The Best Time Of Day To Fly

Passenger Jet Taking Off

Nate Silver nearly missed his flight on Friday so, as any self-respecting data nerd would do, he crunched the numbers to try to determine when the best time to fly might be:

The best time to fly is between 6 and 7 in the morning. Flights scheduled to depart in that window arrived just 8.6 minutes late on average. Flights leaving before 6, or between 7 and 8, are nearly as good.

But delay times build from there. Through the rest of the morning and the afternoon, for every hour later you depart you can expect an extra minute of delays. Delay times peak at 20.7 minutes — more than twice as long as for early-morning flights — in the block between 6 and 7 p.m. They remain at 20-plus minutes through the 9 p.m. hour.

Very late flights — those scheduled to leave at 10 p.m. or later — are much better. But it’s hard to find these, especially on the East Coast. Late flights represent only 2 percent of scheduled domestic departures.

Here’s the chart Silver compiled:

Flight Delays


Obviously, things such as weather conditions, mechanical issues, or other matters could cause morning delays to skyrocket on a particular day, but in general it appears that if you want a void delays, the earlier you fly the better.

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. John Burgess says:

    I think there’s a huge dependency on flights available. If I want to fly from SRQ to DCA, I can get a non-stop flight at 11:30am. There are earlier flights (as early 7:00am), but they (as well as all other flights) require at least one stop.

    It seems that adding a stop doubles the chances for running into a delay. Does it not?

    BTW, I’ve never had a delay on that 11:30 flight over the past eight years.

  2. DC Loser says:

    This is a no-brainer. The first departures of the day are the best because the plane will already be at the gate, so you don’t have to wait for a delayed aircraft enroute. The delays will just get longer as the day goes on as every trip’s delay is stacked on the previous one.

  3. The best time to fly is between 6 and 7 in the morning.

    Considering, with having to arrive 2 hours in advance, this means getting up at 3am, I vehemently disagree with this proposed definition of “best”.

  4. David in KC says:

    Waiting for someone to unskew the numbers.

  5. Just 'nutha' ig'rant cracker says:

    Another factor can be the number of flights scheduled to depart. On my way back to the US, I transfer to another flight at Narita, which from about 2 p.m on schedules flight departures at about one minute intervals. Some days, I get lucky; other days–well, let me tell you about the 30 minute delay one evening…