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  • Writer's pictureChristopher Babayode

Jet Lag Free Frequent Flying Is A Competitive Advantage

In the opening comments of one of his self help programs Brian Tracey reminds us that we are all in a race. A race most people are unaware they are participants of. Thomas Friedman in his best selling book The World is Flat spells out the nature of the race as Globalisation. The profound effect globalisation has had on business culture, business practice and subsequently business frequent flying brings home the point emphatically. It’s like Bob Sugar tells his newest signing in Jerry Maguire “you’re global now, worldwide”. Competition has truly gone global and this is true in almost every facet of 21st century life. In this competitive landscape every entity or person with global reach or in global travel needs all the advantages they can muster in order to prevail. Global business travel as a feature of doing business all over the world is one area where untapped efficiencies lie. Too many businesses send their best people halfway across the world to represent them only to have them turn up jet lagged and fatigued. If that is not bad enough these are the same companies and people who spend a lot of money time and resources recruiting the best they can find. What a way to look after your investment! This article makes the case that healthy flying is a requirement for successful business in a global economy, it is no longer acceptable to book a business class seat and hope for the best on arrival.

Pre-Globalisation you probably had as much competition, but you were unaware of them and they you. Now you know who you are up against and worse, you now have others who were not natural competitors who now are. Or if you are in the service industry the demands for your services are more frequent and intense than before. The bottom line is it now takes more of your resources to satisfy and keep your enterprise going. Do you have an endless pool of resources? If not it is better to learn the art of being resourceful. The art of being resourceful when it come to global travel and frequent flying is something that tends to be learnt by default if at all. It’s time to take an objective look at the issue and implement a sustainable scientific based approach to the problem. It is time to end the fuzzy headed approach which leads to loss of business, less than favourable impressions or the inability to function at the expected or required level. These travel “faux pas” are leading to million dollar losses in revenue and productivity.

AirPlus International a global corporate payment provider teamed up with Optima-Life, a physiological research company to pilot a study of frequent fliers against a control group of non fliers. AirPlus International employees agreed to wear a sophisticated heart rate monitor which measured heart rate (HR) and heart rate variability (HRV). The results showed frequent fliers are less likely to be fully recovered from the exertions of flying with knock on effects relating to health and well being.

The major finding was that stress recovery was less than optimal in the frequent flier group compared to the control group. The control group had a recovery percentage of 26% while the frequent fliers only had a 14% recovery rate. In sleep which is a good monitor for recovery capacity the control group had an average of 7hr and 2mins while the fliers could only manage 6hr 41mins. As sleep debt is cumulative this is important to note. The overall conclusion was that these negative figures impact levels of tolerance, communication skills, engagement, concentration, mental acuity and could be a forerunner of health problems.

While the study goes into more detail I would like to focus on what it highlights about stress, and the attention it brings to what it calls intrinsic and extrinsic factors (for now I’ll only touch on intrinsic factors). It is no secret that we are more stressed than ever before, I would argue that we know we are stressed but we haven’t found ways of dealing with stress that suit our lifestyle as it relates to healthy flying. This is where the rubber hits the road. Mastering this one area will have appreciable benefits in all aspects of our lives.

To date the ineffective strategies employed by business travellers have ranged from sleeping pills to uppers and downers, melatonin, caffeine, alcohol and more. The problem with these items is that they provide temporary relief while borrowing from our reserves and never giving it back. Thus a downward spiral of that ultimate resource, you, is effected over time. In a business it looks a bit different, the workforce is sent out there and they perform but it takes more and more effort until the workers are less motivated and reach corporate burnout. They stop enjoying the mission and purpose of your company and decide to strike out on their own. The outcome could have been different in all instances if forward thinking strategies were employed.

For the farsighted companies who have an idea of the scale of the challenge a robust private health policy is sometimes in place. However all of these policies tend to be palliative rather than pre-emptive. Shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted is not a good strategy to keep your best people performing at their best. Business and individuals need to provide and create an environment to take joint responsibility for getting better results in this area.

The catalogue of disasters costing business and brands dear reaches back with some high profile and stunning examples of what is at stake. In the escalation of events preceding the 1956 Suez Canal crisis Secretary of State Dulles is known to have blamed jet lag for some of the decisions taken in the course of events. More recently Gen. David Patraeus as commander of the International Security Assistance Force operating in the Middle East collapsed while giving testimony to the US Senate Select Committee, blaming dehydration and jet lag. The freed Burmese dissident Aung San Suu Kyi also demonstrated the extremes of how air travel can affect health by collapsing while travelling to Switzerland after release from house arrest.

The AirPlus study draws attention to intrinsic and extrinsic factor fliers should take notice of in order to travel well and arrive well to execute business. The most important of these are the intrinsic environmental factors. Not paying attention to these factors is what led to the strife Gen. Patraeus and Aung San Suu Kyi encountered. These intrinsic factors are the most powerful tools you have to ensure a favourable outcome to your journey. While there may have been no more than a little damage to the Patraeus and Suu Kyi brands it is not always the case for Business.

I champion a quote from the AirPlus study, it says ” First class or business class travel is probably not best used across the board but instead it should be used tactically depending on the purpose of the trip”. The reason to champion this comment is that too many corporate fliers are lulled into the false security that travelling first or business is the sum total of what they can do to ensure they arrive well. Nice but not true, the world has moved on and there are many tools and considerations fliers have to make to fly well.

To date too few fliers or corporations are aware of this new landscape and therefore lose a competitive advantage, to paraphrase a teacher of mine “the competition is more intense than before and the window of opportunity is briefer than before”. Whoever is able to capitalise on this advantage reaps the rewards, for now it looks like most fliers and businesses are still behind the curve.


AirPlus. Traveller Productivity – How to tailor your travel policy to improve traveller productivity. Suu Kyi visits Swiss parliament – Gen. Patraeus collapses at Senate hearing –



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