Flying has revolutionised travel. Air travel is safe and comfortable, however “air sickness” and jet lag are problems that face many travellers.
Jet lag This is the uncomfortable aftermath of a long flight in which the person feels exhausted and disorientated, has poor concentration, insomnia and anxiety. Other symptoms that may occur less commonly include loss of appetite, weakness, headache, blurred vision and dizziness. Flying long distances east-west or west-east through several time zones causes a person’s daily rhythm of activity and sleep to get out of phase. It can occur with travel in any direction but appears to be more common when travelling east, such as from South Africa to Australia or South East Asia.
Factors influencing Jet Lag Personal factors: Age, state of health, tolerance to change, preparation for the long trip and very importantly, the emotional and mental state. General factors: Noise, vibration, humidity in the air and sitting for long periods. Specific factors: Duration of the flight, time of departure, changes in climate and culture at destination. The problem is aggravated by stress of the pre-trip planning, last minute rushing and anxiety, lack of sleep during the trip, overeating and excessive alcohol during the flight and smoking.
Minimising the Problem Careful planning and a few simple hints observed during and after the flight can minimise jet lag. Before the flight: Plan a stopover if possible, try to arrange the itinerary so that you are flying into the night. Ensure a good sleep the night before flying. Ensure a relaxed trip to the airport. Take along earplugs if noise bothers you.
During the flight
- Fluids Reduce alcohol and coffee to a minimum and have plenty of non-alcoholic drinks such as orange juice and mineral water.
- Food Eat only when hungry and even skip a meal or two. Eat the lighter, more digestible parts of your meal and avoid fatty foods and rich carbohydrate foods.
- Dress Women should wear loose clothing, for example, long skirts, comfortable jeans, light jumpers and avoid girdles or restrictive clothing. Wear comfortable shoes and take them off during the flight.
- Sleep Try to sleep on longer sections of the flight. Close the blinds, wear special eye masks and ask for a pillow. If you are carrying medication, remember that a letter of authorisation for all medications should be carried.
- Activity Take regular walks around the aircraft and exercise at airport stops. Keep feet up when resting and exercise by flexing the major muscles of the legs. Avoid resting the calves of your legs against the seat for long periods. Rest without napping during daylight sectors.
- Special Body Care Frequently wet the face and eyes. A wetting agent such as hydromellose 0.5% eye drops can help those with a tendency to sore eyes.
Additional points about flying
- If you have a cold, you may experience pain from blocked sinuses or middle ears during ascent or descent.
- People with contact lenses should carry a lens case and saline in case lenses dry out during the flight.
- Frequent applications of face moisturiser can help reduce the feeling of dehydration.
- Hand luggage should include a few essentials:
- toothbrush, toothpaste, moisturiser
- jumper and thick socks
- spare underwear(in case of lost baggage)
- any medication you take regularly
- N.B. No sharp objects
- It may be useful to take along a mild laxative to assist in getting your bowels used to the new local time
- If possible, avoid making important commitments for first 24 hours after your arrival. This applies especially to people who are required to make important decisions.
Judgement could be impaired by the change in time so, for better performance, allow some time to recover.
Before you go checklist
- Immunisations and make sure you have the yellow fever vaccination card with you where relevant
- Malaria prophylaxis – take the “pill” if risk area
- Medication – take an adequate supply of your regular medication. Make a note of any pills you are taking (with both generic and trade names), the dose that you take and the time of the day that you take the medicines. Make a note of your serious medical problems and write down your allergies. In an emergency this information may be valuable to your doctor
- You may actually save it on your phone!!
- If you wear specs, make sure that you have a spare set of specs as if you happen to break your glasses it might be difficult to get another one and it can be expensive too.
- Specialised Medical kits – Carry medical kits as you never know what might happen in your trip. Medical kits – it is like having a doctor with you!
- Visa and Passport – carry a copy of your passport in a separate bag. Before you go, get the address and telephone number of your Consulate or High Commissioner in the country you will be visiting.
- Travel Insurance – ensure that you have adequate travel insurance and a good one which also covers the cost of repatriation
- General – make a list of the following:
- Serial number of tickets
- Passport number and date issued
- Credit card numbers and emergency number to report theft
- Driver’s licence number
- Serial numbers of travellers’ cheques
- Serial numbers on valuables eg. cameras
- Take copies of prescription for spectacles/contact lenses
- Serial number of travel insurance policy and a note of any emergency contact number
We suggest you make 2 copies of a list containing the information above. Leave one copy with someone you can reach in an emergency and take the other copy with you keeping it separate from your luggage and valuables.