Qantas Airways and the University of Sydney are partnering up for an in-depth study on jet lag that may pave the way for changes in airline operations for future long haul flights.
Whether you are a traveller racking up frequent flyer miles or someone heading to a new far destination for the first time you are likely to experience some form of jet lag which can significantly impact sleep pattern and alertness. Many studies isolating the effects of jet lag have shown that it is the result of an imbalance of a person’s natural “biological clock” travelling through different time zones. Typically, the impact is more severe when travelling eastward over many time zones than westward.
From the Sleep Foundation, “Our bodies work on a 24-hour cycle called “circadian rhythms.” These rhythms are measured by the distinct rise and fall of body temperature, plasma levels of certain hormones and other biological conditions. All of these are influenced by our exposure to sunlight and help determine when we sleep and when we wake.
When traveling to a new time zone, our circadian rhythms are slow to adjust and remain on their original biological schedule for several days. This results in our bodies telling us it is time to sleep, when it’s actually the middle of the afternoon, or it makes us want to stay awake when it is late at night. This experience is known as jet lag.”
As Qantas Airways prepares for its longest flight from Perth Airport (PER) to London’s Heathrow Airport (LHR) on board the Boeing 787-9 in March 2018 (Related News on the world’s longest non-stop flights 2017 Edition), the airline is researching ways to minimize the effects of jet lag on the long ~17 hour (7 time zones) flight for pilots, crews and passengers.
Qantas Airways is based in Sydney, Australia. Given its geographic location, most of its longer haul flights are least 6 hours long going westward to Asia. Eastward operations to continental North America are at least 11 hours long while zipping through the international date line over 10 or more time zones in the process. This makes the science of jet lag the more important for the Aussie airline.
Today, airlines with newer aircrafts manage the effects of jet lag through the use of cabin lights (turning them from light to dark or blue to red/pink) to promote sleep and wake time. Qantas Airways wants to go one step further by studying how jet lag can be reduced if the right stimulant is introduced throughout the travel experience from origin to destination.
The airline is working with its long term partner – University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre on a multi-month study to evaluate and quantify the specific triggers contributing to the biological clock imbalances and how they can be managed through different techniques.
The focus of the study will be on the following facets on travelling:
- Pre-flight preparation (origin airport) – how to reduce travel anxiety through airport design
- Lounge environment pre-boarding (origin airport) – how lighting and lounge food offers can change moods
- Exercise and movement while on board (on board) – how certain types of exercising / stretching can reduce body fatigue
- Menu design and service timing (on board) – how use of ingredients can better suit long distance travel. Famous Australian chef, Neil Perry, will be in charge of the new menu. Timing would be include to help the body adjust to destination time.
- Cabin environment including lighting and temperature (on board) – how change of environmental triggers can simulate body’s reaction to time zones
- Post-flight preparation (on board)
Other items that could be in consideration include:
- Special in flight entertainment programming including videos and audios to stimulate sleep or wake (on board)
- Amenities at the lounge and on board that can refresh the mind or face (e.g. mist inside amenity kits or in the washroom)
- In flight announcement – how timing can lower sleep disruption.
Why The Boeing 787?
Qantas chose the twin engined Boeing 787 for this long distance thin route requiring lower capacity. This aircraft range which also includes the -8 and -10 variants is latest designed by the Boeing Company. The manufacturer put extra efforts in creating an environment more suited for long distance travelling. New elements include:
- Versatile LED lights that can be programmed to show different colors and intensity depending on timing.
- Cabin air pressure is set to 6,000 feet (1,800 metres) altitude which is up to 2,000 feet lower than other plane types. In addition, the cabin is programmable allowing up to 15% humidity depending on the number of passengers on board. This bests the 4% mark found in older designs. In combination, both contribute to better oxygen absorption and moisture retention which can reduce fatigue and dryness.
- The cabin air-conditioning system filters out ozone from outside air it the aircraft intakes and uses standard HEPA and gaseous filtration systems to filter out airborne particles, odors, irritants, and gaseous contaminants. Temperature can be adjusted by zones to provide a more comfortable environment depending on passenger types.
Qantas Airways’ CEO, Alan Joyce commented on the new research partnership, “While the Dreamliner aircraft itself is already a step change for passengers with its larger windows, increased cabin humidity and lower cabin altitude, the findings that will come from Charles Perkins Centre researchers will allow Qantas to design and develop a range of new innovations and strategies to complement the Dreamliner experience.”