How to Read Times on a Plane Ticket
If you're not a frequent flyer, boarding a plane can be either exciting or terrifying – but even the process of getting to the plane can come with a few hurdles that frequent flyers take for granted. Consider reading through the times on your plane ticket: Departure and arrival aren't always given in the same time zone, and the boarding or gate closure time is yet another number to consider. But once you understand what you're looking at, the times listed on your ticket can tell you exactly when you need to be at the airport and when you can schedule your pickup upon arrival.
If you're checking bags onto the flight – or don't relish the idea of running frantically through the airport, shouting "Wait for me!" – then the departure time is the most important number on your airplane ticket. In a perfect world, this is the time when your airplane will pull away from the gate, taxi quickly down the runway, and hit the air.
Timing usually isn't quite that exact, but the departure time is still the target from which most other times are calculated: As a general rule, airlines want you at the airline by two hours before the departure time; they stop accepting checked bags for a flight one hour before the scheduled departure, and the plane starts boarding about 30 minutes before departure time. Usually, the boarding start time, or a gate closure time – which is when boarding ends – is listed on your ticket too.
After you check any baggage through and pick up your ticket, but before you can get to the boarding gate (which is when you actually get on the plane), you'll have to go through a security screening. You can make the process much quicker and easier by understanding the Transportation Security Administration's rules for packing liquids and which items you're prohibited from packing.
Your Arrival Time Zone
Airline departure and arrival times are always given in terms of the local time zone – that is, the time zone at the airport in question for each segment of the trip. So if you're flying from the West Coast of the United States to the East Coast, your 6:00 p.m. arrival time appears in the Eastern time zone.
That Pesky Plus One
Sometimes you'll see your flight's arrival time listed with a "+1" beside it. That tells you that the arrival time listed is a day later than the flight's departure time. So, for example, you'd see a +1 if you're on a so-called "red-eye flight" that leaves at 11:30 p.m. and arrives at 4:30 a.m. If you're flying a very long trip with multiple legs that are all on one ticket, you might even see the dreaded "+2," which indicates that your arrival time is two days after your departure time.
Understanding 24-Hour Time
Depending on your airline, your departure time – and everything else on your ticket – might be listed in 24-hour time, which doesn't require the use of "am" or "pm" to designate morning or evening times. The 24-hour day starts at midnight, which is designated as "00 hours" or "00:00." From then until noon, 24-hour time looks very familiar: 06:00 is the same as 6:00 a.m., 12:30 is the same as 12:30 p.m., and so on. Once you hit 1 p.m., a 12-hour clock would start over from 1, but the 24-hour clock keeps going. So just subtract 12 from the number to get the evening time. For example, if the time listed is 14:00, it actually means 14 - 12 = 2:00 p.m.
Although airlines do their best to keep flights on time, delays are inevitable – and every so often, flights might even be rescheduled to leave a little early. Always double-check your flight time on departure day, and either download your airline's mobile app or provide contact information when you buy the ticket, so your airline can notify you in case of flight cancellations or major delays.