BBC Capital

When your second home is a plane

(Thinkstock)

(Thinkstock)

Cardiologist Martin Cowie spends much of his life on a plane.

With 150 trips a year, including jaunts to Asia every few weeks, numerous visits to Europe, biannual trips to the Americas and a yearly stop in Australia, it’s no wonder he regards the sky his second home.

For business travellers like 48-year-old Cowie, life can be a never-ending whirlwind of carry-ons, check-ins and clock-changes How do frequent travellers continue to look and feel human, through regular long-haul flights?

To get through time zone trauma, Cowie has two key tricks — and one of them involves working less.

“Always watch your posture when flying. It’s too easy to end up with crossed legs, crunched up and at risk of deep-vein thrombosis and back pain,” he said. ”Nowadays, I rarely ever work on my laptop as it encourages such a bad posture on the flight.

“Remember few people have ever died of jet lag,” he added, but long flights can take their toll in other ways.

BBC Capital quizzed frequent business fliers for their best tips and tricks to beat jet lag and arrive five time zones away ready for the next meeting.

Before you board

Health is key, according to Jo Vickers, who runs her own travel public-relations firm, JV Public Relations in London. Vickers flies five times a month on average and has a regime she abides by to see her through long before she gets on the plane.  “Strictly no booze,” is her foremost rule and getting plenty of exercise outdoors. She also does facial acupuncture, “which makes you look like you’ve had a face lift.”

Hotelier Peng Loh, who travels from Singapore to other parts of Asia, Australia and Europe at least twice a month, is equally abstemious. In addition to avoiding alcohol pre-flight, he tries to “have a full meal on the ground before I get on the plane so I am not hungry and don’t need a meal [in flight]” he said.

Dr Stefanie Williams, a dermatologist and medical director at European Dermatology London suggests topping up on Omega-3 fatty acids prior to the flight to prevent swollen feet and thread veins. The Omega-3 thins blood, helping to lower the risk of thrombosis, according to research.  “You can do this by eating lots of oily fish or taking some fish oil supplements containing EPA and DHA for a couple of weeks prior to flying,” she said.

Settling into the journey

Once on the flight, comfort takes priority, as do staying hydrated and getting some sleep.

Vickers wears slip-on shoes along with flight tights: “Women always get water retention, so I put the tights on in the lounge,” she said.

She has her beauty regime down to an exact science. “I never wear make-up but always wear lip balm and hand cream,” Vickers said. “I use simple baby cream on my face. On my hair Philip Kingsley Elasticizer stops it from drying out and breaking.”

Airplane air conditioners have the tendency to dry skin out, so it’s important to keep skin clean and hydrated, advises Dr Williams.  “Take some wet wipes to remove make-up fully before you go to sleep. Also make sure to bring some thermal water spray.” Although moisturiser is beneficial, “layer upon layer will actually clog up pores, so one good application is enough,” she said.

Rodman Primack, executive director of Design Miami, brings his own in-flight kit, including travel sizes cleanser, oil-free hydrating serum and deodorant “all of which I use on the flight to get ready to sleep; I try to maintain the same ritual on an overnight flight that I would at home.”

El Imad says sleeping on the flight helps ease the time-zone transition on the other end. “I sometimes try to stay up very late the night before so that I'm really tired and guaranteed to sleep on the flight,” he said.

On arrival

Before disembarking from the plane, Vickers changes into her work clothing, then dons a pair of high heels. 

Getting the body moving as quickly as possible once off the plane is also crucial. “When I disembark I make sure I walk very briskly as this really just gets the blood flowing again after a very long time sitting down,” Loh said.

Design Miami’s Primack has a meal as soon as he deplanes. “I immediately eat what is being eaten in the time zone I have arrived in regardless of what I may feel like,” he said. “I go for a run or walk. I never take a nap on arrival — that is disaster.”

Warding off jet lag

Jet lag, a confusion between the internal body clock and the external environmental time, is often one of the most unpleasant parts of travel.

“We as humans were never expected to travel at speed across time lines so quickly; when you go beyond three time lines you can start getting jet lag,” said Dr Guy Meadows, who runs the Sleep School in London and is author of The Sleep Book.

The best thing to do, he said, “is immediately act as if you are in the host country when you get on the plane. Eat when they eat, sleep when they are sleeping. If it isn’t natural for you to be sleeping during the day on the plane, tire yourself out beforehand with exercise or make yourself drowsy with meditation or mindfulness,” he said.

In general, it takes about one day to get over each hour of time difference from your home country, Dr Meadows said.  One way to cut back on that time zone malaise? “Three days before your return, West to East, for example, each day go to bed an hour earlier and wake up an hour earlier. So by the time you fly back, the time difference is reduced,” Dr Meadows suggested.

Some experienced travellers say it’s better to keep pace with your home time zone. “I always keep my watch and body clock at the time of my home [London] so that I don't lose perspective of time zones. This is really important as the majority of my work is in London, hence I need to stick to that time zone,” El Imad said.

Loh also keeps his body clock in sync with his home country during short trips, so he doesn’t need to adjust when he returns home. “So from Singapore to London, I stick to Singapore time and go to sleep at 18:00 London time and get up at 2:00 do my emails and be in the office by 8:00 and finish off all my meetings by early evening if possible,” Loh said.

Others, like Vickers, always adjust their clocks to the destination time. When travelling west, she has breakfast and lunch meetings only, “so no yawning over business dinners for me.,” she said.

Dr Meadows recommends the power nap to combat jet lag. “The pressures of your old time zone bearing down on you can be sickening. Have a 10 to 30 minute power nap.”  

How do you combat jet lag and flight fatigue on long trips? To comment on this story or anything else you have seen on BBC Capital, head over to our Facebook page or message us on Twitter.

Remember few people have ever died of jet lag. — Martin Cowie