Washington may be coming to its senses. Its most frequent fliers are falling out of love with the red-eye.
For many years, there was only one way to return home from the West Coast if you were a serious worker bee (and who among us isn't?). You boarded a flight about 10 p.m. Pacific time and flew all night. You arrived about 6:30 the next morning, East Coast time.
Yes, you badly needed a shower, and yes, you were fatigued beyond the reach of even a triple Starbucks. But the prevailing wisdom was that the red-eye saved you a day. And on many red-eyes, you flew for a fraction of the daylight coach price.
Now, however, returning from the West Coast seems to be about saving sanity, not time or money. Several travel agents say their Washington clients are starting to shy away from the red-eye, for business as well as personal reasons.
Chris Gardner, an agent at Esprit Rainbow Travel in Bethesda, said that trade associations account for a sizable share of his business, and that they prefer to avoid the red-eye. There's no fare difference anymore, and people don't like to be exhausted the next day, Chris said.
One factor that may nudge Washingtonians even farther from red-eyes than our brethren in Philadelphia, New York and Boston is the difficulty of flying into Reagan National Airport.
No flights go nonstop from the major West Coast cities to National. You have to lay over in some exotic place like Cleveland or Pittsburgh, or change planes there. If you've never trudged through either of those airports at 5:30 a.m., you don't know the true meaning of degradation. Meanwhile, it's easy to fly nonstop to Dulles International or Baltimore-Washington International, during daylight or darkness.
The federal government, always the biggest buyer of airline tickets hereabouts, is leading the coolness toward the red-eye. Elizabeth Pineda, a travel agent for Cato, which books all federal travel, said few of her clients request the red-eye. They usually do it only if they don't have to work the next day, Elizabeth said.
Another myth about red-eyes: You can sleep while aboard them. If that was ever true, it has ceased to be in an age of narrow coach-class seats.
Not only is it impossible to snuggle down in such a space, but Levey's Law operates in the coach section of red-eyes: If it's possible for 14 babies to cry all night long, all at once, all at the tops of their lungs, this is where and when they'll do it.
But the red-eyes remain about as full as other coast-to-coast flights. Who's choosing them?
Tim Smith, manager of public relations at American Airlines, said, "There's a little bit of everyone -- a mix of leisure travelers and business people, people who want a full day working or playing on the West Coast."
Tim said there's a small uptick in sold red-eye seats just before a national or school holiday ends. He thinks it's pleasure travelers squeezing every last hour out of their vacations. But on typical business-travel days, seats on red-eyes tend to be sold to business people, both in first class and coach, Tim said.
I suspect Washington's flagging red-eye passion reflects the reality of the human body.
It may seem as if you've saved a day by red-eyeing. In fact, you will probably save only half a day, if that.
If you head directly to work after a red-eye, sheer momentum will usually waft you through the morning. But watch out if you eat lunch. The "nod-sies" won't be far behind.
And even if you don't eat, you will not feel much like working come 3 p.m. or so. You will feel like crawling under your desk and breathing your last. Many red-eyers have been known to sneak home after lunch -- thus giving back half of the day they supposedly saved.
Even if you fly west to east during daylight, you will have to make sacrifices. First-of-the- day eastbound flights leave West Coast airports at 8 a.m. or earlier. You haven't known true joy until you've tried to make an 8 a.m. flight from, say, Los Angeles International Airport. On my last L.A. trip, I awoke at 5:15 a.m. to make a 7:45 flight -- and came within a whisker of missing it, thanks to that legendary freeway traffic.
May we all grow up to have bosses who let us "shoot a day" by returning from the West Coast during daylight. If not . . . may 14 babies be right near those bosses the next time they fly, lungs oiled and ready.
Stop the presses: The Department of Defense has a sense of humor. And the Office of Personnel Management has a typist who takes things a bit literally.
One day early this month, a DOD employee was startled to see a job advertised on the Web site of the Office of Personnel Management.
"Deputy Director for Something Important," the title said. The listing described an annual salary of $102,300 to $110,351. It said the job would remain open until Oct. 10. It listed a name and number to call.
But it was all a test that went awry.
Susan Hansen, a public affairs officer at DOD, said the posting was a mistake, born of a test that DOD was giving a new computer system. A tester made up the "Something Important" job title and sent it to OPM. Alas, someone at OPM took the language literally.
Interestingly, neither OPM nor DOD had any responses to the "Something Important" ad. Everyone at those two agencies must be important already.