At the end of March 2018, Qantas will commence the longest flight out of Australia from Perth to London on a 787 Dreamliner. And with this they are rolling out a program of testing and a special menu to help passengers beat jetlag. Designed in conjunction with the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre, the offerings are a marked departure from typical airline food. And Academic Director of the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre, Professor Stephen Simpson, shares his 6 top tips for beating jetlag!
Science Meets Passengers
Professor Simpson explains the collaboration between Qantas and the Charles Perkins Centre, "What we are doing is using science as we currently understand it, to design menus in the cabin environment and the next step is to actually start collecting real data to test whether these steps are working and to refine our understanding and help the airline design the long haul flying experience of the future".
Food is one of the first items that they are changing with this revolutionary new route. Professor Simpson says, "What we have done is work with Qantas and the Neil Perry team to suggest menu items that actually support the production of chemicals like melatonin and serotonin in the brain when we should be going to sleep in a few hours time. Or on the flip side, preventing those chemicals when you should be waking up in the morning. It’s a way of tricking you, in an enjoyable way, towards your destination time zone."
The Menu: chilli is out: chocolate is in
An example of the new menu is the removal of a popular ingredient: chilli. Qantas has taken chilli out of the overnight snack menu items on the Perth to London route. Professor Simpson explains, "There is evidence that chilli is associated with some degree of sleep deprivation and so avoiding chilli, particularly when you are trying to get to sleep at a slightly different time than they would normally go to sleep because they are travelling, is a good thing to try and encourage them towards their destination time. Whereas, in the morning, chilli is great." Qantas may look at putting chilli in a breakfast omelette on a future menu.
Business class entree: tuna poke bowl
So what is on the menu? To start, all classes of passengers will have dip and crudite platters while those in the pointy end will be offered a tuna poke bowl (more a seared sashimi plate) that is delicious with a sesame soy dressing.
Economy and premium economy main: marinated beef
For mains economy and premium economy will be offered a marinated beef, citrus, cumin and zucchini salad or a roast chicken with red rice, Mediterranean vegetables, soy beans and thyme jus which is tender and tasty and really gives a new spin on the "chicken or beef" question.
Dip and crudites in all cabin classes
Business class passengers may be offered dishes like seared Cone Bay barramundi with herb garlic potatoes, broccolini, lemon and olive and almond salsa or for breakfast, grilled halloumi served with kale, quinoa, pistachio and green tahini dressing and topped with a poached egg.
All classes will be offered a seasonal fruit plate while business class passengers are offered desserts like baked vanilla custard with rhubarb, honeyed pear and almonds in a much lighter style of menu.
Business class breakfast: grilled halloumi and poached egg
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
Hydration is a very important factor for comfort and to beat jetlag. Drinks-wise for business class there is a choice of Botanica cold pressed green juice or cold pressed probiotic infused watermelon. Economy passengers don't lose out as they are offered a Botanica cold pressed probiotic infused lemonade as a wake up shot. There's also Remedy lemon and ginger kombucha or coconut water in business and premium economy. All cabin types will be offered hot chocolate with a marshmallow to help lull them to sleep while premium economy and business class will be offered an additional sleep aid in the form of a herbal sleep tisane.
Economy and premium economy main: roast chicken with red rice
It's all very on-trend but there is indeed a reasoning behind it. Qantas's Creative Director of Food, Beverage & Service Neil Perry says, "In conjunction with protein and carbohydrates there is a combination there that triggers tryptophan the chemical that brings on the production of more melatonin. Between the protein, carbs and seeds and greens that are really good for you, they really make the basis of a fairly sensible meal so it wasn't like we had to design anything outside of the realm of a delicious meal." He explains that while fresh vegetables and dark leafy greens, seeds and grains have always been part of the menu and "we've always flown these things, it's probably not quite in the concentration that we have across all cabins."
Business class main: Cone Bay barramundi
"We've had 'Quench' (the healthy beverage program e.g. infused water, cold teas, kombuchas and probiotics) on the ground for a long time but we've really dialed it up in the air and it's really a mechanism to get people to drink more water and hydrators. They're delicious but they're all 99.9% water because they're flavoured and delicious it makes people feel like they're having a lovely drink rather than the chore of having water perhaps. Our whole focus is on keeping people hydrated and also giving them as much information as we can about food, travel and sleep," says Neil.
A lot of what is on the menu is subject to feedback, both in what the passengers tell them but also from the stats from the mysterious and yet to be revealed wearable technology that 20 passengers on each flight will wear. The menu planning, lighting, cabin temperature and PA announcements and lounges and its effect on long haul passengers will be tested.
Dessert across all cabin classes: fruit platter
The flight is a testing ground for the whole flight network, especially the longer haul routes. "We'll take the approach of putting the food all across the network particularly on the longer flights like LA and London, Singapore and Dallas putting that same sort of philosophy across all those flights," says Neil.
And I ask Neil what impact does this have on the bottom line. "The cost is marginally more but not a lot more. I think it's marginally more because of the amount of Quench we are carrying and also the choice we are carrying in business is a bit more. I think if you're producing good quality food it doesn't cost that much more to do it the right way rather than the wrong way so we're not really seeing an outrageous budget blow out trying to design a menu for specific long term flying. It needs to be sustainable. We need to be able to have these collaboration with Charles Perkins and Professor Simpson and we need to be able to deliver it. Otherwise it's a pointless exercise if we can't make the affordability work."
Business class dessert: baked custard with rhubarb, pear and almonds
For Neil the food is part of a holistic approach, "It's all the parts of the aircraft that we are using in conjunction with the food and beverage. The 787 has the wonderful ability because it is composite fibre, to bring in a lot of fresh air so the humidity is much, much higher than it would be in a normal airplane so dehydration happens at a slower rate...so if you can introduce fresh air and humidity you're going a long way. There's the lighting - they're able to bring it to a blue which helps bring on circadian rhythms so you're really feeling like you're starting to doze and sleep and by the same token bringing the cabin lighting up slowly in the morning to really imitate sunrise."
Finally, what sort of impact does an 18 hour flight have on areas of the body? Professor Simpson explains, "Health in the air is not well studied and understood. Until this partnership, there hasn’t been the opportunity to combine such a diversity of disciplinary expertise with the logistical support of an airline. This project will help to develop an integrated, holistic and evidence-based approach to airline travel and health beyond medical emergency – before, during and after the flight experience. There’s a great deal still to understand about the circadian control system, how it intersects with metabolism and cognitive function, and how these in turn behave during prolonged periods in the air. We have a long way to go in terms of understanding how the wide variety of influences – including nutrition, hydration, exercise, sleep and light – might work together for maximum benefit."
Professor Simpson's 6 best tips for jetlag:
Tip 1: I try to begin to adjust my schedule towards destination time a few days in advance of travel, make sure I’m well rested and have had physical activity before I board the plane.
Tip 2: Once on board, I set my watch to the destination time and aim to eat and sleep accordingly – remembering that* the circadian clock can only shift about an hour each day towards destination time*.
Tip 3: I drink lots of water, keep cool when supposed to be sleeping if I can, use ear plugs and eye mask when trying to sleep, and try to be alert and shifting around in my seat (within reason) when it is day time at the destination.
Hot chocolate (across all cabins) and sleep tisane (business class)
Tip 4: I do like a gin and tonic before dinner. Generally speaking, to reduce the effects of long haul flying and jetlag the consumption of alcohol and caffeinated beverages (except when I should be waking up and staying awake according to destination time) should be limited due to their potential diuretic actions and negative impact on sleep. But we are not wishing to limit passenger choice – just to inform.
Tip 5: Include in my routine eating a meal rich in tryptophan (found in nuts, seeds, chicken and beef, for example) and carbohydrates before relaxing for 3-4 hours and then trying to get some sleep. This will ensure maximal levels of brain melatonin and serotonin, the sleep hormones. Tryptophan is the precursor to these hormones, and its passage into the brain is increased when it is eaten with carbs.
Tip 6: Finally, once I arrive, I try to stay awake until normal bedtime in the new location – and get a dose of natural light in the morning and a bit of exercise during the day.
So tell me Dear Reader, do you suffer a lot from jetlag? Are you able to sleep on planes? Are you a good and easy sleeper? And what do you think of these meals?