While red-eye flights – flights departing late at night and arriving early in the morning – are no better or worse than daytime flights for some people, others stay away from them whenever possible.
And, even though I don’t mind taking red-eye flights at all – in fact, oftentimes I find them to be the best option – I can also understand people not wanting to take them. After all, these flights got their name for a reason.
In this article, I share five of the tips that I use to cope with red-eye flights and to make them more comfortable.
Before doing so – in case you are undecided whether to take one or not – let’s take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of red-eye flights.
The Advantages and Disadvantages of Red-Eye Flights
The disadvantages of red-eye flights are fairly obvious, so let’s go through the advantages first.
To me, the biggest advantage of taking a red-eye flight is the fact that it helps me maximize time at both my origin as well as my destination. Whereas with a daytime flight I have to sacrifice a few productive hours, taking a red-eye allows me to have a full day of work (or fun) before boarding a flight, and then to have another full day of either at the destination.
Another benefit of red-eye flights is that they save you money on accommodation since you spend a night on a plane rather than in a hotel.
Also, while not always the case, oftentimes red-eye flights are cheaper than daytime flights on the same dates and routes.
On the flip side, these overnight flights – even if you manage to sleep well on them – can be taxing on the body. And, regardless of how many time zones you are crossing, they can mix up your schedule – especially if you fail to follow the first of the five tips below.
5 Tips for Coping with Red-Eye Flights
While red-eye flights will never – regardless of whether you are traveling in economy or first class – be as comfortable as nights in your own bed, here are some tips to make them slightly easier to get through.
Have a Commitment Shortly After Your Red-Eye Arrives
It’s not unusual for me to want to take a nap right after getting off a red-eye flight. However, I try to avoid doing so as much as possible so that I don’t end up messing up my schedule (and wasting time at my destination).
I find it fairly easy to resist the temptation to get some sleep in the morning at a destination. Of course, many times I am simply excited to go out and see the city or do some plane spotting. But in most cases, there’s also a “logistical barrier” to it considering that hotel check-in time is in the afternoon. The more difficult case is arriving at home where your own bed is waiting for you.
In either case, though, I find that the best way to stay awake the first day during hours when one should be awake – which I believe is the most critical thing in coping with red-eye flights – is to pencil a commitment into the calendar.
It could be something as simple as picking a restaurant you will eat breakfast at and then deciding to go shopping. Or, preferably, something where someone else will hold you accountable – whether an early lunch with a friend, a business meeting, or a guided tour.
Skip the Meal Service to Maximize Sleep
If you are flying with a low-cost airline, you don’t have to be worried about skipping a free meal. However, if you are flying on a full service airline, there might be a meal service even on a five-hour flight departing just past midnight.
While eating late at night is generally not a good idea, on red-eye flights its even worse since it – no pun intended – eats into your valuable sleeping time. The same applies if breakfast is served onboard rather than dinner – skip it, maximize your sleep, and have your meal on the ground instead.
Considering how slow onboard service can sometimes be, that can get you an extra hour (or even more) of sleep. You might want to bring a snack or two just in case you get hungry during the flight. And, definitely bring a bottle of water with you.
Depending on how well you can sleep in a potentially bright and noisy environment, you might also want to pack a set of earphones (or earplugs) and an eye mask.
Keep Your Seatbelt Fastened At All Times
It should go without saying that whenever you are seated – regardless of whether the seatbelt sign is on or off – you should keep your seatbelt fastened just in case there is unexpected turbulence.
When it comes to overnight flights and sleeping on them, though, it’s also a matter of comfort.
Before going to sleep, visibly fasten your seatbelt. In other words, don’t fasten it under your blanket but over it. That way, you won’t have to be woken up every time the cabin crew goes around the cabin checking seatbelts when pilots turn the seatbelt sign on.
This also applies when you are lucky enough to have a row of seats to yourself. Make sure that you don’t just lie down and fall asleep but that you also fasten your seatbelt. Just strap the middle seat one around your waist – once again, over your blanket if you are using one.
Choose a Window or a Middle-Section Aisle Seat
Another way to make your overnight flight more comfortable is by picking the right seat – especially so if you are flying in economy class.
If you don’t mind sitting in a window seat, then by all means go for it.
That way, you are certainly not going to be woken up by someone trying to get out of their seat to visit the restroom. And, as an added bonus, you will be able to lean against the side of the aircraft which might help you sleep better.
In case you prefer to sit in an aisle seat – whether because of the easy access to aisle or the slightly better ability to stretch out than in a window seat – go for a middle section aisle seat towards the back of the aircraft.
While in a window-side aisle seat, you will be woken up every time your neighbor needs to get out of their seat, chances are lower that will happen if your neighbor has two ways to get out of it. Plus, aircraft tend to fill from the front to the back, so you might be lucky enough to have an empty seat next to you as well.
Besides the above, you might also – of course – want to consider picking an emergency exit row seats which generally offer a lot of legroom. Keep in mind that the armrests in those seats are usually fixed, and so you will not be able to stretch across multiple seats even if they happen to be empty on your flight.
Choose an “Ungodly Hour” Departure Over a Late Evening Departure
Lastly, if you have the choice between a flight departing at, say 10PM and arriving at 4AM, and a flight departing at 1AM and arriving at 7AM, I recommend going for the latter.
Even though you might have a hard time staying awake until the flight’s departure, that will also mean that you will be ready to get some sleep as soon as you board. Not only that, but you might even be able to take a quick nap in the gate area or lounge before boarding.
The added benefit of that – if you are using public transportation to get to and from the airport – is that it will be much easier to catch a bus or a train after a 7AM arrival than after a 4AM one. And, you will be able to grab a breakfast and start doing whatever you need to do right away rather than having to wait for the morning to come.
You should avoid red-eye flights whenever possible if you have a hard time sleeping on planes. Otherwise, though, they can be a very efficient (and potentially cheap) way to travel between two cities.
If you happen to be taking a red-eye, the two things I recommend doing to not get your sleeping schedule disrupted is to try to fall asleep on the plane as soon as possible (by skipping meal, for example) and to arrange some commitment at your destination to avoid the temptation of catching up on sleep during the day.
Do you have any other tips on how to survive a red-eye flight?
Do you try to avoid red-eyes at all costs or do you not mind taking them?
Let me know in the comments down below.