Red-Eyes Are for Losers

Taking an international overnight flight is exciting. You’re on a huge plane full of eager travelers, you get served an actual hot meal on board, and you wake up in another country, bleary-eyed but ready for new adventures.

Taking a domestic red-eye is not at all the same. There aren’t that many late-night flights leaving from any given airport each night. In my experience, there are only a few, and maybe even only one, leaving from each terminal. It’s a surreal experience being in an empty airport late at night. When you check in for your flight, your body is telling you it’s time for pajamas and tooth-brushing, and you’re greeted by this:

closed coffee shot

The concourse is dark and quiet, and shops and restaurants everywhere are closed up. When I arrived at Phoenix’s United terminal at 8:00 p.m. a couple weeks ago on my way home from recording with Tucson Chamber Artists, even Wendy’s was shutting it down.

Wendy's PHX

In the moment it just seems pathetic. Taking a red-eye does not make me feel like a jet setter.  That night I even got a little panicked because I knew I’d arrive at PHX a couple hours early and I planned to get a nice late dinner there before boarding. Luckily, there was exactly one business open — the sports bar next to my gate — and they had exactly one vegetarian option on the menu:

PHX veggie burger

You know how I hate disposable plates and utensils, but desperate times…

I arrived in Newark four hours later after having slept not a wink. Never have I been so happy to see this airport posted at a gate:

RDU bound gate

Usually I fantasize about jumping aboard a different plane but on that morning, even Pike Place Market and the Space Needle could not tear me from my intended path. I arrived in Raleigh, exhausted and grumpy but gloriously happy to be home. Of course, then I had to teach a couple lessons because of my brilliant planning (“It’ll be fine; I’ll sleep on the plane and this way I don’t have to reschedule my Tuesday students!”).

Once or twice a year I lose touch with reality and become convinced that a red-eye flight is the perfect solution to my travel needs. It is true that they’re often cheap, and you don’t lose a whole day to cross-country travel, except that you do, given the quality of life on the day you arrive. I have one more red-eye on my calendar ahead, the trip back from my visit to the Oregon Bach Festival this summer. Maybe it will be my last. What do you think — can I avoid future red-eye temptation? I know one thing: if I do it again, at least I’ll bring my dinner.

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