What Are Redeye Flights? Are They Worth Taking?

What Are Redeye Flights? Are They Worth Taking?

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It has been years since I’ve written broadly about redeye flights, so I thought it would be fun to talk about them in a bit more detail. What are redeye flights, what are the pros and cons of taking them, and are they worth booking?

What are redeye flights?

Fundamentally, a redeye flight is one where you fly overnight, and miss a night of sleep in a “real” bed. The term comes from the fact that you may have red eyes from the sleep deprivation you’ll experience due to these flights. After all, as humans we’re programmed to sleep for an extended period every day, and for most of us, redeye flights get in the way of that.

Redeyes are most commonly (though not always) west to east, and they often depart in the evening and arrive in the morning. In some cases taking these flights is an option, while in other markets it’s the only flight that exists.

Now, I think it’s important to mention that different people will define redeye flights slightly differently. For example, everyone agrees that an overnight flight from New York to London departing at 7:35PM and arriving at 7:45AM the next day is a redeye.

British Airways flight from New York to London

While it’s an unconventional redeye, similarly I think most people would consider a flight from Chicago to Anchorage departing at 1:30AM and arriving at 5:08AM to be a redeye. Westbound domestic redeyes are rare, but a few do exist.

Alaska Airlines flight from Chicago to Anchorage

While those are some obvious examples, there are other, less obvious situations. For example, what about a Los Angeles to Dubai flight departing at 4:40PM and arriving at 7:30PM the next day? Yes, it’s unarguably an overnight flight and will prevent you from spending a night in a bed. However, many would simply consider this to be an ultra long haul flight, as all flights of this length will interfere with most peoples’ natural sleep cycle.

Emirates flight from Los Angeles to Dubai

Similarly, what about a Tokyo to New York flight departing at 10:05AM and arriving at 9:00AM the same day? In reality this flight is in darkness most of the way, and when you adjust for the time change, you’ll want to sleep most of the flight in order to arrive well rested. On some level I’d consider that to be a redeye, even if a bit untraditional.

Japan Airlines flight from Tokyo to New York

Meanwhile I recognize that I’m a quirky person, as I keep a very early schedule. So a New York to Los Angeles flight departing at 10:15PM and arriving at 1:41AM the following day wouldn’t by most people be considered to be a redeye. However, based on the schedule I keep, I would consider this to be a redeye for my purposes. I wouldn’t be checked into my hotel before 3AM, and at that point it’s only a little earlier than when I usually start my day. So I’d probably try to sleep the entire flight and then stay up.

JetBlue flight from New York to Los Angeles

For that matter, what about a Sao Paulo to Panama City flight departing at 3:22AM and arriving at 8:19AM? For most people that’s probably going to replace a night in a bed.

Copa flight from Sao Paulo to Panama City

My point is simply that there isn’t one definition of a redeye. We can all agree that certain types of flights are redeyes, while we can reasonably disagree about some types of flights.

A vast majority of airlines around the globe operate redeye flights, as it allows for efficient aircraft utilization. After all, airlines don’t make money when planes are parked on the ground. Here in the United States, the only major airline to not operate redeyes is Southwest.

Are redeye flights awesome or awful?

Are redeyes awesome, awful, or a necessary evil? Let me share a few factors to consider if you’re planning on booking one of these flights…

In some cases redeyes are unavoidable

On the most basic level, in many markets booking a redeye flight is unavoidable. Whether you want to fly nonstop from Honolulu to New York, or want to fly nonstop from Miami to Paris, your only options are to fly overnight. So in these situations you can’t easily avoid redeyes, unless you want to make your itinerary significantly more complicated.

For example, you could fly from Miami to Paris without taking a redeye by booking a ticket from Miami to New York, spending a night in New York, and then taking the daytime flight from New York to London, before connecting to Paris. That’s almost certainly not worth it.

In many cases redeye flights are unavoidable

The pros of taking redeyes

For routes where you have the option of taking a redeye flight or a daytime flight, what are the benefits of a redeye flight?

  • It allows you to maximize time at your destination, especially if you only have limited time to travel; for example, flying from Los Angeles to New York, you could depart at 10PM and arrive at 6AM, or could depart at 10AM and arrive at 6PM, and obviously the former is more efficient time wise
  • If you’re on a budget, you can save a night of hotel accommodation by flying overnight, though just remember flight times might not line up with hotel check-in and check-out times
  • Redeye flights are often cheaper, since they’re considered by many to be undesirable
Redeye flights can be the most efficient option

The cons of taking redeyes

Why are redeyes worth avoiding?

  • They’re absolutely brutal on your body, especially if you’re not traveling in a flat bed; sleep is important, and redeyes get in the way of that
  • Redeyes often don’t match hotel check-in and check-out times; if you have a flight departing at 10PM and arriving at 6AM, you’ll be without hotels on both ends of your trip, unless you pay for an extra night
  • If you’re trying to adjust to a new timezone, redeyes can make it much tougher, as it’s even harder to regulate your sleep
  • If you’re traveling with a family, redeyes can be tough on kids
Redeyes can be brutal on your body

My philosophy on taking redeye flights

When I was a teenager, I took domestic redeye flights almost every weekend without issue. It saved me money on hotels, and my body could handle it.

As I’ve gotten older, my philosophy has changed a bit. I value sleep a lot more than I used to, both for my mental and physical health. Under what circumstances will I take a redeye flight?

  • I don’t mind taking them for international long haul flights, in markets where that’s the standard way of travel (like eastbound transatlantic flights), though even then I’m not a great airplane sleeper
  • In some cases I also don’t mind them for short haul international flights, in situations where I might still be jetlagged; for example, this is common on flights to & from the Middle East
  • While I still don’t love it, I’ll take domestic redeye flights only if I can get a flat bed, like from San Francisco to New York or from Los Angeles to Miami

But long story short, I just won’t take domestic redeye flights unless I can actually get proper rest. While in the past I would have considered redeyes to be efficient vs. “wasting” a day flying, the great thing is that nowadays so many flights have high speed Wi-Fi, so I can be as productive in the air as on the ground.

Redeyes in Emirates first class just hit differently

Bottom line

A redeye flight is an overnight flight that prevents you from spending a night in your bed, and it typically departs in the evening and arrives in the morning. However, the exact definition does vary.

There are pros and cons to redeyes — they can save you time and money, though they also take a toll on your body. As I get older, I do everything in my power to avoid these, at least for flights where a flat bed isn’t possible.

What’s your take on redeye flights? Do you love or hate them, and under what circumstances do you book them?

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  1. hartd8 Member

    As one who cannot sleep on an airplane -even with a flatbed- I hate RED-EYES.. You feel so bad on arrival and of course the EYES are Very RED!!But west to east coast this is the best way to get ,more out of your arrival day vs wasting it in airports or on planes...

  2. Lune Guest

    Agree with others that the definition of a red-eye has 2 components: flying overnight *and* it being too short a flight to get a normal sleep.

    I have no problem flying longhauls overnight (especially in business class :). I remember flying ORD-HKG leaving in the afternoon and thanks to lie flat seats -- but also thanks to there being enough time -- I had a good sleep even after the meal service and a movie....

    Agree with others that the definition of a red-eye has 2 components: flying overnight *and* it being too short a flight to get a normal sleep.

    I have no problem flying longhauls overnight (especially in business class :). I remember flying ORD-HKG leaving in the afternoon and thanks to lie flat seats -- but also thanks to there being enough time -- I had a good sleep even after the meal service and a movie. Felt completely refreshed in HKG and didn't even feel jetlagged. I've done it in economy too and it wasn't that bad. The length of the flight, IMHO, is key.

    In contrast, flying SFO-NYC even in Polaris with lie flat is brutal. By the time you have your meal and settle down to sleep, you can sleep for maybe 2-3 hrs before you're landing. Even a lie flat can't compensate for that.

  3. ItsCalledaDictionary Guest

    Ben, much simpler to leave the definitions to Mirriam Webster...
    Problem solved!

    1. Mike C Diamond

      Ah, if only! Dictionaries do not decide what words mean, they record what general usage has already decided that they mean. And we are allowed to debate whether dictionaries have the meaning right.

      And west to east transcontinental flights in Australia are 'red-eyes' too, when they depart Perth around midnight.

  4. Ben Guest

    I fly SEA-ORD pretty regularly and I’m almost always on the 11pm AS/UA flights. I find that since moving to Seattle, I’ve come to value sunlight so highly that I’m not willing to miss a moment of it and the annoyance of a red eye is worth it. I get to Chicago and sleep for an additional few hours after I get to the house I’m going to.

    One downside you didn’t matter: many smaller airport, like Seattle, shut down their pre-check line at night.

  5. iamhere Guest

    The problem is matching up with the hotel check in and check out times. A flight that departs at 8pm is fine for example given late check out but a flight that arrives at 1AM for example, then you would almost need to pay for the extra night in the hotel.

  6. Macman Guest

    It 100% comes down to whether you can sleep in a coach seat. I'm out like a baby in a lie-flat, but there's a 0% chance of me getting even a minute's worth of sleep sitting upright in coach.

    The daytime JFK to LHR flight that I took on Virgin with my family was a dream. 8 AM JFK departure, stayed up all day on the flight, and landed at LHR at 8 or...

    It 100% comes down to whether you can sleep in a coach seat. I'm out like a baby in a lie-flat, but there's a 0% chance of me getting even a minute's worth of sleep sitting upright in coach.

    The daytime JFK to LHR flight that I took on Virgin with my family was a dream. 8 AM JFK departure, stayed up all day on the flight, and landed at LHR at 8 or so. Zipped through immigration, checked right into our hotel, went out for a late dinner (and drinks), slept like babies, and were up and running in the morning with no jet lag.

  7. Petri Diamond

    They are perfectly alright if there is ample recovery time at some point. I had meetings in 28 different cities, including crossing the Atlantic four times, in a month. Finally, I did not know if it was day or night. Even the daytime flights were certainly red eyes.

  8. JB Guest

    Does anyone know why short haul redeye flights are so common in the Middle East? What is the logic behind them (Besides the efficient aircraft utilization for the ME3, whose schedules are made around connections)?

    1. YYC_flyer New Member

      possibly because they're meant to connect with all the flights to/from North America and Asia?

    2. Bob Guest

      The warm weather during the day that may affect the effeciency of the aircraft if used on long-haul routes maybe?

  9. EthaninSF Member

    I would state that the notion of a redeye is a short overnight flight (often with a time zone change). A West Coast to East Coast overnight flight is the traditional definition (at least in North America). This flight of approximately 5 hours gives you minimal sleep and skips you ahead to the next day. You move ahead in time by 8 hours with barely 4 hours sleep. Shorter transatlantic flights probably fit this definition....

    I would state that the notion of a redeye is a short overnight flight (often with a time zone change). A West Coast to East Coast overnight flight is the traditional definition (at least in North America). This flight of approximately 5 hours gives you minimal sleep and skips you ahead to the next day. You move ahead in time by 8 hours with barely 4 hours sleep. Shorter transatlantic flights probably fit this definition. However, from a service perspective, TATL flights are treated more like long-haul flights. Any flight over 7-8 hours in length, would not be called a redeye because, by definition it is a long-haul flight. Being West Coast based, I will say that redeyes can save quite a bit of time and allow for a full work day, but definitely take a some recovery time on the other end. I would say I avoid if I can, but occasionally take them, if I must. That said, I'm taking a redeye this Friday to MIA!

  10. geoff Guest

    They suck. Period. Fixed it for you:)
    Anything that arrives on the east coast between 5 and 9 am is a red-eye. Period.
    International doesn't count, at least in this context.
    I can still feel the SkyClubs in ATL(pick one) at 5.40 am and taking two days to get back to normal.
    Pretty sure EVERY east coast airport(from Boston down to Miami) is the same here.

  11. Russ Member

    My least favorite yet effective is West Coast to DFW (3-4 hours) overnight but I would say why I take them is because I also minimize the amount of days It take off from work.

  12. Ket New Member

    I was a frequent passenger in the YYZ-->LHR Air Canada daytime flight that used to exist pre-covid, as I personally dislike how short the east coast North America to Europe red eyes are.

    I've been keeping an eye out hoping to see it return, to no avail. Does anyone have any intel on when/if it will be returning? Like Evan has said, I find it genuinely surprising there aren't more options to fly from the east coast of NA to Europe during the day.

  13. Nelson Gold

    Most of the Flights between Europe and Latin America are Overnight -up to each one to consider or not it's a Redeye- but I find them lovely. After departure you have Dinner and just before arrival you have breakfast, all the rest of time which is about ~8-9hrs you have plenty of time to sleep or to work without having all the time people playing around in the aisles. My best experiences are between Europe...

    Most of the Flights between Europe and Latin America are Overnight -up to each one to consider or not it's a Redeye- but I find them lovely. After departure you have Dinner and just before arrival you have breakfast, all the rest of time which is about ~8-9hrs you have plenty of time to sleep or to work without having all the time people playing around in the aisles. My best experiences are between Europe and GRU. I arrive early morning and can have without any problem a meeting the same morning and no one see I was flying out of Europe the passed night.
    Before anyone shoot; I know there are also daytime flights between the two points but I never take them.

  14. D3kingg Guest

    What’s considered a red eye is strictly West Coast to East Coast US or Hawaii to the mainland US. Intl long hauls are not red eyes .

    LAX to JFK is 4 hrs 50 min and was brutal even if you’re in first class. It takes 2 days for your body to recover. Unless your going to take sedatives and fall into a deep sleep from takeoff to landing no way.

    1. Nathan Guest

      What about the (also brutal) overnight LAX/SFO to ORD, IAH, and DFW flights. Not redeyes?

    2. D3kingg Guest

      @Nathan @Captain America @Evan

      Let’s say any overnight flight under five hours ; outside of US sure

    3. Captain Merica Guest

      “Red eyes do not exist outside of the USA” LOL

    4. Evan Guest

      You wouldn't consider the midnight eastbound domestic departures from DEN to be redeyes?

  15. Andy Diamond

    It all depends on whether I can sleep for at least 6 hours. This depends on whether I have a lie flat seat and on the flight duration, which has to be greater than about 9, better 10 hours. This reduces the red eyes I find bearable to longer intercontinental flighs in J/F (i.e. Westcoast to Europe or Asia, Europe to Far East or South Africa, South America to Europe). Even East Coast to Europe...

    It all depends on whether I can sleep for at least 6 hours. This depends on whether I have a lie flat seat and on the flight duration, which has to be greater than about 9, better 10 hours. This reduces the red eyes I find bearable to longer intercontinental flighs in J/F (i.e. Westcoast to Europe or Asia, Europe to Far East or South Africa, South America to Europe). Even East Coast to Europe or South America in J I find very difficult, due to the short flight time, and as a consequence, I prefer day time flights.

    Unlike some others, in my case, it's not time zone change, but sleep time which affects me. (Also partying, for that matter, affects me extremely - even without alcohol).

    1. D3kingg Guest

      @Andy

      What you’re taking about is just an overnight flight ; not a red eye . Red eyes are less than six hours. Ben has used the word “red eye” out of context by including ultra long hauls .

  16. Brandote Guest

    If it's for work (and domestic), they'll only pay for coach, so I take an afternoon flight and stay an extra night on the front end. If it's personal, red eye is more efficient, and hotels are usually really good about letting me check in early (I've even paid $100 for a suite upgrade for a suite that was available at 8am). When I lived in NYC and went to LON for work, I'd always...

    If it's for work (and domestic), they'll only pay for coach, so I take an afternoon flight and stay an extra night on the front end. If it's personal, red eye is more efficient, and hotels are usually really good about letting me check in early (I've even paid $100 for a suite upgrade for a suite that was available at 8am). When I lived in NYC and went to LON for work, I'd always take the daytime flight, the east coast to Europe TATL flights are brutal with the two meal services. Now I'm in LA, and I find LAX-LHR to be an acceptable "red eye" that leaves enough time between meal services to (try to) sleep.

  17. Evan Guest

    I've always found it fascinating that there are hundreds of flights from the US to Europe each day, but just a half dozen or so take off in the AM, and of those, all are on the JFK/EWR - LHR route.

    It seems like there would be ample demand for additional daytime frequencies to places like CDG where an early AM departure will get you in around 9-10 p.m., in time to get real hotel sleep.

    1. Mick Guest

      Agree somewhat. American used to run a daily morning flight to London. Problem is that when you land it’s only 3pm in ord/jfk and you may not be ready to hit the hay. Also for business carriers you’ve essentially wasted a day of meeetings if you can do that sleep on the plane.

      I personally preferred a late departure out of ord to Europe. Go straight to sleep. Land late in the morning and have less of the day to get through.

    2. Evan Guest

      I agree that a 10 or 11 pm departure is best. There are many 5-6 am arrivals in Europe, and those are the worst.

      American still runs a daily morning flight from JFK-LHR. Virgin Atlantic, British Airways, and United also have morning NYC departures to LHR. I'm not aware of any other North American city with a morning departure to Europe.

    3. Gil Guest

      A few more:
      BA has a daylight BOS-LHR flight.
      UA has a daylight IAD-LHR flight effective February 25.
      AA is resuming their daylight ORD-LHR flight effective March 25.

    4. Nathan Guest

      AA had an ORD-LHR morning departure until October of this year.. I assume they will bring it back seasonally again. Left Chicago around 8 and got into London around 9pm, I believe.

  18. MildMidwesterner Gold

    The most desirable redeye flights are north/south intercontinental flights (e.g. MIA to EZE). The most closely match normal sleep schedules without the inconvenience of wildly different timezones.

  19. Rusty Shackleford Guest

    In my experience, one of the pros of a red eye flight is they're not usually very full which helps in the back.

  20. Darren C Diamond

    Extreme South-North flights can also be rough. Flying to Alaska has similar effects on me to taking a red eye flight.
    20+ hour flights to SIN aren't nearly as tough to adjust to after the flight as are flights to BRW.
    20+ hours of darkness in the winter, both landing and taking off in the dark, throw my circadian rhythms off.

    1. JWags Guest

      You fly to BRW regularly? That airport has the annual volume that a even an otherwise remote small place like Fargo does in 2 weeks.

    2. Henry W Guest

      I guess latitude might also play a factor, like lower latitude Redeyes (like Jakarta - Jayapura) might be different from higher latitudes (like Moscow - Irkutsk). Though they are still around 2500 miles, time difference between Jakarta and Jayapura is 2 hours while difference between Moscow and Irkutsk is 5 hours.
      I did not fly red-eyes often, but one example I can remember is from Bangalore to Hong Kong red-eye, and it turned out to be better than I expected.

  21. pstm91 Diamond

    I think most OMAAT readers would define a redeye flight as any flight that is preceded by an excellent lounge and bar.

  22. Charles Guest

    My personal definition of a red eye would involve a flight route where it IS avoidable. West coast to east coast US, NYC-London, Hawaii to mainland, etc.

    In other words, the question “are you taking the red eye” needs to make logical sense.

    1. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ Charles -- Interesting. So you'd say an overnight New York to London flight is a redeye, but not an overnight New York to Amsterdam flight, where there's no daytime service?

    2. Charles Guest

      I mean, I may use the term to describe a shorter east coast to Europe flight just because it “resembles” a west coast to east coast “proper” redeye, but I guess my point was that if I was traveling NYC-AMS and someone asked if I was taking a red eye, my response would be something like “all NYC-AMS flights are red eyes”, which I admit is fairly contradictory, but when everything is a redeye, nothing is a redeye ;).

    3. Colin Guest

      What a bizarre comment. Surely if all flights are red eyes, the simple answer to the question would just be “yes”

    4. Charles Guest

      Not if you comprehend the simple concept I outlined when I said my (personal) definition involves the ability to avoid such a flight.

      There is a distinction between the word as an adjective and the word as a concept. I'm choosing to go off the concept. The blog post even describes it when Ben lays out that many many flights *could* be described as redeyes, and when that's the case, the word loses it's value. As such, when everything is a redeye, nothing is.

    5. D3kingg Guest

      @Charles

      I agree. The quintessential red eye is west coast to east coast in the US. Hawaii to CA yeah probably. Not sure about US to London.

  23. Alec Guest

    Hardest part of short red eyes (LAX-NYC; NYC-LON) is when the airline tries to do two meal services you realistically are only have a couple hours of dark quiet cabin. Even with a life flat its hard to get much of any sleep.

Featured Comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.

Bob Guest

The warm weather during the day that may affect the effeciency of the aircraft if used on long-haul routes maybe?

2
Colin Guest

What a bizarre comment. Surely if all flights are red eyes, the simple answer to the question would just be “yes”

2
MildMidwesterner Gold

The most desirable redeye flights are north/south intercontinental flights (e.g. MIA to EZE). The most closely match normal sleep schedules without the inconvenience of wildly different timezones.

2
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