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Can airplane innovation really avoid jet lag?

Posted in: Travel Health 27 Apr, 2012

This week airplane fanatics in the UK rejoiced as a landmark plane landed on British soil. The Boeing 787 Dreamliner is the first aircraft which is fuel efficient as well as being created with specific technology designed to combat jet lag. The plane incorporates larger windows, higher ceilings and wider aisles. It will also benefit from cleaner air which, according to the manufacturer Boeing, will help passengers to avoid jet lag.

Anyone who has suffered from the incomparable stress which comes from low-cost flying will definitely appreciate the benefits of a relaxing, more inviting environment, particularly on long-haul flights, but does changing your surroundings really make you less likely to suffer from the unpleasant symptoms most often associated with airplanes?

This is a particular area of interest for me and I have spent a great deal of time attempting to research the scientific basis for the claim that this aircraft is effective in stopping passengers from suffering from jet lag. The closest that I can come to digging up a reasonable explanation is the theory that because the air is purer, you are less likely to become dehydrated and the more comfortable surroundings reduce the stress levels in passengers.

Although stress and dehydration play a big part in causing jet lag, they are not the main reason for the symptoms, which usually include nausea, fatigue, insomnia or vomiting. The main reason why we experience this condition is because the body’s natural instincts when it comes to sleeping are based on a hormone known as melatonin, which is released by the body in the evenings, as a way of telling the brain that it is time to go to bed. When a person has changed time zones, the body’s instinctive reaction regarding the time of day directly contradicts the sensorial perceptions around you.

Unless Boeing has also found a way to make the earth spin at a different speed according to where the Dreamliner is travelling, there isn’t a physical way to avoid jet lag. Even if the plane’s innovative features do make your journey more comfortable and reduce the symptoms, it seems like a slightly redundant measure, as there are already jet lag treatment medications which can do the same thing – and at a much lower cost.

The environmental aspect however, is a lot more exciting. The Dreamliner can carry up to 290 passengers and is able to burn 20% less fuel whilst flying over 50% further than other aircrafts. The promise of reducing annual maintenance costs by a third must have enticed UK airlines Virgin Atlantic, British Airways and Thomson Airlines, which all ordered the planes to use on their long-haul flights.

The verdict is still out on the Dreamliner, as I have not had the pleasure of experiencing its revolutionary techniques for myself. If I had to hazard a guess, I would say that upgrading to a more comfortable seating area, taking jet lag medication with you and flying at appropriate times of day are probably still the best ways to have a comfortable journey.


  • MarkFriday, Apr 27, 2012

    Yeah, I don't really see how it would ever be physically possible to avoid jet lag completely. I am a frequent flyer and I regularly have to go to China and Malaysia on business and the jet lag is a bit of a killer.

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