When it comes to selecting flights, a number of factors come into play – airport, airline, cost – but time is perhaps the most sensitive variable. Here, Hugh Morris argues passionately for why early flights are to be ignored for a more leisurely schedule. Sally Peck disagrees, preferring to steal a march on the sun and arrive at her destination in time to enjoy the day.
Why early flights will ruin your holiday
I’m so pumped. I’m going on holiday tomorrow. Love going on holiday. It’s just a city break, but all the same, it’s an opportunity to get away, see new sights, smell new smells and taste new flavours.
Oh, well, working backwards I should probably be out of bed by… 4.30am. Which means I have to wake up in, oh, three hours.
Too many times I have booked flights believing them to be suitable for a relaxing schedule as befitting a short break, only for them to cripple me with a lark-disorientating wake, leaving me exhausted, grumpy and out of sorts before I’ve so much as set foot in my destination.
Admittedly, this problem is exacerbated by where I live in London, which means there are about 8million people still asleep between my bed and the airport – not to mention at least four forms of public transport.
It was for this reason, I swore off early flights.
Yes, yes, it makes the most of your day and all that, but does it really? Getting an early flight to a European weekend getaway means you’ll likely arrive at the other side around lunchtime, so you find the hotel – oh, you can’t check in yet – better lug your bags around the city, stuck in the limbo of having too little time to do anything meaningful but too much time to kill off as dead.
You’re starving because your stomach is still furious and confused from a 5am wake up and that insubstantial Pret sausage bap you had at Gatwick, so you want a big lunch, but it’s 3pm now and there’s no buzz at any of the restaurants. Besides your dinner is booked for 7.30pm. This is no way to start a holiday.
Still, you lumber on because you’re on holiday, but you’re tired and a bit grouchy and it’s too soon to start drinking (but you had three beers anyway) and now the time you thought was worth the early start is wasted because you’re sleepy and sat in the hotel lobby waiting to go up to your room.
But it doesn’t have to be like this.
Next time, book a flight for, say, 1.30pm. Ooh yes, that’s nice. This way, you don’t need to set an alarm because you’ll wake gradually with the rising sun, gently shook from your slumber by the inimitable smugness that comes from knowing that everyone else has been at work for at least an hour.
Put the kettle on, make yourself a cooked breakfast – you’re on holiday. It’s 10.30am, better get a wiggle on. Don’t want to be rushing. On the Tube you can read a proper book, because you’re not sad and bleary-eyed from waking before the dawn of civilisation.
Arrive at the airport and choose to have lunch at one of the 116 options in the new food court, then amble to your gate. You ate and drank well (you’re on holiday, remember) so have a kip on the plane.
By the time you arrive in your destination, you step off the plane to the dying of the light as the sun builds towards an edifying setting.
Make it to your hotel and there’s an hour and a half before dinner, the mathematically-proven perfect length of time for a restful shower, dress and downstairs for a drink first.
You meet your friend at the restaurant. He looks tired. He caught an early flight.
Why you should always catch an early flight
This is the anatomy of a weekend away:
there’s the travel, with which you should dispense quickly and efficiently;
and then there is the main event: the enjoyment of the place.
Rather like staying up late for a good party, the point of a weekend away is to maximise this enjoyment in the allotted time. It is therefore counter-productive to leave late. You’ll have time to recover afterwards.
A few weeks ago I booked a three-day weekend in Denmark with my children and father. Because we operate in a democracy, I held a referendum on the leaving time. My father, 66, pointed out that he always wakes early, regardless of his plans. My children, ages six and four, also voted for the earliest possible flight: “We never get to see the world in the dark – and it’s exciting”; “We want to get the most time possible at Legoland”.
I opted for the 7.45am from Heathrow, which we easily met by driving on the entirely un-trafficked M4.
This got us to the home of the brick mid-morning: just enough time to revive with a coffee and danish at the airport before driving an hour to spend the bulk of the day in Ribe, the charming seaside medieval town.
After a leisurely waterside lunch, a visit to the cathedral and viking museum, and marvelling at the impressive water power harnessed throughout the town, we made the pilgrimage to the Legoland Hotel in Billund. Here we had ample time to build a few things before driving to dinner in the nearby town of Vejle.
We did all of that, and still had a day and a bit for Legoland and Lego House before flying back to London in time to get ready for school the next day.
Had we opted for a lazy lie-in in London on our outbound day, we’d have hit traffic when driving to the airport, and the travel would have taken up half of our day. We’d have traded this expanded period of slow travel for the chance to visit the Viking Museum in Ribe, where you can dress in heavy chainmail and joust in a pit with a strap-on horse.
The way to make early flights work is to take a page from the toddler’s manual and sleep en route. I encourage naps for my children (in this case, driving from Ribe to Billund in the late afternoon) and naps or caffeine for grown-ups. Travel isn’t cheap. If it’s a weekend break, you’ll get far more for you money if you leave early.