Sunday, February 21, 2010


….is otherwise known as jet lag. I just completed a long, international trip and am suffering from this annoying affliction, which is usually not a big problem for me. But for some reason, this trip really threw me for a loop.

As a frequent traveler, I’ve searched in vain for a way to fool my internal clock into thinking that I’ve not crossed several time zones and that instead of yesterday at 10 pm it’s really today at 8 am. I’ve tried diet, meditation, and drugs with varying success.

On the internet, you can find various remedies, including mysterious homeopathic tablets. Yeah, right. Do they really think that I’m going to order some pills with unknown ingredients and that have not been approved by the FDA from a website called Pharmaceuticals R Us? On second thought, if they prevent jet lag, I might be tempted--even if they later cause cancer of the big toe (I can do without one or both).

These herbal supplements remind me of a time years ago when I was flying on China Airlines in what was clearly an ancient jet they had purchased from the Soviet Union (the message on the tray table about fastening your seatbelts was written in Russian). Instead of peanuts, the flight attendants passed out pills. I had seen a lot of things on flights, but this unusual handout startled even me.

I accepted the package of pills out of sheer curiosity. And who knows? They might even work for jet lag. The pills were separately enclosed in see-through plastic tabs glued to a cardboard backing. On the back was writing in both Chinese and English. Presumably, both described the same thing, but I had no way of knowing.

I was quite amazed to read the list of ailments that these little pills could cure:

Gastrointestinal distress


Female problems (all of them or just gynecological, I wondered?)





Cold sores

Bad breath

Cirrhosis of liver

Gas (I guess this wasn’t considered to be distressful enough to include in #1)

Consumption (that’s tuberculosis, in case you didn’t know)


Gunshot wound (Were you supposed to ingest the pill or sprinkle the ingredients in the wound? It didn’t say.)

I had suffered from several of these ailments at one time or another in my life (except for the gunshot wound and a couple of others), so I carefully scrutinized the gelatin capsules filled with an off-white powder and random dark specks.

My traveling companion was eyeing me suspiciously by then and finally said, “You’re not actually thinking about taking one of those, are you?”

I sheepishly said, “No. I just didn’t want to be impolite by not accepting them.”

In any case, jet lag was not listed.

Getting into the sun upon arrival, and never, ever going to sleep until the new bedtime rolls around are helpful in speeding the time adjustment. I’ve tried melatonin, but the jury’s still out on that one (and I’m not sure where the FDA stands on this). Diet and meditation don’t really work (for jet lag) in my experience, but they won’t hurt you, either.

There are drugs that do help with jet lag, and these are readily available from your local drug dealer—aka, your primary care physician. I’m talking about sleeping pills—Ambien, Lunesta, Siesta (OK. The last one I made up, but would be a good name, I think). These little gems also help you deal with the egregious conditions in economy class.

In the old days, airlines were not so concerned with filling up international flights, and you could often have an entire row to yourself to stretch out and sleep for the entire fifteen-hour flight. You could even get away with sleeping on the floor. Now, it’s rare to see a single empty seat, and everyone is crammed so tight that even with your seatbelt unfastened, severe air turbulence wouldn’t dislodge you.

Occasionally, I’m lucky enough to have an empty seat or two between me and the next person. However, the last time that happened, the elderly woman sitting in my row (who did not speak English and did not appear to be aware of airplane etiquette) spent the entire flight with her feet in my lap. I tried to indicate to her through pantomime that this arrangement was not mutually beneficial, but she just grinned and nodded at me enthusiastically. We eventually reached a sort of compromise. I would push her feet away, and she would gradually sneak them back onto my lap when I dozed.

This was the same flight that sat on the tarmac for seven hours prior to a sixteen hour flight to Tokyo or Shanghai (I forget which). I knew we were in trouble when the original flight crew disappeared five hours into this hiatus. Apparently, we exceeded their allowed flight time, and the airline had to send for a replacement crew. They weren’t concerned about exceeding the passengers’ endurance, apparently. You may have heard about these infamous flights, which made the major news shows and eventually led to rules prohibiting airlines from keeping passengers hostage. Someone finally had pity on us and brought on board a bunch of Burger King Whoppers, which they literally threw at us like they were feeding a pack of wild animals (which I guess we were by then).  I don’t know what the people who had pre-ordered special meals got. I eventually got to my destination, but you can imagine the condition I was in.

Anyway, it is in such circumstances where being unconscious is a plus. This is where a good sleeping pill comes in. However, if you’ve never taken one before, beware. Be sure you are sitting down (in your assigned seat, not the toilet), have emptied your bladder, and put away all breakable objects. The first time I took one was on a flight to New Zealand with about 100 thirteen-year-old exchange students (not mine). I remember pushing my seat back and dropping my napkin onto my dinner tray about five minutes after downing the pill. The next thing I knew we were landing twelve hours later in Auckland; my dinner tray had not only been removed at some point, but according to the person next to me, I had been served a mid-flight snack and breakfast. I was afraid to ask if I ate it.

Needless to say, these sleeping pills are great. You are blissfully unaware of all the indignities being heaped upon you in economy class. You don’t care if the entire row puts their feet in your lap. With my first sleeping pill experience, they could have done brain surgery on me and I wouldn’t have known it.

Of course, the best way to reduce jet lag and various indignities is to fly business or first class. Unfortunately, the upgrades we used to score occasionally have gone the way of the Dodo. You now need about a million frequent flyer miles even to get on the upgrade list.

I’ll put in a plug here for Air New Zealand, which has really comfy economy seats with a lot more legroom than your usual carrier; individual, sizable TV screens and huge choice of entertainment; and a number of useful webbed pouches in the adjacent seatback for water bottles, books, laptop, etc. Overhead compartments are actually built to accommodate roller bags. No seat is more than one seat away from an aisle. All in all, very well designed—for the passenger’s comfort.

Unfortunately, my most recent flight on ANZ was only four hours long and then it was back to the sardine can on another airline for a fifteen hour flight. I was spoiled. As I sat in coach, I kept thinking about that Seinfeld episode in which Elaine tries to sneak into first class. Just as she settles back into her seat and sighs, the first class flight attendant comes over frowning---and it’s back to economy. In the meantime, she’s missed the meal service in both sections (No soup for YOU!).

Hmmm. Maybe they wouldn’t notice me in business class? What’s the worst they could they do, kick me out over the Indian Ocean?

Oh, well. I came to my senses, downed my Ambien CR, and aimed my feet at my neighbor’s lap.

So, I’m still searching for the perfect jet lag remedy. If you’ve got one, I’d like to hear about it (and no, an alcoholic hangover on top of jet lag is not one I’m interested in).

I’ll also accept donations so that I can buy a first-class ticket on my next flight.

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