How business travellers beat jetlag

By David Flynn, August 14 2014
How business travellers beat jetlag

Jetlag is the bane of business travellers, but habitual high flyers quickly learn they either have to master or be a slave to it.

That's one of the easiest reasons to justify siting at the point end of the plane: it's simply much easier to deal with jetlag compared to being crammed into economy.

Indeed, frequent flyers quickly develop a personalised playbook to sync up their sleep cycle, remain productive and make the most out of the trip.

There's no single silver bullet, because the physiological cause and impact of jetlag upon your body is complicated stuff.

We've outlined plenty of tips and time-proven strategies in the past. But what are some of the extra tools available to frequent flyers who have the status to match?

Lounging around

Take full advantage of the airport lounge before you go. And no, that doesn't mean slamming down the five-star nosh and guzzling the top-shelf grog.

Nobody's saying you need to go all Jesuit before you jet off, but steer clear of rich, heavy dishes. Opt for lighter meals plus a side of vegies, and don't skip the salad.

By the time you're on the flight, your stomach will appreciate not having to launch into heavy-duty digestion mode.

I tend to make my pre-flight lounge meal my main meal and then eat light during the flight itself, using smaller potions and leaning towards food that's relatively easy to digest.

Qantas has made this substantially easier with last year's rejig of its international business menu to include "small plates" alongside main courses.

So, when flying Qantas business class for example, I'll usually opt for a small plate instead of the main course.

Sometimes I'll ask the flight attendant to set aside a second small plate for later on.

It's better for your stomach to have two smaller meals with ample digestion time between them than to wolf down a three-course meal.

And that's another plus of being in business class instead of economy: you can pretty much dine when it chooses you, whereas in economy you eat when the airline tells you to eat.

Your inflight timetable

Defeating jetlag is all about making a smooth transition between two timezones: the one your body is in right now, and the one it'll be in at the end of your flight.

The oldest trick in the book is to set your watch to the timezone of your destination once you're on the plane.

But the next step is to plan how you'll divide your flight time to accommodate that timezone transition.

A flight from Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane to Los Angeles, for example, might leave around noon but reach LAX at 9am. Given that the flight is a bit more than 13 hours long, you should spend no more than the first half of the flight awake.

Once again, being in business or first class means you'll be able to tailor most of the inflight service to your own needs.

That can include skipping breakfast in exchange for an extra hour of shut-eye.

Achieving a sound sleep during your flight requires a few more tricks, such as choosing light clothing, carefully selecting your seat and wearing a good eye mask.

Stop-over strategies

If you're on a flight with a stop-over – such as Singapore, Hong Kong or Dubai while en route to Europe or the UK – take advantage of the lounge at your transit point.

Hit the showers: it's guaranteed to both wake you up and make you feel better all around.

Stock up on with another light meal, especially partnered with vegies, and hit the fresh fruit juice.

If you've got an extra hour before boarding, avoid sitting around: go for a wander through the airport to get your body moving and your brain a bit more active.

Use the arrivals lounge

I love a good arrivals lounge, especially on overnight flights. Two of my favourites are Cathay Pacific's in Hong Kong and British Airways' in London Heathrow Terminal 5, which are available to business class and first class passengers.

When your flight lands around 6am but you probably can't check into your hotel until mid-morning, there's no reason to rush into the city.

Head into the arrivals lounge to grab a shower, then hoe into a hearty breakfast. Aim for high protein, avoiding the fast and easy carb route, and get a good serve of salad or greens in there as well.

Like your coffee? Grab a doppio to reboot your energy levels. Did you bring a tube of Berocca? Take a shot of orange fizz into the bargain.

In no time at all you'll be feeling human once again, and if you've slept for much of the flight your bodyclock will now be reset to local time.

As a frequent flyer, what are your top tips for avoiding jetlag?

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David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

12 Jun 2013

Total posts 13

Great article David. It's great if you have lounge access and you (or your employer) can afford to pay for the business or first class seats. However, for the rest of us who have no lounge access and fly economy what are some tricks we can use to minimise the jetlag, especially on those routes like SYD-LAX etc?

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2551

Then ignore the advice about lounges and business class, the rest still holds. If you can enjoy a better fresher meal anywhere in the airport before you fly, or at a stop-over, do so.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

29 Nov 2013

Total posts 476


Fair point, but given the modernisation of most intl airports I'd suggest you can still take many of David's tips, particularly around meals and apply them to your situation. 

  1. Get a decent salad or healthy meal option into you before you leave
  2. Make sure you have a good supply of water with you
  3. Pack or purchase trail mix bags so you can snack lightly and healthily during a flight
  4. Pick out the best bits of the econo class meals - don't eat everything on offer! 
  5. In transit - move around a lot, in ports like Singapore, HK etc it's possible to skip the travelators and transfer shuttles and walk!
  6. Stretch...the Qantas exercises re DVT them during the flight and also try and get up and move around before you land so that your body is ready for the change from sedentary to active...

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

12 Jun 2013

Total posts 13

Good advice David and Mark. Thanks.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

29 Nov 2013

Total posts 476

Good tips David,

1. Lots of water...I keep the inflight bottles they hand out and make sure the crew top me up before disembarking

2. I do regular trips to San Francisco ex-Brisbane so I try to schedule flights so that I get into SF mid afternoon - I hit the streets pretty much straight away for either a run or some serious hill walking...I've found a decent to hard workout at destination means I'll get a really solid first nights sleep in which sets me up for the rest of the trip...

19 Jun 2014

Total posts 32

Use Melatonin may help getting over jetlag for some people.

19 Aug 2014

Total posts 1

For those of us in economy who are unlikely to get much sleep inflight, I suggest getting an evening arrival if possible so you can go straight to bed. Obviously not possible with all flights/airlines, but if I can avoid the 5am Heathrow arrival I will.

There is an App called Entrain that May help.

24 Apr 2012

Total posts 2476

Hi ArnoldMarsupial,

We took the Entrain app for a spin back in April, but the results were mixed: New iPhone app promises to smack down jetlag

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