All Eastbound Flights ARE Created Equal!

Perhaps this is the most obvious observation ever, but it finally “clicked” for me during my last transpacific flight from Seoul to Los Angeles.

I’ve taken a countless number of transoceanic flights over the years, and generally I break them into a few categories.

For example, eastbound transatlantic flights (from the US to Europe or beyond) are for sleeping, since they’re almost always redeyes. So whether it’s a flight from Los Angeles to London or New York to Dubai, and whether it departs at 3PM or 11PM, I have the same general approach.

Meanwhile I’ve always viewed westbound transpacific flights (from the US to Asia and beyond) somewhat similarly, perhaps incorrectly. Since you arrive the following day, I’ve always kind of thought of them as flights where it makes sense to sleep most of the way, since you arrive the next day and want to be well rested. That’s true whether it’s a flight from the US to Asia at noon or midnight. And it’s probably also partly true because it means I’m leaving home as opposed to flying back home, so want to be especially well rested.

But I’ve never really had a strategy with flights from Asia to the US. They arrive the same day and often aren’t that long, so in many cases I’ll just stay up the whole way.

For whatever reason – and trust me, it makes me feel really dumb – I just had the epiphany that flights from Asia to the US should be viewed as redeyes as well, regardless of which time they leave.

For example, Korean Air has a flight from Seoul to Los Angeles that leaves at 3PM and lands at 9AM, and a flight that leaves at 7PM and lands at 1PM. These flights are no different than flights from Los Angeles to London that leave at 3PM and land at 9AM, or that leave at 7PM and land at 1PM – they’re designed for sleeping.

Transatlantiv vs Transpacific

Am I the only one that never viewed eastbound transpacific flights in that way? Was everyone else viewing an eastbound transpacific flight exactly the same as an eastbound transatlantic flight?

Anyway, this realization has certainly positively altered my view of transpacific flying. Previously I’d often stay up for much of the flight since I viewed it as a “daytime” flight (using the US Airways call center logic of the flight arriving the same day), while from now on I’ll make an effort to maximize sleep between Asia and the US — it’s no different than hopping on a transatlantic flight out of the US.

Yeah, I’m pretty dumb, having taken dozens upon dozens of eastbound transpacific flights. All the radiation on the polar route must slowly be getting to me…

Comments

  1. The tough thing is staying up the night before so you can get your clock going correctly and sleep. Ambien / Simply Sleep / Melatonin are your friends 🙂

  2. I’ve never taken it, but I’ve heard that BA has a morning flight to London. My friends jokingly call it the club kid flight. You get to London in time to change and hit the clubs. And you have a huge advantage over locals because it’s several hours earlier to your body and they think you’ve got incredible stamina.

  3. Figure out the departure time in the time zone of your arrival city. Then see if you’d be normally sleeping. If yes, then sleep. If no, stay up.

    You might be west coast biased. Look at PVG-ORD, Both UA and AA arrive around 5pm, taking 13 hr. So you should nap a few hours in the beginning then stay up the rest of the time.

  4. What about eastbound transpacific flights that leave in the morning – e.g. those headed for the east coast? I have a hard time sleeping on a flight that leaves at 10am, but then it’s pretty tough to get through the day when you arrive in the US at 10am and it feels like 10pm. I suppose the solution is to try and sleep at least some, so that you can stay up until a reasonably late hour the day you arrive and try to get back on a normal schedule.

  5. Agree. Like UA 199 from Shanghai to LAX. It’s 20h25 departure and arrives on the same day at 4pm. But it’s nearly bedtime after meal service, best thing to do is to sleep…..

  6. Similarly, on my flight from SYD-LAX I would have liked to sleep, but I was in no condition to sleep. Flight left SYD at about 2:30 pm. I did not stay up late to try and be worn out for the flight so I could sleep on it, but in hindsight I probably should’ve. But, it kind of came down to: Do I choose a lot of sleep in my bed at the Park Hyatt? Or, do I choose a lot of sleep in my Biz Class seat Virgin Australia? I chose the Park Hyatt, and watched movies on the flight. I survived.

  7. I try to time my sleep with when I’m arriving so I can reset my internal clock as quickly as possible. For example, PHX-LHR, I try to sleep just a few hours, early in the flight, wake up around 10am London time, and then force myself to stay awake until at least 8pm in the UK and get a good night of sleep. In reverse, stay up late the night before, so that I’m tired and sleep early on the flight. Wake up around 9am PHX time, stay awake the rest of the flight, and force myself to stay awake until 8pm in PHX.

    To/from Asia, I usually aim for the daytime departures, and I sleep a few hours only in the middle. Arrive at my destination, try to stay awake until 8pm.

    By far the more difficult flights for me to figure out are consecutive long hauls, or back to back red eyes with a long layover in the middle, or 40+ hour award tickets like PHX-LAX-ICN-KIX-SIN-DPS. On those, I tend to sleep as much as possible on the longer of the two flights, but again, I aim to arrive at my destination with barely enough sleep to stay awake until it’s at least early evening. My wife’s strategy is to just eat and sleep the whole way, but I enjoy the time to work with minimal interruption on my flights, and feel like the flight was a wasted opportunity for solitude if I sleep the whole flight!

  8. Even though it’s technically an “eastbound” flight, the CX flights from HKG to JFK direct (14 hours) fly over the North Pole and land about an hour and half/2 hours after the takeoff time, e.g, a 9:30 am flight lands around 11 am the same day in New York.
    How does your strategy work for this flight?

  9. I try to sleep based on the time in my final destination. So even when flying from Europe to the US I will try to sleep right after takeoff so it is a bit easier to stay awake at the destination.
    It also depends a bit what your goal is at the destination. Most of the time I fly for work to Europe or Asia and will need to adjust quickly because I have to get up early to work.
    If I am on vacation I can sleep in a bit, no real difference if I get up at 6am or 10am.
    If I go home I try to adjust quickly to my families schedule.

  10. Ben,

    I usually go to bed around 2am east coast time, which means I won’t go to sleep until 0700Z. This means:

    US-Europe is for drinking free booze, and I crash at my destination. Getting over jet lag sucks.

    Europe-US is for doing whatever. I will have acclimated to the time change at that point, and will just have gotten a good night’s sleep.

    US-Asia depends on the departure time. I’ve never actually taken a PM departure in this direction, always morning. I will not sleep on these flights because I would have just gotten a good night sleep the night before.

    If, I’m connecting in Asia (which is common) I’ll likely sleep/nap on the connection. This is the point where I would be sleeping back in the US.

    Asia-US has always been a morning/early afternoon departure for me, so I won’t sleep, as I will have just gotten a good night sleep the night before.

  11. Call me lazy, but I think any flight that lasts more than a few hours and on which you are fortunate enough to have a seat that converts to a bed is a flight designed for sleeping/napping.

  12. I *always* sleep on flights from Asia to the US, even on CX 830 (which departs HKG at ~09:30 and arrives JFK at 11:00ish or 12:00ish (depending on EDT vs. EST)) I make it a point to sleep.

    I’m surprised you figured this out only now. But no, that hardly makes you stupid.

  13. Yeah, like others have said, I always try to ignore local time and think of my destination’s time starting the day before. This week I only slept 2 hours on a red eye BKK-ICN (afternoon nap based on US Eastern time) then had “afternoon” coffee at ICN (6 am local, 4 pm Eastern) then stayed up til 1 pm local on my flight (11 pm eastern), and treated it as a normal night’s sleep.

  14. If I’m flying during any part of the night time of where ever I am going, then it is a sleeping flight. I always try to do a ‘hard reset’ to get onto the time of the place I’m traveling to.

  15. I really think all eastbound flights are made for sleeping and all westbound flights are made for staying up, though I could be convinced otherwise with westbound flights to Asia that have a true early arrival. On my flights to China, I once tried to sleep and once tried to stay up. I managed the jetlag much better when I stayed awake all the way to my destination and then crashed in the hotel and slept till morning. Applied the same lessons to US-EU trips and have had much success recently.

  16. I always prepare myself on which way i’m going, going east is harder on your internal clocks as you’re losing hours in the day, going west you are gaining hours in the day. Your body is more adept to add hours to your day than take hours away. Going to europe, I always have a tough time adjusting, but going west, I find it easier to adjust.

  17. One small but important additional step…reset your watch/phone to the destination time as you leave for the airport. It makes a big difference in your ability to mentally switch gears. Then do everything according to your destination time. Eat, work, drink (in moderation), and sleep accordingly. I have to be alert and functioning on arrival (the “Doc” thing) so I pick airlines, cabins and flights times that allow for adequate sleep and meals on-demand. Even if it means connecting through cities that are not the most direct route.

  18. I suppose it matters what your origin is. When I lived in the Arab World all long(er)-haul westbound flights (i.e. to Europe and the Americas) were red eyes and left between midnight and 4a and arrived in the early morning wherever the destination was.

  19. I’ve been struggling with this for my upcoming flights to/from Asia this summer. Any input is appreciated:

    UA flight (in J) leaves IAD at around 12:30PM and arrives at NRT around 3:30PM (~1:30AM EST). Thus if I stayed up the entire flight I’d be getting tired for bed upon arrival. I think my goal is to take a couple hour nap so I can power through to a decent bed time in Tokyo of around 10PM.

    Cathay Pacific flight home (in F) leaves HKG at 9:30AM and arrives at LAX at 8AM (or around midnight HKG time). Thus I’ll be getting tired upon arrival. Then I have a layover before flight home on AS departing around noon arriving in DC around 8PM. I’m stumped here as I can’t imagine being tired for anything more than a nap on the CX flight and if I could manage to stay up to fall asleep around 10PM in DC I’d get back on schedule. So its a balance as to how much to sleep and on which flight to do so!

  20. @Jeremy,

    That’s a pretty difficult combo. I tend to be able to survive on not much sleep, so here are some options I might try:

    Outbound: 1) The night before, don’t get much sleep, then sleep the first half of the flight. or 2) Sleep well the night before, then sleep the middle third of the flight. With both options, try to stay awake when you arrive in Tokyo… I do this by getting out and walking and exploring as much as I can.

    Inbound: 1) Limit your sleep the night before, then sleep the 2nd half of the flight, so you wake up around 7am in LAX. Then stay awake the rest of the day, maybe with a short nap on the DC flight, or 2) Pull an all-nighter in Hong Kong, and then sleep a long time on the flight, or 3) Get a really good night of sleep the night before, and then sleep the latter third of the flight, and stay awake on the DC flight.

  21. Damn all this makes me feel jealous that people are actually able to sleep on planes. Best I can do is a few hours of “airplane rest”. Sleeping people let me sleep but then make me feel washed out and shitty for days after. I think the best I can ever hope for is a good meal that takes up time and then a movie-a-thon. If I have a plan its to “try” and sleep at the time I would when I left home. It’s just not possible for me to sleep on a short transatlantic flight if I leave NYC at 6pm and I don’t normally fall asleep until 1 and the flight is really only 6 or 7 hours then the best I can hope for is a nap of a couple of hours. Jet lag sucks, but the only bed I ever am successful at sleeping in is a real one not one on a plane. I wish there were more day time flights to Europe like they have to London – which is really the same length as a transcontinental so I’d much rather take a morning flight to Europe get there when I will be ready to sleep and do it in my hotel. As for Asia the flights are so long sleeping or “napping” is inevitable so does it really matter when it happens? I always feel wiped out regardless so why not drink eat and enjoy trashing entertainment – especially if I spent a fortune to fly in the front of the plane! I don’t want to miss the experience by just enjoying the nice flat bed – which in the end I can never really sleep on anyway! Thanks for this post Ben it was great not dumb at all!

  22. These Eastbound and/or the opposite flights are long enough to let you sleep for at least 5-6 hours or so. How about the ones that we take Southbound instead, e.g. JFK-BOG. These are barely 5.5h flights, so excluding taxing, feeding time and touching down I’ll most likely be left with some 2-3 hours to ‘sleep during the day’ since my flight leaves around 7AM 🙂 I guess not sleeping a night before as someone just suggested would make it work 🙂

  23. Fly only in a Westward direction, only on day flights. Then you arrive much, much better it can be a routing challenge but F is much better in the day. 13 RTW last year Aus-Se Asia-Europe-USA-Nth Asia home. Then there is seasonal routing like is it summer or winter on that route. What about 787-9 UA LAX-MEL?

  24. Would appreciate any help planning my sleep/meal times for the outbound & inbound legs of my trip to Asia:

    – Flying IAH-PEK-HKG (CA F): IAH-PEK departs 1:00 am and arrives 4:50 am; then PEK-HGK flight departs at 8:05 am and arrives at 11:35 am.
    – Flying HKG-SFO (CX F): departing 12:30 am and arriving 10:15 pm (on a previous day).

  25. @Ivan:

    Outbound, I would recommend sleeping the second half of the flight if possible, and then stay awake all day.

    Inbound, I would suggest sleeping the first few hours, then stay awake the rest of the flight… try to sleep a few hours in the evening prior to the flight, if you can get a late checkout.

  26. I am kind of the opposite. I typically try to stay awake for most of the westbound transpacific sectors, catching a little catnap after the first service or maybe a bit longer if I am especially tired. On the way back, I agree with your assessment that sleeping is key. Often, I try to get 6-8 hours of sleep after the first service on all but the shortest eastbound sectors. That approach keeps my body clock somewhat in sync.

    That said, on ultra long hauls (East Coast to Asia, West Coast to Australia, etc.) I always try to get at least 6 hours of sleep regardless of direction. Once a flight hits the 12h mark, it’s cutting into my circadian sleep cycle anyway, so I take the opportunity for some shut eye. Most times, I can’t help it!

  27. I take a very simplistic approach to longhaul and find it works consistently well. I just look at what time (LOCAL TIME) the flight is due to arrive and therefore work out how much sleep I should have as a result. Morning arrival? Get plenty of sleep. Evening arrival? – try not to sleep (or if a very long flight just have a couple of hours tops). I basically want to switch to local time ASAP and therefore want to get my sleeping pattern into sync. I’m not bothered which direction I’m flying in!

  28. I took a flight on CX from HKG to LAX and it left HKG late at night, arriving in LAX late at night (same day). I took a little nap after dinner service, stayed up watching movies for as long as I could, when I got to LAX I was ready to sleep and was immediately acclimated.

  29. I’ve always considered Asia->USA flights to be redeyes and try to get a good night’s sleep. That holds whether the flight departs Japan or Korea in the afternoon/evening, or whether it departs Hong Kong at noon or midnight, I’m spending a night on the plane.

    I’ve considered USA->Asia flights that leave around noontime to be daytime flights where I’ll try to take a 3 hour nap, but then when I arrive I want to stay up until a reasonable bedtime like at least 8pm so that I can get a full night’s sleep.

    The exception to that is USA-> Asia flights that are the true redeyes, the ones that leave around midnight and arrive in the morning, then I try for a full night’s sleep.

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