Please sign in to post.

Best fight time to avoid jet lag (as much as possible anyway)

My family is flying from JFK to Frankfurt and trying to determine the best departure/arrival time to keep us from being wiped out. Our two options are departing 9:00 pm and arriving 10:40 am (4:40 am our time) or departing 4:00 pm and arriving 5:40 am (11:40 pm our time). The plan is to take the train to Stuttgart on arrival, catch a few hours of sleep and then head out to do some sightseeing. I think it would be easier on us to leave at 9:00 pm (closer to bedtime), my husband thinks the 4:00 pm flight. This is our first European trip so advice from you seasoned travelers is greatly appreciated!

Posted by
2037 posts

The "rules of thumb" on jet lag are constantly changing, you should google up some recent articles to see if there's a current consensus.

I've found it best to land late afternoon local time, then by the time you get out of the airport and to your hotel it's darkish you have dinner and collapse. And then the next day you start living on local time starting with breakfast, etc.

The most dangerous thing I've done is catch "a few hours of sleep" at any time during the day, it always turns into "many."

Posted by
6778 posts

There is no way to avoid jet lag because it's a physical change in the body's circadian rhythm, and your body must readjust. There is no magic bullet, no matter what anyone claims. Unfortunately, it doesn't sound like you have enough experience with it to "guesstimate" a slightly better option. So I would simply pick the flight that meets your criteria in terms of price, convenience, and potential to get sleep..and not try to avoid that which can't be avoided. The one thing I would recommend is not to think of "our time" (at home) at all...just reset your clock before you board the plane and always think in terms of local time. Before your trip, try to get as much rest as possible. On the flight, stay hydrated. When you arrive, take full advantage of the light and sunshine (and caffeine as well) because it helps soften the blow of jet lag. Unfortunately, everyone experiences jet lag differently so you may find a lot of variation even within your family, as far as effect and duration.

Posted by
631 posts

first of all, if you arrive at 5:40, get your bags, get down to station say 7:00 you'll be in Stuttgart before 9:30. The train ride is only 75 minutes and the room almost certainly won't be ready. So where will you get the extra sleep?

My view on jet lag is based on dealing with shift work (of which I have long and wearysome experience). It is better to do the adjustment in advance than to try and catch up when you arrive - because you won't! So you count backwards from the arrival time to work out what would be a good time to try to sleep (on this flight basically as soon as you take off!). Then you count backwards from that to work out what time you would need to get up to be ready to sleep at that time and adjust the previous nights sleep accordingly. This plan may go wrong if you have to go to work on the day before the flight!

Your plan for the later flight would work best but get up a few hours earlier than normal so that 9pm feels more like midnight. And hope that you can sleep on the plane. And maybe the previous day get up 90 minutes earlier and go to bed earlier.

day 1 go to bed an hour earlier than normal
day 2 get up an 90 minutes earlier than normal go to bed at least 2 hours earlier than normal
day 3 get up 3-4 hours earlier than normal (even if all you do is double check the packing and check lists and tickets!). And get the 9pm flight. Which will get you to Stuttgart at about the time the room will be ready. DO NOT think about having a couple of hours sleep, keep going until after dinner and then go to bed for the night

Possibly easier said than done, especially if you have to get kids to do the same or have other commitments in the preceding days

Posted by
933 posts

I have taken flights that landed at 6:00 am and ones that land late afternoon. Go with the later one. If you arrive to early you can't sleep anyway as your room won't be ready. We are taking a late flight out next May to Frankfurt from Chicago and will be arriving early afternoon with a several hour train ride to our destination where we can clean up in our room, have dinner, maybe a short walk, and collapse. On to Germany's time the next morning at breakfast!

Posted by
3044 posts

What Agnes said.^^^

You need to forget about what time it is back home. Set your watch to your arrival time zone and live according to that until it's time to go home.

Try to sleep on the plane if you can. Avoid alcohol. I find a Dramamine helps make me drowsy and ear buds with quiet music blocks some of the plane noise. I like the later departure time because it's closer you your normal sleep time.

It's likely going to be early afternoon by the time you get to Stuttgart. Then you'll want to get to your hotel and have lunch. Would you sleep for several hours in the middle of the afternoon at home? No? Then don't do that on your arrival day. That's only going to throw your internal clock even further out of whack. YES, you'll likely feel tired. But you really need to get outside (sunshine really does seem to help), and just push through it. Go for a walk. Explore a bit until dinner time. Then after a leisurely dinner (not too early) , get a good night's sleep.

This is what has worked best for us. Our worst experience was the time we succumbed and had a long afternoon nap. Then that night we had a hard time falling asleep and woke up ( and I mean WIDE awake) in the middle of the night. It took several days before we got over the jet lag.

Posted by
6185 posts

A early afternoon arrival is best for us, but we don't always have that option since we have to connect. I'd choose the 10:40 arrival in your case.

But dealing with jet lag is not about catching up on sleep, its about resetting your internal clock. So if you sleep for a few hours the day of arrival, your body may still not adjust to local time. You'll go to bed later that day and be wide awake at 4:00 AM. I'd go on to Stuttgart as well, but not a long nap.

Posted by
5697 posts

Have you researched times for the trains to Stuttgart ? And check-in time for your hotel ? You will most likely be sitting around somewhere -- at the train station, or in the hotel lobby while waiting for your room to be ready -- before you can get to that nap.

We generally leave SFO mid-afternoon and arrive mid-morning because it's easier for us in terms of getting to the airport. But no matter the time, day 1 is usually expected to be for rest, not for major touring.

Posted by
12400 posts

Hi,

My choice is arriving at 10:40am at FRA, I did that last year around the same time, it was ca 10:10 when the plane touched down. Forget the general consensus on dealing with jet lag. Not every one gets jet lag, You may not it either, neither the other family members. I've always flown cross-country, ie from Calif to Europe, which means close to a flight time of 11 hours direct (I don't break up the flight over by changing planes ). I don't get jet lag, don't land feeling "wiped out," since I make it a point to sleep on the plane, ie, no movies, (a real temptation) , watching any entertainment, no reading, etc...just go to sleep after the meal.

Posted by
21356 posts

Out of New York we always option for the 9pm. Try to do a couple of hours time shifting prior to leaving. With a 9pm you might be inclined to sleep some. With the 4 pm, probably not. It is important to get on the new time schedule as quickly as possible.

Posted by
17 posts

Personally, I'd prefer the 9pm flight too. I think it would be easier to treat the flight like my night's sleep than the 4pm flight. And then I would just do my best to get though the 1st day. Some things that help me are 1.) mentally changing time zones as soon as I'm in the plane -- don't even think about what time it is at home 2.) Getting lots of sunlight and staying busy that 1st day (shouldn't be too hard!! You're in EUROPE!!) 3.) IF you need a nap -- limit your self to a half hour and then get back out there! Have a great trip!

Posted by
12578 posts

All I can tell you is what works for us----coming up on our 20th trip across the Pond.

Note that we fly from the west coast,mso have an additional 3 hours of time change to deal with,, and a longer flight. We fly business class with miles, so we are able to sleep on the plane.

We strongly prefer an evening flight---6 pm or later, which arrives in London around noon, and in Switzerland (or usual destination) in the afternoon if we are continuing on. Either way, we are able to get some sleep on the plane, and then arrive at our hotel around check-in time some do not have to worry about dropping off bags and killing time walking around because we are too early and our room is not ready.

After a shower and a light lunch, we are ready for a nice walk or other activity outdoors In the afternoon.

Then a light dinner and bedtime around 9 pm local time. The next morning we awake rested and pretty much adjusted, ready for anything.

So. . . . you can probably guess that I would heartily endorse the 9 pm departure, not the earlier one. In fact I would hate that earlier flight. Here's why: A 4 pm departure means too much time on the plane before I am sleepy. In fact I would probably not get any sleep on that flight at all. Then a 5:40 am arrival ( local time) and going through the passport control lines at a time when I am finally ready for sleep. After that we still have to pick up bags and catch the train to Stuttgart, arriving there too early to check in to our hotel. By this time I would be exhausted and grumpy, as would my husband. When you finally do get into your room, you will most likely just crash, despite your intentions to follow the oft-repeated " stay up until bedtime local time" advice. Not the best way to re-set your body clock and recover from travel fatigue.

Posted by
314 posts

I live in NYC and the flights available always seem to be mid-late afternoon departures with early morning arrivals. I only fly direct. My strategy is to skip caffeine on departure day, have a couple of glasses on wine on the plane, and try to sleep right after the dinner service concludes. It's not really easy to sleep, but I have to. Last trip, I bid on an upgrade to business class, and I wholeheartedly recommend this if you can get it to work. If I can doze for four hours, that's enough.

When I arrive in Europe I get my first cup of coffee the second I get off the plane and drop my bag at my lodging, then head out for a full day of activity, punctuated with additional cups of coffee as needed. I usually end up crashing by about 8 PM local time, and wake pretty early the next day--which is vital anyway; museums aren't open very late so if I want to see everything on my list I have to get out of the hotel! When I travel I don't drink a lot (I travel alone) and I don't stay out super late at night.

Flying back is the reverse: morning departure, early afternoon arrival. I can do coach coming back because getting some sleep is not critical. Somehow, I always manage to get a nice nap in anyway. Back at home, I go to bed at my usual time.

This method works for me with next to no jet lag. But I'm fortunate to live on the East Coast close to airports, so my travel is as quick and painless as it's possible to be, I think. If I ever go to Asia it will be a whole different story... The key is putting yourself on the time zone where you are, toughing it out, using caffeine/alcohol strategically as wake/sleep aids with predictable effects, and just powering through.

Posted by
7831 posts

Given the choice between 4PM or 9PM, I would choose 9PM.

Better chance to get some sleep on the plane and better timing to be able to check into your hotel.

Keep your 'nap' to no more than 45 minutes, or you are likely to not sleep well that first night.

Posted by
3580 posts

I fly non-stop from the west coast, Flights are 10-11 hours to London or Paris. My preference is to depart late afternoon and land between 10 am and noon. I make a point of having a cup of coffee with breakfast on the plane; this signals a new day for me. I may have another cup of coffee at the airport before heading to my hotel. I can get to my hotel in a couple of hours usually, check in, and either take a nap or go exploring. Either way, bed time comes fairly soon. For me, bedtime is any time after 6 pm. If I have slept on the plane and have moved around a lot once on the ground I sleep fairly well. The next day I feel almost normal. The trick for me is to get an hour or more of sleep on the plane. It makes all the difference between feeling like a zombie and feeling like an alive human being!

Posted by
2170 posts

I prefer to arrive somewhere between 9 am and 4 pm--plenty of time to get to my hotel, freshen up and head out to explore before I hit my magic crash time of about 8 pm... that's called "staying up til a normal, early bedtime". The next day I am refreshed and ready for anything. Arriving by 9 means nearly a full day in that city and that's worked well for me in Paris and Amsterdam. Later in the afternoon I can still sometimes tour a small museum and find dinner plus explore my immediate surroundings.

Posted by
1203 posts

Unfortunately not everyone responds to jet lag in the same way. You're going to have to try different strategies to see what works for you. As mentioned earlier what works for you may not work for everyone else in your family.

Whatever I do short of prescription drugs, I can't sleep on airplanes. Even so I like the early morning European arrivals. I think I'm so excited to be there that I don't feel sleepy until early afternoon. After a hour or two I get a second wind and don't go to sleep till 10 or later local time.

If you're going to be taking a train after the overnight plane ride do make sure someone stays awake to make sure you don't miss your stop.

Only way to guarantee an early check in to the hotel is to reserve the room for arrival the prior day. Expensive but perhaps worthwhile if you really think you need it. You probably need to let the hotel know what you're doing.

Posted by
10 posts

Thanks so much for all the invaluable input, everyone! Your experience will definitely help us plan our first day and we are beyond excited. I suppose I should've added in my original post that we will be staying with friends in Stuttgart so the early check-in at a hotel isn't an issue on this stop. However, certainly something to keep in mind for future travels. And having someone stay awake on the train so we don't miss our stop is something we had not even come close to thinking of! Phew, glad I posted!

Posted by
12400 posts

At dinner or breakfast/snack I always take a cup of coffee if offered. Given a choice of a 4 pm or 9pm departure from SFO, I'll take the 4 pm, which is usually the case, roughly, with flights taking off at 3 pm or 2 pm. But if there is a distinct price difference between the two departure times, then I might opt for 4 pm.

The main thing is not the departure time but the landing time. Before noon landing between 9-11 am is ideal, greater chance of passing through Immigration Control more quickly too, and the whole day is in front of me.

Posted by
1068 posts

I totally agree with the comments that it is a very personal issue and I have had jet lag hit me many different ways. Additionally, it can be different with the same person on different trips. Currently, I like the strategy of trying to arrive (wherever I'm going) in the early evening. I don't sleep well on planes so arrive fairly tired. Then I try and stay up a few hours, maybe get a very light meal, perhaps a short stroll and it is "time for bed" in my new time zone. Has worked fairly well for me my last 2 trips, but everyone is different. Good luck.

Posted by
2778 posts

I NEVER have slept on the plane so I take a day flight most of the time. However, there are times I have to take an overnight flight. As I can't sleep on the plane, I try to take the afternoon flight. That way I am not sitting up all night. I am arriving at my destination sometime between 10:00 PM and 1:00 AM my regular time, and first thing in the morning my destination time. This way I am still alert and happy getting to my next transportation, etc. and/or to the hotel. I still feel fine. I drop my luggage and go out to breakfast, walk to feel OK, and come back at check in time and take a 2 hour nap. So my miserable time is when I can be out and about, moving. After the short nap I am good to go for the rest of the day.

Because I can't sleep, I find taking a later flight results in being uncomfortable sitting up during my usual sleeping hours, and arriving to negotiate a new city when I am exhausted and no longer alert.
But again, when ever possible, because I'm on the east coast I arrive in the early evening on the day flight, and sleep in a nice bed, missing no night's sleep. But I believe the exhaustion is fatigue from not sleeping, not jet lag. Jet lag is adjusting to the time change thru the next days, which isn't nearly as horrible in my opinion.

Posted by
2778 posts

I NEVER have slept on the plane so I take a day flight most of the time. However, there are times I have to take an overnight flight. As I can't sleep on the plane, I try to take the afternoon flight. That way I am not sitting up all night. I am arriving at my destination sometime between 10:00 PM and 1:00 AM my regular time, and first thing in the morning my destination time. This way I am still alert and happy getting to my next transportation, etc. and/or to the hotel. I still feel fine. I drop my luggage and go out to breakfast, walk to feel OK, and come back at check in time and take a 2 hour nap. So my miserable time is when I can be out and about, moving. After the short nap I am good to go for the rest of the day.

Because I can't sleep, I find taking a later flight results in being uncomfortable sitting up during my usual sleeping hours, and arriving to negotiate a new city when I am exhausted and no longer alert.
But again, when ever possible, because I'm on the east coast I arrive in the early evening on the day flight, and sleep in a nice bed, missing no night's sleep. But I believe the exhaustion is fatigue from not sleeping, not jet lag. Jet lag is adjusting to the time change thru the next days, which isn't nearly as horrible in my opinion.

Posted by
3939 posts

I would select the 9pm flight, so that I would be tired and more likely to doze on the plane. And, yes, stay hydrated with water or juice. My hubby likes to take a nap when we arrive. I'm the opposite and need to be outside walking to acclimate when we arrive. A nap will mess up my clock further. Both of us sleep well that first night and usually sleep in later than normal. So keep your first morning schedule fairly light. Enjoy your trip!

Posted by
620 posts

I am usually so excited that I cannot sleep on the plane....and I sleep lightly so the plane noise, etc keeps me awake. I find that as soon as I get to my destination I try to acclimate as quickly as I can to the local time. A nap is usually not a good idea for me....so if I am exhausted I take a nice easy stroll, eat a good early dinner and go to be a little earlier than usual......and then I am on the local time schedule. It usually works out perfectly for me...and I sleep GREAT that first night. Have a great trip!!!!

Posted by
3176 posts

If I can get a morning flight to London from JFK, that's my best and only means of avoiding jet lag as I'd have to get up at 3:30am to make an 8am flight to Heathrow. By the time I get to the hotel, it's near 10pm local time and I'm ready to go to bed! The next morning, I'm good to go.

I don't believe there are AM flights from JFK to Frankfurt. To answer your question about which flight to take from JFK, take the flight leaving at 4pm. I know how you mentioned that 9pm is closer to your bedtime but with JFK, you want to get out on the first flight you can. Delays can always creep up and have a terrible domino effect on departures as the day turns into night so getting out on the 1st flight is smarter at JFK. Your husband is on target with 4pm. Moreover, early morning arrivals at Frankfurt make for a quicker processing at immigration. Yes, you will be hit by jet lag so when the flight closes the door, adjust your watch 6 hours ahead. Also, stop drinking coffee, tea or any caffeinated drink at least 2 days in advance of your trip.

What time would your connecting flight arrive at JFK? If you haven't bought tickets, do what you can to have the connecting flight arrive at the same terminal at JFK as your departing flight to Frankfurt. That will save you from going through the TSA at JFK. Also allow a cushion for your connection time at JFK. I recommend 2 1/2 -3 hours.

Posted by
4125 posts

I am not aware of any research that has been done that suggests that the flight times has any impact on jet lag. Either way, you are shifting your bodies through the same number of time zones.

If you ask a question like this in a forum like this, you will get some personal stories one way or another, but I don't think they should be your guide.

Instead perhaps you should make your choice based on other factors. Which seems better to you? What's the best arrival or departure time?

Posted by
2525 posts

Depart 9:00 pm and arrive 10:40 am for the reasons noted above.

Posted by
6953 posts

I would choose the 9 pm flight . .. easier to at least TRY to get some sleep on the flight over. Also makes for a more acceptable arrival time at your destination (more things will be open, easier to deal with what you have to deal with, etc.).