How to read time zones on your plane ticket

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We’ve all run into scenarios when we struggle to recall the stored-away third grade knowledge detailing the world’s time zones. Whether you’re booking a flight for transcontinental or international travel, it requires a bit of planning to make sure your flights will fit into your schedule. And that requires understanding how time zones relate to your flights.

Here’s a quick guide to help you decipher the departure and arrival times on your plane ticket.

Departure time

This is the simplest point. The departure time on your plane ticket is listed based on the time zone of the departure airport.

If you are currently on Mountain Daylight Time but driving to your departing airport in the Central Daylight Time zone, your flight’s departure is based on the time in the Central time zone. I recently encountered this scenario and had to account for the time difference when calculating the drive to the airport so I didn’t show up late to the airport!

It’s also worth noting that the flight check-in time is also based on the time your flight leaves in the departing airport’s time zone, regardless of the time zone you are in when checking in 24 hours before.

Arrival time zone

Years ago, when I was booking my first international flight, I will admit I was guilty of googling if the arrival time listed on the plane ticket was based on the departure airport time. But of course, that would be silly and too confusing to calculate during your trip. The airline takes care of these calculations for you. 

Like the departure time, the arrival time is listed in the arrival airport’s time zone. For example, if you depart from Chicago and you tell your anxious mother that you’ll arrive in Seattle at 3 PM, she’ll be wringing her hands until she hears from you at 5 PM — Seattle is two hours behind Chicago.

Understanding time zones

Let’s have a quick refresher on why we have time zones in the first place. Time zones help us calculate a day’s beginning and end based on our location on earth and the proximity to the sun during the earth’s rotation. It’s daytime in Hong Kong when it’s nighttime in Boston. Without time zones, half of the world would be dark on a Monday at 8 AM, while the rest would be enjoying sunlight. Basically, different time zones allow us to differentiate when a location enters and exits daylight.

If you left New York at 9 AM and flew to San Francisco, you would be “chasing” the sun. This is because the earth rotates to the east, causing the sun to rise in the east and set in the west. By the time you arrive in San Francisco, the sun in New York is higher in the sky, and the city is further into their workday. The earth has not rotated to the same degree in San Francisco, and the sun would be lower, and the day would be just beginning.

Bottom line

Don’t be confused by the times listed when booking your next flight. The arrival and departure times are listed in the time zones where the corresponding departure and arrival airports are located. If you’re flying from New York to Rio de Janeiro, your departure time would be listed in Eastern Standard Time, and your arrival time would be in Brasilia Time.

Have you ever had issues when traveling between different time zones? Let us know! And subscribe to our newsletter for more posts delivered to your inbox once per day.

Featured image by Quality Stock Arts/Shutterstock.

Million Mile Secrets is a contributor to Million Mile Secrets, he covers topics on points and miles, credit cards, airlines, hotels, and general travel.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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