Problems You’ll Have When Your Flight Arrives Too Early

by joeheg

We’ve all been there. Due to any number of reasons, there’s always the possibility that your flight will arrive later than expected, even though airlines build in a buffer to keep their on-time ratings artificially high. This causes many problems, especially if you’re getting a connecting flight or having someone pick you up from the airport.

But what if the opposite happens? Occasionally you may get to the airport much earlier than expected. This usually happens on longer flights, particularly trans-continental trips.

For example, we had this happen during our flight from New York JFK to Reykjavik, Iceland.

a screenshot of a calendar

Our flight actually left late, as the planned departure time was 8:25 PM. Our planned arrival time was supposed to be 6:20 AM. As stated above, we actually got to Iceland at 5:33 AM. Our flight time was only 4 hours and 49 minutes. For a red-eye flight, that’s not much time to sleep, even though we were able to get a good 2 hours nap (Here are more of my thoughts about our flights with Icelandair).

How’d we get there so early? It turned out that there was a pretty strong tailwind on our route the night of our flight.

a table of numbers with black text

The usual flight speed for this route is around 570 MPH. As seen on this chart from Flightaware, we hit 673 MPH when flying past Newfoundland. That’s about 100 MPH faster than normal and explains why we arrived so early. Here’s the area we were speeding through. Thank goodness there was no Canadian sky police to pull us over.

a map of a country with a red point

What’s so bad about arriving earlier than planned? Less time on a plane and more time at your destination would be a good thing, right?

Not necessarily.

For starters, our plane had to park at a remote gate and we were bused to the terminal building. I have no way of knowing if this was the original plan or necessary because there wasn’t a gate available. Here’s a list of why airlines change gate assignments so often.

Next, we booked a driver to pick us up at the airport for our ride to Reykjavik. Since we were there way before schedule, we had to stand around and wait for them to show up, which ended up being a little bit before our planned arrival time.

While it didn’t happen to us, there’s even a chance that the airport may not let a plane land if it arrives too early, if there’s no place for it to park. In that case, you’ll end up in a holding pattern, circling the airport until cleared to land.

So while it sounds fun to be zipping through the sky at a much faster speed than normal, it might not be so much fun getting to the airport way earlier than expected.

Want to comment on this post? Great! Read this first to help ensure it gets approved.

Want to sponsor a post, write something for Your Mileage May Vary, or put ads on our site? Click here for more info.

Like this post? Please share it! We have plenty more just like it and would love it if you decided to hang around and sign up to get emailed notifications of when we post.

Whether you’ve read our articles before or this is the first time you’re stopping by, we’re really glad you’re here and hope you come back to visit again!

This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary


Steve July 21, 2021 - 12:43 pm

Another problem: Once got in early to PHL on a business trip. I was supposed to get in around midnight, so I booked the car rental for 1230 am. I picked it up about 1130 pm instead. At the end of the rental, they’d not only added an extra day, but charged me a different (higher) rate!

joeheg July 21, 2021 - 11:02 pm

Thanks for mentioning this issue. It’s a big problem if you’ve booked a weekend or weekly rate.

Jaime R July 22, 2021 - 7:19 pm

When I flew iceland air, the remote building was something that happened with my “on time” flight.

Tim A. January 7, 2023 - 5:39 pm

I’ve arrived early to DFW a few times on international trips and had to wait on the plane because we’d arrived before immigration was open.

Serene January 8, 2023 - 12:40 pm

Depending on the destination, customs and immigration may not be open and you’ll just wait around.


Leave a Comment