How do YOU define a redeye?

I always find it funny when friends complain about “jetlag,” despite not having switched timezones. Not too long ago I had a friend that flew from Washington to Tampa, and complained of “jetlag.” Wide eyed, I refrained from commenting.

Along the same lines, some people have a funny definition of what a redeye is. For example, I’ve heard people refer to the 11PM United flight from Los Angeles to San Francisco (arriving around 12:15AM) as a redeye. Not so much, in my opinion.

But that really does raise an interesting question, in my book — how do you define a redeye? Is it based on the length of the flight (at least x hours), the time it departs (late at night), the time it arrives (early in the morning), or what? Is it defined by whether you would reasonably go to bed upon landing or not?

Why do I ask? Well, this weekend I’m taking the late night Washington Dulles to San Francisco flight, departing at 10PM and arriving at 1AM (which is really 4AM in Washington). It’s a six hour flight and departs around the same time as the San Francisco to Washington Dulles redeye (local time), but the only difference is that you gain three hours instead of losing three hours. On one hand I do feel that it’s a redeye, as I’ll likely be conked out for most of it. At the same time, upon landing I’ll go straight to bed (as I should, given that it’s 1AM local time), so is it really a redeye?

I’m actually thinking I won’t get any sleep since this will be my firs flight with my new MacBook Air. The excitement of being able to work (or play Alpine Crawler) for six hours straight probably won’t wear off for a few weeks.

Filed Under: Travel
  1. That flight is a tough call, but I’ve never defined a westbound transcon as a redeye.

    My definition–leave between 2200 and 0100 and arrive the following morning between 0400-0730.

  2. @ Matthew — I tend to agree, though it’s complicated a bit further. Is a flight from San Francisco to London departing at 6PM and arriving at 12PM not considered a redeye? There are so many variables that make this a real toughie, in my opinion.

  3. I’ve always defined it as leave at night, arrive in the morning, eyes are red from lack of sleep.

  4. I usually think of redeyes as depart at night, arrive the next morning (and not the middle of the night) – that much said, I take many flights from JFK/LAX to HKG, usually leaving in the middle of the night, and arriving the following morning. Since it’s 16 or so hours, I hardly ever think of this as a redeye flight… I also don’t think of most europe bound flights that leave the states as redeyes either…

    I don’t think I’ve ever taken what I considered a “redeye” that’s more than 5 hours long…

    So I guess I’m left with short-medium haul flights that depart in the evening or at night and landing in the morning?

  5. My dad has the habit of calling any flight that gets in after midnight, even if it’s 12:05am, a redeye. I think we should book him on a real redeye so that he can appreciate the difference. :oP

    I define it as any flight with a departure time that you would stay up for without going to sleep with an arrival time that you would reasonably stay up after without going to bed in between. I confess though, that I have arrived in Boston at 5:30am and taken a nap before proceeding with my day and still called it a redeye. My argument is that I could have reasonably stayed up and started my day then – I just didn’t exercise that option.

    Any flight that messes with these “rules” and leave/arrive at more dubious times (e.g. depart at 1:30am, arrive at 3:30am, etc.), I like to call a “half-assed redeye.” So maybe you need to add a category.

  6. What’s the most comfortable redeye?

    I’d say Dubai-Dulles. Depart 1am, sleep 14 hours, arrive 6am.

  7. If I am in the air for 3+ hours at a time when I would normally be asleep, I call that a red-eye. Leave SEA at 11:59 p.m., arrive DFW at 5:30 a.m. is one I have taken several times in the last year.

  8. Must be east-bound, at least four hours and be in the air at 3am. In other words, you are generally missing a night of sleep while on the plane.

  9. Kayak “Show Red Eye / Overnight” checkbox shows (or hides) all flights that arrive the next calendar day. Which makes it not very useful — to me flights that arrive shortly after midnight are roughly comparable to those that arrive shortly before, and the same goes for departures around midnight. Not to mention that the feature is completely useless for flights that cross the international date line, as it filters out daytime westbound flights while keeping overnight eastbound flights.

    I recall seeing train timetables with hours like 24:30 and 26:25 for trains that finish their runs not too long after midnight. I think it’s very useful, because I typically think of this as the same day. I don’t remember the specific train operators that use this notation.

  10. My definition of a red-eye is that it is an overnight flight, and that you miss a night of sleep. So a 12:30am West Coast departure that arrives in DFW or IAH or ORD at 5:30am is a red-eye, but your 10pm flight from Dulles is not a red eye because you still get to sleep in a bed.

  11. I would say A red eye is Hawaii to LA or San Fran or even DEN and PHX which leaves about 8 to 10 pm ish and get to the Main Land 4-8 AM

  12. I define a red eye as a flight that leaves at night and arrives in the morning – where you would be missing a regulars night sleep and have red eyes in the morning.

  13. UA flight 44 OGG-LAX, then having to wait 6 hours for a connecting flight.
    “Paradise to hell, overnight!”

  14. Count me in for:

    1) Leaves before 3am local time
    2) Over 3 hours in length
    3) A sunrise occurs while en route or within an hour of landing.

    This includes basically all TATL / TPAC flights (except for my much-loved daytime TATLs), all classic TCON redeyes, and excludes your example flight of 10pm IAD – 1am SFO.

  15. I would say that a redeye:
    1. Leaves after 10pm local time but before 3am
    2. Flight time must be at least 5 hours

  16. I think it’s hard to define a flight duration with this question. For example, some PER/SYD flights are brutal. With strong winds, flight duration may not be much more than 3 hours. With +3 time difference, and little chance for rest on board, it’s the worst I have ever felt after a scheduled flight, including many overnight LAX-Jade flights.
    Hard to also define with a flight direction. For example, would a flight from the Greek Islands to the UK, that left at 4am and arrived at 6am not count as it was westward?

    Interesting question. My thoughts are that it must fly through time when you would normally expect to be sleeping, be of a duration that doesn’t allow you to replace the lost sleep and arrive at a time when you would normally be expected to be awakening or awake.


  17. Redeye to me is that you have red eyes because you got a lousy night of sleep because you were on a plane. The westbound late flights to me don’t count as red eyes because you can still get sleep when you arrive 1-7 or whatever it is depending on how early you have to wake up. If you fly eastbound and you are expected to be at a meeting or whatever just hours after you landed, with no time to sleep in between, that is a red eye.

  18. I don’t count most westbound TATL or TPAC flights as redeyes. Leave SFO at 1pm, fly 14 hours to HKG, arrive in time for dinner. That’s not a redeye. Yes you will nap on the flight. Yes it is the middle of the night in the departure city. But you napped, and you will go to bed in a bed.

  19. Hm, I’ve always thought of this is being rather simple:
    (1) As an American, I find that the term ‘red-eye’ only applies to flights within North America. I don’t think I’ve ever heard people say, “I’m taking the red-eye to London” or “to Hong Kong” before, because the entire term exists to distinguish from flights that operates on routes that aren’t necessarily stressful very stressful, but in this case are. At least from California, it’s implied that a service to London will be overnight, or that one to Hong Kong will screw up your entire system. =] Maybe on the NY-London or NY-Paris route, this term is used, but I would generally just say “overnight” in that case.
    (2) A think a red-eye implies a departure between 10PM and 1AM, last at least 4 hours, and require at least two time-zone changes (SFO-ORD, for example, would qualify). A flight shorter than that wouldn’t necessarily result in an eye that’s red enough =]

  20. I have trouble with a minimum duration restriction, too. Take, for example, any west coast ORD flight that leaves around 11pm. These can be as short as 3-3.5 hours, but you arrive around 5:30am, having lost the whole night. I’ve always deemed these (brutal) redeyes.

    Since I normally leave out of DC, I tend to think of some short Europe flights (e.g., LHR) as redeyes, too. They’re awfully short, especially when you count dinner.

    And I agree with Mark that DXB-IAD is a great night-to-morning flight timing-wise, one of the best I’ve done.

  21. The converse to the late IAD-SFO flight is going westbound early AM. If your body is on EST for the late westbound, it is functionally a red-eye. But I recently did SFO-JFK-SFO with an overnight layover. I stayed out all night with friends and took the 6 am JFK-SFO. To my body which is on PST, the flight departed at 3 am, at the end of a long, productive day. I slept four hours before landing at SFO at 915 am. I actually got more sleep than I would have gotten on a traditional transcon red-eye due to the headwind!

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