The term “jet lag” first started appearing in people’s vocabulary about fifty years ago, shortly after the advent of the jet age. There are many theories out there on how to avoid jet lag. Many depend on direction of travel, time, and duration of flight. The fact that fifty years later we are still discussing how to avoid jet lag and conducting studies on methods of coping with changing time zones tells me there isn’t one simple answer.
Recently, I was invited to join a jet-lag study onboard an Air New Zealand flight, nonstop from Los Angeles to London. I was joined by other frequent travelers as we were questioned on everything from pre-flight rituals to our plans once we landed in London.
I should note that one of my previous jobs was working as a flight attendant for an international charter airline. This gig had me flying all over the world on a very regular basis, both as a working crewmember and as a passenger when we were being positioned to meet our aircraft. I’ve flown on quite a variety of airlines and in all classes (mostly coach), where I’ve learned how to sleep on the plane. This is a pretty essential skill to combat jet lag. When I was taking long haul flights on a weekly basis, I remember not really feeling affected by the jet lag. I pretty much just got used to it and got in the groove. The old saying was, “Sleep when you’re tired, eat when you’re hungry.” Obviously, this would get modified slightly to “Sleep and eat anytime you get a chance.” The schedule was so erratic that this was a necessary way of life. Basically, it was a series of short naps that culminated into an extra long sleep once I was back home and had a few days off.
These days I don’t travel long haul quite that often, but still a fair amount. I do find that the jet lag affects me a little more now that I don’t travel long haul as often as I used to, but I believe my previous experience has allowed me to adjust a bit easier than most people.
On this trip, we were set to depart Los Angeles at 4:45pm and land in London at 11:15am. To prepare for the flight, I did try to adjust my sleeping schedule slightly, but only the day before the flight. After packing for the flight, which included an empty water bottle to fill and travel pillow (two essentials for long haul travel), I met up with a friend in Los Angeles and hit the town for a late night in Venice. I made sure to enjoy the adult beverages in moderation, because a hangover does nothing to help the flying experience. My plan was simply to stay up really late and to stay out socializing with others rather than just lounging at the hotel or watching the tube. This would help ensure that I would be tired the next day when it was time to travel. For me, it’s best to sleep as much as possible on the flight and this is obviously much easier when you’re tired rather than trying to force yourself to sleep when you’re wide awake.
Of course, the seat choice has a lot to do with ability to sleep. For me, I try to always pick a window seat so I can lean on the window with my pillow and not have to get up for others. “Window seat” was my answer when we were asked the first thing that comes to mind after hearing the phrase “10-hour flight.” Luckily, for this flight we were enjoying the perks of Air New Zealand’s Business Premier, which has the most spacious lie-flat bed I’ve seen in a business class seat. One interesting feature was that the back of the seat folded forward and was covered with a memory foam topper to make quite a comfortable, sturdy bed. The only disadvantage to this is that you are required to stand up if you want to convert between a seated or lie-flat position. This is no biggie though, because the seated position has a nice recline for lounging.
One of our activities for the focus group was to create a pie chart on how we planned to spend the flight and compare it to how we actually spent the flight. Half of the group seemed to be pretty ambitious with plans to divide most of the time working, watching movies, reading, etc., leaving little time for sleep. The other half planned on sleeping at least half of the flight and dividing the rest of the time with other activities. My plan was to sleep over half the flight, dividing the rest of the flight evenly between working and watching movies during meal service. I find it’s best to limit myself to just one alcoholic beverage with the meal and then drink plenty of water throughout the flight. Too much alcohol inflight usually makes for an ugly arrival. After the meal service, I try not to fiddle much with watching the TV screen, because it requires you to keep your eyes open. Instead, I tend to pick some mellow music to drift me off to sleep. I never take sleeping pills, because I fear it could lead to me to not being able to sleep without them. Pink Floyd usually does the trick.
When we were asked about our plans upon arrival, it seemed most of the other travelers in the focus group were determined to not take any naps, power through the day, and sleep at the normal hour local London time. I had a slightly different approach, in that I would allow myself to take a short power nap (one hour max) upon arrival, if needed. My reasoning is that if you’re too tired to do anything productive or worthwhile, you might as well take that short nap to revive a bit. In this case, alarms are key, as is the will power to actually wake up after a short nap. It’s understandable that some people are not able to do this well, so this method is not for everyone. Immediately upon arrival, I adjusted my phone’s clock to the local London time, as this would now be my local time for the next three days. I think it’s a good idea not to think about what time it is where you came from too much. Occasionally, you may need to for communication purposes, but it’s best not to dwell on it throughout the day. The time zone you are in should be the time you are on, at all times.
After some sightseeing, I returned to my spacious room at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park for a quick one-hour power nap. This, along with a shower to wake up a bit, revived me enough to enjoy the rest of the day without getting bogged down or zombie-like.
I also find it’s a good idea to do something active the day of arrival so I walked around the corner, rented a bicycle from London’s extensive cycle hire network, and took a nice ride around Hyde Park. I was so impressed with the ease of the cycle hire system, that the bicycle became my main mode of transportation in London. Luckily, I only got caught in the rain once. Later in the evening, I ate a late dinner and eventually went to sleep around 11pm local time. I slept through the night and felt pretty normal when I woke up in the morning. I didn’t really feel any jet lag.
With all the technology and entertainment we have these days, it can be hard to turn off at bedtime. A few in the group did mention waking in the night and working on their laptops, but for me it’s best not to have any of those distractions available. I remember waking up once or twice in the middle of the night, but I would just lie there and eventually fall back asleep. I just set the alarm for the morning and stay in bed until that alarm goes off.
These are my methods on handling jet lag, but as I said before, I don’t believe there is a one-size-fits-all answer. This is evident in the variety of responses to a recent LinkedIn poll asking the question, “Do you nap after a red-eye flight?” My answer is, if necessary, yes, but keep it short. If you fly long haul often enough, you’ll likely find your own way to cope with jet lag. For those of you who don’t fly long haul too often, it will be harder to deal with a drastic time zone change. One thing is for sure; your long haul flight will go by much quicker if you can sleep for the vast majority of the flight time.
We like this a lot. At select locations, UPS Stores are selling two sizes of luggage boxes, according to a press release, "large and small; [each] has a sturdy handle for easy carrying, and is made of recyclable corrugate. Because it weighs less than an empty suitcase, packing directly into the box can help lower shipping costs. Travelers also can include packaging tape and a return UPS shipping label for use when returning home." Of course, you can always just put your stuff in a regular box and ship it. We couldn't find how much each box costs, but we did see that the maximum liability the UPS Stores will cover is $1000 per shipment, and only if a higher insurance premium is paid. Keep in mind that the airlines offer a higher level of protection if they lose or damage your luggage. So don't pack anything too valuable.
Clarification from UPS: "For the outbound trip, when the shipping is purchased at a The UPS Store location, the maximum liability is $50,000 (an automatic $100 in coverage with the option to purchase additional coverage). If a traveler chooses to purchase the return shipment at that time, then the maximum coverage on the return trip would be the $1,000 you mentioned in your post (considered a drop off package). If the traveler returns to a The UPS Store at their destination and purchases the shipping separate for the return trip, then it would be treated the same as the outbound shipment."
New York to Tokyo, Japan $682 round-trip, nonstop, incl. all taxes
We came across a heap of great fares to Asia from United earlier today. Hong Kong, Tokyo, Ho Chi Mihn City, Beijing, Seoul...all ranging from $677 to $737 round-trip, incl. taxes, for travel in fall. Pretty good, right? We sure thought so! Ah, but then they were gone, just as quickly as they came. Sigh. That's how it goes in the game of airfares, but we do hope someone out there was able to snatch one of these fares!
A recent Airfarewatchdog poll revealed that after checked bag fees, the most hated airline fee is the one extracted for advanced seat selection. This used to be entirely free, but no more.
Say you log on to JetBlue’s Web site to book a flight. You choose one, you select a seat you like – paying $10 or more per leg for more room up front or in an exit row. Bang. You’re done.
Now try doing the same on Delta.com – what, you want an exit row? You want to sit up front? Better have your SkyMiles number handy.
Got none? Back of the bus, sir.
Let’s say you’re on the Web once more, surfing the site of Denver-based low-fare flyer Frontier. Here, you book the lowest fare available – clever you! – there will be no getting anywhere near a seating plan, let alone any selecting of favorite aisle seats up front. Not until 24 hours before takeoff, you won’t – and then, let’s hope that all that's left isn't the dreaded middle seat.
Still, things could be worse – there’s Allegiant Air, which charges between $4.99 and $24.99 to anyone – anyone – who wants to get near a seat map before the day of flight. Leaving you, of course, to wonder if that Orlando flight you paid $39.99 for is going to be the worst of your life, sandwiched between two terrifyingly loud, sugar-charged children who’ve never been to Disney World (and are also recovering from nasty colds, cough cough.) Unless, of course, you cough up.
These days, flyers who don’t like surprises ought to take heed when booking a flight. Rare is the airline with an advance seat selection process that mirrors any other; what seems so sensible for one (open up the whole thing, charge an arm and a leg for the really good stuff and bring in a nice chunk of change per flight) seems so difficult for others to grasp (Southwest, which clings to its no-seat-assignments-ever rule, which its loyal customers continue to pretend to not mind.)
Policies all over the place
While it can seem as if there’s no rhyme or reason to the way each airline handles the divvying up of seats on its planes, there actually is. If you take a look at this chart, which goes over the current seat selection rules for 16 airlines, a pattern emerges – legacy carriers such as Delta and American continue to try and please their frequent flyers first, holding back the best seats (among them, exit rows) for their most loyal customers. Those that are new, new-ish or focused on low fares (and less on loyalty) tend to be a bit of a free-for-all.
Some of the legacy carriers like United, want to have it all. They want to please their long-time customers, but they also find the lure of making a buck off of premium seating too much to ignore.
Thus, on United, you have Economy Plus, featuring five more inches of legroom in the upfront rows on all domestic and international flights. Elite frequent fliers are generally given these seats automatically. However, anyone can buy in, based on availability – rates start at $9 and go up to $109 for long-haul flights. United even sells a $425 annual Economy Plus pass, ensuring you’ll always have more legroom.
Other airlines that have resisted making such bold changes are now giving in; Continental, for example, recently announced a similar program, where premium seats (including exit rows) will be made available for a fee for those who want to log on within 24 hours of departure and select them; the airline has said these seats will not be available for purchase at the airport. When last we tried, attempting to select an exit row seat within 24 hours of departure on a Continental flight yields nothing more than a rollover message instructing you to “request at check-in.” But unless they've changed their minds, this is probably fixed by now.
After checked baggage fees, probably the most disdained airline fee is the one for selecting your seat. Long a perk that came without charge--and one that costs the airline nothing extra to provide--it's now just another profit center. Here's what several airlines charge, if anything, for advanced seat selection.
Free at check in or from 24 hours before departure. Fees apply to choose seats at booking up to 25 hours before departure.
Depends on class of service; For international economy and domestic UK, £10/$15 to choose seats from time of booking up to check-in, 24 hours before departure up to £60/$90 for other classes of service (First Class free)
Business travelers are flying less. Teleconferencing is on the rise, as is the use of Web conferencing services such as GoToMeeting and WebEx as companies attempt to save money.
Newell Rubbermaid, according to a recent report in the Wall Street Journal, cut its travel budget by 28% last year, and encourages employees to use videoconferencing instead of flying somewhere, and other US companies have cut travel 30-40%, estimates American Express Business Travel.
But as Ryan Bingham's boss discovers in the 2009 hit movie Up in the Air, some business missions are better accomplished in person (if you haven't seen the film, Bingham's job is to fire people for companies too chicken to do it themselves, and his boss decides that this can best be done via teleconferencing but later discovers that this isn't such a hot idea).
I, too, have found that if you really want to get something done, you have to do it in person. For example, I've been trying for years to gain the attention of an influential journalist who hadn't written about Airfarewatchdog.com. I had emailed this person, and sent media kits, and left messages, all to no avail. So I tried visiting in person and having a lunch. Yes, it cost money and time, but it was well worth the effort. A week later, the visit had accomplished its purpose.
How many careers have been launched at trade shows? What's the value of taking the measure of a potential business partner face-to-face rather than over the phone?
At Airfarewatchdog, we used to deal with our software programmers by email, instant message, and phone, in order to save costs. But I'm convinced that we wasted a lot of money, because our requests were often misunderstood, and it took more time doing it this way than sitting down with the programmers and literally drawing them a picture to get the enhancements done quickly and coherently. (Our programmers were based in Boise, and we are in New York, so travel would have been costly and time consuming, but given the chance to do it all over again, I would make the effort.)
When I was a freelance travel writer living in Boston, I tried in vain, by phone and email, to get assignments from magazines such as Travel and Leisure, based in New York. But once I started making desk appointments and meeting editors face to face, I never left without an article to write. Face to face works better than the alternatives.
My sincere belief is that although some business trips are unnecessary and some are fruitless, more revenue is being left on the table by ill-advised cuts in corporate travel budgets than is being saved by bean counters who encourage workers to stay home. This is a point made by British Airways, in their Face-to-Face campaign, which awarded 10 business class tickets to 100 companies in a recent contest, so that they could see first hand the benefits of a handshake.
If you make the effort to meet someone face to face, it speaks volumes, especially if, as is more and more the case, your competition is staying home.
If you fly a lot, you've probably been offered a business or first class upgrade for surprisingly little extra when you check in at the airport. But some airlines sell upgraded seats for fixed prices when you book your ticket, even on the lowest fares available. The chart below shows what's available on five US domestic airlines.
Continental joins United, JetBlue, Virgin America and some other US domestic airlines in selling economy class seats with extra leg room. These seats will become available for purchase 24 hours before the flight's scheduled departure. The seats will have a minimum of seven additional inches of legroom, according to Continental's web site announcement, and the cost will vary depending on length of flight and route. Passengers who are members of the airline's frequent flyer program and who fly more than 25,000 miles per year can select these seats at no additional charge, on a first check in, first served basis. No word when the airline's entire fleet will be reconfigured with the new seats.