Surviving a red-eye flight with a shoulder to sleep on

by David Burns on June 30, 2008

Everyone seems to have the perfect idea for surviving the most dreaded of travel experiences: the cross-country red-eye flight.

The folks over at Real Simple, suggest things like a soft throw or a set of noise canceling headphones.

Rudy Maxa, host of PBS’ Smart Travels: Europe with Rudy Maxa suggests a bottle of water and a meal. “You can eat and go to sleep while everyone else is waiting for the drinks cart,” he says.

Other frequent fliers I know suggest less holistic approaches like Tylenol PM or belting back a few martinis in the airport bar right before boarding to help coax The Sandman into action. Notice I said or, not and in the preceding sentence, lest any of you think I’m suggesting alcohol and sleep medication!

Wednesday night, my wife boarded Delta’s red-eye from San Francisco to Cincinnati. After two decades as a “non-rev” (an airline employee accustomed to the worst seat in the house after all of the revenue customers have been seated), she’s conditioned for steerage. Scanning the boarding area, she noticed a mother who looked like she’d been shot out of a cannon traveling with an infant and a young son. Who takes an infant on a red eye?

You know the story. 737-800. Six seats across. Who inevitably takes the two seats adjacent to my wife? Of course, the seven year old and the mother with the infant in her lap. I can’t make this stuff up.

Purgatory. Or is it?

Shortly after takeoff, the seven-year-old boy leans his head on my wife and promptly falls asleep. My wife and the mother exchange smiles and nods of the head, and with the surrogate boy on her shoulder, my wife sleeps soundly for the duration of the flight.

I guess that’s one of the comforts of home she missed during her week-long conference. Any port in a storm.

Don’t tell our son. He’s the jealous type.

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  • http://www.thoughtfultraveler.com Bonnie

    David — just wanted to let you know that your article mentioning your wife’s red eye flight from SFO to Cincinnati got a big chuckle out of me. I’ve had that happen more than once and I, too, agree — any anchor in a storm LOL!

    Thanks again.

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