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Got a red-eye flight coming up? Here’s how to make it a little more bearable

  • Author: Scott McMurren
    | Alaska Travel
  • Updated: April 14
  • Published April 14

Do you want to breeze through the Anchorage airport without crowds or a long wait at the TSA checkpoint? Here's the simple solution: Fly during regular business hours.

The busiest times for flights out of Anchorage are between 9 p.m. and 2:30 a.m. Most of the seasonal summertime flights are scheduled during those times, as well. So even if we may not want to sacrifice a good night's sleep to fly down south, chances are better-than-even that you'll join the zombie march around midnight for your flight.

Most Alaskans have their own strategies for dealing with the "red-eye" flights. But as the busy summer season approaches, it's worth reviewing some of the basics.

Before you go: Double-check your flight time. I made this mistake last summer, assuming the flight was leaving just after midnight. Alas, the departure was at 11:55 p.m., which meant that I would have shown up a day early for my flight —and probably missed my niece's wedding. I paid a $125 stupidity tax — which effectively wiped out the savings on my "good deal."

Every day, there are travelers who show up for their red-eye flight on the wrong day. They're either a day early, but more likely a day late. That means their itinerary has been canceled and there are rebooking fees. Save yourself time and aggravation by double-checking your flight times.

Pick your seat wisely. The airlines are cramming more seats on to each plane. The bad news is the cheapest seats are crammed in tighter. The not-so-bad news is that you have the opportunity to buy some additional legroom. JetBlue, with two red-eye departures daily (one each to Seattle and Portland), has the most legroom (33-34 inches between seats). Alaska is next, at 31 inches. Delta offers 30-31 inches, depending on the route. United offers 30 inches. JetBlue and Alaska Air allow you to reserve your seats in advance. Delta, United and Sun Country charge extra for this service.

Even if you're traveling somewhere warm and sunny, it can be chilly on the plane. Unless you're up in first class, don't count on finding a blanket on board. Be prepared to bundle up as you try to get cozy while sitting upright! Pillows? Those are for folks in the window seats, since I'm about a foot taller than the seat back. Again, pack your own.

Checking bags? Everyone has a fee, although Alaska Air will waive it if you're part of Club 49. Delta, United and JetBlue offer waivers for the first bag if you have their credit cards. Alaska Air recently announced it was reducing the size of acceptable carry-on bags, but not by much. On its cheapest fares, United and Sun Country will charge you extra to bring a full-size carry-on (like a rolling suitcase).

Save some aggravation and take a taxi or Uber/Lyft to the airport. It's a big time-saving move to get dropped curbside.

At the airport: It's noisy and crowded. You have to prepare in advance for this, but I really recommend getting the "Global Entry" pass for security. The program is designed for frequent international travelers, but you'll almost always get the "pre check" line at the TSA checkpoint.

Lots of folks like earbuds for listening to music on their phones. There are many different styles, but I still prefer the over-the-ear noise-canceling headphones. There are many good brands (Sony, Panasonic, Sennheiser) although I'm partial to Bose. My headphones still have the wires, but you can get the wireless Bluetooth models, too.

I'm a big fan of airport lounges. There's only one in Anchorage: the Alaska Lounge (formerly the "Board Room") operated by Alaska Airlines. It's expensive to join, but if you fly often it's a nice perk. These days, instead of paying for a full membership ($300 per year), I get the Priority Pass with my Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card. There's a $450 annual fee with the credit card, which includes a $300 travel credit, a gob of "Ultimate Rewards" points and the Priority Pass membership. The Priority Pass offers admission to the Alaska Lounge. However, when the lounges get crowded, the lounge bumps those with the Priority Pass.

On the plane: Lately, Alaska Airlines has worked to make the red-eye flights as quiet as possible. There are fewer announcements and the flight attendants keep the cabin lights dimmed. Although you can't bring your filled-up water bottle through the TSA checkpoint, you're wise to fill it up before getting on the plane. The drink cart never comes by at the right time — and it's a good idea to stay hydrated.

Sure, the seats are crammed in there pretty tight. And it's uncomfortable when the person in front of you leans back. But you can't blame them for reclining. Blame the airline for cramming too many seats on the plane. It's the airline's fault. Remember — you can pay extra for a few more inches of legroom.

The aisle seat is the place I prefer. So if you're sitting in the middle, I'll yield the skimpy armrest space to you. The middle seat is a tough place to be.

Don't forget to claim your checked bags on arrival. Some kids still can power through the whole day after arrival. The rest of us usually need a little nap before dinnertime.

Sleep well, red-eye traveler!

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