Remember the Cheap Redeye?

Quick thing: I was thinking about my unbelievable hatred of transcon redeye flights (I can’t sleep because you can’t take Ambien on a 4 hour flight — or rather you CAN take Ambien, which I had done once and only once on an overnight from Las Vegas after which I did not remember how I got home from the airport), and how I have co-workers who always take the redeye because it allows them to work a full day and get back in the office and work in the morning. I am not friends with those people.

Anyway, I was really thinking about how redeye flights used to be available at discounted rates – that people actually did not want to fly them to the point where airlines needed to lure people onto them with cut-rate fares. Anyone who has flown from the West Coast can attest that those days are long gone. Fares are no different for redeyes than for daytime flights. I have to wonder whether the pace at which we move nowadays and the expectations around work have made the redeyes that much more desirable and, hence, that much more expensive. Obviously, if there were a ton of demand for full-priced overnight flights in the 1970s and 1980s, those cheap night fares would not have existed. But something has changed since then, and I have to guess it is the same thing that causes people (myself included) to check emails on vacation and look at my blackberry at 3 o’clock in the morning: we’re unable to step away from work. It doesn’t really matter if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but one of the casualties of that is that flying on that miserable 4.5 hour trek in the middle of the night no longer warrants a discount.

The great airline nerd website has lots of information about defunct service, including this ad from the early 1970s touting Allegheny’s “Moonlighter” flights and their cheap fares for folks who were willing to leave in the middle of the night. Looking for a 1:50am trip from Pittsburgh that arrived in Philadelphia at 2:45am? That’ll run you $23. The 1:50am to Baltimore was just $20. I’m guessing noise regulations have changed in the years since then so most airlines wouldn’t permit an airline to operate those flights (Spirit has several flights from Central America that depart at 2am, though I’d be willing to bet that Managua’s Airport will let you depart whenever you’d like).

In the mid-1980s Eastern Airlines introduced “Night Coach” fares for transcon redeyes that included a middle-of-the-night stop in Houston, Kansas City or Chicago for just $49 a leg – about half the regular fare. I’m not sure the 330am stop in Kansas City would be permitted anymore, however, and I’m pretty certain Spirit would have tried this if it were still permitted. It’s worth reading the rules for those Eastern flights here, noting that they charged for snacks as well as $10 for checked baggage (they were 25 years ahead of their time). Not ahead of its time? This little disclaimer: “There is no assurance that [your checked bags] will travel on the passenger’s flight…” In other words, you could check your bags, but who knows if your bags would actually get on your plane. As least they were honest about it.

America West had a full evening operation out of Las Vegas called “Nite Flight” that let you “pick up and go for next to nothing” with service to Oakland, LA, Salt Lake City, Phoenix and other cities in the Southwest departing around 1-2am.

There’s really no news around this, but I was just lamenting that you can no longer go from San Francisco to Kansas City in the middle of the night anymore.

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