In this article I put forward the hypotheses that discerning frequent fliers hold the key to eliminating jet lag and travelling well. The history of commercial aviation is such that air travel used to be the preserve of the privileged and the few. Industrialisation Globalisation and global work practices have created a mobile workforce and fuelled global travel, to the extent that frequent business fliers are the holy grail of the airline industry. The competitive nature of the global marketplace pushes results and productivity to the fore. Any advantage business fliers can gain over the competition can become a decider in the success or failure of the outcome. Thus successful business fliers are worth studying for clues on how to maintain success in a dynamic and changing global economy.
WHO ARE THESE FREQUENT FLIERS
For the purposes of our conversation we need to broaden the definition of frequent fliers beyond corporate multinational business executives. The ranks included journalists politicians diplomats pilots cabin crew athletes and showbiz personalities to name a few. What they all have in common is the need to be productive at the highest level in order to complete a task or sets of tasks in hand.
This last distinction is relevant because repetition is the mother of skill and the prospect of flying week in week out with jet lag is so unbearable for some, that they will find the best habits possible in order to minimise the impact jet lag has on their schedule and outcomes.
Globe trotting mileage and experience apart this method of trial and error is less than ideal, and not all choices are sustainable long term. However a few do manage to settle into a grove that is satisfactory and minimises the worst jet lag has to offer in their individual experience. While there are symptoms we all have in common, the individual experience of jet lag can include some variety. For this reason focusing on the commonality of symptoms and the commonality of the flying experience will yield the greatest benefit for all fliers to learn from.
The most important thing you can observe about these well-traveled frequent fliers is that they have a routine and they do their damnedest not to deviate from it. I heard a firsthand story that Lord King used to fly from London to New York on Concorde with nothing but a bottle of water! The element of routine is important on many levels for the frequent flier. It helps the flier maintain a kind disciplined regularity in an environment that is anything but normal. More importantly routine is at the core of one of the most important functions a frequent flier can hope to master, the body-clock. Those who travel well know on a conscious or unconscious level that entrainment, routine and the body-clock go hand in hand. The human bias towards entrainment is a documented scientific fact, lookup the McClintock Effect* for evidence of this.
INTENSITY AND ENGAGEMENT
The intensity of travel of global frequent fliers is what makes them such great guinea pigs. Their resilience is tested in the crucible of changing global factors circumstances and situations. Some have fallen by the wayside but others have endured and come out ahead. While resilience is part of the solution it is not the whole story. For all their diversity and the different walks of life frequent fliers come from, one other thing that can be said of them is that they are always engaged. Following an infographic from PC Housing* titled Mobile Dependence: A Growing Trend in Business Travel, my suspicion is that technology plays a role in keeping fliers engaged, as well as being an enabler of people who live a “jet set” lifestyle. This has a good and bad aspect to it. Engagement leads to expectancy of an outcome, with distance and other impromptu obstacles along the way getting to that outcome requires drive. Having this kind of drive on tap is handy when you land in Narita Japan and all you want to do is sleep but it is 9 am and you are set to “perform” shortly.
AN ATHLETES MINDSET
The successful frequent flier is the embodiment of an athlete in many ways and the more fliers can identify themselves with athletes preparations for competition the better. Plotting a routine that takes your rest nutrition and psychology into consideration deserves more than lip service. Those who fail to realise that frequent flying is a “competitive sport” requiring the attributes and the mindset of an athlete will struggle because the current culture around flying are not conducive to support healthy flying. If they want to stay ahead of the field and continue to push the boundaries of what is possible in performance and productivity adopting such a mindset is essential.
The few pointers above are signposts to everyone else struggling with the inconvenience of jet lag. It is for the many who are still waiting for the pharmaceutical industry to invent the cure all magic pill. Those who succeed in making the deal, impressing the prospects, winning the medal or performing to the highest standard are the ones who have managed to compete with and minimise jet lag. When they do it time and time again without corporate burnout or fatigue it makes them worthy of learning from.