This paper examines the process of transition to turbulence within an accelerating planar liquid jet. By calculating the propagation and spatial evolution of disturbance wave packets generated at a nozzle where the jet emerges, we are able to estimate break-up lengths and break-up times for different magnitudes of acceleration and different liquid to air density ratios. This study uses a basic jet velocity profile that has shear layers in both air and the liquid either side of the fluid interface. The shear layers are constructed as functions of velocity which behave in line with our CFD simulations of injecting diesel jets. The non-dimensional velocity of the jet along the jet centre-line axis is assumed to take the formV(t)=tanh(at), where the parameteradetermines the magnitude of the acceleration. We compare the fully unsteady results obtained by solving the unsteady Rayleigh equation to those of a quasi-steady jet to determine when the unsteady effects are significant and whether the jet can be regarded as quasi-steady in typical operating conditions for diesel engines. For a heavy fluid injecting into a lighter fluid (density ratioρair/ρjet=q<1), it is found that unsteady effects are mainly significant at early injection times where the jet velocity profile is changing fastest. When the shear layers in the jet thin with time, the unsteady effects cause the growth rate of the wave packet to be smaller than the corresponding quasi-steady jet, whereas for thickening shear layers the unsteady growth rate is larger than that of the quasi-steady jet. For large accelerations (largea), the unsteady effect remains at later times but its effect on the growth rate of the wave packet decreases as the time after injection increases. As the rate of acceleration is reduced, the range of velocity values for which the jet can be considered as quasi-steady increases until eventually the whole jet can be considered quasi-steady. For a homogeneous jet (q=1), the range of values ofafor which the jet can be considered completely quasi-steady increases to larger values ofa. Finally, we investigate approximating the wave packet break-up length calculations with a method that follows the most unstable disturbance wave as the jet accelerates. This approach is similar to that used in CFD simulations as it greatly reduces computational time. We investigate whether or not this is a good approximation for the parameter values typically used in diesel engines.