Argument: Making A Case For Jet Lag Needing A New Conversation

There is a distinction to be made between the Jet Lagged and the Jet Stressed. It is the same difference between the chronic and the acute. Jet lag is acute and jet stress is chronic. Jet stress is in fact chronically acute. The value of this distinction alone is what separates those who fly well and those who don't. A second valuable observation to our cause is that any time Man has conquered or thrived in an environment he has done so by taking his own environment with him. To beat jet lag in all it's forms you and I must do the same, frequent fliers more so than others. The current conversation surrounding jet lag bandies about buzz words like social jet lag, the body clock and melatonin. The conversation is long in the tooth with the same tired advice - get plenty of sleep, drink plenty of water and keep your mind active. This has been the standard refrain for the fourteen years I have been flying and yet we are no better off in our efforts to beat jet lag. Old wives tales and a pastiche of personal remedies exist alongside rigid scientific data. The masses of frequent fliers and business travellers are confounded and struggle to make sense of disjointed and often confusing information. Productivity, personal health, relationships and Global Business's bottom line suffer. For any of these reasons alone jet lag needs a new conversation.

The Most Frequent Frequent Fliers Hold The Key

I once read some very good business advice which preached the value of catering to the extremes of a target audience. The notion was that if they were catered for all other demographics within that target market would be well taken care of. So it is with jet lagged travellers. Frequent business fliers are representative of this extreme, they tend to be jet stressed rather than jet lagged. An article in Wired magazine* charted the travel paths of business fliers over a year demonstrating the intensity of travel schedules of frequent fliers. The goals of business travellers to maximise productivity while on the road, make the right impressions, close the deal and stay healthy bring home the urgency of the conversation at hand.

Jet Lag Doesn't Pay, The Costs

The price we pay for not dealing with jet lag and it's associated woes outweighs the benefits. The costs are measured on a personal and global business scale. You can measure it on the personal scale with the tendency towards weight gain, insomnia, tiredness, fatigue, adrenal stress, hormone irregularities, trouble conceiving and the list goes on and on. I know about this I witness as much flying for one of the UK's largest airlines week in week out. The cost to global business is measured in millions of dollars in lost productivity. A 2003 New York Times survey* estimated that heavy duty business travellers lost about 20 per cent productivity due to trans-meridian travel. A recent AirPlus Traveller Productivity White Paper* also highlights the link between business travel and productivity.

Jet Lag Solutions Need An Upgrade

Over the short ascent of global business travel and globalisation many advances and efficiencies have been made in the area of civil aviation. The hardware of the trade, the planes have seen many modifications including fly by wire technology and a new generation of fuel efficient planes to take us into the 21st century. Contrast that with the plight of the the frequent business flier, jet lag has remained a constant on the landscape.
There has been no respite, yet our world has become more demanding. Global mobile working is on the increase see the Worldwide ERC website* for confirmation. Look to Hollywood as an example of what I mean by this. A script is produced, a film is cast, locations are scouted out and the cast goes on location to shoot. Travelling to locations are incidental to the outcomes sought be it a film or a business meeting. Yet the quality of the end product can depend so much on the well being of the participants. As globalisation makes the world smaller and calls for collaborative groups to come together in the name of a common goal over a short period of time, the need to be fully functional and productive becomes a conditional necessity for success.

Pharmaceutical Interventions The Only Show in Town, Really?

Until now the loudest voice heard in this conversation has been that of the pharmaceutical industry. Representative of this was Cephalon's failed bid* to get the FDA to permit the sale of Nuvigil as cure for jet lag. It speaks to the default mode of operation, a pill for every ill and reclassifies jet lag from a costly inconvenience into an illness. This brings me to the point I want to make - better living through chemistry does have its limits. The entire idea that you can continually drug yourself out of jet lag over the span of your career of flying and come out ahead is moot. Workforce mobility and globalisation on the horizon should make this obviously clear by now. Any conversation about a cure to the problems of jet lag has to have an element of sustainability about it, and this is where current approaches fall down.

Let's Start with The First Question

The required change in tone of conversation is not complete without looking at the definition we give jet lag. Up until now it is characterised as being all about the body clock to the exclusion of anything else. As useful as this is it is limiting in the creativity we can bring to finding a sustainable solution. The discussion has to include a Jet Lag 101 course which asks questions like what is jet lag in its entirety? How does it affects you differently from me? How can you take charge of your solution? Are there guiding principles and methodologies we can all relate to and use? Without this first step we are doomed to looking at the same information but expecting a different answer. Scientific data is useful in dissecting the mechanisms of jet lag but we need to look beyond that to find a workable solution. Just to be clear any sustainable methodology has to be able to stand up to scientific examination to gain acceptance and credibility. However it starts with an inclusive discussion rather than graphing an old understanding of healthy flying and jet lag onto an environment and condition which is current dynamic and changing.


Sources

Wired Magazine - New Age Traveller Infoporn#14 October 2010

The New York Times
- Business Travel section November 2003
- Regulators reject Cephalon's bid http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/30/business/30drug.html

AirPlus International Traveller Productivity White Paper

Worldwide ERC - The Workforce Mobility Association
- The Revival of Value - A Closer Look at Trends in Business Travel




(c) Christopher Babayode 2012

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