What Is A Red Eye Flight? The Pros & Cons Of Flying On Red Eyes

Red eye flights are those commercial services that depart at night and arrive at their destination in the morning. Passengers traveling on these flights will typically suffer from fatigue caused by the lack of sleep, which causes the passengers’ eyes to turn more red. Let’s take a look at why these flights exist and what the pros and cons of taking such flights are.

What Is A Red Eye Flight? The Pros & Cons Of Flying On Red Eyes
Red eye flights will disturb your sleep patterns. Photo: DaniloBueno via Needpix

Red eye flights are fairly common

Red eye flights are typically long in duration and are more often found outside of the Western world than within it. This has to do with the fact that airport curfews are stricter in Europe, Australia, and North America than outside of these continents. However, this does not mean that airlines based in the Western world do not operate red eye flights. In fact, they are almost always the norm for European and American airlines in at least one of the legs of their return journeys.

Simple Flying has published many trip reports covering red eye flights. Examples include a Lufthansa service from Bahrain to Frankfurt via Riyadh and an Etihad service from Abu Dhabi to Rome. Red eye flights are fairly common in the Middle East, where airports operate throughout the night to capitalize on the region’s geographic location. Qatar Airways, Etihad, and Emirates have made excellent use of this for transfer purposes. As such, the majority of their transfer passengers will take part in a red eye flight at some point.

Still, red eye flights can be found on many short-haul routes too, across the world. For airlines, flying overnight represents an opportunity to maximize their fleet utilization. TAP Portugal, Aegean Airlines, and Wizz Air all operate scheduled short-haul flights that depart and land during night-time, all for flights just several hours long. These services typically cross at least one time zone.

Emirates suspend operations getty images
Emirates is one of the airlines that makes use of red eye flights for strategic reasons. Photo: Getty Images

The pros of red eye flights

Sometimes you have no choice but to take a red eye flight to get from one destination to the next.

For example, to get from New York to Frankfurt, you have a choice of four airlines: Lufthansa, United, Delta, and Singapore Airlines. All four of these will depart New York in the late afternoon or early evening (between 16:00 and 22:00), and all four will arrive in Frankfurt the next morning, offering red eye flights only. But for some other routes, like traveling from Dubai to London, or Melbourne to Hong Kong, passengers can choose between red eye flights and daytime flights.

The reasons why you might choose a red eye flight include:

  • Price: sometimes, the price difference (especially if you are traveling as a group) is so significant that the prospect of your eyes turning red from fatigue for a day is not that daunting. Use price comparison websites to find the best deals for your trip.
  • Business class: if you can afford not to fly economy and are flying with an airline that will offer you a lie-flat bed, you could easily find yourself on a red eye flight but without the red eyes. That trip with Lufthansa from Bahrain to Frankfurt via Riyadh, for example, included a lie-flat bed that I could fall asleep in comfortably.
  • If you can handle it: I personally do not mind red eye flights, but that may be because I know what to expect on them (very little sleep), and I know how to prepare myself (extra sleep during the previous night, nothing planned for the next day). It helps if you bring your own sleeping mask since the ones handed out by the airlines do not usually block out light well enough. I also bring my own headphones and paracetamol for ease of sleeping.
Lufthansa Business
Lufthansa Business Class seats turn into comfortable lie-flat beds at the press of a button. Photo: Jakov Fabinger, Simple Flying

The cons of red eye flights

Still, there are some fairly strong disadvantages to flying red eye, and they will be strong enough for some passengers not to ever dare fly overnight. These are:

  • Traveling with kids: having to take care of a young one in your presence, who may not be sleepy when you want to sleep (and need to sleep), or who might be desperate to sleep and cranky for not being able to do so just as you are boarding the plane, or having to exit it, is not an appealing prospect.
  • Traveling with someone else’s kids: worse still, sharing the airplane with children over whom you have no control at all, but who still might be perfectly capable of disrupting your sleep throughout the red eye flight, is not appealing either.
  • Difficulty falling asleep: if you need your bed, your special pillow, your learned bed position or your aromatic scents by your bedside to fall asleep, you will not get much of it in a cramped, loud 777. But, if you are already expecting this, the experience might not be too bothersome.

Generally, anyone traveling West is at a disadvantage compared to anyone traveling East. A German citizen departing Berlin for a holiday in Washington will find it relatively easy to adjust to the new time zone upon arrival and will be refreshed to start sightseeing immediately the next day. Then, after returning home from Washington on a red eye flight, they will have time to recover from the loss of sleep at home.

Air Canada a330 interior cabin
If the aircraft is full, it might be very difficult to fall asleep. Photo: Chris Loh, Simple Flying

Are there any health risks?

Give or take a few differences, taking a red eye flight is the equivalent of having a bad night’s sleep. If you can catch up on sleep the next night, or take a nap in the afternoon, and grab a coffee in the morning, you should not feel the effects of a red eye flight beyond the first 24 hours. However, if you are a frequent flier, this is when things get a bit more serious.

Red eye flights have been linked to weakened immune systems, increased risks of depression, and risks of heart attacks, because night flying interferes with your natural sleep rhythms, and changes your metabolism.

Do you take red eye flights often? How do you deal with the effects of them? Share your experiences with us in the comments below.