For thousands of my colleagues, and many thousands more throughout our industry, travel is a constant. Our people know well the effects air travel can have on appetite, alertness, and overall well-being. But these days, it’s not just our pilots and flight attendants who “fly for a living.” Long plane trips are a fact of life for millions of business people, whose jobs are just starting when the plane touches down.

Whether you’re flying for business or pleas­ure, it’s important that you be at your best upon arrival. At American Airlines, we have done a lot in recent years to educate ourselves about jet lag and how to avoid it, and in this month’s column I would like to share a few tips with you.

Most of what we have learned comes from a NASA study on the effects of jet lag on those who work in the aviation business. Though experts agree that jet lag is physiological — as opposed to psychological — and affects everyone differently, they also agree that there are things we all can do on long trips to help us feel better when we get to our destination.

The first step is making sure you get a good rest the night before your trip. This will help you feel better upon arrival and enable you to avoid starting your trip with a sleep debt. If you feel sleepy when you arrive, take a short nap if you can, but then get out and be active in your new environment.

Some people find it hard to sleep when away from home. Though alcohol may seem like a good way to relax and help you get some sleep, it can actually have the opposite effect. Drinking alcohol disrupts REM sleep patterns and leads to rebound effects which can make you feel worse than if you hadn’t had a drink.

On the other hand, nonalcoholic beverages play a key role in keeping you alert and active. It’s a good idea to drink at least eight ounces of fluids for every hour you are up in the air. Remember, fatigue is the first sign of dehydration. You should also try to avoid caffeine within six hours of planned sleep time. Caffeine, if used strategically, should be consumed in reasonable amounts about 30 minutes prior to when alertness is required (e.g., your big business meeting).

Pay attention to what you’re eating. For some of us, travel signals a vacation from our usual diets. Try to wait until after you’ve reached your destination before you indulge in overly salty or spicy foods. High-protein foods and green vegetables will give your body long-lasting energy, as opposed to the quick burst of sugar you get from sweets. Travelers who are taking medications such as insulin should ask their doctor whether any dosage or schedule adjustments are warranted when they travel.

We all know the feeling of having our body clocks off when we travel. The best way to tackle this problem depends on how long you’ll be gone. If you’re away for less than 24 hours, stay on home time — there’s no point to adjusting twice in two days. But if your trip is longer, switch your orientation to local time. Eventually, your body will realize the difference and synchronize its clock with the new location.

Again, jet lag affects everyone differently, so no single solution will work for everyone. But I hope these tips will help make your next trip an easier one. Thanks for flying with us today.
Picture of Gerard Arpey

Chairman & CEO
American Airlines