10 dos and don’ts for surviving a horrifyingly early flight
I rarely bother with New Year’s Resolutions, but at the start of this year I vowed: no flights before midday. I am not a morning person, my husband even less so. We once abandoned a trip to Sicily because it involved a 5am start and his mood was so venomous, I feared for the safety of strangers at Gatwick.
But like all such resolutions, it was not to be. Deciding on a February holiday to Sri Lanka, we found ourselves flying recently from London via Bengaluru.
I had a British Airways American Express Companion Voucher, but BA doesn’t fly to Colombo, so India was a solid option and bargain. This is of course the main reason people end up booking flights at such ungodly hours – to save money, while maximising the time you’re away.
A quick look at Ryanair’s website shows that if you’re willing to fly from Stansted at 6.15am, you can get to Rome on April 14 from just £55.70. Skip forward to the more sociable time of 8.40am and the price jumps to £84.63 – almost a 52 per cent increase.
It’s 90 minutes from Bengaluru to Colombo, and because this is India, you can stay in the Shangri-La – one of the swankiest hotels in the city – from £130 a night (the London branch costs at least £450 more) and have a fancified lazy layover.
Two days and one proper night there was appealing because of the gruelling reality on the horizon: the sole daily flight to Colombo takes off from Bengaluru at 3.30am. My flight to India was fine. I watched a romcom, then knocked myself out with a sleeping pill and some pinot and landed at 5am. But a 3.30am departure? How could this be?!
I used the Shangri-La to carve out a mini holiday as well as refuge, mentally preparing myself. Bengaluru is vast, and not somewhere for express sightseeing. What I wanted was a shiny, brutally air-conditioned room, with the kind of XL mattress and bedding I’ll never be able to afford at home.
I arrived just as the breakfast service had begun. It seemed churlish not to drop in, because buffets in fancy Indian hotels are irresistible, and so what if this was technically my supper.
Then I napped, showered, went for an Ayurverdic massage at the spa, and binged on dim sum at Shang Palace on the third floor before heading to the pool. The next day I grazed on North Indian cuisine at Ssaffron, had cocktails on the roof, and a late supper of sushi in the Japanese restaurant, before leaving at midnight for the airport, a 30-minute drive away.
The 5.5-hour time difference from London worked in my favour – to my body, the 3.30am flight felt like 10pm, so I was fine. I was also tipsy from dinner and in a great mood, which I wouldn’t have been if I’d been leaving my own house for a flight at midnight.
The day I landed in Sri Lanka was largely a write-off, but I’d had 48 hours of greed and joy to cushion the blow. I’d do it all again for the experience and value for money.
And I have added it to my ever-growing list of dos and don’ts for coping with early flights.
Splurge on a nice hotel if you can, rather than attempt a nightmarish connection or a three-hour trip to the airport from your house at 2am. If it is a connection you’re waiting for after a long-haul flight, stay a couple of days and do nothing.
If you’re in Asia and five-star luxury is a bargain, it’s an opportunity not an inconvenience. When life gives you lemons, make lemon-drop martinis. Embrace an urban resort and stay up late.
Bother with an airport hotel unless it’s actually in the terminal. If the morning involves waiting for a shuttle to the airport proper, the amount of time you’re saving rather than staying at home can be negligible. And an airport hotel is invariably a misery with an overpriced and mediocre restaurant. A cab from home is likely to be cheaper.
Have a little tipple with breakfast in the airport an hour before you need to check in, if you’re so inclined. Airports are nothing if not liminal zones where anything is permitted, any time of the day or night. I once met a friend I was flying with to Puglia in a Wetherspoons, where he was sinking pints and on a date. It wasn’t even 6am. Our holiday began right there.
Overdo it. Airline staff take delight in denying boarding to stag or hen parties who’ve come straight from a club for their early departure. And you don’t want to be those people.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate before you go to bed the night before (and avoid even a single glass of wine), to get the best quality of sleep. I swear by hydration salts with electrolytes.
Fool yourself you’ll get an early night if you’re somewhere that’s just not going to happen. Almost every flight from popular US holiday destinations to London is a red-eye, with a few exceptions that are horribly early in the morning.
If you’re going to New York for the weekend, you’ll want to be able to stay out late and make the most of it. Get the latest flight home possible, so you’re so tired you just conk out when you hit the seat.
Go to bed mid-evening if you’re leaving from home early the next morning. Take all responsibilities away from the person you’ll be in the morning. The day before flying, have linner/dunch (a main meal at 5.30pm), then go to bed at 8pm with something to help you sleep.
Shower before you tuck yourself in, after leaving everything packed at the front door, so you can leave seconds after brushing your teeth in the morning.
Take the wrong kind of sleeping aid. Antihistamine-based drugs will leave you groggy. Groggy is bad. Groggy can be a missed flight. A sympathetic doctor may often prescribe you a single dose of zolpidem, just as they prescribe a couple of diazepam for super-nervous flyers; melatonin is also generally prescription-only (other than in topical form). Or there are CBD or magnesium-rich gummies available (legally) online.
Get rid of your luggage. If I’m going away for a substantial period, and have a lot of luggage, I’ll use something like AirPortr, a service that will pick up your checked cases the day before. £28 well spent to speed up the morning.
Expect to do much when you first arrive at your destination. Calm that itinerary right down. Be realistic; no matter how prepared you are, you’ll still be slow. Don’t expect to do Rome in a day if you’ve got a pre-dawn flight from London. When I travel for work, and have an AM appointment at my destination, I fly the night before, as late as possible, and get to bed ready for a full day to follow.