I know, I know. I must be crazy, but it’s true! I love working red eye flights.
For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a red eye is essentially a night flight. So, as a crew member, operating a red eye is basically like working a night shift.
As a night owl the appeal of working night flights has always been there, but there are other benefits to working red eyes. Perhaps by the end of this post I’ll have you convinced of their allure too.
Red Eye Flights: A Closer Look
In technical terms, red eye flights are any flight that crosses the dateline of the operating crew’s time zone.
In other words, it’s a flight that takes off before midnight on one calendar day and lands sometime after midnight on the next calendar day.
That means, most trans-oceanic international flights are also red eyes.
The legalities, of red eye flights are also different.
*Legalities are the regulations that determine how long a shift for flight attendants can be and how much rest time is required between shifts.
Generally speaking, in the US if you work a red-eye flight your duty-day will be shorter than a regular day, and you will be given a longer layover between shifts to ensure you are able to properly manage any associated fatigue.
The Benefits of Working Red Eye Flights
In my opinion, there are plenty of benefits to working red eye flights as a flight attendant.
- Later report time: This gives you more of your day to accomplish things before your trip starts. In the aviation industry, day-time off hours are precious because it gives you more opportunities to do necessary life-admin tasks, like running to the bank or going to the doctor.
- Shorter duty periods: As mentioned above working red-eye flights result in shorter duty periods, meaning you are able to make more economic use of time and will have fewer long unpaid sit-periods between flights.
- Quiet: Red eyes are usually pretty quiet when it comes to passengers because most people will fall asleep. This means a lower potential for passenger drama.
- Different service standards: Though this is not the case of international flights, most domestic red eyes have lower service standards than day flights on the same route. Meaning it’s easier to work red eyes.
For example, on a red eye from LAX to JFK I would normally need to do two-to-three full beverage and meal services depending on which cabin I was working in. The very same red eye only required me to do one full service.
- Downtime: With fewer services, there is more down time between take-off and arrival services on longer red-eyes. This means more time to catch up on reading.
- Experienced passengers: Most red eye passengers are veterans who know how to fly and what to expect. They come prepared and are less likely to have unreasonable expectations of the crew.
- Fewer families: No hate to families, but these days families can become quite the headache for crews. They either need tons of help during boarding to be able to sit together because they didn’t get to choose seats close together, or the kids run around unattended and annoy other passengers who try to start flights with travel-weary moms that we then have to diffuse.
Luckily, red eyes are not many parents’ idea of an enjoyable travel experience, so there tends to be fewer families on these flights.
Downsides of Working Red Eye Flights
Though this post is about why I love working red eyes, I think it is fair to be realistic about them. There are, of course, a few downsides when it comes to working red eyes too.
- Messes up your sleep schedule: Working red eyes can mess up your sleep schedule because you have to inverse your circadian rhythm. But if, like me, you work red eyes regularly enough to get used to this pattern, your body adapts and creates a new schedule based on night working and day sleeping.
- Medical emergencies: It is pretty well known in the airline industry that medical emergencies are more likely to happen on red eyes. There are a number of reasons this is the case, but if mostly has to do with the fact that passengers are fatigued and have likely had a long day of travel leading to the exacerbation of pre-existing conditions.
- Indecent behavior: Though most of the time red eyes are quiet, when a passenger does act up the episodes tend to be more intense than on day trips, this is, again, because they are fatigued, and more likely to be a little drunk than they are on day flights.
Personally, these “downsides” are not enough to deter me from loving red eyes, but at least there you have the truth.
Tips for Working Red Eyes
There are of course other demands when it comes to working red eyes. If you’re new to the industry I have a few tips that will help you make the experience as enjoyable as possible.
- Bring extra layers or a hot water bottle: One of the worst parts of working red eyes for me was how cold they could get. I was often frozen on the jump seat between flights. Making sure you have enough layers to bundle up in, or a refillable hot water bottle that you can fill up with boiling water can go a long way to keeping you warm on night flights.
- Have entertainment with you: Being unprepared for red eyes can make them miserable. There is a lot of quiet, downtime, so if you don’t bring anything with you to read or do on board you will become unbearably bored.
- Bring a red-light flashlight: Shining a bright flashlight when you walk up and down the dark aircraft can accidently wake and disturb passengers. Red light flashlights, like this one, will make it possible to see obstacles in your path without being harsh enough to wake anyone up or hurt their eyes.
Preparation is key, if you have red eyes on your schedule, making sure you are prepared will make the red eye go way more smoothly, making it a much more enjoyable experience.
I hope I have made a convincing case for the virtue of red eye flights.
If you love or hate red eyes, we’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter. What do you do to make them easier?