Avoid holiday travel pain, fly red-eye

Thanksgiving Day lightest travel day

There are certain givens when flying for Thanksgiving that most travelers have begrudgingly come to accept.

First, you will face longer lines. There are more people flying and the TSA will be extra vigilant since Thanksgiving is a prime target for terrorists.

Second, Sunday is the busiest travel day of the year, so every seat will be filled and airports will be packed.

In other words, flying the weekend after Thanksgiving is a nightmare.

But this year a growing number of people are taking a red-eye flight home.

Travelers wait in line at a security checkpoint at New York's LaGuardia Airport, Nov. 25, 2015.
Brendan McDermid | Reuters

"Customers are more savvy in traveling and they really want to expand the time with their families and friends so it gives another option and hopefully you get a little sleep on the plane, too, and so you are rested from the holidays," said Sandra Pineau-Boddison, who runs customer service for United Airlines.

This year, United is adding 140 red-eye flights early Sunday and 150 early Monday.

Those flights are increasingly going to markets like Chicago, Denver and Houston that don't regularly see a high volume of overnight flights.

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"It is out of our hubs to high business markets for us, high volume markets for us and so it is where our customers are telling us they want to fly," said Pineau-Boddison.

United is not alone. Delta has also added more red-eye flights Thanksgiving weekend as it increases capacity by 25 percent Saturday and 12 percent Sunday. American is matching it's competitors by adding more seats on its routes in the U.S..

Adding more flights overnight is not a surprise since carriers are looking for different ways to meet increased demand by travelers.

With the economy relatively healthy and unemployment dropping, the number of Americans flying for Thanksgiving is up 3 percent. "We are close to the record, and more importantly we are at the highest amount since the recession," said John Heimlich, chief economist with Airlines for America, an industry trade group. "It is a great sign of consumer confidence. It's a good time to fly."

What does it say about Americans that they're willing to take a red-eye on a holiday weekend?

Cynics may scoff and say it shows how far people will go to avoid crowds.

But the fact that red-eye airfares are significantly lower than airfares for flights in the middle of the afternoon is another factor.

Whatever the reason, the red-eye is waiting and changing how many will now fly for the holidays.