Fares to and from Europe are almost irresistible, but then there’s the matter of up to seven hours or more in Economy.
Savings-wise, at this point, we cannot really ask for much more from the New York to London route—not if we want these airlines to keep flying, anyway. The traveler is now typically offered round-trip fares in the low $300’s, sometimes even less, and not much more than the low $400’s, at least for the moment, right at summer’s peak. The value is there—if you want it.
But do you, really? There are those who can pour themselves into those tiny Economy seats, sleep like they were their own beds, hopping off at Heathrow a few hours later, annoyingly rested and ready. Then, there’s the rest of us. As often as I fly to Europe, I’ve never gotten used to the ordeal. I don’t even like flying nonstop from New York to Los Angeles, it’s just too long in one very uncomfortable position. Life is short, but it’s not that short—are we really in that much of a hurry?
For a long time, this meant Europe would typically wait until I could save up for, or get my hands on a Business class ticket, or later on, a slightly less expensive but still quite pricey Premium Economy fare. Unless I had the time to do the old Reykjavik layover shuffle (more on that coming up), there weren’t a lot of cost-effective options.
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More recently, the market has opened up—way up. Back in 2016, while living in Vancouver, I happened to see an ad for low fares to Europe on WestJet. WestJet was already one of my favorite North American airlines, and they often have great fares. I’d never thought of them as a way to get to Europe, and clearly, I’d been missing out. At the time, they were flying from St. John’s, Newfoundland, to Dublin, Ireland, on an almost daily basis, if memory serves—the distance is roughly 2,000 miles, which is something like New York to Salt Lake City. Flight time? Typically less than four hours out, and supposedly not much more on the way back. Never mind how far I was from St. John’s, at the time—my airship had come in.
Why not book a nonstop flight from Vancouver to London, you’re thinking, and get it over with? That wasn’t the point. It’s not the flying I hate, or even dealing with airports, something you can easily get very good at, once you’ve seen the same airport one hundred times. It’s being stuck in the air for more than three to four hours at a clip, in coach—that’s the part I still can’t wrap my head around. Slowing things down a little sounded like a really nice idea, providing the fares were affordable. And at that time they were, ridiculously so, thanks to the favorable exchange rate.
In the end, my first transatlantic adventure with WestJet ended up being from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Glasgow, Scotland. Halifax, you should know, is a short hop from New York and Boston, and usually a very affordable one, if you plan ahead. The flight time that evening ended up being a little over 4.5 hours. The plane was packed, but I had booked an aisle seat, ahead of time; I paid around $240, all in, as I recall. The flight departed an empty Halifax airport rather late, everyone was half asleep before we took off, and the whole thing was over before it started. Breezing through customs in Glasgow, I felt as if I had finally cracked the code. Flying to Europe was never something I would dread, ever again. On the flight home, I had a whole row to myself—I worked a five-hour day with my feet up, arriving in Toronto after a chill, Tim Hortons-catered layover in Halifax, feeling like no time had passed at all.
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At this point, I was curious. Was this whole WestJet business a one-off, or do we flight-phobic Europhiles—there are dozens of us, surely—have other options? Since then, the St. John’s to Dublin option has disappeared, sadly. This was, for a brief, shining moment, the best thing going, and by a long shot, between a North American settlement of any size, and a city in Europe that wasn’t Reykjavik—we’re talking a flight that could at times take less than four hours. (An Air Canada flight from St. John’s to London-Heathrow, the only alternative, is not currently operating either, but is expected to eventually return to the schedule.)
Fortunately, there are other ways to go. Consider that the latest post-Concorde record for a flight from New York to London is around five hours, with a minimum of at least an hour more for your return journey. On a good day, by traveling a bit further up the coast to catch your departure flight, you will be able to best that record, pretty much any day of the week.
Ready for the shortest transatlantic flight of your life? You’ve got options, and I’m happy to lay them out for you. Note, of course, that these will not bring you directly to the actual Continent; the point is to get you across the Atlantic and back on solid ground as quickly as possible, even if that means completing your journey via ferry, train, or if you can manage it, one more short flight. Also, because they’re often great value, and involve destinations in their own right, I’ve highlighted two great stopover options—ideal for people who just want off the damn plane for a few hours, they don’t really care where, as long as there’s fresh air, and a shot of espresso.
The Fastest Transatlantic Flights to Europe
The Seasonal Best Bets
For just over five hours on the outbound and typically less than six on the return, you’ve got two great options from Halifax, Nova Scotia on WestJet—Dublin, and Glasgow. I’ve used Glasgow as a gateway to London and Paris multiple times now and would think nothing of doing so again. It’s a small, relatively friendly airport; you can’t help but feel as if you’re sneaking in and out via the back door. Another seasonal offering, if slightly longer: WestJet operates from Halifax to London Gatwick, with a flying time that’s reliably shorter, in both directions, than any London-New York flight. (Just like the St. John’s run, Air Canada’s competing Halifax to London service has been suspended for the moment.)
Year-Round Alternative Flights to Europe
Europe bound over the winter? Boston is your friend. With published flight times of less than six hours, you can easily get to Dublin. Fares on Aer Lingus can be fairly reasonable in the off-season. Note: Using Dublin also allows Europe-bound travelers to avoid the potential hassle of entering the United Kingdom. Delta serves Dublin from Boston as well, during the warmer months—an excellent option for those SkyMiles-counters connecting from elsewhere in the United States.
The Azores Layover
Got time? Get to know the year-round Azores Airlines service from Boston to Ponta Delgada, a flight that can take as little as four hours—slow your roll, pick up a rental car and explore São Miguel Island (an absolute knockout) for the day, then fly on to Lisbon (2 hours). This is a great two-destination getaway, at a sometimes exceedingly reasonable fare. It’s not uncommon to see Boston to Lisbon via Ponta Delgada being sold for about $400 round-trip; from there, Ryanair will get you to Porto or Lisbon for a pittance, provided you’re traveling light.
The Iceland Way
Ultimately, you commit yourself to more flying time, but if you’re headed to Scotland or Scandinavia, those good old, typically-seasonal Icelandair flights to Reykjavik are your best friend. They’re really not long, at all—just over five hours from Boston or Montreal, roughly six from Chicago and Edmonton, and the latter is a great option for long-haul phobes living near major West Coast airports. Yes, you’re still way out there once you technically arrive in Europe, but not as far away as you’d think—beautiful Bergen, Norway is only another two hours or so, Glasgow about the same; there’s a cheap Easyjet service to London, just a little further, from about $49. Fun fact—Icelandair’s Anchorage-Reykjavik service, offered during the summer months, clocks in at little more than 7 hours, each way—that’s still shorter than many a London to New York flight. More to see out of your window, as well.