Early flights – Are they worth getting up for?

  • Author: John Parker
  • Last Updated: November 15, 2022

I will be honest, I don’t like early flights. Actually that’s not true, I hate them. But really I think it is more the thought of them than the reality of them. Once I am up and getting going it never seems quite so bad.

Having to get up at some ungodly hour to catch an early flight is not fun. In fact, sometimes it has not even been worth going to bed before a flight.

Nevertheless, booking early flights has many advantages as they can be cheaper, they are less likely to be delayed and it can be easier to get to the airport due to less traffic.

So, as much as I hate early flights, due to their advantages, I often end up booking them. I just have to suffer the sleep deprivation that goes with them.

The benefits of early flights

Are early morning flights cheaper?

Early morning flights are, more often than not, cheaper than at other times of the day. This is generally because they are less popular with the majority of people who prefer to get some sleep and catch flights that leave later in the day.

Although it does vary, I just did a quick search using Skyscanner of a few of the most popular flight routes in the US including New York to Boston, Los Angeles to San Francisco and Washington to New York. What I found was that on average the prices for the early morning flights were 15-20% cheaper than flights later in the day.

Whether it is worth getting up before dawn just to save this amount of money is debatable. However, the other advantages just may sway you …

Early flights - Are they worth getting up for?
Seeing the sun rise on early flights can make it worthwhile

Are early morning flights less likely to be delayed?

In my experience it is definitely true that early morning flights are generally less likely to be delayed, particularly if the flight originates at the airport you are flying from (as opposed to being the return leg).

The main reason for this that it is likely that the aircraft you are flying on arrived back at its base in the early hours of the morning and is then unused for a few hours before your flight. This allows any delays that may have occurred the day before to be caught up without affecting your departure time as you will be the first flight of the day for that aircraft.

The exceptions are often weather related. Perhaps early morning fog that lifts later or delays due to having to de-ice the aircraft which may not be a factor with later flights.

One more reason why early flights are less likely to be delayed is that the air traffic control network is less busy than at other times of the day so air traffic control time slots are easier to obtain.

Quicker journey to the airport

If you intend to drive to the airport to catch your early flight then you could halve the journey time or perhaps even more than it would be to catch a later flight, particularly if that flight meant driving during the rush hour.

I used to catch an early flight to Spain with a departure time of 6:30am. Leaving home at 4am gave me an easy journey on almost empty roads and which used to take a maximum of 25 minutes. If I had caught a flight at 11am then, to arrive at the airport 2 hours before the flight, I would have had to leave home by 7:30am at the latest as that same journey could easily have taken 1.5 hours or even more on a bad day.

Quicker journey through the airport

Early flights - Quicker journey through the airport

Another advantage of early morning flights is that you will probably get through the airport quicker.

The check-in desks are often less crowded first thing in the morning and the same is normally true of airport security. You will probably also receive faster service in the departure lounge coffee shop for that much needed cup of coffee to wake you up.

Less turbulence in the morning

If you are someone that is not so keen on flying, so hate it when the aircraft hits some bumps along the way, then flying first thing in the morning is undoubtedly going to result in a smoother flight.

Turbulence is often caused by air currents caused by the land heating up by the sun. An early morning flight means the land has not had a chance to heat up hence less likelihood of experiencing turbulence.

For the same reasons, thunderstorms are also less likely early in the morning.

What are early morning flights called?

Well I couldn’t publish what I call them, particularly when my alarm clock goes off at some unbelievable hour and it feels like I only just got into bed.

But the normally accepted name of early morning flights is “red eye” for pretty obvious reasons.

What time should I get to the airport for early flights?

Obviously this depends on how early the flight is and on a number of other factors:

  • Have you checked in online so you have your boarding pass already (either printed or on your phone)? If you do then you can get there a little later. If not, you will need to go to the check in desk so allow extra time for this.
  • Do you have to check bags in? If you do then you will have to leave extra time to do this.
  • Are you flying with carry on bag only? If you are then you can arrive a bit later than the 2 hours that most airlines say you should arrive before your flight.
  • Are you on a domestic or an international flight? Allow more time if you are on an international flight.
  • How much time before a flight your airline says you need to be there. Many airlines say you should allow an hour without bags to check, 90 minutes if you have bags to check and 2 hours if it is an international flight.

Early morning flight tips

Be ready the night before

Get yourself organized the night before so that in the morning you can just get out of bed, jump in the shower and then head off to the airport.

This means having your bag, or bags, packed; all of your documentation put together; your taxi booked (if not driving yourself) and the clothes you will wear out and ready to put on.

Put your alarm clock away from the bed

Early morning flight tips

Assuming you will be actually going to bed before you leave for the airport then, unless you find getting up really easy, put your alarm clock or whatever you are using to wake you up on time, away from the bed. That way you will have to physically get out of bed to switch it off. So less chance of oversleeping.

I remember setting my alarm for 3:30am to catch an early flight some years ago and I left the alarm clock on my nightstand. I woke up at around 8am! My alarm was one of those that would keep buzzing until it was physically switched off so I obviously switched it off and went straight back to sleep. I couldn’t even remember doing it. After that the alarm was always placed on the other side of the room.

Online check in

Many airlines require that you check in online. Where you have the option, always check in online as this will save you time and prevent having to stand in line at the check in counter. If you have bags to check there is often a quick bag drop for those that have checked in online.

Carry on bag only

If you possibly can try to just take whatever you need for your trip in carry on, without taking a checked bag. This can save much time as you can just go straight to airport security with the boarding pass that you have printed or have on your phone.

Other articles

The complete guide to passing through airport security quickly

20 things you need to know about flying with a baby or toddler