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I took a flight from Santiago de Chile to Madrid today. It was a four-hour difference in time zones. The flight departed at 21:20 local time and arrived at 13:30 local time. They served the first meal about two hours after takeoff, which was a cold meal, so there was no technical reason to wait that long. They kept the cabin lights dim and the windows blinded for at least another hour, until it was past 12:00 local time at the destination. "Breakfast" was served at 12:30 local time.

I have had this experience with several long-distance flights over multiple time zones, some of them over nine time zones. But the figures concerning this flight are fresh.

Wouldn't it make more sense to set sleeping times and meals in relation to the time zone at the destination? This should reduce jet lag at the destination greatly. Instead, the time zone at departure seems to be kept up unnecessarily long. Of course, they cannot let the passengers stay hungry just to alleviate jet lag, but there could be some sort of trade-off, which apparently isn't happening.

Are there other reasons for keeping up the time zone of departure?

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    Wow, I would have thought Madrid and Santiago were a lot farther apart in timezones Commented Jan 20, 2023 at 22:29
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    @AzorAhai-him- It mostly has to do with mainland Chile having a single timezone and the government choosing to synchronize that with Bolivia and Central Brazil, which means that Chile is the furthest you can go West and still be at UTC-4 (or UTC-3 during DST). Timezones are usually more political than logical TBH (see for example the PRC having a single timezone despite sunrise at opposite ends of the country being hours apart). Commented Jan 21, 2023 at 14:15
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    @Ariser True, but there are lots of places that are at UTC-5 that are actually East of Chile (including parts of Columbia, Canada, the US, and the Carribean). The interesting part here is mostly that Chile decided to go with UTC-4 instead of UTC-5 for standard time, which probably mostly has to do with trying to coordinate with Boliva and Argentina (and therefore comes back to the argument about timezones being mostly political instead of logical). Commented Jan 21, 2023 at 20:46
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    @AzorAhai Staggered daylight saving time also helps: 6 months from now the difference will be 6 hours. Both countries set their clock 1 hour forward in the summer, but summer comes at different times of the year in different hemispheres. Commented Jan 21, 2023 at 21:09
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    Probably because the customer is always right. Commented Jan 22, 2023 at 21:28

2 Answers 2

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Almost all airlines follow the same procedure these days on "long enough" international flights

  1. Main meal service happens as soon as is feasible after takeoff.
  2. Second light meal or snack service about 60-90 minutes before landing.

Ultra long hauls used to have a mid-flight service but it that seems to have fallen by the wayside.

This has several advantages

  1. At least it provides consistency and crews and passengers know what to expect.
  2. It works reasonably well for both day and night flights.
  3. It creates a predictable work routine for the flight crew.
  4. It maximizes uninterrupted down time for the crew
  5. It maximizes uninterrupted time for passengers if they want to sleep or work

Trying to adjust this based, time zones at departure and arrival would be quite complicated and messy, so, I guess, a single "one-size-fits-all" solutions seems a reasonable choice.

Your experience seems to have been an exception. Especially on night flights the crew will try get the meal service under way and lights out as soon as is feasible. "Feasible" is the key here: this can be delayed by turbulence, technical issues with the galley, catering problems, etc.

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From experience, they try to stretch it given the huge number of constraints that they have to deal with:

  • Departure: They can't start serving until about 1 hour after takeoff and it can take more than an hour to serve all passengers.
  • Arrival: They can't be serving or collecting less than 45 mins before landing, so they have to serve with enough time for the last one served to finish their meal and trays collected.
  • This leaves few usable hours which they have to distribute meals across.
  • Lastly flights rarely nicely overlap meal hours of the destination.
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    And on some flights a big percentage of the passengers seem to fly on to other destinations so matching to their transfer airport does not make sense.
    – Willeke
    Commented Jan 20, 2023 at 16:50
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    @Willeke But it is very unlikely that you combine two long haul flights in opposing directions concerning time zones. So in almost any case the long haul flight will move you significantly in the right direction from the overall departure to the overall destination.
    – Ariser
    Commented Jan 23, 2023 at 6:54
  • At least two long haul back-to-back is pretty common when one end is in the Americas. From the east side of NA, it takes often two long-haul flights, sometimes plus 2 regional ones to get to many major Asian cities. From SA, the necessity is more frequent. I expect that to/from Europe this would be unlikely.
    – Itai
    Commented Jan 23, 2023 at 12:51

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