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Skyscanner reveals formula for the perfect flight

What makes the perfect flight? Our formula revealed!

the skyscanner guide to finding The Perfect Flight

Which matters more to you when booking a flight, convenience or cost? Do you care more about an on time flight or the shortest flying time? Is good food or spacious seating more likely to improve your inflight happiness?

Following extensive research we have now applied mathematics to help answer these questions and can now reveal our formula for the perfect flight:

We surveyed over 2000 international travellers on their flight preferences and then enlisted the help of Dr Eugenia Cheng, Senior Lecturer of Pure Mathematics at the University of Sheffield, to analyse the findings and create a mathematical formula that can help you to find the perfect flight:

The formula focuses on the factors cited as most important when searching for a flight – time of day, punctuality and legroom – and when applied to flights, calculates a flight perfection scoring out of a possible 20 marks (15 in economy). The perfect flight is one in the morning, with legroom of 40” and a punctuality score close to 100. See a worked example here.

T= Time of day

A massive 44% of travellers said the time of their flight was the most important factor when booking a flight and when asked which time of day they would prefer to fly more than half (52%) chose a morning flight, 27% would fly at night, while just over a fifth would opt for an afternoon flight. A scoring of 10 points for a morning flight, 5 for an evening flight and 3 for an afternoon flight has been applied, aiming to reflect the weighting of these preferences.

Top tip: Travellers only interested in flying at a particular time of day can apply the search filters on so that only suitable flight times are shown in the results.


Spacious seating is the feature that improves inflight happiness the most, with almost two thirds of our study participants (61%). The formula therefore penalises any flight offering a seat pitch that is less than 30” (a standard pitch in economy) and increases the score by one point for every additional inch offered, up to a maximum of 40”. Most airlines can advise of the seat pitch offered on the aircraft used for a particular route, and a general guide is also offered by Skytrax.


Our study also reveals that an on time flight is the most important factor for 38% of travellers. Flightstats produces a report every year that highlights the best performing airlines in terms of airline arrival performance, and also provides a punctuality rating for all major airlines* split by month. This allows you to see the percentage of flights that were on time for the corresponding month last year (when factors such as weather, number of flights etc are likely to be similar), to give an indication of the likelihood of your flight being on time.

While spacious seating is the most important factor influencing flight happiness, many other factors also scored highly in our study:

1. Spacious seating (61%)

2. Good food and drinks (48%)

3. No turbulence (44%)

4. Unoccupied seat next to you (33%)

5. Getting a good price (30%)

6. A great view (24%)

To provide insight and clarity on these areas we have created a series of guides to assist you in finding all the elements you would want on your perfect flight. These include savvy tips on how to get the best flight prices, the routes that offer the best views and which seats to book to minimise turbulence and maximise the chances of getting a neighbouring empty middle seat.

Want to get more tips on bagging the perfect flight? Read on:

6 tips to help you find the perfect flight

15 tips for getting a free flight upgrade


This formula is only applicable to direct flights as this was cited as the most important factor by far (by 68% of respondents) and thus is not comparable to the other factors highlighted. This means an indirect flight would not score, however you can calculate the flight perfection score of each leg if an indication or comparison is required.

*Airlines not included may be able to provide this score to passengers on request.

Skyscanner is the world’s travel search engine, helping your money go further on flights, hotels and car hire