Dear Airlines: Please Add More Reverse Transatlantic Redeyes!

Filed Under: Travel

For flights between North America and Europe, we’re used to eastbound flights typically being redeyes, while westbound flights are typically daytime flights. There are of course some exceptions. For example, some airlines operate daytime flights between the east coast and Europe.

Daytime eastbound transatlantic flights

Daytime flights from North America to Europe can be as early as British Airways’ daytime flight from New York to London, departing at 7:55AM and arriving at 7:45PM.


Or they can be as late as Aer Lingus’ daytime flight from New York to Dublin, departing at 12:00PM and arriving at 11:40PM.

Some people swear by these daytime flights, as they say they help to avoid jetlag. Typically east coast to Europe flights are too short to get any real sleep, so I can see why people love these flights so much. At the same time, there are some downsides:

  • You “waste” an entire day flying
  • If you’re a night owl, you’ll land in Europe and likely not be tired yet, given that it’s typically only afternoon in the US when you land

For flights to Europe, my personal preference is a flight which leaves the US very late at night, and then lands in Europe in the afternoon. That way I can get some sleep onboard and stay up until it’s bedtime when I land. I find I adjust pretty quickly that way.

An earlier flight works for me as well. I take a 2-3 hour nap when I land, and then I’m good to go. The key is that I take that nap before 2PM. If I take it after, I end up just sleeping till about midnight, and that’s the worst possible scenario.

Redeye westbound transatlantic flights

This past Thursday night I flew from Madrid to Mexico City on Aeromexico, which departed at 11:25PM and arrived at 4:10AM the following day.

Aeromexico-Business-Class-787 - 47

That was my first time taking a westbound transatlantic redeye from Europe to North America. Yes, I’ve certainly taken westbound transatlantic redeye flights to North America before, like Abu Dhabi to New York, but this was my first time taking such a flight from Europe.

I was especially excited about this because I’ve long said that airlines should offer more transatlantic redeyes between Europe and North America, as it basically “saves” a day. After taking this flight, I love these flights even more than before:

  • I managed to get about seven hours of sleep between Madrid and Mexico City
  • While landing at 4AM sucked, and while I was tired all day, I powered through the day (usually I would have napped, but I was connecting up to Los Angeles)
  • My time schedule has been perfect ever since, as I’ve been restricting myself to as much sleep as I usually need, rather than hibernating, as I sometimes do after long flights

Aeromexico-Business-Class-787 - 45

On a daytime transatlantic flight, on the other hand, I typically end up napping on the flight. While I have no problem falling asleep at night when I get to my hotel (due to exhaustion), I usually wake up in the middle of the night. That wasn’t an issue here.

So I love these types of flights, though unfortunately they don’t exist to anywhere in the US or Canada, but rather just to Mexico.

Why don’t these flights expand?

In theory you’d think airlines would expand these flights, but there are a few challenges. The two biggest are as follows:

  • Many European airports have curfews, so in many cases the flight would have to depart by 10-11PM, which translates to a really early arrival
  • Mexico is the furthest destination in North America, so the flight time is quite long; it’s tougher to operate a flight like this to the US or Canada, since the flight doesn’t land all that long after it takes off, in terms of local time

For example, flights from London to Los Angeles typically land three hours after they depart (factoring in the eight hour time change). Heathrow has a curfew, so flights departing at 10PM would land in Los Angeles at 1AM, which is hardly useful.

But look at flights from Madrid to Miami, for example, which arrive four hours after they depart (local time). Madrid doesn’t have as strict of a curfew. I’d gladly take a flight from Madrid to Miami departing at midnight and arriving at 4AM. It would allow me to get a good night of sleep aboard and still have two full days.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting airlines should entirely switch to westbound redeye flights over the Atlantic, but rather that I find it to be a very nice alternative to daytime flights. For markets between airports without curfews with several frequencies per day, I’d love to see the conventional schedule be expanded.

Anyone else theoretically a fan of reverse transatlantic redeyes from Europe, or am I just crazy?

  1. YES PLEASE! We book a lot of travel for our office and can’t tell you how many times we have needed to get people out at night to be back on the West Coast the following morning. We have used the mexico city routing for exactly this purpose (but it is a pain with the connection). There most certainly is demand for this west-bound redeye service…..and from high revenue business travelers no less.

  2. I think the vast majority of people don’t sleep well on planes. You have an advantage flying up front and you also fly so much that you are able to do it. Personally I can’t sleep on planes. Even in F class I have a hard time getting any sleep…unless it’s an SQ suite. So, while this might be great for you, I’d venture to say that a big majority of people hate red eyes and avoid them when they can.

  3. The leave the US late and arrive the next afternoon is a West Coast thing, yes? Because from good ol’ JFK few of the flights are long enough to land in the afternoon, even with a very late departure.

    Maybe it’s just me, but flying overnight doesn’t really save me from wasting a day. The flights are still too short for a good night’s sleep (to the Eastern US) and then I am exhausted all day at work.

  4. In some countries you can board sleeper train coaches long before departure time. So if the westbound flights are too short (e.g. arrive two hours later in terms of local time vs local time), they could make them longer by boarding business/first class at 11pm and letting people go to sleep for a few hours, then loading economy at 3am. Yeah, that would work well.

  5. I think my all-time favorite flight timing is HKG-SFO on CX, which leaves HK at half midnight and arrives in SF the night before around 9:30-10pm. For some reason, I never have trouble adjusting with this schedule and jet lag is minimal. I simply go out and have a late dinner and drinks and then hit the hay. If it’s HKG-JFK, though, I’m a mess for days. Go figure.

  6. I would guess another reason there aren’t many westbound redeyes is operational. If a European airline flies a plane to the US that lands 4-6am, what do they do with it? Let it sit there all day until it flies back over night? It’s the same problem with US airlines (who fly most of the Eastbound daytime flights). What do you do with a plane that lands in London at 10pm? The standard pattern of redeye eastbound and daytime return works well for airlines with fleets based in the US or Europe and keeps their equipment well utilized.

    As an aside, I love the eastbound daytime flights. It lets my family of four fly coach (redeyes work best lying down) and it does seem to reduce jet lag for us a lot.

  7. I would avoid a red eye from Europe to the West Coast, I enjoy having a longer day on the way out and arriving in the afternoon with enough time to enjoy the evening. Plus I’ve always been more of a daytime flyer than a nighttime person, I can’t sleep on planes.

  8. From Europe to Sao Paulo they are quite rule, most leaving the continent around 11 PM and arriving in Brazil 4:30-5:00 AM with 10-12h in total travel time. My favorite!

  9. The problem with these kinds of flights (including daytime US – Europe flights) is that they are generally solely dependent on business travel.

    Go look at the seat map for AA 90 ORD – LHR which departs around 9 AM and arrives at LHR around 10:40 PM. It’s almost always sold out in business and under 30% LF in Economy. That’s a plane going between two massive business destinations and OW hubs.

    Europe – East Coast is probably too short. I’m guessing perhaps AA/BA could experiment with LHR – LAX or LHR – SFO? I can’t see what else might have enough Premium Cabin demand to make it work.

  10. I think it would certainly be nice to have additional options. That being said, I would think that for European airlines it would be harder, since a westbound redeye arriving early in the morning likely requires a long layover, meaning you might not get good aircraft utilization. Let’s use LAX-LHR as an example. From what I can tell, the earliest flight departs around 3:30 PM. Even if you could find a way around the Heathrow curfew, and your flight arrived at LAX around 4:00 AM, you are still talking about the plane sitting at LAX for 11.5 hrs. Now perhaps with a westbound redeye, they can have an earlier return flight to London, but that flight isn’t likely to depart any earlier than 11 am, so that is still a 7 hr stop in LAX. For US airlines, I think it would be easier to do a westbound redeye, since they would have more flexibility with where they could fly from the US than a European airline would, meaning arriving early in the morning wouldn’t necessitate a long layover.

  11. Not exactly the same type of route, but I flew JNB-ATL, took off around 8pm Johannesburg time, landed a little after 5am Atlanta time. If you can stay up for the first 5-6 hours of the flight and sleep for the rest you’re golden. It’s a wickedly long flight but the fact you land “8” hours after you take off really helps.

  12. If a few flights are available from which you can choose, that’s fine. But it’s not for me. That MAD-MEX schedule sounds horrid to me.

  13. It have to do with the turn around time. No airlines are going to park their planes all day and pay a parking fee so you can have a redeye flight. Its all about turning the plane around and get it back in the air.

  14. Heathrow needs to change the rules on night flights, more should be allowed. Most if not all of the people that moan about aircraft noise out of Heathrow have moved there knowing that a major international airport was there, some older residents might not have wanted to live next to it but considering they would probably be in their 80s now they have had plenty of time to move and make a killing on the rising property in London. More flights should fly West on red-eyes.

  15. All the AeroMexico flights from Europe to Mexico City (Madrid , CDG, AMS, LHR) are a redeye flights.

  16. the trend toward red eye US-Asia flights drives me crazy. I prefer daytime flights going west. my long-held strategy of avoiding jetlag is to look out the window

  17. @RakSiam — Airlines tend to schedule their long-haul routes at times that appeal to business passengers, because those passengers generate the most revenue and are very picky about schedule. When I travel for work, we would pay an extra $5k-$10k per ticket for a better schedule without batting an eye. Leisure or economy travelers care more about price, not schedule, so airlines don’t really schedule around the preferences of economy passengers.

    @Nate — I agree with you. As much as I love Lucky’s blog, in this instance, I think he overlooked some costs of this proposal. Many U.S. airlines only have one frequency a day to European cities. If you do a red eye in both directions, that aircraft is tied up for basically 36 hours to do one round trip. It leaves at night on Monday, arrives Europe on Tuesday, departs that night, and doesn’t get back to,the U.S. until Wednesday morning. That would be incredibly costly since most U.S. airlines can do a round-trip to Europe with just 24 hours of aircraft utilization. Many out-and-back flights are scheduled so the flight returns from Europe just 2-3 hours after it arrives, so a round trip (assuming a block time of 8-9 hours each way) is less than 24 hours. This proposal would only be feasible for destinations like Paris and London that have many frequencies a day.

    Even in cities where you could do this, moreover, I don’t see any advantage compared to, say, a flight that leaves at 7 p.m. and arrives at 10 p.m. (which is around the last flight offered from some European cities). That lets you get a full day of work in before your flight, you stay awake on the plane and enjoy the service, and you can go to sleep when you arrive — sleeping, crucially, in a real bed (your own bed if you’re based in the U.S.!). That’s way more efficient than getting a few hours of fitful rest on a plane and being zonked when you arrive at 4 a.m. I think no airline has tried this to the U.S. for good reasons.

  18. As someone who has flown LHR-LAX and back maybe 40 times in the last few years, I’d love to see an overnight flight from London. Plenty of night time flights go from Tokyo, Hong Kong and Singapore to London, Paris and other western European cities, and the journey time is comparable, so why not London to Los Angeles? Maybe the plane could go a little slower so typically you could leave London at 11pm (if the LHR curfew’s a problem, try LGW) and arrive at LAX at 4am or 5am. Coming back, why not a daytime departure, so that’d leave LAX at 6am, get to London close to midnight same day. I don’t see why it’s not do-able, but probably won’t suit the airlines.

  19. I regularly fly on westbound red eye flights between the Middle East and Europe, and they’re horrible flights. Depart 2am, land 6am, having managed maybe 4 or 5 hours of sleep at most. Much longer flights, say from Singapore or Hong-Kong work far better. So perhaps Istanbul to Los Angeles could work as a red eye, but London to New York – forget it!
    If you dislike the normal daytime flights across the Atlantic, try to fly the really early flights, get to North America mid morning, or the last departure in the evening, and land at bedtime.

  20. @ James,

    Won’t suit most pax to arrive LAX at 4am (what to do until the office? pay for a hotel room?) nor to get up at 3-4 am to depart at 6am to arrive in LON at 0:30 (and in hotel/home close to 2 am — wrecking not one, but two nights of sleep and kissing goodbye to any chance of fast jet lag adjustment).

    However, there’s always NetJets.

  21. Back in 2011 I flew TLV-PHL on USAirways which departed TLV around midnight and landed in the morning in PHL. Was sick with a cold after Birthright trip and fortunately after having stayed a few days extra my flight home in coach was only ~60% full… I had an entire four seats to myself and slept better than I ever have on a plane even in F/J!

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