Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The "Red Eye"

Our flight from Seattle had taken off on time at 6 AM and arrived on schedule at San Francisco at 8 AM. The connecting flight to the east coast was to take off an hour and a half later and land in Philadelphia just before 6 PM. Our host there was to pick us up from the airport on his way home from work place. The schedule was worked  out meticulously so that one host could drop us at Seattle airport before going to work and another could pick us up on the way back from work. Of course, we had no work to do except travel and all timings suited us.

We propose and airline companies dispose. (Passengers of "King of Good Times Airlines" know this too well now after all the bad times they had in the last two months). As we came out of the aero-bridge and checked on the monitor for the gate number of the departing flight, it was mentioned as "Flight cancelled". By the time we reached the customer service counter of Continental Airlines, there was a long line with passengers from flights arrived earlier at SFO who were to take the same flight to Philadelphia, standing ahead of us. Being at the end of the line meant that we had little chance of getting any proximate alternate flight as those ahead of us in the line would have naturally opted for them. When my turn finally came there were still a dozen passengers behind me and probably hoping that I would take much less time in sorting out my plans than the earlier ones.

The lady at the counter was all smiles and charm. She was probably one of their well trained employees and placed on such counters to effectively stall irate passengers of cancelled flights. All her talk just meant that she wanted to help us but she was herself helpless. You can have all the smile but your work will not be done. You end up thinking how helpful she was but only you were unfortunate. She apologized for the delay but having myself trained our staff to handle such situations, I was interested in the next plan.

"Sir, The best thing I can give you is a seat on the same flight tomorrow"

I had to make a decision in a few seconds. Accepting the offer means spending a day in San Francisco. My two nephews living in that city would be already on the way to work and not a wise idea to trouble them. I put a counter question. "What if that flight is also cancelled?". She was a bit taken aback but replied politely, "That does not happen everyday, Sir"

"I do not want to stay here. Give me a seat on a flight to New York, Newark or even BWI (Baltimore)"

"I am sorry Sir. All those flights are also full. If you do not want to stay back, the best I can do is to route you through Las Vegas. But Vegas to Philadelphia is a "Red Eye". Is it alright?"

I did not know what she meant by "Red Eye". The red eye I knew till then was the infection of the eye making it look red and called variously as "Singapore eye" in Chennai,  "Chennai eye" in Bangalore and "Bangalore eye" in Mangalore. There was no time to ask further questions and getting educated. There were indeed better place and time to learn what she meant by a "Red Eye".

"Red Eye or Blue eye, I want to keep moving and reach Philadelphia".

She probably thought I was joking. Or more probably felt it was a show of annoyance, albeit politely. She put us on a noon flight to Las Vegas and later on from there to Philadelphia.

My wife, standing behind me in the line, asked me after we left the counter what a "Red Eye" was. They give such names to some flights to make us reject the offer, I told her.  Years of marriage teach you certain things. You should always answer some questions truthfully, if you know the answer, is the first of them. You should never tell the answer to some questions, even if you know the answer, is the second.  Bluff your way with a face saving answer is the third. This time I used the third.

The afternoon flight to Las Vegas meant that we had to wait for five hours in San Francisco.  The next flight left Las Vegas at 11 PM and arrived in Philadelphia at 5 AM. The simple journey of nine hours was finally completed in 24 hours. And then I went about understanding what a "Red eye" is.

A red-eye flight is any flight departing late at night and arriving early the next morning. The term red-eye is derived from the symptom of having red eyes which can be caused or aggravated by late-night travel. These flights generally move east from west during night hours. The flight departs late at night and lasts for three to five hours and due to forward time zone changes, lands at dawn. Passengers do not get sufficient rest and end up getting off the flight with reddish eyes. Business travelers use this as an opportunity to save time without losing a day in their busy schedule.

After all there is something more to the "Red Eye" than just eye infection!


  1. Mostly before a Red-Eye there will be Red-face due to flight cancellation :) I remember to have got Red-face for a 2 hours flight got delayed to start by more than 4 hours.

  2. Before reading even I thought it is about conjunctivitis or some...
    On counters we come across either extremely polite or impatient, and we feel as you have felt but you have expressed beautifully!

  3. so flights that go from west to east at night must be what is called the "red eye reduction" flights :)

  4. Nice humorous post.:)

  5. very tactful in dealing the situation both with the airport officials and home minister.

  6. A new term for late flights which I learnt early in the morning.