5 really good reasons for taking a red-eye flight

by Lynn Rosen on May 27, 2009

Some travelers loathe what they consider the most wretched choice of flights — the red-eye. Others claim these flights are the only way to travel. I used to think red-eyes would be like spending time in Purgatory.

It’s the middle of the night, you’re grumpy and tired and the flight is usually full of children; small children; screaming, grumpy, tired small children. Plus, even with maximum sleep, four hours doesn’t cut it for me.

But, here I was, even with my concerns getting ready to fly cross-country in the middle of the night.

A young mother traveling with three kids under the age of five told me she always takes the red-eye because by that time, her “kids are so tired they just go to sleep as soon as we take off. Traveling with them overnight is much easier for me and for them.” Since I was about to become a fellow passenger, I’d just had to wait and see for myself.

I had already figured out few cool things about booking this flight and here they are:

1. The money saved on the price of the airline ticket — Red-eye flights normally have the largest number of cheap seats allocated by the airlines. Even when the cheap transcontinental airfares during the day are long gone, chances are, they will be available on a red-eye.

2. The savings keep coming. The money saved on the price of an overnight hotel room if you had flown the day before and spent the night at your destination can be seen as another bargain.

3. I saved about a half-hour of time and hassle going through security at a time of day when airport and their security lines are almost ghost towns.

4. I saved time on the first day of my trip. Whether it’s for business or pleasure, having some breathing time on the day of arrival is always a bonus. Unpack at your leisure, take a shower and really freshen up, change clothes, scope out the venue, have a drink at the bar then dive into obligations, be they meetings, planned activities or explorations. Make friends with the concierge; discover the best restaurants and nightlife spots.

5. The opportunity to multi-task, i.e., sleep and travel at the same time.

As you might expect, with one red-eye under my belt, I am now an expert. Here are some tried and true red-eye travel tips passed along to me:

Use a pair of good noise-canceling headsets. Either plug into your own ipod with soothing music or turn on the headset’s noise reduction feature that shuts out surrounding sounds.

Carry an inflatable neck pillow. Deflated, it doesn’t take up much room and once blown up, it can help afford you a few winks while you’re on your way.

Wear lose-fitting, comfortable clothing and simple shoes that slip off easily. It’s pretty difficult to fuss with footwear in cramped, dark quarters.

By the way, I actually sat in front of those three small children. Their mother was absolutely right. They fell asleep as soon as we took off, woke up quietly when we landed and didn’t even take up much seat space. Here’s to more mothers and kids like that on all our trips.

Send in any red-eye trip tips you might have gathered over the years. Is there anything that would make you choose an overnight flight?

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  • Frank

    Take some BEANO/GAS X and some BREATH MINTS with you. I used to work Red Eyes all the time and while everyone else is sleeping, I’m awake. From the galley I can hear passenger’s fart all night long. It’s a natural body function, butttt, it usually requires a trip to my bag for my Lysol. Discreetly spray it as I walk up the aisle.
    Babies on Redeyes? I’ve heard them cry for hours. Disrupting everyone’s chance to sleep. IMO, they shouldnt be onboard Redeyes. Same with pets. I’ve heard Dogs bark throughout the night.
    If I need a short nap I take Tylenol PM-(only one) one hour prior to when I want to be asleep. Works like a charm for me.

  • Amy

    “2. The savings keep coming. The money saved on the price of an overnight hotel room if you had flown the day before and spent the night at your destination can be seen as another bargain.”

    When I fly a red-eye, I get to my destination first thing in the morning, and can’t check into my hotel for at least another 8 hours. I can check my bags in with the bell desk, but I don’t have anywhere to shower, or even to catch another small nap. If I am not going home, or to someone else’s house, I think it’s beneficial to pay for the hotel room for the night I fly in, and let the hotel know I am checking in that morning coming off a red-eye. It’s worth it to not start my trip off cranky.

  • http://www.ffocus.org Bruce InCharlotte

    A comfortable eye-mask with moisture-wicking fabric. When you’re seated next to someone who wants to read, or the one who has to keep opening the window shade to look at the sunrise and clouds, it’s a lifesaver.

    If you’re sleeping, put your seat-belt OVER your blanket. If the seatbelt sign comes on, the FA’s won’t have to wake you to check that it’s fastened.

  • Bill

    Melatonin is a great help. It’s a natural enzyme available in any vitamin section and it helps you go to sleep rather than stay a sleep. Using this you don’t have to worry about lingering affects when your flight lands but you can fall asleep so much faster. I also use it to help adjust to the time change between the West and East Coast so I can fall asleep before midnight in Boston when my body is used to eleven Pacific.

    Also an eye mask or loose fitting hat to cover the eyes. I always seem lucky enough to get next to someone that wants to read the whole flight.

  • Mary

    - Eye shades are a MUST. They help you resist the temptation to open your eyes during flight.
    - Eat BEFORE you get on the plane so that you can go right to sleep without waiting for the drink cart (or meal tray, if you’re lucky enough to be in Business class).
    - Buy a water bottle after passing security (or bring an empty and fill it at the fountain) so you can get that drink whenever convenient for you.
    - Scope out the seating chart in advance. Select an aisle seat in a sparse 3-across area of the plane (forget the reserved seats for frequent fliers up front — they’re packed). With a little luck, you’ll get three seats to yourself. Pop up the arm rests, buckle-up over your blanket, and it will be nighty-night for 4 beautiful hours! This works for me 75% of the time on flights to S. America, however, the US flights always seem to be full, so I’m not as successful here.

  • Jason

    Having commuted across the atlantic for work weekly for about 3 years, I was basically stuck with the red-eye. I absolutely loved them. Time goes by faster since you are asleep. I would agree with the eat before you go suggestion, and then if possible (if you are in economy class since business class usually provides them), make a sticker (one of those “my name is” tags and sharpie) that says “do not wake for meal service.” Another suggestion — window seat that way if somebody needs to get up, they don’t want you. Also, learn to sleep with the seat back upright — it prevents people from pulling on it when they get up.

  • tbg

    “have a drink at the bar then dive into obligations”

    You’re kidding, right?

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