What is a Red Eye Flight? Your 2021 Guide to Flying Overnight

by Sarah Peterson

So you're booking travel, and you've heard the term "red-eye flight" being thrown around. 

Or, maybe you just watched the horror movie 😉.

You may be wondering: 

This guide will cover everything you need to know about red-eye flights so you can make the right decision.

What is a Red-Eye Flight?

A red-eye flight is an overnight flight that departs in the night and arrives at the destination the next morning. When people are referring to red-eye, they’re usually talking about a cross-country flight, or a flight across timezones (including some long-haul flights).

An example of a red-eye flight is flying from Los Angeles to London, or Seattle to New York. 

If you were to depart on a direct flight from Seattle at 11:00pm, you would arrive at 7:00am in New York. That’s because the flight is 5 hours long, and New York is 3 hours ahead of Seattle. This is a typical red-eye. 

In case this wasn’t obvious, the term “Red Eye” comes from the typical indication of sleeplessness: red, bloodshot eyes. 

Why You Might Consider Booking an Overnight Flight

While overnight flights come with plenty of downsides (which we’ll get into in a minute), there is certainly a time and a place for them. You may consider booking a red-eye if you: 

  • Want to save money. Because they’re less desirable overall, red-eyes are usually the cheapest flights you can find. 
  • Want to maximize trip time. With a red-eye, you usually get to your destination in the morning, making it so you don’t waste a day of your trip with travel. Whether or not you’ll be ready to do any sightseeing (or if you’re a business traveler, be productive at work) after a full night of poor-quality sleep is another question.
  • Sleep well on planes. Some people have a knack for sleeping on planes. Most people don’t. But if you’re one of the lucky ones, overnight flights might be a good bet for you.
  • Are traveling with children. Babies and toddlers are usually pros at sleeping anywhere and everywhere, including planes. As a parent, minimizing disruption to your kiddos schedule is preferable to your own, and air travel when your little one is asleep makes it much easier. 

These are all valid reasons for booking an overnight flight, but if you’re looking for an out, look no further. If you can afford it and have other options, there are many downsides to booking a red-eye. 

The Downsides of Red-Eye Flights

No matter how you look at it, there are some negatives of being on an overnight flight. Here are the top 3 biggest impacts. 

#1. They Disrupt Your Circadian Rythm

Jet lag is caused by the disruption of your circadian rhythm, which is the physiological 24-hour clock your brain and body run on.

This is your sleep/wake cycle and is crucial to your overall health. Chronic disruption to this cycle can lead to a number of unfavorable health outcomes, including weight gain, brain fog, impulsivity, and more[*].

If you’re a frequent flier across timezones, you’re likely to have a disrupted circadian rhythm and be susceptible to these outcomes anyway. It’s unlikely that taking one red-eye will have such long-term consequences, but in the short-term, you can expect to experience brain fog, less self-control, and overall fatigue. 

#2. They Aggravate the Impact of Jet Lag

This is especially the case if you’re crossing multiple time zones when you take a red-eye and your arrival time is mid-day in the timezone of your destination. 

For example, the flight from Los Angeles to London is a 10-hour flight. If you were to depart at 9:00 pm PST, you would arrive at 2:00 pm GMT, because London is 8 hours ahead of LA. 

Believe it or not, the best way to combat jet lag is by sleeping (surprise!). Red-eye flights disrupt your sleep and therefore put you in a worse position when it comes to overcoming jet lag quickly.

#3. They Compromise Your Immune System

Any time you travel by air, your body is impacted in six main ways: bloating and indigestion, dehydration and electrolyte imbalance, fatigue, cosmic radiation exposure, circulation impairment, and more. 

You’re likely to experience all of them to some degree whether you fly on a red-eye or not. But when you pair all of these things with increased fatigue and disruption of your circadian rhythm and being on a long flight in a metal tube with dozens (if not hundreds) of passengers and their germs, your immune system will be compromised. 

3 Tips to Minimize the Impact of a Red-Eye Flight

Whether you decided to take a red-eye to save money, have no choice, or it fits best with your travel schedule, sometimes red-eyes are just going to happen. 

Here’s how to reduce the impact on your mind, body, and trip. 

#1: Protect Your Immune System 

A compromised immune system is one of the potential side effects of a red-eye flight (and flying in general). That’s because sleep affects your immunity[*].

The last thing you want is to arrive at your destination and promptly get sick, though this is something that frequent fliers have all experienced. 

During your red-eye, protect your immune system to reduce the likelihood you’ll get sick, and reduce the severity and duration of the virus if you do

That means a lot of hand-washing, rest, and boosting your intake of crucial, immune-boosting vitamins and minerals. 

Research has shown that vitamin C supplementation can support improved immunity[*], and “reduces the severity and duration of symptoms of [a] cold[*]”. 

That’s why we included camu camu in our formulation of Flight Elixir. Camu camu is a berry native to the Amazon rainforest and it contains the highest natural source of Vitamin C. 

Just one pack of Flight Elixir provides 110% of your recommended daily intake of Vitamin C to support that immune system while you fly. 

#2: Catch Some Sleep on Your Flight

This might seem obvious, but it’s easier said than done. Sleeping on a plane is no easy task, but on a red-eye flight, it becomes even more crucial to at least try. 

Some sleep is better than none. Bring sleep accessories to help you. 

They’ll likely also be useful when you arrive at your destination. Hotels and AirBNBs can be surprisingly noisy and bright. 

Accessories like an eye mask, white noise, noise-canceling headphones or earplugs, a neck pillow, slippers, and a blanket (or a scarf that doubles as a blanket) can help you sleep on the plane. 

#3: Book a Direct Flight If Possible

The worst-case scenario is when you’re on a red-eye, long-haul flight across multiple timezones with a layover. 

This means that not only will you be disrupting your sleep and compromising your immune system, you’ll also further mess with your circadian rhythm by subjecting yourself to movement, bright lights, and the loud sounds of an airport when your body expects you to be sleeping. 

As much as possible, try to book a direct flight to avoid layovers. This will provide for less disruption to your normal sleep schedule because you won’t have to get up and transfer flights in the middle of the night to transfer planes. 

Sarah Peterson
Sarah Peterson

Sarah Peterson is the co-founder and head of marketing at FLIGHTFŪD. She's a travel health expert and after having visited 20+ countries as a digital nomad and flying every 4-6 weeks for business, she became passionate about empowering others to protect their bodies on the go.

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