terminal 4. What a dump. It needs to be bulldozed into oblivion.

  19. They just need a new airport. Soon.

    If you look at the major airports with 24 hour operations, they are usually located at the edge of cities, or at least away from residential areas. From what I recall, SIN is on the easternmost edge of the main Singapore island, HKG is on its own island and the town next to it was purpose built as a ‘new town’, BKK/KUL are surrounded by wooded lands/fields, DOH is on the edge, DXB is… well.. in the UAE…

    Moreover, the directions of their runways allow flight paths away from residential areas – HKG and SIN runways point out to sea!

    So LHR as it is, will be difficult for 24 hour operations. They really just need a new airport out there somewhere.

  20. @Bgriff actually it could improve aircraft utilization (at least at JFK). BA&VS have between them 3 flights that depart JFK to LHR between 7:15 and 8:15 in the morning (BA180, VS26, BA178).
    These aircrafts spend the night at JFK when (in case of night westbound) they could be doing a quick turnaround.

  21. @Lucky — along similar (but less comfortable) lines I’ve always thought there could be a market for a 2am takeoff, 5am landing NY->SFO or NY->LAX service. At least in that direction the flight takes longer, so you have a chance of a bit longer sleep, rather than the 4 hours or so you get eastbound. And once again the only route I know of like that is heading to MEX — Aeromexico’s JFK-MEX overnight service.

  22. It’s absolutely ridiculous for airports to be closed at nights. This puts a lot of business on hold and provides les jobs and less economic gains.

  23. It depends how far you are away from the airport, the types of planes being flown, whether you have windows open, etc. I live 5.5 miles away from a major airport that is an airline and cargo hub – been here for 15+ years. The technology and regulations have certainly improved since we first moved here. Used to be that you couldn’t carry on a conversation outside on the deck, but now with the newer engines/planes that is reasonably possible. As long as we don’t have windows open, we usually don’t hear the planes except during bad weather when they are always louder for whatever reason (flying lower or with more power?). Our airport is nowhere near as busy as LHR, but during certain periods of the day there are flights overhead maybe every 2-3 minutes. In the UK, most homes don’t have AC so 24 hour operations would probably be inconvenient during the summer months for people living in the flight paths.

  24. Completely agree, a Westbound red eye would be fine by my perspective. Several times I’ve had no jet leg eastbound, since I slept soundly, but Westbound I napped too much and threw everything off.

  25. I didn’t know the CEO of Qatar Airlines lived underneath the path of an airport. How else could he be so sure that people could get used to the sound of jet engines at takeoff at 2am in the morning. I’m also sure this added ambiance will greatly increase the house values around the airport.

  26. Are there any US airports that have curfews? I’m genuinely surprised a busy airport like LHR actually shuts down.

  27. @ Ivan Y — I don’t know if they still do, but I know Orange County Airport used to have one. So not totally unheard of here either.

  28. 24hr service at Heathrow is long overdue. 2am depart Heathrow for 6am arrival in Miami would be perfect. Still wont fix the two hours of your life you lose trying to get through Miami customs!

  29. @Charlie Absolutely wrong. SIN is located next to the single largest residential district on the island. 02L is less than a kilometre away from the nearest neighbourhood. Being on the easternmost end only brings it away from the skyscrapers of the central business district for safety and planning reasons, but nobody lives in the CBD anyway. I live in public housing next to SIN and I can assure you I hardly notice airport traffic. Perhaps Europeans simply have hypersensitive ears!

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