Why is American The Only Airline With Flights Before 6 AM At New York LaGuardia?

Many commentators are critical of ‘schedule padding’ – the tendency for flights to be scheduled for much more time today than they used to be years ago. I’ve pushed back on the notion, suggesting that this is just realism rather than sandbagging. They aren’t just trying to hit numbers as much as realizing that congested airports and airspace means it really does take longer to get from one place to another especially in the Northeastern U.S.

At the same time airlines do pad schedules. United certainly started doing a few years ago, in order to better meet customer expectations. Even if an aircraft is late on the inbound, it can catch up when the next flight is given longer than it actually takes to fly between two cities – and when things do operate smoothly customers get in early. They’re delivering on promises better, even if flights ostensibly ‘take longer’.

Another example of schedule padding – this time more for the airline’s own operational convenience rather than customers’ – is American’s 5:30 a.m. Saturday morning Dallas Fort-Worth – LaGuardia flight.

In fact, American has two flights scheduled to depart before the 6 a.m. curfew lists:

  • AA1597 is scheduled to depart New York LaGuardia at 5:30am for Dallas
  • AA4645 is scheduled to depart New York LaGuardia at 5:45am to Columbus

As far as I can tell only American schedules LaGuardia departures before 6 a.m. While it’s desirable to get out ahead of other airlines to be first in the departure queue at the crowded airport, those flights push back and… wait. It’s unclear to me the benefit of pushing back more than 5 and 10 minutes early.

However American Airlines spokesperson Justin Franco tells me,

We set these departure times for mainly two reasons. The first one is ensure that once the curfew expires we are at the top of the queue for runway departure. The second is to help the flow into and out of the alley for the gates – it’s already tightly shared space. If all aircraft were set to push back at the same time, it wouldn’t work out very well.

For over four years I’ve been writing about how American Airlines boards prior to scheduled time, and updates flight delays too late even when it is absolutely obvious a flight will be delayed. In both instances this is prioritizing operational focus over customers.

The airline’s focus on exact on-time departures (D0) even without enough gate resources or operational coordination to meet the goal and other standard predeparture procedures (like proper catering and processing upgrades) is something American’s CEO says customers want.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. They do this at SNA, LGB and I think BUR. SNA and LGB are the worst. Especially on Sunday at SNA where the curfew expires at 8am. Just a huge line of planes sitting and waiting to gear up and wake up those Newport beach residents.

  2. Bigger question to me… why is AA even scheduling an early morning LGA-CMH flight on a Saturday?!? Demand for that has to be very low. I can understand connecting to the morning Latin bank out of DFW, but CMH just seems like poor network planning.

  3. I don’t find it ridiculous. Just checked the schedule for SAN tmw and there are 16 scheduled departures before 6:30 am and 4 right on the dot. And that’s on a Saturday! As their rep said, you don’t want to be last in line.

  4. Overnight parking of aircraft at LGA since the construction has begun has been a nightmare. Parking spots are limited and and availability change in some cases from night to night Several aircraft are parked on the taxiways after the midnight curfew starts. These aircraft usually must be vacated off the taxiway by 6am when the airport reopens.Gate space is also at a premium since many gates are closed for extended periods of time due also to the construction. Several overnight parking spots are also on the opposite side of the field which means that they must be taxied across the field when a gate opens up. This usually means crossing an active runway during the morning departure rush hour. Many times it can take a half an hour to an hour to get a aircraft towed up to the gate. Being at the runway ready for takeoff at 6am when the airport opens can often save you up to 1/2 hour delay rather than just starting your pushback at 6am. .

  5. AA’s first flight leaves LGA at 5:30 AM and arrives DFW at 8:20.

    The minimum connection time at DFW is 40 minutes, so if a connecting flight leaves DFW before 9 AM a passenger is out of luck.

    AA’s first flight to DFW from EWR, though, leaves at 5:09 AM and arrives at 8:01 AM, so that’s an option for a connecting flight leaving DFW from 8:41 AM onward.

    Travelers, though, cannot get to EWR from Manhattan by public transportation (NJ Transit) in time for a 5:09 AM flight. There aren’t any private buses leaving from the Port Authority either. Buses and subways in Manhattan and Queens, though, run 24/7 and can get travelers to LGA at any time.

    Why, then, aren’t there even earlier flights on AA from LGA to DFW?

  6. @Globetrotter.
    For NJ Transit, though not ideal, I guess you could take the 1am NJ Transit NE Corr or N. Jersey Coast and get you to the airport around 2.

  7. Yes, AA and all its subsidaries board 30 minutes prior to depature, but do you know most people don’t know or care to know when a flight closes(when boarding is over).

    Most believe it is at the time of departure. The answer is 10 minutes. I wish it were 15 minutes prior. In those 10 minutes we have the stragglers and the people who were told they would misconnect, were rebooked and somehow made it on time.

    People need to realize flying is a business if 47 people make the flight and you don’t well life happens. We won’t hold a flight for you. We will leave without you. Sure, it sucks but then again we didn’t book your flights 30 minutes apart from each other. You, the customer, did.

    Yes, we schedule flights that way because in a perfect world you will make your flignts and everythinf will be great! But we don’t live in a perfect world.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *