What Is The Perfect Flight Length?

“Getting there is half the fun!”

If you can relate to that quote, I’m sure you’ve asked yourself this general question before. If you can’t relate, then please skip this post!

When it comes to redeeming miles for premium cabin travel, I’ve always been sort of obsessed with “maximizing value.” Whatever that might mean.

Back in the day I defined that quite simply: redeeming as few miles as possible for as many hours as possible in top premium cabin products. So something like Tokyo to Bangkok to Frankfurt to Los Angeles sounded like heaven. After all, why fly direct from Tokyo to Los Angeles when you can travel almost three times the distance going the “long way?”

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But hundreds of flights and millions of flown miles later, my impression of the perfect amount of travel time has changed.

I’m bringing this up because yesterday I wrote a post about maximizing the Emirates experience for travel between Dubai and LondonPetterP left the following comment:

If you want to maximize the EK-F Class Experience, DXB-PTY (Panama City) starting on February 1st 2016, –
A scheduled flight of 17 hours 35 minutes plane-ride,
However, it will not be the A380 with the bar, but I guess a 777-200LR suite will do ?
You will most probably have 3 in-flight parties and 4 meals?

After more longhauls than I can count, I’m not sure I agree anymore that longer necessarily equals better.

When it comes to enjoying longhaul flying, my general perception is as follows:

  • The first few hours are always most enjoyable, as you typically have a fantastic meal and are still “fresh.”
  • Beyond that, the marginal enjoyment diminishes significantly — I’m often full, tired, and maybe a bit hungover.
  • There’s more marginal enjoyment to be had with each hour for airlines with cool amenities, like bars, showers, etc. For example, as much as I love Cathay Pacific first class, I’m usually at my seat the whole flight. Meanwhile when I flew Qatar Airways A380 first class from Doha to London, I actually spent all but a couple of hours at the bar.

Cathay-Pacific-First-Class-777-31

Qatar-Airways-A380-First-Class-077

With that in mind, I think I’ve figured out my ideal flight lengths. In other words, beyond these limits I get very little marginal enjoyment out of flights. The perfect first class flight is one where you can both enjoy the experience and arrive well rested… at least in most cases.

Perfect overnight flight length: ~12 hours

To me this is the perfect flight length. If I really want to enjoy the flight, I typically like to stay awake for the first four hours. At least on an ultra longhaul flight. That way I can enjoy a meal service, which takes maybe two hours, and then unwind with a movie or enjoy any other onboard amenities.

Etihad-A380-First-Class-57

I’m not much of a sleeper, though ideally I’d get roughly six hours of sleep.

Cathay-Pacific-First-Class-Bed

And that leaves me with two hours before landing to watch a couple more sitcoms, freshen up, and have a pre-arrival snack.

Cathay-Pacific-First-Class-777-54

Most Cathay Pacific flights from the US to Hong Kong are ~14-15 hours, which is great, but usually the last couple of hours I’m ready for the flight to be over. Not that I’m not enjoying it, but rather that I’m not sure I’m happier onboard than I’d be in a “real” bed in a hotel, or at a “real” restaurant.

Perfect daytime flight length: ~8 hours

This might surprise some people. But I almost think the perfect daytime flight length is 7-8 hours. For example, an afternoon flight from Dubai to London which departs in the late afternoon and arrives in the evening is perfect for me.

You can enjoy a nice meal.

Emirates-A380-First-Class-053

Then enjoy whatever onboard amenities there are.

Emirates-A380-First-Class-069

And then have another light snack before landing.

Emirates-Afternoon-Tea

You can maximize your libation consumption onboard, and then arrive having had a great flight, even if you didn’t get any rest. And since you land in the evening, you can go to bed shortly after getting to the hotel.

So even if you have an amazing bed in first class, I don’t think maximizing a first class experience even has to include using it.

Bottom line

To 99% of people this probably sounds like a silly topic. But to those of us who actually enjoy the process of flying between places, I think it’s an interesting topic.

Admittedly there are lots of other factors that play into the “perfect” flight length — whether you’re traveling alone or with friends, how well rested you have to be when you land, exactly what time the flight leaves, etc. But the above is my general philosophy, I suppose.

I’m curious to hear how you guys feel.

If flying a top first class product, what do you think is the perfect flight length? What factors into that decision?

Comments

  1. In my opinion, it depends to be honest. It depends on what amenities are on offer. LIke lets take Cathay for example. It has a top notch bed, good food but nothing else. So I would probably look forward to getting off the plane as well.

    If now, we talk about Emirates or Etihad on the A380, I would probably never leave and hate to get off! You have WiFi to stay connected to the world, a shower, a bar, good food and your own personal butler to an extent!

    Overall, it will come down to what amenities are on offer.

  2. i used to LOVE the LA-Sydney-LA flights on Qantas (even the old 747s before the A380 came along!) before Qantas fell on hard times and they started depriving passengers of salad leaves and protein… 4 movies, 2 good meals, and good long snooze… it didn’t get any better than that…

  3. A couple of years ago, we flew SIN-CDG on SQ in Suites Class. Although the flight apparently was 13 hours or so long, we slept through a good portion of it. As a result, we thought the flight was much too short.

  4. I mostly agree, though I really enjoy the time to work mostly uninterrupted. I once wrote a chapter for a technology book where I was a contributing author on a pair of flights (SYD-SIN-LHR) with an 8 hour nap in the middle.

    For night flights, I prefer 10-15 hours. That gives me 3-4 hours to enjoy the experience, eat, watch a movie and work, then some time to sleep, then time to wake up, work, eat, etc.

    Day time flights westbound, I prefer something that arrives in the evening so it’s easier to stay awake and adjust to the new schedule quickly.

    Some of the more painful experiences are back to back east bound red eyes of 6-8 hours each, without enough of a layover to shower between flights.

  5. I love an ultra long-haul flight, as long as I don’t have a connecting flight at the end of it. A 10+ hour flight allows me to have a couple of nice meals, catch up with my reading, write some actual letters, watch a movie,
    –and stare out the window and daydream while enjoying a lovely vodka. So peaceful and relaxing!

    God how I hate the nighttime transatlantic flights! No friggin’ time to do anything but gulp down a meal and try to take a nap. And I always end up with the most dreadful hangovers. I missed a dinner at my favorite restaurant, Timberyard in Edinburgh, because I took a nap to recover from the measly six hour flight and didn’t get up till 3AM.

  6. I was excited when newAA changed my flt PHL-FRA to CLT-FRA, which means a gain of ~45min inflight! It’s my way of showing ‘Getting there is half the fun’.

  7. @lucky you probably have already done this but how about a post listing all planes with bars? Seems like all a380s and a lot of 747s do but do many planes that aren’t double deckers have them?

  8. Getting there in 5 minutes would be even more fun!

    Imperator was right on re: connecting flights.

    Also depends on going vs. coming home.

  9. Perfect flight length is as short as possible.

    If they came up with a jet that went 2000 MPH I’d glad take that in coach over first class with the current speed of planes.

    Less time in the air, the better. No matter what class.

  10. Agree with Tom – need a post with a list of all the onboard bar airlines/airplanes/routes info … would help for sure!

  11. 30 minutes LAX-NRT would be perfect. More time on the ground doing fun stuff without being cooped up in a metal tube. Contrary to popular belief, there are bars, restaurants, and even movie theaters on planet earth! Plus, all that “fantastic” food and booze tastes even better at normal atmospheric pressure.

  12. Around 10 hours.
    When leaving to Europe i perfer to land around noon. this way my body thinks its 6am and time to wake-up. Also if i have the pre departure glass of champagne i dont drink on planes.

  13. “It all depends.” I don’t sleep well on planes, hell, I barely sleep well in my own bed. So the worst flights are the ones that keep me up way past my natural bed time, or European flights that land at ~7am.

    JL’s ORD-NRT is an interesting flight, because at 12 hours flight time, and a noon departure from ORD, there’s not much time to sleep.

    What’s going to be interesting for me is CX’s midnight departure from LAX-HKG, which takes off at my natural bed time.

  14. What about back to back flights? Which one would you choose, flying in F. SQ JFK – FRA – SIN where the “short” flight is followed by the long one, or the other way NH JFK – NRT – SIN where the “short flight” is after the long one.

  15. I think you also need to factor in how full the cabin is. I flew LH First more than once of late back and forth to Munich on a 330 as well on to DXB on the 747-400 seat and bed arrangement, totally empty and was treated like a king by the crew and jumped from seat to seat literally playing in my own upper deck play ground. Totally made the flight lengths 7hr.33 mins and 6 hours respectively through the night just surreal and perfect lengths.

  16. Can you please stop talking about Emirates – it’s good to try once but unless you are Arab or a Dubai lover it’s vile gaudy and classless – yes they have the most A380s with F but it’s such a horrible product and classless that any FF who knows what they are doing should avoid especially if they live in Euorpe breaking up a longhaul to connect in that horrible DBX at 2am is a nightmare come true!!!

  17. I agree that flight duration of 8 hours plus (but less than 16 hours) is the best zone, provided that it’s on an A380 (the longer you are on an aircraft, the larger you want it to be, given the increased amenities and extra space). That provides for multiple meal services, time to watch a few movies, and some sleep even.

    I find that after 16 hours, no matter how good the aircraft, you tend to be over it and just want to hit land.

  18. silly topic, no! but my fav flight length is the 38 min from BUR to LAS. just long enough to have a drink, watch a short sitcom and boom youre in Vegas

  19. I mean, it depends on so many things. Basically, my general rule of thumb is that the flight home is never short enough. Otherwise, whatever I need to get there generally works. That said, I always look for the most direct routing because my travel companions are generally…I’ll just say impatient.

  20. I’m a big fan of the Emirates DXB-CPT as my favorite daytime flight. Not too early take off and arriving with daylight and a nice meal in Capetown. Additionally, there is almost no jet leg to deal with on arrival.

    For a long haul, I think the best is JFK-DXB or one of the similar gulf carrier routes. Sit back, relax and after a nice meal and a good sleep, I’m almost home! Points to Emirates again (gotta love the chauffeurs on arrival).

  21. The premise to your question Lucky is that the flight is in first class or at least business class. When I have an empty seat or two to stretch out in and good avod, a 15 hour flight in economy is as enjoyable as any other length flight if not more so and not a huge step below premium cabin.

    As far as first or business class, I’m still at the longer-the-better stage. Having an excellent flight-following display always makes any flight more enjoyable, seem faster and lets me maximize work and play.

  22. I have flown to 26 countries multiple times, and have never gone first or business class. I feel like such a loser….those amenities look awesome! Just once I would like to do that.

    but if I did that, the other 5 people in my family would be pretty pissed off….

  23. When it comes to TATL flights, I avoid east coast cities for night flights in business class, since the flight time often ends up being 6.5 hours or less. No time to sleep, since cabin service inevitably takes 2+ hours.

    ORD/DFW/MIA/DTW/MSP/ATL are much better departure points if you want to get as much sleep as possible. JFK and BOS are the worst.

  24. I have been crossing the Atlantic ocean at least 6 times pr. year, and do not have a great standing with either TSA/CBP.
    I have been doing my last 40 trips with either LH or SK, always in Business class (no OPUP to F)
    However, if I am at US East coast (BOS,PHL,NYC) I would almost opt for a domestic flight first, drawing me towards IAH,ORD.
    My worst flight was out of JFK. Flying on LH-metal towards FRA.
    The announced flight-time was 5:35, but due to heavy tail-wind, we ended up doing a back-to-back in regards to meal-serivce. Once the dinner was served and completed, preparations for breakfast service were being made. Landing in FRA at oh-my God it early (0500) left me with no sleep and a terrible jet-lag.

  25. Ben, love the topic and the comments thread on this!
    @ekartash I’d definitely go for JFK-NRT-SIN. I prefer flying west on a daytime flight. Arrival in SIN is late night so perfect for getting to hotel and falling asleep. Both of my trips to SIN have been via NRT, once from ORD and once from DTW.
    Ideal flight length for daytime flight is 12 hours. Ideal flight length for nighttime is 9 hours. Disclosure: my longest flight is 13:22 so I’m still at the stage where I’m intrigued by ultra-long haul flights and still think the more time in the air, the better.

  26. Traveling for me is most definitely a very important part of the vacation and/or business trip. Planes are not “mere transportation” from point A to point B.

    For me: the longer the better, total travel time is not a concern. I am more than willing to use miles & money for business class creature comforts. I also prefer to schedule a many-hour layover to more thoroughly enjoy a long relaxing session in whatever upper class lounge is available.

  27. In March I had a flight from IAH-NWK-MXP. The leg from NWK-MXP there was no entertainment, no wifi, the overhead lights didn’t work. It was torture for me! I couldn’t sleep. Got off the flight and drove 5hours to Tuscany. I about have a nervous breakdown.

    Next month I’m leaving from IAH-DXB, 15hr flight. I will definitely be taking sleeping pills. Any advice would help!

  28. The longest commercial flight in the world was the now defunct Newark to Singapore at 18 and a bit hours on Singapore airlines all business class. It was the least tiring long haul flight I have ever taken – both ways. 6 hours for the meal and 3 movies, 6 hours of deep sleep, the remainder working after breakfast. Now stopping in Frankfurt on that route is just a tiring waste of time.

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